Socialism is an economic and political order that sets common needs above private desires, and that values people over the things they make or sell. In that broad sense, it’s a system as old as humans themselves. Our forager ancestors were socialists: they had no conception of private property, disdained greed, and honored each other and their environment. Why hoard when the world was so bountiful? Why vaunt the sense of having, when the sense of wonder yielded much greater delight? Why treat other people and non-human animals as mere things when propinquity was so clear?
But then agriculture, private property and nation-states appeared. The actual history is long, complex and debated, but the result was clear: Hierarchy deposed equality and accumulation displaced sharing. Personal or dynastic wealth changed from being exceptional occurrences to vaunted principles, and socialism in its many forms became a radical idea, even a dangerous one. Five hundred years ago, during the reign of Henry VIII, Thomas More explored it in his book, Utopia (1516). He described an island whose inhabitants work at trades that bring them pleasure, sleep a full eight hours every night, and have abundant time for relaxation, chiefly reading, attending lectures and discussing ideas. The fact that the book was published in Latin may have protected its author from attack, but only for a while. More was beheaded in 1535 for refusing to accept the supremacy of the English crown over the Church of Rome, but Utopia had already earned him enemies. Ambrosius Holbein’s map of Utopia for the 1518 edition, suggests the risk More was taking. His island takes the form of a memento mori: a skull or death’s head. (The ship’s hull at lower right is a jaw with teeth.)
English radicals of the next century – the True Levellers (later called Diggers), Ranters and other radical, dissenting groups – also embraced socialism. Gerrard Winstanley, the Levellers’ spokesman, proclaimed the earth a common storehouse for everyone, labor for wages a curse, and landlords to be oppressors and murderers. He also said that animals no less than humans bore the imprint of God, an idea picked up later by the poet William Blake when he wrote: “Every thing that lives is holy” The Levellers were defeated by Cromwell in 1649, but their ideas lived on and grew even more seductive. Jean-Jacques Rousseau invoked socialist principles in his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1755) and The Social Contract (1762), and socialism motivated some of the revolutionists in France after 1789, including Gracchus Babeuf who in 1796 led a left-wing Conspiracy of the Equals. He and his supporters proclaimed: “Nature has given to every man the right to the enjoyment of an equal share in all property”. (Babeuf alas, shared the fate of More: he was beheaded.)
Socialism and its equally radical corollary “democracy” (rule by the people) thus represented at the time of the French Revolution the principle that workers and peasants had as much moral and social worth as their class betters and deserved equal shares in earth’s bounty. By the middle of the 19th Century, the word “socialism” itself, and sometimes “communism” was widely deployed, and a raft of politicians and philosophers in several countries wrote about it, including Karl Marx. His book titled Capital (1859) was a fully-fledged theory of capitalism that contained within it an implicit theory of socialism. (Marx often used the terms socialism and communism interchangeably. Sometimes he spoke of the first as transition stage to the second.) Well into the 20th Century, capitalist movers and shakers quaked at the very mention of Marx’s name. That’s less true today for two reasons. 1) Soviet Communism (an authoritarian version of socialism that misconstrued Marx) is dead; and 2) elements of socialism have been used to buttress existing capitalist democracy.
Some socialist ideas were endorsed by European and other nations in the decade before and the two decades following World War II. The preservation of labor peace – perhaps even the survival of capitalism itself – depended upon it. Before the war, during the Great Depression (1929-41), many workers joined together in solidarity to protest unemployment and the decline in living standards. After the war, at a time of rapid economic growth (1945-73), unionized workers gained bargaining power. The degree of socialist advancement in a country is in direct proportion to the relative power of its working class. In the U.S., Social Security and Unemployment Insurance (1935), Federal Air Traffic Control (1936), the Interstate Highway System (1956) and Medicare (1966) are all expressions of socialist principle achieved during periods of working class strength. They are services provided by the people for the people, (with the state acting as intermediary), without regard for profit. Obamacare by the way, is not an example of socialism because unlike Medicare it relies upon the private insurance system as well as private physicians. It consists of price supports for the insurance oligopoly in the form of premium-subsidies for consumers. A “public option” – an extension of Medicare eligibility — such as proposed during the 2016 presidential campaign by Sen. Bernie would constitute an increase of socialism, though the system of private, profit-driven medical practice would remain. Federal payments for all public college and university tuition would also constitute an advance of socialism.
However ingrained in the fabric of economic life, socialism today remains only a seed within the carapace of capitalism. Large, monopolistic, private corporations, supported by laws and regulations that protect them from both competition and workers, dominate the production and distribution of goods and services in the U.S. and abroad. They deploy armies of lobbyists and millions of dollars in political campaign contributions to protect their interests.
Another reason that socialism is so limited is ideological. Marx wrote in 1845: “the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas.” Those who have the preponderance of money and power have the loudest voices; among other things, they own the mass media. And they use their loud voices to uphold the moral worth of private riches above public goods. In this context, proponents of socialism continually struggle to be heard. The majority of people therefore either don’t believe they have any natural rights, or that those rights could ever be claimed. Indeed, monopoly capitalism – the most recent incarnation of an economic order now more than 500 years old – is maintained in part by an ideology that places competition, entrepreneurialism and individualism at the core of human nature itself. At the same time it inculcates political helplessness. “There is no alternative” was Margaret Thatcher’s neat dismissal of the value or practicability of dissent.
But there are indications socialism is gaining ground. After the global, economic crisis of 2007-9, also known as The Great Recession, capitalism lost its aura of invincibility. The Occupy movement, short lived as it was, alerted working people in Europe and the U.S. to the unexampled scale of wealth and income inequality. Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung’s poster from 2011 of the Wall Street Butcher Shop illustrated the greed by showing the famous Charging Bull (aka Wall Street Bull) as a beef meat chart with each section a different example of financial corruption: “subprime mortgages,” “credit default swaps,” “kelptocracy” etc. However inexact, the term “the 1 percent” was an effective descriptor of the small percentage of people who possess the wealth that should belong to majority who created it. The slogan “we are the 99%” therefore didn’t refer only to the vast majority of people denied the resources held by the few. It also suggested the incipient power that resided in the force of numbers. (That insight is missing from Hung’s image, which shows the 99% as a cow pie.)
During the U.S. Democratic Party primary elections earlier this year, Bernie Sanders even dared to endorse the term “socialist,” previously anathema to successful U.S. politicians. His policy proposals — higher taxes on the wealthy, single payer health insurance, re-regulation of Wall Street, breaking up the big banks, and rolling back “Citizen’s United” (the Supreme Court decision that allowed unlimited corporate spending in elections) – fell short of the “political revolution” he proclaimed. For example, he never called for the nationalization of banks and essential industries, or the confiscation and redistribution of private fortunes. But he proposed a much bigger public sector than now exists, a modest redistribution of wealth through taxation, and a better-educated and better-mobilized working class. To be sure, he lost the nomination (the deck may have been stacked against him, Democratic Party internal memos suggested), but he gave the anointed Clinton a good run for her money.
On paper- and within crucial limits- Clinton’s 2016 program is the most progressive a Democrat has offered since LBJ. (The danger however is that she may be as militarist as he, and that any progressive initiatives at home will be derailed by wars abroad.) In the UK leadership contest the same year, the socialist Jeremy Corbyn, supported by a strong majority of young, rank and file Labor Party members, fought off a coup attempt by liberals within his party. His program of re-nationalizing railroads and other essential industries would, if implemented, constitute a major advance of socialism. It harkens back to the policies and principles of Aneurin Bevin, the Minister of Health under the post-war Labor Party Prime Minister Clement Atlee. Bevin was the architect of the National Health Service, the crown jewel of Britain’s incipient socialism.
