TBK 2013

Time: Jul 31th to Aug 4th
Place: freiLand Potsdam

Total Revolution: Rethinking Radical Politics for the 21st Century

Faust und Pfote

Until we establish a felt sense of kinship between our own species and those fellow mortals who share with us the sun and shadow of life on this agonized planet, there is no hope for other species, there is no hope for the environment, and there is no hope for ourselves. Jon Wynne-Tyson, British publisher and pacifist, 1924

Introduction: Framing the Unframed Issue

It seems lost on most of the global anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist Left that there is a new liberation movement on the planet – animal liberation – that is of immense ethical, environmental, social, economic, and political significance. But because animal liberation challenges the anthropocentric, speciesist, and humanist dogmas that are deeply entrenched in socialist and anarchist traditions, Leftists are more likely to mock than engage it.1

Since the 1970s, the animal liberation movement has been one of the most dynamic and important political forces on the planet. Where new social movements such as Black Liberation, Native American, feminism, Chicano/a, and various forms of Green and identity politics have laid dormant or become co-opted, the animal liberation movement has kept radical resistance alive and has steadily grown in numbers and strength, as it rapidly spreads throughout the globe.

Unlike welfare approaches that lobby for the amelioration of animal suffering, the animal liberation movement is a rights-based struggle that demands the total abolition of all forms of animal exploitation. Seeking empty cages not bigger cages, and urging the most radical form of egalitarianism rooted in the common needs and preferences of all sentient life forms, animal liberation is the major anti-slavery and abolitionist movement of the present day, one with strong parallels to its nineteenth century predecessor that successfully ended the legalized bondage of African-Americans in the United States. As one major expression of a complex and diverse global animal liberation movement, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), has cost exploitation industries hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage and has decommissioned numerous animal exploiters through raids and sabotage, as well as liberating countless numbers of animal slaves.2 The FBI has demonized the ALF and its offspring, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), as the topdomestic terrorist group in the US, and the animal liberation movement is a principle target of draconian anti-terrorist legislation in US and the UK.

Operating on a global level – from the UK, U.S., Germany, France, Norway, Russia, and Croatia to Taiwan, Mexico, and South Africa – animal liberationists attack not only the growth and consumer-oriented ideologies of capitalist states, but the capitalist property system itself with hammers, boltcutters, and Molotov cocktails. Fully aware of the totalitarian realities of the corporate-state complex, the animal liberation movement breaks with the fictions of representative democracy to undertake illegal direct action, sabotage, and break-ins for animals held captive in fur farms, factory farms, experimental laboratories, and other gruesome hell holes where scores of billions of nonhuman sentient beings die each year. Many in the animal liberation movement, as anarchists or Leftists of some kind, support human and Earth liberation struggles and articulate a systemic theoretical and political vision of total liberation that escapes single issue& politics -- such as dominates the approach of the two largest animal advocacy organizations in the world – the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) -- and many human rights and social justice struggles as well.

Since the fates of all species on this planet are intricately interrelated, the exploitation of animals cannot but have a major impact on the human world itself. Human, animal, and Earth liberation are interrelated projects that must be fought for as one. This essay asserts the need for more expansive visions and politics on both sides of the human/animal liberation equation, as it also calls for including Earth liberation into the political equation and initiating new forms of dialogue, learning, and strategic alliances on all sides. Each movement has much to learn from the other, yet all assert their dogmatic distance from other movements and struggles. Animal liberation gains a broader and more critical perspective by engaging radical social discourse and critical theories grounded in political economy, as its ranks would swell with supporters from the rights, peace, justice, and anti-globalization movements. Conversely, in addition to gaining new insights into the dynamics of hierarchy, domination, and environmental destruction from an animal standpoint, Leftists should grasp the gross inconsistency of advocating values such as peace, non-violence, compassion, justice, democracy, and equality while exploiting animals in their everyday lives, promoting speciesist ideologies, and ignoring the ongoing holocaust against other animals species that is a prime driver of planetary omnicide and biological meltdown.

Thus, I urge the importance of rethinking human and animal liberation movements in light of each other. The domination of humans, animals, and the Earth stem from the same violent mindsets, instrumentalist attitudes toward nature and all life, and pathological will to transform difference into hierarchy. These complexities can only be understood and transformed by a multiperspectival theory of power and an alliance politics broader and deeper than anything yet created, evolving as a struggle for total liberation – humans, animals, and the Earth. Theoretically, we must comprehend these liberation movements in relation to one another and identify commonalities of oppression, such as stem from hierarchy and capitalism. Politically, we need to form alliances against common oppressors, across class, racial, gender, and national boundaries, as we link democracy to ecology and social justice to animal rights.

Multiperspectival Theory

For every thousand people hacking at the branches of the tree of evil, only one is hacking at the root. Henry David Thoreau

A diverse and comprehensive theory of power and domination is necessary for a politics of total liberation, for alliances cannot be formed without understanding how different modes of power overlap and converge. Power is diverse, complex, and interlocking, and it cannot be adequately illuminated from the standpoint of any single group or concern.3

Note that the enemy is not simply class for class is not the only manifestation of power nor is it the font or earliest source; rather, class is a symptom not a cause of a larger system of domination organized around hierarchy. Hierarchy is both an institution and mindset that organizes differences into a rank of superior and inferior, such that the latter has no value for the sake of the former. The mindset and institutions of hierarchical domination spring from numerous phenomena such as patriarchy, racism, the state, and social classes and private property.

The origins of hierarchy are shrouded in prehistory, and naturally there are different interpretations and sharp controversies over when, where, and how hierarchy first emerged in society. For example, did the domination of nature lead to the domination of human beings, as Marxists argue, or did the domination of human beings lead to the domination of nature, as claimed by eco-anarchist Murray Bookchin? Some theorists attempt to reduce all modes of oppression to one, such as gender, race, or class, which they privilege as the font of power from which all others spring. Most notoriously, classical Marxists subsumed all struggles to class. Other social concerns such as patriarchy and racism were reduced to "questions," dismissed as divisive, and to be postponed to post-revolutionary society where allegedly they would be moot anyway. The resurfacing of bureaucracies, sexism, and racism in existing socialist societie refuted this Procrustean outlook.4 Similarly, radical feminists claim that patriarchy is the fundamental hierarchy in history.

