This article is reproduced in its entirety from punkerslut.com
The Relationship of
Socialism and Animal Rights
The Opposition to
on Oppression of Animalkind
and Exploitation of Humankind
Image: From RadicalGraphics.org
Start Date: February 26, 2011
Finish Date: February 27, 2011
The Socialist and Vegetarian Ideals
“Everyone knows that the fire from a little spark will increase and blaze ever higher as long as it finds wood to burn; Appeasement is useless, yet without being quenched by water, but merely by finding no more fuel to feed on, it consumes itself, dies down, and is no longer a flame. Similarly, the more tyrants pillage, the more they crave, the more they ruin and destroy; the more one yields to them, and obeys them, by that much do they become mightier and more formidable, the readier to annihilate and destroy. But if not one thing is yielded to them, if, without any violence they are simply not obeyed, they become naked and undone and as nothing, just as, when the root receives no nourishment, the branch withers and dies.”
–Étienne de La Boétie, 1548
“Discourse on Voluntary Servitude”
Socialism has taught the people to look around their surroundings and to realize the importance of the social stage. It has taught us that while we may be peacefully buying an apple, it may have been brought to the market as the product of forced labor. It has given us the knowledge that while we admire the products available to us, our own creativity and independence is suppressed by relying on them.
The class of bosses, police, prison wardens, kings, and presidents is built out of the profits from our purchases. The gold and diamond mines where thousands of children scurry with their picks are dug based on the receipts of merchandise. Socialism, if anything, has taught us the connection between market and society; it has given us the knowledge that passive and conformed behavior is necessary to the triumph of a great violence.
Animal rights in its most essential form means Vegetarianism. This is only a practice that reflects a higher teaching in the mind. Even though we may peacefully exchange our money in return for the flesh of a creature, there is still a violence being committed. Even though we do not hold the butcher knife, we pay for the butcher’s wages and we pay for shop where he even executes animals. And, when the butchers go on strike, and there’s a temporary delay in the slaughter, it’s the profits that pay for the strikebreakers, so that the killing can go on.
Vegetarianism has brought the message that it is our compliance that creates this system of domination over animalkind. It is our willingness to purchase ham, poultry, or beef — so much more pleasant terms for dead pig, chicken, and cow. By paying for something, and putting money into the hands of someone who murders, we are contributing to the system of murder. We become essential to the system of cruelty against animalkind, just as the way consumers stand in relation to Capitalism.
With completely peaceful behavior, we are capable of doing something that supports a system of violence, coercion, or cruelty. It is true, our hands are clean, when it comes to looking for blood dripping down from either the cleaver or whip — we are not the butcher ending lives, and we are not the overseer whipping children in the sweatshop. By paying for the products of these things, we don’t commit the activities themselves. However, without us, the activities could not go on.
Socialism and Vegetarianism, then, are far more meaningful than the morality of Capitalism and meat-eating. The Capitalist endeavors to give themselves as pleasant a life as possible, living off of the profits of slaves in factories, without ever exposing themselves to the miseries they create And likewise, the meat-eater does not dare examine the conditions of a slaughterhouse. In seeking activity that is personally satisfying, the Capitalist and Human Supremacist won’t expose themselves to visions that shock their conscience. The Socialist and the Vegetarian, in return, say that it is not our goal to insulate our conscience — we only want to eliminate our contribution to unconscientious acts.
The Vegetarian Who is Not a Socialist
“The working millions who produce the wealth have little or nothing to show for it. There is widespread ignorance among them; industrial and social conditions prevail that defy all language properly to describe. The working class consists of a mass of human beings — men, women and children-in enforced competition with one another, in all of the circling hours of the day and night, for the sale of their labor power, and in the severity of the competition the wage sinks gradually until it touches the point of subsistence.
“In this struggle more than five millions of women are engaged and about two millions of children, and the number of child laborers is steadily increasing, for in this system profit is important, while life has no value.”
–Eugene V. Debs, 1905
Consider the Animal Rights activist that has rejected the workers’ movement. Why there should be an intermingling of the two ideas, animal rights and labor rights, may naturally be confusing to the investigating Vegetarian. There have only been a handful of notable individuals to have embraced both the philosophy of Socialist Revolution and Vegetarianism. Leo Tolstoy represented Christian Anarchism, which embraced communist equality for all despite species, gender, race, or religious belief. Nobody has since taken up the torch to bring this style of Christian Anarchism forward.
George Bernard Shaw, too, was an anti-Capitalist, though much more moderate than Tolstoy. He combined his sense of obligations to the exploited workers with his duties toward all oppressed animalkind. Many lesser known thinkers combined these ideas, too, probably the most notable being Henry Salt. This British thinker represented the most sophisticated development of thought in Humanitarianism around the era of Tolstoy. Salt’s philosophy entailed Socialism, Vegetarianism, abolishment of prisons, and equal rights for all despite immigrant status or race or creed. Finally, and perhaps most shocking to his contemporaries, Henry Salt demanded the abolishment of private dueling.