Given the growth of global inequality and the persistence of economic stagnation, and considering the popular insurgencies that have risen to challenge them, socialism may have a bright future. Indeed, it could be the planet’s only future. Prevention of global warming beyond the 2 degree Celsius tipping-point will require massive state intervention in the economy. The wealth of the few — the managers and shareholders of oil companies, utilities, automobile and airplane manufacturers, and animal agriculture — will have to be sacrificed for the good of the many. In other words, a regime of socialism — its precise shape and form as yet unknown — will have to be established if a habitable planet is to be salvaged. But that transformation won’t happen by itself. It will demand popular mobilization and major changes in the politics, ethics and practice of everyday life. It will require both that people who possess wealth extend empathy to those who don’t, and that majorities of people in the most highly industrialized countries agree to conserve the ecological diversity of the planet. In short, people will need to become a bit more like early foragers (albeit technologically advanced ones) if they are to become successful socialists. Only then will the risk to the planet be reduced and human survival assured.
“Animal Liberation” is the title of a popular book from 1975 by the philosopher Peter Singer. It is also the general name for a social movement that proposes to free animals from human oppression. The idea, if not the term, has been around at least since Greco-Roman antiquity. Indeed early19th Century vegetarians were sometimes called “Pythagoreans” in remembrance of the ancient mathematician who abjured meat because of his belief in the transmigration of souls. But “animal liberation” is also an umbrella term beneath which are found: “animal welfare,” “animal rights,” and “animal abolitionism”. Each of these has its own meaning, which has led to a splintering of the broader animal liberation struggle:
“Animal welfare”, (sometimes also called “animal protection”), promotes a paternalistic model of human-animal affairs. It says that people owe a duty of kindness to animals even if the former still own, use, and even kill the latter. The argument for animal welfare goes back to the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham. He argued in 1789 that just as enlightened people recognized that skin color was meaningless for the determination of moral worth, so they would soon understand that possessing a tail or having fur was insignificant in the determination of rights. What mattered most of all was the capacity to suffer, and in that, animals were equal to humans.
But while Bentham believed humans and animals had the right to be spared pain, he nevertheless asserted that the latter had a lesser claim on life itself. Because animals, unlike humans, can’t imagine the future, they have less to lose from an early death so long as little pain was involved. Indeed, to be quickly killed in a slaughterhouse was a death much preferred to the drawn out agonies that often attend human passing.
Bentham’s argument, essentially repeated by Singer in Animal Liberation, is an odd one. Apart from the suggestion – absurd on its face — that animals are lucky to be eaten, it denies what everyone who lives with a dog or cat understands implicitly: that animals live in constant expectation of future joys. A dog who sits all day by the door waiting for a human companion to return, or who brings over a favorite toy, or who yips in excitement when brought in proximity to the dog park and the chance to play with other dogs is expressing hope for the future. Few humans are much more future oriented than this. Their focus may be on an anticipated holiday, gathering of friends or family, or acquisition of new consumer goods.
Animal welfare was the basis for the creation of animal protection societies in Europe and the Americas, beginning with the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) in 1824. It remains the principle underlying most contemporary animal charities including The Humane Society, Farm Sanctuary, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
“Animal rights,” concerns itself with the legal and ethical apparatus that structures human-animal relations. Proponents of the doctrine of animal rights generally seek to use the existing state – its executive, legislative and judicial branches – to moderate or even end the oppression of animals. They believe that animals posses certain negative rights (for example the right not to be confined, tortured or killed) that must be respected even if they conflict with human prosperity. The English artist and animal champion William Hogarth explored these rights in the middle of the 18th Century in his series of engravings (also made as woodcuts) called The Four Stages of Cruelty (1751). His series is an exploration of everyday cruelties witnessed on the streets on London and an attack on animal experimentation, also called vivisection. Curious and malicious children in the first plate attempt to see if a cat can fly by attaching balloons to its back and tossing it out a window; another boy, the anti-hero Tom Nero, tries to fit an arrow into the anus of a dog, while two others are testing the theory that blinding a bird will make it sing more sweetly. The second plate represent a further series of experiments in depravity, including testing the maximum weight a carriage horse can pull before it breaks down, and the point at which a harried bull will finally become enraged and violent. The third plate of the series, “Cruelty in Perfection” shows Tom as an amateur vivisector, cutting progressively the finger, wrist and throat of his lover Ann Gill – there is an identical wound at each location — to discover which will be the fatal wound. Having succeeded at killing her and being arrested, he looks down at the dead body with mingled horror and awe. And of course the final plate shows the executed Tom apparently come back to life. He grimaces as his eyes are gouged out and guts removed. It was Tom’s eyes, the chief organs of sentiment, that from early in his life failed to register the suffering of his victims. His blindness led to his downfall. In the foreground a dog, the most frequent victim of vivisection during these years, turns the tables and opportunistically snatches the human heart pulled from the murderer’s chest.
[huge_it_gallery id=”1″]William Hogarth, The Four Stages of Cruelty, 1751
More than 250 years later, animal rights advocates have become very good at dismantling speciesism (unreasoned prejudice against animals) and sometimes even at conjuring pictures of what a future of animal liberation would look like. For example, the authors Will Kymlicka and Sue Donaldson argue in their book Zoopolis (2011), that wild, domesticated and liminal animals (such as squirrels and raccoons who thrive in proximity to humans) be granted limited sovereignty or citizenship rights in order to ensure their well-being. The result would be an animal-human, cooperative community that resembles More’s Utopia in so far as it would ensure that all creatures performed fulfilling work and had adequate leisure time for self-development.
But rights advocates, including Kymlicka and Donaldson, who base their theories on liberal principles, are unprepared to challenge the social and property relations that actually maintain animal oppression. Class conflict falls outside their purview. They are in this way utopians in the bad sense of the term: dreamers of a future world in which all creatures, great and small live in harmony, but who offer little guidance as to how to achieve it. Indeed, if humans reached a state of political maturity sufficient to grant animals any kind of sovereignty or citizenship, a new social contract would be unnecessary – animal liberation already will have occurred.
“Abolitionism” is more controversial than the first two. It means the end of all ownership and use of animals – for food, clothing, medical research, service (“guide-dogs”), pets or anything else. The idea has ancient roots, and non-European ones as well. The religion of Jainism, established more than two millennia ago and practiced by about 5 million people today (mostly in India), has non-violence toward humans and animals (ahisma in Sanscrit), as one of its core principles. The ancient Roman philosopher Porphyry of Tyre argued that to kill and eat animals was rank injustice. Humans do not need them for food, he said, and they have done nothing to deserve cruelty or killing.
The modern origin of abolitionism, like the modern origin of socialism, may be traced to the late 18th Century. At that time however, the word was used to describe the movement for the emancipation of African slaves and end of the slave trade. But a host of essayists and poets in the late 18th C. harbored both animal and human abolitionist sentiments. They include the poets William Blake and Percy Shelley, and the English Jacobin John Oswald. They were motivated by two mutually supporting ideas: first, that human and nonhuman animals alike possessed the same capacity to suffer; and second, that economic development – what we would now call Industrial Capitalism — led to great misery among the classes of artists and artisans, women and children, unemployed and homeless, mentally ill and disabled, slaves and former slaves, and animals. So if suffering was a thing to be avoided, (and who was so cold-hearted as to disagree with that aim), and if capitalist industry and trade hurt all the above mentioned groups, then humans and animals shared a common political goal: the transformation of society from one based on slavery, oppression and private profit to one that prizes equality, democracy and the free exercise of the physical and mental faculties of every sentient being.1
In 1796, William Blake illustrated John Steadman’s anti-slavery Narrative, of a Five Years Expedition, against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, (1796) with a series of plates that exposed the terrible atrocities committed by planation slavers, including: “A Negro Hung Alive by the Ribs to a Gallows”. Less than a decade later, he wrote Auguries of Innocence, a poem that specifically links animal cruelty to political misrule:
A dog starved at his master’s gate
Predicts the ruin of the state
A horse misused upon the road
Calls to heaven for Human blood
Shelley in 1813 included an incisive vegetarian and animal rights treatise in his book-length, utopian poem Queen Mab. He wrote:
How unwarrantable is the injustice and the barbarity which is exercised toward these miserable [animal] victims. They are called into existence by human artifice that they may drag out a short and miserable existence of slavery and disease, that their bodies may be mutilated, their social feelings outraged. It were much better that a sentient being should never have existed, than that it should have existed only to endure unmitigated misery.