The best approach is to advance a multiperspectival approach that sees both what is similar among various modes of oppression and what is specific to each. There are a plurality of modes and mechanisms of power that have evolved throughout history, and that often overlap with and reinforce one another – as capitalism feeds off racism and sexism to exploit labor power and to divide oppressed groups from one another. However, since hierarchy was already established in human society thousands of years before the emergence of private property, economic classes, and the state, racism and patriarchy are certainly two very important power systems, but also crucial is speciesism -- the belief that humans are superior to animals by sheer virtue of possessing unique human attributes such as reason and language and thereby arrogate to themselves the power to enslave, exploit, torture, and murder them in any way they see fit.

The Animal Standpoint

Mankind’s true moral test … consists of its attitude toward those who are its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it. Milan Kundera

According to feminist standpoint theory, each oppressed group has an important perspective or insight into the nature of society.5 People of color, for instance, can illuminate colonialism and the pathology of racism, while women can reveal the logic of patriarchy that has buttressed so many different modes of social power throughout history.

While animals cannot speak about their sufferings in human language, it is only from the animal standpoint -- the perspective of how humans relate to and exploit animals-- that we can grasp central aspects of the origins and development of hierarchy and related pathologies involving violence, warfare, militarism, class domination, slavery, genocide, colonialism, the Holocaust, and ecological devastation. From the animal standpoint theory, we can see that the oppression of human over human and the human exploitation of nature have deep roots in the oppression of humans over animals.

The male domination over women seems first to have emerged 80,000 years back when men began organized hunting large animals with spear technologies. No longer hunting small animals with women and elevating their role in culture through hunting rituals, this might have been the earliest form of hierarchy. The power of men over women did not advance significantly, however, until some 10,000 years ago, with the transition to agricultural society and the domestication of animals. Domestication is a euphemism that disguises extreme cruelty and coercion that involved confinement, castration, hobbling, branding, and ear cropping. To exploit animals for food, milk, clothing, plowing, and transportation, herders developed technologies such as whips, prods, chains, shackles, collars, and branding irons.  All of these technologies of control and conferment were later used on human slaves, such was especially true throughout the international slave trade of the fifteenth-nineteenth centuries.

Quite likely, animals were the first beings human oppressors used to confine, torture, cage, chain down, auction, and sell for labor and profit. The domination of animals paved the way for the domination of humans. The sexual subjugation of women was modeled after the domestication of animals, such that men began to control women’s reproductive capacity, to enforce repressive sexual norms, and to rape them as they forced breeding in their animals. Slavery emerged in the same region of the Middle East that spawned agriculture, and, in fact, developed as an extension of animal domestication practices. In areas like Sumer, slaves were managed like livestock, and males were castrated and forced to work along with females. Whips, prods, chains, shackles, collars, branding irons and other brutal technologies of control and conferment used throughout the modern international salve trade were first perfected on animals.

In the fifteenth century, when Europeans began the colonization of Africa and Spain introduced the first international slave markets, the metaphors, models, and technologies used to exploit animal slaves were applied with equal cruelty and force to human slaves. Stealing Africans from their native environment and homeland, breaking up families who scream in anguish, wrapping chains around slaves’ bodies, shipping them in cramped quarters across continents for weeks or months with no regard for their needs or suffering, branding their skin with a hot iron to mark them as property, auctioning them as servants, breeding them for service and labor, exploiting them for profit, beating them in rages of hatred and anger, and killing them in vast numbers – all these horrors and countless others inflicted on black slaves were developed and perfected centuries earlier through animal exploitation.

A crucial part of the story begins in the fourth century BCE, however, when Aristotle (1995) formulated the first hierarchical philosophy. He propounded a worldview based on the teleological principle that everything exist for a purpose, which is to fulfill the needs of higher beings in the scale of perfection. The purpose of plants was the food for animals, animals to be food for us, and our purpose is to think about God and the universe. Humans have the highest minds and beings with inferior or lower intellects did not count as fully human or as human at all. Thus Aristotle justified slavery as part of the natural order of things. Thus the philosophy of rationalism was born; this is a dualistic logic whereby humans used the category of rationality to radically distinguish themselves from animals, and from other humans as well.

But once Western norms of rationality were defined as the essence of humanity and social normality, by first using non-human animals as the measure of alterity, it was a short step to begin viewing different, exotic, and dark-skinned peoples and types as non- or sub-human. Thus, the same criterion created to exclude animals from the human community was also used to ostracize blacks, women, and numerous other groups.

The domination of human over human and its exercise through slavery, warfare, and genocide typically begins with the denigration of victims. But the means and methods of dehumanization are derivative, for speciesism provided the conceptual paradigm that encouraged, sustained, and justified Western brutality toward other peoples. Throughout history our victimization of animals has served as the model and foundation for our victimization of each other. History reveals a pattern whereby first humans exploit and slaughter animals; then, they treat other people like animals and do the same to them. Whether the conquerors are European imperialists, American colonialists, or German Nazis, western aggressors engaged in wordplay before swordplay, vilifying their victims as rats, pigs, swine, monkeys, beasts, and filthy animals.

Once perceived as brute beasts or sub-humans occupying a lower evolutionary rung than white Westerners, subjugated peoples were treated accordingly; once characterized as animals, they could be literally hunted down like animals. The first exiles from the moral community, animals provided a convenient discard bin for oppressors to dispose the oppressed.

Moreover, one can trace the origins of the pernicious Might is Right philosophy in the domination. Like racism and fascism, speciesism deploys a Might is Right outlook that sees the ability of the powerful to rule over the powerless as its justification for doing so. Hitler adopted the might is right worldview and as humans do to countless billions of animals he eliminated millions of Jews and other undesirables with the final solution. Indeed, it is interesting to note that the mass killing employed in concentration camps was modeled on techniques that originated in US slaughterhouses in the late nineteenth century, that Holocaust victims were shipped in stockcars and confined like battery hens, and that major killing zones such as Auschwitz had their own slaughterhouses on site.

Although German Nazism died, the Might is Right philosophy lives in mass consciousness. This outlook views human warfare, genocide, and mass slaughter of animals as natural and normal and believes that we have clawed our way to the top to earn our position of dominance. The cutthroat worldview continues to prop up human barbarity toward animals, and it has sedimented into a bland, unreflective common sense ideology that views veganism and animal liberation as alien to the laws of nature and the rights of Homo sapiens.