The British Jacobin and anti-slavery crusader John Oswald’s book The Cry of Nature argues in an abolitionist vein that the vegetable kingdom can supply all the food and other resources people need without recourse to bloodshed. Oswald’s personified Nature – represented as a many-breasted Pomona in a frontispiece etching by James Gillray – asks humanity:
Why shouldst thou dip thy hand in the blood of thy fellow creatures without cause? Have I not amply, not only for the wants, but even for the pleasures of the human race provided? . . . [Why] dost thou still thirst, insatiate wretch! For the blood of this innocent lamb, whose sole food is the grass on which he treads; his only beverage the brook that trickles muddy from his feet?
By the time the renowned British slave abolitionist William Wilberforce, along with Richard Martin and others helped pass the world’s first animal anti-cruelty law in 1822, the connection between animal and human abolition movements was so natural as to go almost unremarked by parliament and the press. But the exigencies of the legislative process and the powerful influence of Bentham and the animal welfare tradition meant that true emancipation or abolition for animals was taken off the negotiating table. It remains today a minority position even among advocates for animal rights.
The leading global proponent of the “abolitionist approach” to animal rights is legal theorist Gary Francione. Building upon the ideas of both Singer and the philosopher Tom Regan, he argues that the capacity of a creature to experience pleasure or pain – sentience — should be the basis for granting it moral status. But unlike them, he believes that sentience alone, regardless of an animal’s intelligence or capacity to apprehend the future, is sufficient to grant them the right to be free from human exploitation. He further argues that animals should no longer be considered, as slaves once were, mere chattels, property that could be freely moved from place to place, bought and sold.
An abolitionist approach to animal rights thus demands an end to animals’ property status. And that of course poses a profound challenge to the existing economic and social order. In an essay from 1993 called “The American Left Should Support an Animal Rights Agenda: A Manifesto” Francione and co-authors Anna E. Charelton and Sue Coe observed that animals are indispensable to many sectors of the U.S. and global economy, including food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and clothing.2 (To that list we can add furniture, entertainment, health-care, security, pet products and veterinary services.) Thus to argue for abolition it is also necessarily to argue for a massive re-orientation of the economy toward the satisfaction of genuine human needs instead of the generation of profit. At the end of their essay, the authors stated “the capitalist system is crumbling and something else must be put in its place.”
But Francione, like Kymlicka and Donaldson, may be faulted for utopianism. Though he goes much further than they in recognizing the moral and institutional changes necessary to grant animals their rights, he does not offer suggestions about how to achieve these, apart from vegan education. And by rejecting all single-issue advocacy — whether to protect an endangered species or to end a particularly abusive farming or research practice – he dispenses with the usual means of developing radical constituencies and achieving change: identifying a local injustice, organizing an interest group, rallying press and politicians to the cause, establishing a track record of victories, attracting more followers, broadening and deepening demands for change, and building success upon success. Moreover, Francione’s organizing slogan “veganism as a moral baseline” mistakes ends for means. If the goal of the animal abolitionist movement is universal veganism, then veganism as a moral baseline can’t also be its organizing method. In rejecting any form of gradualism or reformism, Francione’s abolitionism also dispenses with politics.
A Necessary Synthesis
Whatever particular animal liberation formulation is endorsed, its defender must confront an historical paradox. At precisely a time in history when animal advocates are growing in numbers and influence, the global pace of exploitation has accelerated. The total zoomass of vertebrate animals bred for the table is 25 times that of all wild vertebrates.3 There are in the world at any one time about 19 billion chickens, 1.7 billion cattle (including water buffalos), and 900 million pigs compared, for example, to a vanishingly small number of elephants, rhinos, polar bears, tigers, gazelles, buffalo and other charismatic fauna. Animal agriculture constitutes 40% of the total value of global agriculture, not including fish. In the U.S., it comprises about half the $850 billion contribution of agriculture to the annual gross domestic product. It accounts for about 1/3 of all agricultural employment.
Though the term “factory farm” is misleading – so-called “family farms” may also be large, intensive and cruel — the modern practice of raising domesticated animals in conditions of maximum density is clearly the leading mode of animal agriculture in the world. More than 75% of poultry is raised this way, and pigs, kept in so-called “hog parlors”, are similarly concentrated. Though cattle farming is somewhat less rationalized than chicken and pig farming, the dairy industry and beef-packing process are very highly mechanized. JBS Brazil, the largest meat processing company in the world, had revenue last year of $45 billion and profits of a little under a billion. It has a global cattle slaughtering capacity of more than 50,000 per day. Tyson Foods, headquartered in Springdale, Arkansas, is the world’s second largest meat producer with revenue of $32 billion. It kills 6 million chickens per day, 48,000 pigs and 30,000 cows, and supplies meat to the largest U.S. grocery stores, including Walmart, IGA, and Krogers, and leading fast food chains: MacDonald’s, KFC, Taco Bell, Wendy’s and Burger King. Tyson foods gave a relatively modest $180,000 in political contributions in 2014, but spent $1.4 million on lobbyists such as the American Meat Institute and the National Cattleman’s Association.4Judging from data obtained from OpenSecrets.org, their strategy is to affect legislation and regulation not by the scale of spending, but by precisely targeting their contributions to influential lawmakers and regulators.
Animal agriculture contributes somewhere between 14% and 51% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization cites the lower figure and the World Watch Institute the higher.5 The data discrepancy involves such things as animal respiration, the potency of methane and nitrogen versus carbon as greenhouse gases, the global population of livestock animals, and the relative carbon absorption capacity of livestock, grassland and forests. A careful review of the scholarship suggests the figure is somewhere in between, perhaps 30%, but you can decide for yourself. The point is that the number is big – perhaps twice as big as total greenhouse gas emissions from the global transport sector. If we outlawed beef, we’d lower greenhouse gas emissions more than if we banned gas engine cars.6
Animal agriculture also causes deforestation, (trees are felled to grow grain to feed to animals), pollution of groundwater, lakes and rivers (from animal waste), the disappearance of wildlife (due to destruction and degradation of habitat), and the diminishment of water reserves. Animal agriculture is the leading user of fresh water in the world, consuming 55 trillion tons annually. It consumes 520 times as much freshwater as the controversial and wasteful practice of hydraulic fracturing. (A single pound of beef requires roughly 5,000 gallons of water.)7
In addition to using moral suasion therefore – “veganism as a moral baseline” — any ambitious animal liberation campaign should highlight the devastating environmental consequences of animal agriculture. Animal rights organizations need to target the meat industry and its complex web of political influence. Unfortunately, the largest animal welfare organizations have barely touched, much less damaged this elaborately interwoven corporate and governmental infrastructure. Indeed, the Humane Society and Farm Sanctuary among others have actually partnered with agribusiness. And herein lies the reasons socialism must be part of the animal liberation movement if the latter is to be effective: existing property relations are the very things that make possible the exploitation of animals. Francione and other abolitionists have made this point for a generation and it remains correct. So long as animals are chattel, they can be used and abused at will. Genuine animal liberation will therefore require state intervention to curtail and ultimately end an industry that kills both domesticated and wild animals in obscene numbers, and renders the environment increasingly unfit for humans. There can be no animal liberation without socialism, as Sue Coe proposes in her clever woodcut and collage that envisions the spirits of slaughtered animals and the specter of socialism combining to menace a greedy capitalist.
But socialism also needs the insights and organizing strategies of the animal liberation movement if it is ever to help people regain control of their own labor and marshal nature’s bounty for the satisfaction of genuine needs instead of mere profits. Animal agriculture should be one of the first industries (along with energy and banking) in the crosshairs of socialism. It is a highly successful system for maximizing profit at the expense of labor (its workers are among the most poorly paid in the U.S.), the environment, and of course sentient animals. It stands as the textbook example of an industry that privatizes profits and socializes (or “externalizes”) costs. While corporations accrue vast sums through the sale of animal products of every kind, the public pays much of the price of production in the form of polluted or depleted surface and groundwater, loss of biodiversity, poor public health, and a warming planet. Without that public subsidy, animal products would be prohibitively expensive for most people and thus be unprofitable.8 Animal advocates can help socialists in their campaign for moral, economic and political justice.
Advocates for animal liberation can also help advance core socialist values of generosity and sharing, while stigmatizing greed and selfishness. That’s the very point of becoming a vegan. While eating a hamburger or a hot dog may be moderately pleasurable to some consumers, it depends upon the suffering and death of sentient beings like us. It is also an act of embodiment. Consuming the flesh of a formerly a living animal makes the consumer physically and emotionally complicit in killing, as Coe proposed in her woodcut, and therefore likely to be less resistant to other forms of plunder. That one-way street of oppression and death must be closed off in order for people to more fully comprehend their common needs and those of the planet itself.
More than ever before, animal liberation and socialism represent a necessary synthesis. Any community concerned to protect animals from abuse or premature death must confront the enormous economic and political powers arrayed against them. And so it must therefore endorse the restraints on capital that socialism has consistently championed. (Of the three versions of animal liberation discussed here, abolitionism is the most reliant upon socialist practice since it would require the most stringent controls on capital.) And any socialist who would proclaim the virtue of re-orienting production to the needs of the many versus the luxuries of the few must turn to animal liberators for a lesson in opposing greed and celebrating its opposite: the responsible stewardship of organic nature for the benefit of all of earth’s creatures and the planet itself.
Title graphic: Modern Man Pursued by the Ghosts of His Meat, Oil Painting © Sue Coe, 2013, courtesy of Gallerie St Etienne.
Unless noted, graphic images courtesy British Museum and archives of Northwestern University.
- See my: “The Real Swinish Multitude,” Critical Inquiry, vol. 42, no. 2, 3390373.Winter 2016, pp.
- Animals Agenda, vol. 13, no. 1, Jan.-Feb., 1993, pp. 29-34.
- Vaclav Smil, Harvesting the Biosphere: The Human Impact, Population and Development Review 37(4), December 2011 , p. 618.
- Henning Steinfeld, Pierre Gerber, Tom Wassenaar, Vincent Castel, Maricio Roslales, Cees de Haan, Livestock’s Long Shadow, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 2006; Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, “Livestock and Climate Change,” World Watch, Nov-Dec., 2009, pp. 10-19. Also see the more recent: Gerber, P.J., Steinfeld, H., Henderson, B., Mottet, A., Opio, C., Dijkman, J., Falcucci, A. & Tempio, G. 2013. Tackling climate change through livestock – A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome.
- Gidon Eshel, Alon Shepon, Tamar Makov, and Ron Milo,
“Land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014 111 (33) 11996-12001; published ahead of print July 21, 2014, doi:10.1073/pnas.1402183111
- See Mark Bittman’s very conservative calculation: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/16/opinion/the-true-cost-of-a-burger.html
I could say a great deal in response to this essay, which involves a lack of understanding both as to the history of abolitionism and as to the way that I have interpreted and developed that term over the past 30 years, but I will limit my remarks here to four points.
First, Eisenman claims that “Francione’s organizing slogan ‘veganism as a moral baseline’ mistakes ends for means. If the goal of the animal abolitionist movement is universal veganism, then veganism as a moral baseline can’t also be its organizing method.”
In making this statement, Eisenman shows that he does not understand that the non-veganism of the individual represents a political statement about the fundamental moral rights of animals—that animals are commodities that lack moral value. If society is ever going to move toward and achieve veganism, it must be the case that individuals recognize and act on the moral imperative that they not participate directly in animal exploitation. Every time we consume an animal product, we accept and celebrate the status of animals as things. As I have stated before, abolitionism entails veganism both as a matter of individual moral behavior and as a matter of what we ought to advocate socially.
To say that veganism is both the means and the end of abolitionism is no different than saying that rejecting slavery is both the means and the end of a movement to end human slavery. Individuals should reject owning other humans and thereby making the political and moral statement that humans are things, and they ought to advocate for the end of the institution of slavery.
Second, Eisenman completely ignores that abolitionism, as I have developed that term, has consistently called for the rejection of all forms of human exploitation and discrimination. Widespread acceptance of abolitionism as I understand that term would lead to overall social change, and not just change in our thinking about nonhuman animals.
Third, Eisenman endorses gradualism and reformism. Indeed, he not only endorses gradualism and reformism, but he maintains that they are necessary for “developing radical constituencies and achieving change.” This indicates that Eisenman does not understand at all the economics of animal exploitation and the problems of animals as chattel property. He does not understand that reform campaigns and single-issue campaigns necessarily *promote* animal exploitation. He does not understand that incremental reform in the human context is not analogous to welfare reform and single-issue campaigns in the nonhuman context. For those interested in this topic, I would suggest that you read these essays: http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/14542-2/#.WB8_N_TCd8E; http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/incremental-reform-human-nonhuman-contexts/#.WB8_hvTCd8E.
The “animal movement” is big business. It’s all one big promotion of gradualism and reformism with a “donate” button. To portray this as allowing for the development of “radical” *anything* is to not grasp the inherently reactionary and highly speciesist nature of gradualism and reformism, and to fail to understand the necessity of the centrality of veganism as a moral imperative.
(I note that Eisenman’s essay is published on a new “radical” website that has a “donate” button right up at the top of the page. It is a “radical” website that does not seem to even mention veganism in its “About” section. Why am I not surprised? )
Fourth, Eisenman thinks that our thinking about animals as things in necessarily tied to capitalism. Wrong. Humans have been treating animals as things in every social system that has ever existed. We were exploiting animals long before capitalism and if we magically adopted socialism or communism tomorrow, animals would still be treated as things as they have been in more communitarian situations. Whether or not First Nations people ever prayed over the animals they killed is irrelevant; the animals ended up dead. The human treatment of animals stands as a refutation of Marx’s idea that economics determines morality. Animals have been used as things in every economic system. The details of the commodification may change in one system or another but animals are still going to be treated as things.
Of course, capitalism has its own egregious structural problems. That recognition has also been fundamental to my work. I favor democratic socialism, but not because it will result in animal liberation. In itself, it won’t. What it will do is reduce the control that corporate and other economic interests have and it will allow those who have a progressive message greater ability to communicate that message and it will allow for systemic changes that are presently not possible.