Indeed, we must also note that the mass killing employed in concentration camps was modeled on techniques that originated in US slaughterhouses in the late nineteenth century.  The construction of industrial stockyards, the total objectification of nonhuman animals, and the mechanized murder of innocent beings should have sounded a loud warning to humanity that such a process might one day be applied to them, as it was in Nazi Germany. The first Holocaust was the animal Holocaust which people ignored at their own peril. Thus, Theodor Adorno noted: Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks they’re only animals.6

The Diversity of the Animal Advocacy Movement

We’re very dangerous philosophically. Part of the danger is that we don’t buy into the illusion that property is worth more than life … we bring that insane priority into the light, which is something the system cannot survive. David Barbarash, former spokesman for the ALF

Animal liberation is only part, by far still the smallest part, of a growing social movement for the protection of animals I call the animal advocacy movement. This broad animal protectionist cause has three major different (and sharply conflicting) tendencies: animal welfare, animal rights, and animal liberation. In modern form, as a bona fide social movement rather than concern of philosophers or clergymen, animal advocacy had humble welfarist beginnings in the early nineteenth century with the founding of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in Britain and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in the US (see Beers 2006).  Welfare organizations thereafter spread widely throughout these and other Western countries, addressing virtually every form of animal abuse.

The goal of welfare organizations, however, has never been eliminating the institutions that exploit animals – be they research laboratories, factory farms, slaughterhouses, fur farms, or circuses and rodeos – but rather reducing or ameliorating animal suffering within such violent and repressive structures. Welfarists acknowledge that animals have interests, but they believe these can be legitimately sacrificed or traded away if there is some overridingly compelling human interest at stake (which invariably is never too trivial to defend against substantive animal interests). Welfarists simply believe that animals should not be caused unnecessary pain, and hold that any harm or death inflicted on them must be done humanely.

In bold contrast, animal rights advocates reject the utilitarian premises of welfarism that allows the happiness, freedom, and lives of animals to be sacrificed to some alleged greater human need or purpose. The philosophy of animal rights did not emerge in significant form until the publication of Tom Regan’s seminal work, The Case for Animal Rights (1983). According to Regan and other animal rights theorists, a basic moral equality exists among human and nonhuman animals in that they are sentient, and therefore have significant interests and preferences (such as not to feel pain) that should be protected and respected. Moreover, Regan argues, many animal species (chimpanzees, dolphins, cats, dogs, etc.) are akin to humans by having the type of cognitive characteristics that make them subjects of a life, whereby they have complex mental abilities that include memory, self-consciousness, and the ability to conceive of a future. Arguments that only humans have rights because they are the only animals that have reason and language, besides being factually wrong, are completely irrelevant as sentience is a necessary and sufficient condition for having rights.

Sharply opposed to the welfarist philosophies of mainstream animal advocacy and utilitarian philosophers like Peter Singer (1975), proponents of animal rights argue that the intrinsic value and basic rights of animals cannot be trumped by any appeal to an alleged greater (human) good. Animals’ interests cannot be sacrificed no matter what good consequence may result (such as an alleged advance in medical knowledge). Just as most people believe that it is immoral to sacrifice a human individual to a greater good if it improves the overall social welfare, so animal rights proponents persuasively apply the same reasoning to animals. If animals have rights, it is no more valid to use them in medical experimentation than it is to use human beings; for the scientific cause can just as well – in truth, far better – be advanced through human experimentation, but ethics and human rights forbids it.

Properly understood, the animal rights movement is a contemporary anti-slavery and abolitionist movement.  Just as nineteenth century abolitionists sought to awaken people to the greatest moral issue of the day involving the slavery of millions of people in a society created around the notion of universal rights, so the new abolitionists of the twenty-first century endeavor to enlighten people about the enormity and importance of animal suffering and oppression. As black slavery earlier raised fundamental questions about the meaning of American democracy and modern values, so current discussion regarding animal slavery provokes critical examination into a human psyche damaged by violence, arrogance, and alienation, and the urgent need for a new ethics and sensibility rooted in respect for all life.

Animals in experimental laboratories, factory farms, fur farms, leather factories, zoos, circuses, rodeos, and other exploitative institutions are the major slave and proletariat force of contemporary capitalist society. Each year, throughout the globe, they are confined, exploited, and slaughtered by the billions. The raw materials of the human economy (a far greater and more general domination system than capitalism), animals are exploited for their fur, flesh, and bodily fluids. Stolen from the wild, bred and raised in captivity, held in cages and chains against their will and without their consent, animals literally are slaves, and thereby integral elements of the contemporary capitalist slave economy (which in its starkest form also includes human sweatshops and sex trades).

Abolitionists often view welfarism as a dangerous ruse and roadblock to moral progress, and often ground their position in the philosophy of rights. Nineteenth century abolitionists were not addressing the slave master’s obligation to be kind to the slaves, to feed and clothe them well, or to work them with adequate rest. Rather, they demanded the total and unqualified eradication of the master-slave relation, the freeing of the slave from all forms of bondage. Similarly, the new abolitionists reject reforms of the institutions and practices of animal slavery as grossly inadequate and they pursue the complete emancipation of animals from all forms of human exploitation, subjugation, and domination.7

Yet, although opposed to welfarism in its embrace of egalitarianism, rights, and abolitionism, most animal rights advocates are one with welfarists in advocating strictly legal forms of change through education and legislation. Like welfarists, animal rights advocates typically accept the legitimacy of capitalist economic, political, and legal institutions, and rarely possess the larger social/political/economic context required to understand the inherently exploitative logic of capital and the structural relationship between market and state.

The adherence to bourgeois ideology that justice can be achieved by working through the pre-approved channels of the state, which is utterly corrupt and dominated by corporate interests, separates animal liberationists from rights and welfare proponents.  Sometimes grounding their positions in rights philosophy, and sometimes rejecting or avoiding philosophical foundations for emphases on practical action, militant animal liberationists pursue their abolitionist goals through economic sabotage, using what they identify as non-violent tactics that destroy the proper of animal exploiters but never physically harm individual exploiters themselves. Unique in their broad, critical vision, the militant and progressive elements of this movement reject capitalism, imperialism, and oppression and hierarchy of all kinds.

Unlike the single-issue focus that dominates all aspects of the animal advocacy movement, radical animal liberationists support human struggles for liberation and see the oppression of humans, animals, and Earth as stemming from the same core causes and dynamics. These militants are predominantly anarchist in ideology, temperament, and organization. Believing that the state is a tool of corporate interests and that the law is the opiate of the people, they seek empowerment and results through illegal direct action, such as rescue raids, break-ins, and sabotage. One major form of the animal liberation movement is the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), which emerged in England in 1976, spread to the US by 1980, and therefore became a global movement active in over two dozen countries (see Best and Nocella, 2004). Whereas some hard-core liberationists like the Justice Department advocate violence against animal exploiters, the ALF adopts a nonviolent approach that seeks to cause maximal property damage to exploiters without causing physical harm to the exploiters themselves.8

Thus, the main division within the animal advocacy movement is not between welfare and rights approaches, as commonly argued, but rather between statist and non-statist approaches. Only the radical elements in the animal liberation movement challenge the myths of representative democracy, as they explore direct action and live in anarchist cultures. Clearly, among these difference tendencies the animal liberation movement is closest to the concerns of radical Left democratic and anarchist politics, although the entire thrust of animal rights is an extension of modern human rights struggles and peace and justice movements.

But the pluralism of animal protectionism is not only a matter of competing welfare, rights, and liberation perspectives. Its social composition cuts across lines of class, gender, religion, age, and politics. Republicans, democrats, Leftists, anarchists, feminists, anti-humanists, anarcho-primitivists, Greens, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and others comprise the complexity and diversity of the animal advocacy movement. Unlike the issue of class struggle and labor justice, one can advocate compassion for animals from any political position, such as is clear from the influential books and articles of Matthew Scully, a compassionate conservative who advocated human mercy (rather than justice) toward animals, as he wrote pivotal speeches for ex-US President George W. Bush in his bid to wage and sustain war against Iraq, as well as the speech for former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, a right wing extremist and enthusiastic hunter!9

Such political diversity is both a virtue and vice. While it maximizes the influence of animal advocacy within the public realm, and thereby creates new legislative opportunities for welfare policies, there is nevertheless a lack of philosophical and political coherence, splintering the movement into competing and conflicting fragments. Overwhelmingly reformist and single-issue oriented (in addition to being largely white and middle/upper class), virtually the entire animal protectionist movement, with the salient exception of militant anarchist animal liberationists, lacks a systemic social critique that grasps capital logic as a key determining force of animal exploitation and recognizes the state as a corporate-dominated structure resistant to significant social change.

While there is no animal advocacy movement in the singular that one can build bridges with in the struggle against capitalism, there are nonetheless socially progressive and radical elements within the animal liberation camp that understand the nature of capitalism and the state and are open to, and often experienced in, radical alliance politics. Animal liberation struggles, thereby, are a potentially important force of social change, not only in relation to its struggle against animal exploitation and capitalist industries but also as an element of and catalyst to human and Earth liberation politics.

Animal Liberation and the Left

What do they know - all these scholars, all these philosophers, all the leaders of the world? They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the species, is the crown of creation. All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to [animals], all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka. Isaac Bashevis Singer

Speciesism is the belief that nonhuman animals exist to serve the needs of the human species, that animals are in various senses inferior to human beings, and therefore that one can favor human over nonhuman interests according to species status alone. Like racism or sexism, speciesism creates a false dualism between one group and another in order to arrange the differences hierarchically and justify the domination of the superior over the inferior. Just as in the last two centuries Western society has discerned that it is prejudiced, illogical, and unacceptable for whites to devalue people of color and for men to diminish women, so it is beginning to learn how utterly arbitrary and irrational it is for human animals to position themselves over nonhuman animals because of species differences. Among animals who are all sentient subjects of a life, these differences – humanity’s false and arrogant claim to be the sole bearer of reason and language – are no more ethically relevant than differences of gender or skin color, yet in the unevolved psychology of the human primate they have decisive bearing. The theory of speciesism informs the practice, manifesting in unspeakably cruel forms of domination, violence, and killing.

The prejudicial and discriminatory attitude of speciesism is as much a part of the Left as the general population and its most regressive elements, a glaring moral failing which calls into question the Left’s characterization of their positions and politics as radical, oppositional, or progressive. While condemning hierarchical domination and professing rights for all, the Left fails to take into account the weighty needs and interests of billions of oppressed animals. Although priding themselves on holistic and systemic critiques of global capitalism, Leftists fail to grasp the profound interconnections among human, animal, and Earth liberation struggles and the need to fight for all as one struggle against domination, exploitation, and hierarchy. If Marxism, socialism, anarchism, and other Left traditions have proudly grounded their theories in science, social radicals need to realize that science – specifically, the discipline of cognitive ethology which studies the complexity of animal emotions, thought, and communications – has completely eclipsed their fallacious, regressive, speciesist concepts of nonhuman animals as machines or instinct-driven robots devoid of complex forms of consciousness and social life.10

From the perspective of ecology and animal rights, Marxists and other social radicals have been extremely reactionary forces. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels lumped animal welfarists into the same petite-bourgeois or reactionary category with charity organizers, temperance fanatics, and naïve reformists, failing to see that the animal welfare movement in the US, for instance, was a key politicizing cause for women whose struggle to reduce cruelty to animals was inseparable from their struggle against male violence and the exploitation of children.  Similarly, in his work, On the History of Early Christianity, Engels belittled vegetarians and anti-vivisectionists with no understanding of the importance of these issues for reducing human cruelty and moral progress.

Far more influential, no doubt, was the crude materialist theory of nonhuman consciousness, whereby Marx attributed free will and thought process only to evolved human life. In works such as the 1844 Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, Marx advanced a naturalistic theory of human life radical for the time, but like the dominant Western tradition he posited a sharp dualism between human and nonhuman animals, arguing that only human beings have consciousness, communicative abilities, and a complex social world. Denying to animals the emotional, social, and psychological complexity of their actual lives, Marx argued that whereas animals have an immediate and merely instinctual relation to productive activity, human labor is mediated by free will and intelligence. In Marx’s humanist metanarrative that links social progress to the domination of nature, animals exist as part of the natural world for us to humanize, as humanity evolves in and through its technological transformation and control of nature.