Gary L. Francione
Board of Governors Professor, Rutgers University
Honorary Professor, University of East Anglia
As readers of ALC will know, Gary Francione is a crucially important figure in the Animal Rights movement. His discussion of animals as “chattels” (alienable property) was enormously clarifying, as was his extension of Tom Regan’s notion of “subjects of a life” to all sentient beings. Gary continues to be the most powerful and articulate advocate of the “abolitionist” approach to animal rights. I consider myself an abolitionist and follower of Gary Francione.
But in my opinion, Gary has a pinched view of politics. Though I agree that the non-vegan makes “a political statement” denying the moral rights of animals, and the ethical vegan an opposite statement, neither is being political in a meaningful way.
To be “political” in the original, Greek sense of the word was to be engaged in the life of the Polis — the community or the city as opposed to the household. To be political also meant to be active in the life of the Agora — the social and economic center of the city. Most of all, it meant to be a participant in the Ekklesia — the citizen-assembly where crucial issues of power and rulership were addressed and decided.
The animal abolitionist must of course be a vegan — to be otherwise would be an absurd hypocrisy. But to be political, the abolitionist must also intervene into the domain of power wherever it is located: the courthouse, the statehouse, the executive mansion, the corporate or trustee board room, and the streets. To be sure, “the personal is the political” as the Feminist movement taught us. But ongoing efforts to achieve reproductive rights, health and child care, pay equity, freedom from violence etc have demonstrated that the political struggle extends far beyond the individual or even the household.
Gary, your analogy with slavery here does not hold up. Slave abolitionism did not consist of encouraging people to give up their slaves. It entailed a Civil War, an emancipation proclamation and a 13th Amendment. And of course the political struggle for equal rights for African Americans continued into the 20th Century and continues today: the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the forthcoming election are each manifestations of politics in the collective sense I am describing.
Politics does not imply “gradualism” and “reformism.” Educating and organizing people to oppose injustice is a process. Some get it all at once. Others need more time. It is the essence of political wisdom to know how to create a movement that will achieve success. Slave abolitionism, the civil rights, anti-war, women’s rights, and gay rights movements all required political strategy. So does abolitionism and the animal rights movement.
And finally: I don’t want to exasperate the reader with a long disquisition on human-animal relationships under different modes of production. (I summarize the history in my The Cry of Nature — Art and the Making of Animal Rights.) I will only say that capitalism alone (indeed, Monopoly Capitalism) has created the system whereby animals are nothing but chattels that may be abused and killed by the billions. The scale of the ongoing horror is utterly unprecedented.
You have not addressed my arguments that: (1) welfare reform and single-issue campaigns necessarily perpetuate institutionalized exploitation and (2) your analogies to human rights movements simply do not work. I have written at length about these issues and, in my comment, I provided two links to essays on my website that contain brief versions of my arguments. If you think my understanding of these campaigns is in error, I’d like to know your reasons for that view.
In any event, if you think that “gradualism” in the animal context gets people to oppose justice, you are in error. You are simply repeating the same old argument that every large animal welfare corporation makes: we need to educate people slowly; we need to encourage “compassionate” exploitation because not everyone will get it straight away. We are never going to get people to oppose injustice when we focus the issue on cage-free eggs or fur or the ritual killing of chickens for Kapparos. Those sorts of efforts do nothing more than rehabilitate institutionalized exploitation. We need to refocus the discussion away from treatment and particular use and refocus it on the morality of use generally. Only then is a discussion about justice even possible.
I think your understanding of the politics of the abolition of slavery in the United States is somewhat incomplete. The important point, however, is that the people who supported the end of slavery were not going out and buying more slaves. If people were buying more slaves, they would not have supported a Civil war or the 13th Amendment. If there is not a significant abolitionist vegan movement, meaningful legal change (in the form of prohibitions of significant institutional activities with a clear and explicit message of abolition as the end goal) will be impossible. You seem to think that the law can do something meaningful in the absence of a significant abolitionist vegan movement. I could not disagree more.
Finally, you have also not addressed my argument that animal exploitation has existed in *every* socio-economic system. There is nothing about capitalism that makes animal exploitation necessary. What makes animal exploitation possible is anthropocentrism—and that has characterized just about every society about which we have any knowledge. That is the problem. You could have a capitalist society that rejected animal exploitation just as you can have a socialist society that embraces it. Indeed, Cuba is not a vegan country and exploits many animals (although I would agree generally but not without qualification that humans are accorded greater dignity in Cuba than they are in many other countries). And the more communitarian societies that could in no way be characterized as capitalist–however that word is understood–still exploited animals.
As far as the ALC site is concerned, I maintain that no approach that does not unequivocally embrace veganism as a moral imperative can lay claim to being “radical,” irrespective of references to Gramsci or Marx.
“In any event, if you think that “gradualism” in the animal context gets people to oppose justice, you are in error.”
“In any event, if you think that “gradualism” in the animal context gets people to oppose injustice, you are in error.”
I apologize for any confusion.
Gary L. Francione
I agree entirely with comments by Professors Gary Francione and Frances McCormack. I would just like to comment on this statement:
“Animal agriculture should be one of the first industries (along with energy and banking) in the crosshairs of socialism.”
Including animal agriculture along with energy and banking ignores the important differences between these industries. A great many people are already highly critical of the corruption and predatory nature of the banking industry, and even more are worried about the effect on global warming and the environment generally of the energy sector. This means that there would likely be a ready-made mass base of support for laws that regulate and possibly nationalize these industries. Support for these legislative measures does not require any personal behavior change on the part of supporters. State ownership and operation of banking and the energy industries, and alternative forms of energy, would have negligible effect on the daily habits of the vast majority of population. Their support requires no fundamental shift in moral attitudes.
By contrast, with only 1 to 2 percent of the population in the US, for example, being vegan, no such support base currently exists for legislative change concerning animal agriculture. 98-99% of the population are personally complicit in exploiting animals, so it’s plainly absurd to expect these same non-vegan exploiters to throw their support behind laws that would curtail their use of animals, and this would be the case in a socialist society as much as in a capitalist one.
Moreover, what you are talking about with the banking and energy industries is reform through regulation and nationalization. You are not talking about dismantling these industries altogether. But that’s exactly what abolitionism requires—an end to animal exploitation, not its reform. Even if laws could somehow be passed to ban the sale of animal products and close down animal exploitation industries, without public support, and indeed in the face of almost total public opposition, this would be akin to the prohibition of alcohol from 1920 to 1933 in the US, forced on a resistant public by a small minority of temperance advocates. We all know how successful that was, and the current “war on drugs” is just as much of a failure. The difference with animal product consumption is that while not everyone drinks alcohol, and most people do not drink it every day, almost everyone consumes animal products at least three times a day and wears animals as clothing and footwear.
So you are proposing that as part of a shift to socialism, we will be able to pass laws to totally close down an industry that is avidly supported by 98-99% of the population, who consider consuming its products to be as normal as drinking water and breathing air, and many of whom still believe they will get sick and die if they don’t regularly consume those products. Now *that’s* what I call utopian!
It’s obvious that such laws, even if enacted, would not be enforced in the absence of popular support and would only lead to revolt, control of the sale of animal products by criminal forces, police corruption and a thriving black market before being swiftly overturned amid great celebration. Hardly a revolution. As long as demand for animal products continues, someone will be willing to supply them, and this holds whether we are talking about socialism or capitalism. In no social or economic system can people be simply coerced by brute force, even if backed by law, to do something they strongly oppose doing, or to go without something they strongly desire and believe they are entitled to have, or at least not for long. Especially when this involves practices that have been institutionalized and normalized over millennia, as is the case with animal use.
Gary Francione has made very clear in his writing that until we can achieve a fundamental moral paradigm shift in the way people *think* about animals, as reflected by veganism as the moral baseline being adopted by a significant percentage of the population, there is not a shred of hope that legislative change can be effective, and it is wildly unrealistic to imagine otherwise. This is why we need personal veganism combined with abolitionist vegan education as the most effective *political* strategy to create a critical mass of people who embrace ethical veganism, that is, who reject all animal use, before the time can be ripe to engage in mass protest and pressure to change laws. Without that critical mass support, all legislative measures or direct action to try to force these are as doomed to failure as Prohibition. The only way we are ever going to be able to affect demand, and hence supply, is through painstaking and thorough, creative vegan education. That may not have the same romantic appeal as agitation and talk of overthrowing capitalism (which I support, but not for the sake of “animal liberation”) but I believe Francione has made an unassailable case for why it is the only thing that will work to achieve justice for animals. And we don’t have to wait for socialism to make it happen. Each one of us can go vegan and educate others to go vegan right now.
The point I have repeatedly made is that “politics” broadly defined, not simply voluntarism, is necessary to achieve the vegan constituency that will advance the abolitionist program. That may mean mobilization to mandate animal education in schools; legislation to enable poor communities in “food deserts” to gain access to fresh fruits and vegetables so that they can go vegan is they want; rules that encourage insurance companies to discount policies for vegans; tougher regulation of animal agriculture so that the industry is unprofitable; support for farmers who move from livestock to vegetable cultivation; neighborhood, vegan food banks, etc etc. There are many political initiatives that might advance veganism and animal rights beyond simply saying to your neighbor “I think you should go vegan.” We need wholesale, not retail change, and that demands organizing and politics.
Professor Eisenman, what you are refusing to address is that in order for ANY of this to happen, we need to have a mass support base of abolitionist vegans. How can we “organize” without a significant number who are interested in being organized? What point is there in “mobilizing” without the numbers such that mobilization would have any effect? Perhaps you think we should be forming coalitions with welfarist vegans? But in that case, what *kind* of “animal education in schools,” for example, are we going to get? Welfarist education, of course, so the kiddies can be indoctrinated into speciesism.
I find it astonishing that you think that pushing for “rules that encourage insurance companies to discount policies for vegans” is more of a priority than actually creating new vegans. It’s completely back-to-front. No one is saying that this, or working towards “legislation to enable poor communities in ‘food deserts’ to gain access to fresh fruits and vegetables so that they can go vegan if they want” lacks merit or is incompatible with pursuing vegan advocacy, and if you want to do it, we are certainly not going to object.
But at this point, there are a limited number of us abolitionist vegans with a limited amount of time and energy. It’s true that the measures you suggest would help to facilitate more vegans. But the most effective and time/energy efficient way to create more vegans is to *directly* advocate for veganism, and we need a LOT more of that before we broaden and dilute our focus. And we need a LOT more abolitionist vegans in the first place to get these things happening at all, to have ANY kind of influence, let alone get legislation passed. And how is that going to happen without focusing on abolitionist vegan education to actually create millions of new abolitionist vegans? Neither Gary nor anyone else is setting any kind of limit to *how* that is done. The methods are limited only by our imaginations. But it most certainly needs to be the priority.
You have simply ignored the points I made. You criticize Gary Francione for being “utopian” while at the same time your statements are utterly ungrounded in reality with regard to strategy. I fear you are displaying all the hallmarks of an armchair revolutionary and an ivory tower academic. I’m willing to bet that *you* are not doing any of the things you recommend, precisely because you do not have the support base you need to carry them out. And you are not going to create that support base by sidelining vegan education and denigrating it as not being political. So is the goal here to engage in a lot of high-sounding but utterly impractical and incoherent rhetoric in order to contribute to a new “radical” site, or is the goal to actually do what will work to secure justice for animals?
And it’s not just lack of clarity about strategy that is the problem in what you are advocating. It’s fundamental moral principles. Here’s the cruncher in what you said: “tougher regulation of animal agriculture so that the industry is unprofitable.” This, after having denied that you are promoting welfarism! And ignoring, yet again, the point made by Gary more than once in response to you that welfare reforms and single issue campaigns *necessarily* promote animal exploitation. In addition, demonstrating ignorance regarding the structural, economic limitations to welfare reform of animal agriculture as a business, as written about by Gary extensively.
Finally, regarding your statement, “There are many political initiatives that might advance veganism and animal rights beyond simply saying to your neighbor ‘I think you should go vegan'”: If you think abolitionist vegan advocacy consists in saying “I think you should go vegan,” then you have much to learn about the Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights. This is nothing but a caricature.
And sure, when there are enough of us there are all kinds of collective political activities we may want to engage in beyond the political action of vegan advocacy. Are you going to join us in building a critical mass of vegans through abolitionist vegan advocacy so that whatever initiatives we take can be effective? Without sufficient numbers of highly committed ethical vegans, any such initiatives will be impotent and send an entirely counterproductive message to the non-vegan public and its institutions, if they are noticed at all. That is, that vegans are a tiny, irrelevant fringe group who can safely be ignored.
A study by scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/a-simple-question/#.WCHVu3er1tQ suggests we only need 10% of the population to have an unshakeable commitment to animal rights abolitionist veganism in order to have a major impact in terms of spreading our message and shifting the paradigm from animals as things to animals as persons. We could *easily* achieve that if the “animal movement” focused on creative, grassroots vegan education instead of dissipating its energies promoting “happy” exploitation, single issue campaigns, vegetarianism, reducetarianism and other speciesist nonsense. THEN, once we are a force to be reckoned with, we will be able to think about getting legislation enacted along with many other projects to abolish all animal exploitation. But grassroots abolitionist vegan advocacy will always remain the backbone of the abolitionist movement.
Prof. Eisenman, in your essay you write that >> The degree of socialist advancement in a country is in direct proportion to the relative power of its working class.<< What could be more empowering to the working classes than to throw off the shackles of a system that takes treating others as a means to an end for granted? What could be more liberatory than rejecting the consequentialist ethics on which our exploitation of others is based? What could be more revolutionary than a recognition that animal exploitation is bound up with the same kinds of discrimination that perpetuate other forms of oppression?
Throughout history, the consumption and use of animals has been linked to affluence. Not only this, but the harm done to first nation peoples by the imposition of a western diet rich in animal products has, in many instances, obliterated healthful native diets and has turned so-called diseases of affluence into an epidemic.
True liberation from the figurative and literal diseases of capitalism necessitates a rejection of the exploitation of our fellow animals, and not only as a means to the end of that human liberation, but for the sake of those nonhuman beings not to be subjugated and oppressed, and to own their own existence.
I take issue with your suggestion that “animal rights”, “animal abolition” and “animal welfare” are all derivatives of the concept of “animal liberation”, and that the struggle has splintered from that concept. Historically, the theory of animal abolitionism arose not from the ill-defined theories of animal liberation but in opposition to the reactionary rhetoric and capitulation to industry of the prevailing animal movement. Further, a reading of Rain Without Thunder by Gary L. Francione will demonstrate that abolitionism is not an alternative approach to animal rights: the term “animal rights” has been misappropriated by organisations, bodies, and individuals that have claimed that the abrogation of those rights will be the means to ultimately achieving them. Only the theory of abolition can be said to represent animal rights proper, as without the right of animals not to be treated solely as a resource can the notion of animal rights make sense.
Embracing rights for nonhuman animals may cause us to question many of the other systems and structures that oppress our fellow humans. But to view animal abolition as a means to an end that will benefit humans serves only to perpetuate the same harmful attitudes on which our exploitation of animals has been based for so long. The rights of animals exist for their own sake, and not because they can serve to liberate humans from their struggles.