If Marxism, anarchism, and other Left traditions have proudly grounded their theories in evolution and the natural sciences, social radicals need to realize that science – specifically, the recent discipline of cognitive ethology which studies the complexity of animal emotions, thought, and communications – has completely eclipsed their benighted views of animals and uncovered a remarkable world of feelings, thinking, and communication unimaginable to the benighted Western mindset.

While there is lively debate over whether or not Marx had an environmental consciousness, there is no question he was a speciesist and the product of an obsolete anthropocentric/dominionist paradigm that continues to mar progressive social theory and politics. The spectacle of Left speciesism is evident in the lack of articles – often due to a blatant refusal to consider animal rights issues -- on animal exploitation in progressive journals, magazines, and online sites. In popular socially progressive magazines such as The Nation, for instance, one finds essays that condemn the treatment of workers at a factory farm, but amazingly say nothing about the exploitation of thousands of chickens imprisoned in the hell of battery cages. In bold contrast, Gale Eisnitz’s powerful work, Slaughterhouse (1997), documents the exploitation of animals and humans alike on the killing floors of slaughterhouses, as she shows the dehumanization of humans in and through routinized violence to animals. In a review of a book on the history of modern vegetarianism for The Nation, however, Dan Lazere (2007) ignores the profound moral, political, and environmental arguments in order to gratuitously ridicule vegetarians and to champion mass meat consumption as a triumph of human agency over scarcity (!), while oblivious to how animal agriculture produces scarcity.

As symptomatic of the prejudice, ignorance, provincialism, and non-holistic theorizing that is rife through the Left, consider the case of Michael Albert, a noted Marxist theorist and co-founder of Z Magazine and Z Net. In a recent interview with the animal rights and environmental magazine Satya (2002), Albert confesses: When I talk about social movements to make the world better, animal rights does not come into my mind. I honestly don’t see animal rights in anything like the way I see women’s movements, Latino movements, youth movements, and so on … a large-scale discussion of animal rights and ensuing action is probably more than needed … but it just honestly doesn’t strike me as being remotely as urgent as preventing war in Iraq or winning a 30-hour work week.

It is hard to fathom privileging a work reduction for humans who live relatively comfortable lives to ameliorating the obscene suffering of tens of billion of animals who are confined, tortured, and killed each year in the most unspeakable ways.   Like most within the Left, Albert betrays a shocking insensitivity to the suffering of billions of sentient individuals and he lacks the holistic vision to grasp the profound connections among the most serious problems afflicting humans, animals, and the environment. But human and animal rights and liberation causes are not a zero-sum game, such that gains for animals require losses for humans. Like most within the Left, Albert lacks the holistic vision to grasp the profound connections between animal abuse and human suffering.

The problem with such myopic Leftism stems not only from Marx himself, but the traditions that spawned him – modern humanism, mechanistic science, industrialism, and the Enlightenment. To be sure, the move from a God-centered to a human-centered world, from the crusades of a bloodthirsty Christianity to the critical thinking and autonomy ethos of the Enlightenment, were massive historical gains, and animal rights builds on them. But modern social theory and science perpetuated one of worst aspects of Christianity (in the standard interpretation that understands dominion as domination), namely the view that animals are mere resources for human use. Indeed, the situation for animals worsened considerably under the impact of modern sciences and technologies that spawned vivisection, genetic engineering, cloning, factory farms, and slaughterhouses. Darwinism was an important influence on Marx and subsequent radical thought, but no one retained Darwin’s emphasis on the intelligence of animal life, the evolutionary continuity from nonhuman to human life, and the basic equality among all species.

Benighted, exploitative, and supremacist views of animals run from one school of Leftism to another. One finds a glaring example of Dark Age thinking and speciesism in a twentieth century anarchist theorist, Murray Bookchin, noted for his pioneering effort to unite ecology and anarchism into a new viewpoint of eco-anarchism or social ecology that insists an ecological world is impossible without radical democracy and social revolution. Since his first ecological writings in the early 1950s, Bookchin condemned the industrialization of agriculture, such as led to the horrors of intensive confinement of animals in systems of factory farming, and advanced a more traditional and ecologically sound form of farming that was organic and small-scale. He referred to animals as sources of food and advocated something like what today is called humane agriculture, and thus never challenged the speciesist assumption that animals are mere resources for human use. Bookchin, like the Left in general, never advanced beyond the welfare view that we have every right to use animals for our purposes, so long as we do not cause them unnecessary suffering and kill them humanely. Articulating the exploitative view of the Left, Bookchin espouses the same welfarist views that permit and sanctify some of the most obscene forms of violence against animals within current capitalist social relations, by speaking in the same language of humane treatment of animal slaves used by vivisectors, managers of factory farms and slaughterhouses operators, fur farmers, and bosses of rodeos and circuses.

Oblivious to scientific studies that document reason, language, technology, culture, and art among various animal species, Bookchin (2005) reproduced the Cartesian-Marxist mechanistic view of animals as dumb creatures devoid of reason, language, and culture. In Bookchin’s terms, animals therefore belong to first nature, relegated there along with rocks, trees, and other insensate objects, and reserved the self-conscious and effervescently creative world of second nature for humans, as they alone make the ascent from instinct and mere sensation to self-consciousness, language, and reasoning. Despite his evolutionary and naturalist metanarrative of the development of life and subjectivity along increasingly complex lines that culminated in the human brain and society, Bookchin nevertheless erects a Berlin Wall between nonhuman and human animals and fails to see – as Darwin pointed out in the 1870s – that our alleged differences with animals turn out to be differences in degree, not kind. Following traditional philosophical reasoning, he reserves the term rights for humans, not animals, as only humans, he argues, live in moral communities and make the kind of social contracts that makes such talk meaningful. But this is an arbitrary rejection of the concept of animal rights which fails to see that the fundamental purpose of rights is to protect interests, and animals have important interests to protect – specifically, from the murderous and rapacious hands of human beings.