Francione’s work takes an entirely different approach and results in entirely different conclusions from Kymlicka and Donaldson: his legal training brings him to the recognition that the law will not change unless moral sentiment does. This is what prevents his work from being “utopian”: the recognition that all it takes for animals not to be treated as things is one person’s rejection of that paradigm, and then another person’s and then another person’s.
There is nothing radical about single-issue campaigns; in fact, they are entirely reactionary, protecting the economic interests of the exploiters and rubberstamping changes that industry would put in place regardless of any such campaigns. I would urge you to acquaint yourself with both Animals, Property, and the Law and Rain Without Thunder in order to fully grasp how Francione’s work is both radical *and* practical—rejecting the mechanisms that propagate and are propped up by exploitation as a means to the end of animal use, and instead seeking to change the moral sentiment that keeps these mechanisms, in turn, propped up. As such, Francione’s abolitionism doesn’t dispense with politics, but instead seeks out the beating heart of the political system.
In short, general animal liberation will not require state intervention. The abolition of animal exploitation will simply require that those who choose to opt out of their participation in the system of exploitation encourage others to do the same. A change in moral sentiment will drive a change in policy, not the other way around.
If it happens that way, it will be the first time in history a persecuted community has been liberated solely by the dawning, moral enlightenment of the oppressors.
If you think that the law (or any other institution) *can* effect justice in the absence of a significant portion of the population embracing the idea that animals have moral value that makes use as a resource unjustifiable, I believe you are in error.
Moreover, I reiterate that you are assuming that gradualism can build “radical constituencies” and achieve “change.” I would say that the empirical evidence is to the contrary. But since animal welfare reform and single-issue issue campaigns have been around for a pretty long time, can you offer some examples about how these campaigns have resulted in “radical constituencies” and have effected “change”?
Nothing in my essay or my response supports welfarism. I do however support politics over voluntarism.
As for your statement that “there is nothing about capitalism that makes animal exploitation necessary,” I would direct readers to your own, co-authored essay from 1993, cited in mine: “Rejecting speciesism requires the rejection of the exploitation of all who are oppressed under capitalism [including animals] … . Conversely…a coherent animal rights movement needs to provide justice to all beings [including humans].”
You say that “[n]othing in my essay or response supports welfarism.”
I am bewildered by that statement.
You state: “And by rejecting all single-issue advocacy — whether to protect an endangered species or to end a particularly abusive farming or research practice – [Francione] dispenses with the usual means of developing radical constituencies and achieving change.” It is, in my view, pretty difficult (at least) not to see you calling for reformism and single-issue campaigns to develop “radical constituencies” and “achiev[e] change.” Indeed, it seems rather clear that that is *precisely* what you are doing.
You say that you “support politics over voluntarism. But you *explicitly* link politics with gradualism and reformism: “In rejecting any form of gradualism or reformism, Francione’s abolitionism also dispenses with politics.” What other “politics” were you referring to?
Yes, in 1993, I stated that rejecting speciesism commits us to rejecting all human oppression and discrimination. I also stated that a commitment to animal rights involved a commitment to human rights. But I did not say that animal exploitation was necessitated by capitalism. Capitalism requires harming humans by, inter alia, alienating them from the value of their labor; capitalism does not, however, require that we exploit animals. Capitalists can be vegans. I reiterate that the First Nations people were not capitalists and it is claimed that they prayed for and over the animals they killed. The animals, however, still ended up dead. And their hunting and killing were wrong.
P.S. I don’t regard the Abolitionist Approach as “utopian” if by that you mean unrealistic and not practical. I regard what I am proposing as relentlessly practical. What I regard as unrealistic is the idea that gradualism and reformism are going to get to any result beyond perpetuating animal exploitation be rehabilitating it to be supposedly more “humane.”
And I certainly regard the Abolitionist Approach as political. *You* limit “politics” to pursuing change through gradualism and reformism. I disagree.
Thanks for writing this article, i’ll limit myself to a few brief points. I think vegans can take part in various acts of protest that can highlight injustice, and appeal to people to join a movement whilst concurrently advocating veganism.
“Victories” are often controversial because the mainstream movement champion all sorts of harms as victories, when i think we can celebrate the increasing number of vegan events, the growing number of vegans / interest in veganism and perhaps various developments that can help people to access the vegan lifestyle.
As for veganism not being a political act i disagree, if we are actually concerned about animal exploitation then it follows that we should engage in a struggle for animal liberation. That’s what veganism means, it isn’t just individualistic / personal choice / diet. Even though that is how the mainstream movement has presented veganism to make it appear ‘easier’ and more marketable. The one other point i would make is the idea of negative rights, which i don’t like, it reminds me of the groups that call veganism a non-action. Veganism isn’t a non-action, it requires engagement with ideas (the vegan philosophy) and putting them into practice with the goal of animal liberation. The right to freedom, rather than the right not to be exploited. Though we can talk about them being the same thing.
There is indeed a certain logic to socialism as a governing principle of human beings. Social primates — why not social-ism? And yes, the United States, despite its much-vaunted individualism and the Reaganist trend of recent decades toward unregulated capitalism, has a mixed economy with some socialist components such as Dr. Eisenman mentions.
As a full-time animal advocate these past twenty-seven years who worked for several prominent organizations before founding Responsible Policies for Animals in 2002 to develop new strategies, I’ve often considered promoting ecological socialism as outlined in The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World by Joel Kovel. There are very difficult obstacles, however, to piggybacking any sort of radical animal advocacy on any established humans-only political endeavor.
I’ve spoken to a great number and variety of audiences and individual humans through the years, approaching animal advocacy from many different angles, depending on the organization I was working for and its strategy, tactics, and usage. I always link my vision of a world in which the only existing animals are human beings and other animals all living free from human contact — with the possible exception of veterinarians and rehabilitators repairing serious injury done to nonhuman animals by humans, until humans progress morally to the point where they stop injuring them — to the known interests of the groups I speak to.
Quakers, a hypnosis society, a high-school class, a group of citizens gathered at a bookstore — whatever the case, all feel entitled to perpetuate their domination, ownership, and abuse of nonhuman animals. I long ago gave up writing to people promoting progressivism, civil rights, socialism, or any other human cause seeking to convince them of the ways my current animal-rights strategy and progress toward its objectives could bolster rather than conflict with their work. There have never been any takers. Despite the logic of the potential alliances, from conversing and corresponding with countless people through the years, I believe I know why.
It’s very much like convincing Southern planters in 1840 that they would be better off shifting to an economic system without chattel slaves. Nonhuman animals and their enslavement, forced companionship, labor, and exploitation for hundreds of products and services are so interwoven into their personal lives and the current consumer-capitalist economy that political organizers, candidates, or officials and directors of any kind of political party or nonprofit organization today see any kind of alliance with radical animal advocacy as a kiss of death. Most have such difficulty getting their message heard and making any progress toward their objectives, and animal advocacy that is not conservative like the animal-welfare regime is so negatively stereotyped throughout the culture, that they can only see radical animal advocacy as dragging them down, not as impelling their work forward.
To succeed at reducing animal abuse and suffering and eventually freeing all animals from under the human boot, I see animal advocacy as having to assert, unapologetically and unabashedly, with no expectation of assistance from any other cause, human misery as a function of animal abuse and rights-denial — these are in fact a root cause of war, disease, poverty, misogyny, racism, human slavery, and other human miseries — and basic principles such as all animals’ innate equality and personhood, and to demand that our informing institutions teach them since they are entirely intellectually legitimate: the K-12 school systems, colleges and universities, and the news industry, especially.