Like the Left in general, Bookchin and social ecologists fail to theorize the impact of animal exploitation on the environment and human society and psychology. The environmental question is particularly important for social ecology, and so it is curious that it has by and large failed to mediate analysis of the ecological crisis with the exploitation of animals in global agribusiness, a major failing as animal-based agriculture is the primary cause of global warming, the main source of water pollution,  a key cause of rainforest destruction and species extinction, and as it monopolizes land, water, and food resources for feed, not food, and for a product that eventually becomes food which promotes a array of diseases and a medical health care crisis plaguing industrial societies. In Bookchin’s work, one finds critiques of human arrogance over and alienation from nature, calls for a reharmonization of society with ecology, and emphases on a new ethics and new sensibility that overcomes the violence inherent in instrumentalism. Yet these important proposed changes apply only to our relation to nature, not to animals, which we seemingly continue to exploit as before. To reduce animals to nature and to focus solely on the physical world apart from the millions of animal species it contains it houses is speciesist, myopic, and inimical to the true level of radical changes needed in human consciousness and social relations.

Although since the 1970s Leftists have begun to seriously address the nature question missing from their reified ontological concepts that abstracted society from nature and with Promethean pretentiousness conceived of the natural world as an inexhaustible storehouse of riches for human use, so they have universally failed to grasp that it is the animal question that lies at the core of social and ecological issues.11 Just as the blatantly sexist attitudes of Left radicals in the 1960s democracy and anti-war movements punctured their critical, progressive, counter-cultural, and enlightened halos, so the overt speciesism which persists throughout the Left disqualifies their claims toward moral leadership and superiority and renders them feeble hypocrites.

In a banal, human-all-too-human fashion, Leftists can only mock what they don’t understand or can’t seriously question due to the crushing weight of speciesism and the social construction of human identity. In short, the modern radical tradition stands in continuity with capitalist domination imperatives and, more generally, the entire Western heritage of anthropocentrism, speciesism, hierarchy, violence, domination, power, and instrumentalism. In no way can radical Left theories be a liberating philosophy from the standpoint of the environment and the millions of other species on this planet besides Homo sapiens. Ultimately, Leftist theory and practice is merely Stalinism toward animals, for the global Gulag of exploitation and a bureaucratic administration of suffering and mass murder that now – for meat consumption alone --  takes the lives of over 50 billion land animals every year and tens of billions additional marine animals.

Anarchism, Anti-Capitalism, and Animal Liberation

Freedom …is not attainable by animals. Murray Bookchin

Unlike animal liberation approaches which often are anti-capitalist and anarchist, welfare and rights approaches in the animal advocacy movement are largely apolitical beyond their own causes, although ideological orientations of animal advocates can fall anywhere on the scale from far Right to far Left. In most cases, animal reformists (1) do not have a grasp of social movement history (with which one can contextualize the significance of animal advocacy); (2) lack critiques of the inherently irrational, destructive, and unsustainable grow-or-die system of global capitalism; and (3) fail to see the relations between capitalism and animal exploitation (e.g., how the immiseration of the south brought on by globalization and neoliberalism force many people into practices like poaching to survive). They thereby proceed without a systemic vision and political critique of the society and global system that exploits animals through industrialized systems of mass production and death.

The structural critiques of capitalism as an irrational growth system that is exploitative in nature demonstrate that talk of green capitalism or sustainable development is sheer folly and distinguish radical theories such as social ecology from reformist theories that attempt to minimize the destructive aspects of capitalism without calling for revolutionary change. Lacking a sophisticated social, political, economic, and historical analysis of capitalist societies, and seeking reforms in one sector of society in order to alleviate the suffering of animals, much of the animal advocacy movement is well-deserving of the Left critique that it is a reformist, single issue movement whose demands – which potentially are radical to the extent that animal liberation threatens an economy and society deeply rooted in animal slavery – are easily contained within a totalizing global system that exploits all life and the Earth for imperatives of profit, accumulation, growth, and domination.

In bold contrast to the limitations of the animal advocacy movement and all other reformist causes, radical social theorists such as Takis Fotopoulos (a self-proclaimed libertarian socialist) advance a broad view of human dynamics and social institutions, their impact on the Earth, and the resulting consequences for society itself. Combining anti-capitalist, radical democracy, and ecological concerns in the concept of inclusive democracy, Fotopoulos defines this notion as the institutional framework which aims at the elimination of any human attempt to dominate the natural world, in other words, as the system which aims to reintegrate humans and nature. This implies transcending the present instrumentalist view of Nature, in which Nature is seen as an instrument for growth, within a process of endless concentration of power.12 In our current era of reformism and neo-liberalism, Fotopoulos advances an important analysis and critique of global capitalism and the triumph over Social Democracy, the Greens, and other political parties and ideologies. As true of social ecology and Left theory in general, however, the dynamics and consequences of human exploitation of animals throughout history is entirely missing from the Inclusive Democracy theory of nature and ecology and critique of instrumentalism.

Where the Inclusive Democracy critique can take easy aim at the statist orientation of the animal advocacy movement as a whole, the critique requires serious qualification in light of one sector of the movement, albeit small, that advocates animal liberation as part of a broader radical social politics. As evident in the manifestos of the ALF, many animal liberationists understand that the state is a political extension of the capitalist economy and therefore representative democracy is a myth and smokescreen whereby capitalism mollifies and co-opts its opposition. Bypassing appeals to politicians in the pocket of animal exploitation industries, and disregarding both the pragmatic efficacy and ethical legitimacy of existing laws, the animal liberation movement applies direct pressure against animal exploiters to undermine or end their operations and free as many animals as possible. Radical abolitionists are not only anti-state, but anti-capitalist and have a systematic vision (if not concrete analysis) of the forces of hierarchy and the commonalities of oppression.

The anti-capitalist ideology of many animal liberationists is specifically anarchist in nature, and there are strong anti-fascist and anti-racist views in animal rights subcultures.  Not only are animal liberationists often anarchist in their social and political outlook, they are also anarchist in their organization and tactics. The small cells that ALF activists build with one another – such that one cell is unknown to all others and thereby resistant to police penetration – are akin to anarchist affinity groups in their mutual aid, solidarity, security culture, and consciousness building. Whereas the animal advocacy movement is largely mired in a single-issue politics that will work with the right as well as social progressives to achieve their goals for animals, many in the animal liberation movement reject this myopic opportunism that ties animal groups to corporate and state interests.

The project to emancipate animals, in other words, is integrally related to the struggle to emancipate humans and the battle for a viable natural world. To the extent that animal liberationists grasp the big picture that links animal and human rights struggles as one, and seeks to uncover the roots of oppression and tyranny of the Earth, they can be viewed as a profound new liberation movement that has a crucial place in the planetary struggles against injustice, oppression, exploitation, war, violence, capitalist neo-liberalism, and the destruction of the natural world and biodiversity. In conditions where other social movements are institutionalized, disempowered, reformist, or co-opted, animal liberationists are key contemporary forces of resistance. They defy corporate power, state domination, and ideological hegemony, and literally attack institutions of domination and exploitation – not just their ideologies or concepts – with bricks, sledge hammers, and Molotov cocktails. Where today’s radicals are mostly engaged in theory and philosophizing, the ALF, for instance, is taking action against capitalism and in defense of life, often at great personal risk. In the post-9/11 climate of intense political persecution of all dissent, human rights activists should recognize that animal rights advocates are on the front lines of exercising and protecting free speech rights important to all resistance movements, and support rather than ignore their struggles.

Yet, for whatever parallels we can identify between the animal liberation movement and Inclusive Democracy, Fotopoulos is critical of animal rights to the degree that it lacks a detailed and concrete systemic critique of global capitalism and its various hierarchical systems of power, and positive and workable strategies for radical social transformation that dismantles the state and market system in favor of direct democracy. Fotopoulos correctly argues that sabotage actions – while important, bold, and rare forms of liberation and resistance today that liberate animals and injure or shut down exploiters – are rearguard, defensive, and incapable of stopping the larger juggernaut of capitalist domination and omnicide. Many liberationists would admit as much. The general thrust of Fotopoulos’ critique of the reformist tendencies dominating the animal advocacy movement, such that hypocrites like Matthew Scully are hailed as heroes, is correct: Unless an antisystemic animal liberation current develops out of the present broad movement soon, the entire movement could easily end up as a kind of painless (for the elites) lobby that could even condemn direct action in the future, so that it could gain some respectability among the middle classes.

But, as I have been arguing, the insights, learning, and changes need to come from both sides, and the animal standpoint can be highly productive for radical social politics. The animal perspective can deepen the ecological component of social ecology and Inclusive Democracy, and yields a profound understanding of the intricate interconnections between the domination of animals and the domination of humans. The goal of ecological democracy cannot be achieved without working to eliminate the worst forms of animal exploitation such as occur in the global operations of factory farming. Plant-based diets, veganism, and animal liberation all promote sound ecology, provide maximal amount of food and nutrition for the greatest number of people, help to alleviate world hunger, and help preserve the diversity and independence of the world’s farmers against the plunder of global agribusiness.

Leftist goals cannot be realized without a profound critique and transformation of instrumentalism, such as which emerged as a form of power over animals then over humans. While animals cannot speak about their suffering, it is only from the animal standpoint – the standpoint of animal exploitation – that one can grasp the nature of speciesism, glean key facets of the pathology of human violence, and illuminate important aspects of alienation from and contempt for animals and nature, and in general elucidate key causes of the social and environmental crisis that deepens every day. Any critique of instrumentalism as a profound psychological source of hierarchy, domination, and violence must analyze the roots of this in the domination of animals that begins in the transition from hunting and gathering cultures to agricultural society, such that the domination of women and institutionalization of slavery relied on animal breeding models.

From Humanism to Total Liberation

Until he extends the circle of compassion to all living things, Man will not himself find peace. Albert Schweitzer

In countless ways, the exploitation of animals rebounds to create crises within the human world itself. The vicious circle of violence and destruction can end only if and when the human species learns to form harmonious relations – non-hierarchical and non-exploitative -- with other animal species and the natural world. Human, animal, and earth liberation are interrelated projects that must be fought for as one.

It is well understood, for instance, that human population rates drop where people are more educated and women have more rights. Also, where people are not desperately poor, they have no economic need to cut down trees or poach animals. If elephant killing in South Africa is profitable, we need to eliminate economic incentives to kill by addressing the root causes of poverty that make the profits from actions like poaching alluring to the poor. An effective struggle for animal rights, then, means tackling issues such as poverty, class, political corruption, and ultimately the inequalities created by transnational corporations and globalization. Any viable approach to save animals must also promote greater democracy such that decisions are not made by a corrupt few in positions of power, but by entire communities using democratic decision making procedures.

The challenge of animal rights to Marxism, anarchism, social ecology, Inclusive Democracy, and other Left models that decry exploitation, inequality, injustice, and ecological destruction, while advocating holistic models of social analysis, is to recognize the deep interrelations among human, animal, and Earth liberation. The (uneven) advancement of one species on the backs of others not only flouts the ethical principles of liberation movements, it contradicts them in practice. Frameworks that attempt to analyze relationships between society and nature, democracy and ecology, will unavoidably be severely limited to the extent that their concept of nature focuses on physical environments and ecosystems without mention of animals and the enormous social and ecological consequences of animal exploitation. Such views not only set up arbitrary ethical boundaries and moral limitations, they fail on their own grounds which seek to comprehend environmental ruination apart from the most consequential forces driving the planetary ecological crisis today.

Largely apolitical or single-issue in scope, animal rights advocates fail to grasp how the animal abuses they decry result from the profit imperative, and are part and parcel of a social system that needs to be challenged and transformed in radical ways. The animal rights community generally shows itself to be politically naive, single-issue oriented, and devoid of a systemic anti-capitalist theory and politics necessary for overcoming animal exploitation, speciesism, and uncontrolled growth dynamics precipitating a planetary crisis signalled by species extinction and global warming. To the extent that animal rights activists grasp the systemic nature of animal exploitation, they should also realize that animal liberation demands that they work in conjunction with other radical social movements.13 The most influential theories of animal liberation, however, especially that of Gary Francione, are overwhelmingly single-issue, liberal-capitalist, and consumerist visions peddled to an affluent white, middle/upper-class elite, and operate with a fetishized concept of social transformation through a vegan revolution to unfold one-plate-at-a-time, as it becomes ever more obvious that the social and ecological crises of the planet demand far-reaching social change and global anti-capitalist alliance politics.14

Conversely, human rights advocates need to comprehend the myriad of social and ecological problems that stem from animal exploitation. When human beings exterminate animals, they devastate habitats and ecosystems necessary for their own lives. When they butcher farmed animals by the billions, they ravage rainforests, turn grasslands into deserts, exacerbate global warming, and spew toxic wastes into the environment. When they construct a global system of factory farming that requires prodigious amounts of land, water, energy, and crops, they squander vital resources and aggravate the problem of world hunger. When humans are violent toward animals, they often are violent toward one another, a tragic truism validated time and time again by serial killers who grow up abusing animals and violent men who beat the women, children, and animals of their home. The connections go far deeper, as evident if one examines the scholarship on the conceptual and technological relations between the domestication of animals at the dawn of agricultural society and the emergence of patriarchy, state power, slavery, and hierarchy and domination of all kinds.