We must create strong links among biology such as Dr. Eisenman’s representation of original humans and the fact that humans are naturally weaponless, herbivorous, and inhabiting only the African savanna without any buildings or anything manufactured; the fact that ever-more-rapid ecodestruction is premised on denial of equal rights of all animals; and the recalcitrance of all of our institutions and systems due to their dedication to capitalism and its destructive industries over human beings and the rest of the living world. This is not terribly hard to promote — it’s simple despite being radical. But established advocacy methods function paradoxically as obstacles by providing activists with so much low-hanging fruit: promoting diet change, rescuing homeless animals, and other endeavors not linked to serious political theory.
Responsible Policies for Animals
Ok, I have nothing more to add than this:
In my essay, I described the welfarist position as “paternalistic,” “odd”, “absurd,” and as a “denying” the obvious. It should be clear that my allegiances lie elsewhere.
But I remain troubled by the abolitionist recusal from politics. The individual choice to go vegan is praiseworthy. But if the number of vegans in the US is to grow beyond the current 1% (?), the effort must be more than voluntarist. That means the bugbear about “single-issue campaigns” needs to be overcome.
Is an effort to provide kids tasty, plant-based diets in school “welfarist”? Is the creation of tax benefits for vegetable farmers and penalties for livestock producers welfarist? What about mandated elementary school teaching about animal sentience and intelligence? Is that “single-issue advocacy?” Or laws to prevent the creation of manure lagoons in rural areas? And would you support a movement to deny permits to slaughterhouses based upon (inevitable) health and safety violations?
Some of these efforts may be worthwhile and others not. But that very determination requires organizing, debate, and discussion. (And not just virtually.) The passage of laws to save animal lives (with an eye toward abolition) will demand lobbying and campaigning – very messy stuff. (I have done it, so I know.) But all liberation struggles are difficult and even sometimes even contradictory.
Finally, success in the effort to grant animals their rights (their liberation from chattel slavery, torture and death) must, in my view be seen and part of the global movement that values life over death, health over sickness, and the real needs of the many (human and animal) over the profits of the few. The conventional name for that is “socialism”, so that’s what I have called it.
You may have used certain pejorative words in describing welfarism, but you also stated:
“And by rejecting all single-issue advocacy — whether to protect an endangered species or to end a particularly abusive farming or research practice – [Francione] dispenses with the usual means of developing radical constituencies and achieving change.”
You seem to think that reformist campaigns, such as targeting particular farming practices or promoting the idea that some animals (members of endangered species) are morally more valuable than others, can be divorced from the welfarist theory that you find “odd” or “paternalistic,” or whatever. I cannot understand why you would think that, but, in any event, I disagree. They cannot be separated.
You say that you “remain troubled by the abolitionist recusal from politics” and you say that “[t]e individual choice to go vegan is praiseworthy. But if the number of vegans in the US is to grow beyond the current 1% (?), the effort must be more than voluntarist.”
It’s not just a matter of the individual going vegan (although I regard that as crucial). The Abolitionist Approach promotes creative, nonviolent vegan advocacy. And every day, people all over the world are, without organizations and “donate” buttons, going out there and doing just that. You see, the *only* way the paradigm can shift is if we build a movement of abolitionist vegans. To maintain that institutional politics will go in radical directions in the absence of that significant abolitionist vegan movement is what is utopian and completely unrealistic. In the absence of that movement, there *can* only be some version of welfaism.
I would add that an important reason that we don’t have more vegans is that there has never been an abolitionist vegan movement. The large animal welfare corporations, which dominate the “movement” and have done for a long time, have *never* promoted veganism as a moral baseline. On the contrary. To the extent that any of these groups promote veganism at all, they do as a way of reducing suffering–along with cage-free eggs, crate-free pork, vegetarianism, etc., and not as a matter of fundamental justice. Indeed, the organized movement promotes many anti-vegan messages. The confusion is profound and the result is a focus on treatment and not use, which guarantees that we will never even have the right discussion as a social matter. I have often observed that if we put into creative, nonviolent vegan advocacy a fraction of the resources that we put into gradualism, reform, and single-issue campaigns, we’d have a very different state of affairs. I stand by that observation. Indeed, I think it’s a no-brainer.
You apparently have still not read the two essays I linked to about how reformist campaigns and single-issue campaigns necessarily promote continued exploitation. If you won’t engage those ideas and, instead, just repeat that we need to go the reformist/single-issue route, there’s not much I can say.
You do not seem to understand what I mean when I talk about single-issue campaigns. Such campaigns identify and target some form of animal exploitation that is characterized as worse than other forms of exploitation, which are, by virtue of the way these campaigns must operate to serve as fundraising devices, promoted as normatively more desirable and acceptable. Example of single-issue campaigns include the foie gras campaign, the fur campaign, the campaign against the eating of dogs in Asia and the killing of dolphins in Taiji, etc.
I am a bit confused as to why you think I object to getting vegan food into schools. I have been involved in those efforts myself. What I oppose is going into schools and promoting “compassionate” exploitation. As for the other efforts you describe, which are not single-issue campaigns, I would have to know more about them to know whether they promoted a message that is inconsistent with recognizing the moral value of nonhuman animals. For example, you suggest teaching about “animal sentience and intelligence.” I teach about that topic frequently. What I object to is the idea that certain cognitive capacities are morally more valuable for determining the justification for the use of some nonhumans exclusively as a resource as that is overtly speciesist. As a general matter, I do not think that at, at the present time, we can get legislation that will do anything to impact in any significant way the interests of animal exploiters. I should add that this observation also holds in countries that have more socialist forms of government. That is because those societies are still steeped in anthropocentrism, which is a problem that is separate from economics.
You think that a move toward socialism will change the moral status of animals. There is not only no evidence for this position but, given that animals have been exploited in every society that we know of–including the most communitarian–the evidence is to the contrary. The problem is not capitalism. The problem is anthropocentrism. Yes, the Plains Indians supposedly offered a prayer to an animal before the slaughter but the animal was still killed. And Cuba has all sorts of excellent socialist programs to promote human welfare, but they still eat lots of meat and other animal products, and exploit animals in all sorts of ways.
Thanks for this exchange.
Can someone please help me with a question I have been struggling with for decades as an animal activist. It seems given the subject matter of this “current” and the definition of “Animal Liberation” provide in this piece that I am finally getting the question; Just what is animal liberation? addressed.
In 1973 it was clear to all what animal liberation entailed. In 1983, it became clear what animal rights entailed. Since then views of what both are have evolved, however the shades of animal rights are much clearer to me than just what in practice and discussion, animal liberation is. This piece provides a definitive description. I can only assume that those launching a new endeavor around “Animal Liberation” are using a definition of the term that is widely understood and accepted. Is this the case? Can I proceed in interactions and discussions with animal people with this definitive definition or is it but another shad of the gray I have been hearing and seeing people take issue with for so many years. Any help, thoughts, calibration will be greatly appreciate. Seems appropriate that this new effort starts out by clarifying the issue. Trust me, I’m not the only one confused about this. Thanks
I am afraid I can’t offer you closure. I decided to use the broadest definition of animals liberation in my essay and then break it down into ideal parts. In practice, there are often areas of overlap. But just think of the term Women’s Liberation (“Women’s Lib”). When it was announced in 1968 it described a specific group of women (mostly in Chicago) and their goals, and it grew from there. Now the term has a slightly quaint ring to it and describes a large number of groups and perspectives. This is the same with Animal Liberation. The editor of ALC can perhaps say more about the title of the new journal.