The fight for animal liberation demands radical transformations in the habits, practices, values, and mindset of all human beings as it also entails a fundamental restructuring of social institutions and economic systems predicated on exploitative practices. Animal liberation requires that the Left transcend the comfortable boundaries of humanism in order to make a qualitative leap in ethical consideration, thereby moving the moral bar from reason and language to sentience and subjectivity. Just as the Left once had to confront ecology, and emerged a far superior theory and politics, so now it must engage animal rights. As the confrontation with ecology infinitely deepened and enriched Leftist theory and politics, so should the encounter with animal rights and liberation.

Animal liberation is by no means a sufficient condition for a genuinely democratic and ecological society, but it is for many reasons a necessary condition of profound economic, social, cultural, and psychological change. Animal welfare/rights people promote compassionate relations toward animals, but their general politics and worldview can otherwise be capitalist, exploitative, sexist, racist, or captive to any other psychological fallacy. Uncritical of the capitalist economy and state, they hardly promote the broader kinds of critical consciousness that needs to take root far and wide. Just as Leftists rarely acknowledge their own speciesism, so many animal advocates reproduce capitalist and statist ideologies. As evident withnon-partisan posers, one dimensional single-issue mentalities, and groups such as PETA that will champion a loathsome rightwing politician who has a shred of animal sensibility or reproduce sexist images and ideologies to challenge speciesism, a broad swath of the animal advocacy movement is intellectually stunted, politically naïve, and tactically inept.

The next great step in moral evolution is to abolish the last acceptable form of slavery that subjugates the vast majority of species on this planet to the violent whim of one. Animal liberation builds on the most progressive ethical and political advances human beings have made in the last two hundred years and carries them to their logical conclusions. It takes the struggle for rights, equality, and nonviolence to the next level, beyond the artificial moral and legal boundaries of humanism, in order to challenge all prejudices and hierarchies including speciesism. Martin Luther King’s paradigmatic humanist vision of a worldhouse devoid of violence and divisions, however laudable, remains a blood-soaked slaughterhouse until the values of peace and equality are extended to all animal species.

Animal liberation is the culmination of a vast historical learning process whereby human beings gradually realize that arguments justifying hierarchy, inequality, and discrimination of any kind are arbitrary, baseless, and fallacious. Moral progress occurs in the process of demystifying and deconstructing all myths – from ancient patriarchy and the divine right of kings to Social Darwinism and speciesism – that attempt to legitimate the domination of one group over another. Moral progress advances through the dynamic of replacing hierarchical visions with egalitarian visions and developing a broader and more inclusive ethical community in institutional practice. Having recognized the illogical and unjustifiable rationales used to oppress blacks, women, and other disadvantaged groups, society is beginning to grasp that speciesism is another unsubstantiated form of oppression and discrimination.

The gross inconsistency of Leftists who champion democracy and rights while supporting a system that enslaves billions of other sentient and intelligent life forms is on par with the hypocrisy of American colonists protesting British tyranny while enslaving millions of blacks. Moral advance today involves sending human supremacy to the same refuse bin that society earlier discarded much male supremacy and white supremacy. Animal liberation requires that people transcend the complacent boundaries of humanism in order to make a qualitative leap in ethical consideration, thereby moving the moral bar from reason and language to sentience and subjectivity. Animal liberation is possible only as total liberation that is advanced as part and parcel of a radical social movement and realizes moral learning processes in the institutional networks of a truly democratic post-capitalist society.

The human/animal liberation movements have much to learn from one another. Just as those in the Left and social justice movements have much to teach many in the animal advocacy movement about capital logic, social oppression, and the plight of peoples, so they have much to learn about animal rights, veganism, and the social and environmental consequences of animal exploitation. Whereas Left radicals can help temper antihumanist elements in the animal liberation movement, the animal liberation movement can help the Left overcome speciesist prejudices and move society toward a more compassionate, cruelty-free, and environmentally sound mode of living.  Articulating connections among human, animal, and Earth liberation movements no doubt will be challenging, but it is a major task that needs to be undertaken from all sides. One common ground and point of departure can be the critique of instrumentalism and relation between the domination of humans over animals – as an integral part of the domination of nature in general – and the domination of humans over one another.15

The animal liberation movement questions the worldviews human beings have constructed for millennia that justify their separation from and domination over the natural world; it exposes the shabby justifications for speciesism, as it shows the violent and destructive consequences of this ideology. Animal liberation is the most difficult battle human beings have ever fought, because it requires widespread agreement to abandon what most perceive as their absolute privileges and God-given rights to exploit animals by sole virtue of their human status. Moreover, where the stakes of human liberation struggles were largely confined to particular interests, the failure of human beings to drastically reframe their attitudes and relations to animals will have catastrophic and global consequences for all humanity, making profound social and ecological transformation an impossibility.

A truly revolutionary social theory and movement will not just emancipate members of one species, but rather all species and the Earth itself. A future revolutionary movement worthy of its name will overcome instrumentalism and hierarchical thinking in every pernicious form, including that of humans over animals and the natural world. It will grasp the incompatibility of capitalism with the most profound values and goals of humanity. It will build on the achievements of democratic, libertarian socialist, and anarchist traditions. It will incorporate radical green, feminist, and indigenous struggles. It will merge human, animal, and Earth liberation in a total liberation struggle against global capitalism and domination of all kinds. It must dismantle all asymmetrical power relations and structures of hierarchy and begin the vital process of healing the breach among human beings and between human and nonhuman animals.