Other than these few examples, Animal Rights is an estranged topic in terms of revolutionary workers’ power — traditionally, anyway. It is given no attention at union meetings, it draws bizarre glances at Socialist Party conferences, and anti-Capitalist papers treat the Vegetarian movement more as a curious “reform movement” than anything worth considering seriously. This definitely is not to be extended toward all Socialists, as I provided numerous examples above, but it seems to characterize the majority of Socialist thought. Few advocates of the Soviet Union, for instance, mention that when a food tax was placed on peasants, part of it had to be paid in meat from dogs. [*1]
However, given all of these inconsistencies between these two movements, Animal Rights can’t mean anything without Socialism — just as Socialism can’t mean anything without Animal Rights. Consider the primary argument behind Vegetarianism: behind the product that you are purchasing, to put into your body, is a factory farm where animals are reproduced in torturous conditions. By paying for the product, you are contributing to the system of suffering and murder.
But how can you have feelings for an animal caged and locked up, but not a child in nearly the same condition in some sweatshop? How could you sympathize with an oppressed group dominated by the few humanity on the planet, when you can’t sympathize with the majority of humanity oppressed by a few capitalists? How is the position of an animal, dominated and exploited without any means of escape, so much different than the working class that must suffer ritualistic unemployment and poverty?
After all, the human being is an animal, too; the whip against their back produces the same kinds of lacerations found on pigs, goats, and cows. If we are opposing the meat industry because of the suffering it creates, then we must oppose any industry that is bent upon such exploitation and misery. If we are going to have meaning in liberating the oppressed creatures of humanity, then we must liberate the part of humanity that is oppressed, too. If liberty, peace, and happiness are to mean anything over here, we cannot forget about them over there.
Image: From RadicalGraphics.org
The Socialist Who is Not a Vegetarian
“I only wish to say that for a good life a certain order of good actions is indispensable; that if a man’s aspirations toward right living be serious they will inevitably follow one definite sequence, and in this sequence the first thing will be self-control in food — fasting.
“…in fasting, if he be really and seriously seeking to live a good life, the first thing from which he will abstain will always be the use of animal food, because, to say nothing of the excitation of the passions caused by such food, its use is simply immoral, as it involves the performance of an act which is contrary to the moral feeling — killing.”
–Leo Tolstoy, 1891
“The First Step”
If the Animal Rights activist has objections to involvement with workers’ movements, then what could the Socialist object in response to Vegetarian groups? The arguments are just as wide and varied. The Vegetarian accuses unions and Socialist groups of being neglectful of the condition of animals. The Socialist, in just the same tone and degree, accuses the Vegetarian groups of the same exact crime, except on behalf of the working class.
Consider some of the spokespeople chosen for the Animal Rights movement today. Many of them are actors and actresses. PETA, the most well-known of mainstream Animal Rights organizations, does everything it can get famous people onto its magazines. Pamela Anderson, Drew Barrymore, Bill Maher, and Alicia Silverstone are more than just a few that can be handpicked from their advertisements. [*2]
All of these people may have some strong sensitivity toward the plight of animal suffering. But you can’t really forget that the DVDs for their films are printed in sweatshops under Fascist dictatorships — their films get advertising from union-busting capitalists like Coca Cola — and their films are full of subliminal ads that imprint people with the consciousness of the consumer. With profits based on sweatshop factories, on child labor, and the forced labor of indigenous peoples around the globe, they advocate for the liberties of animals.
Naturally, many workers groups can regard the Vegetarian movement as the previous types of puritanical movements; those philanthropists who came and said that they would uplift the worker to something dignified, while leaving him in the position of a slave. It is not an organizing force that appeals, because it feels like it something almost built up exclusively by an elitist class, without understanding or even sympathy for the common, laboring individual.
At the same time, though, a revolutionary movement is stale if it still permits such great cruelty and injustice to happen within its own house. How can you mourn for the worker who was bayoneted in the street by police, when you cannot mourn for the animal who met the same fate by the worker? How can you expect a revolution against the sufferings of most humans, when you reject a revolution against the suffering of most animals? How can you create anything to genuinely eliminate suffering, when its vision is exclusive and its power is restricted? How can you cheer on your own liberty from above, when it is based on an even greater slavery from below?
What is One Misery, Compared to the Other?
“Do not ask how your bread is buttered; it will make you sick, if you do- and the like. A man had better starve at once than lose his innocence in the process of getting his bread.”
–Henry David Thoreau, 1863
“Life Without Principle”
Why should these movements matter to each other? This is not the question that members of these groups ask themselves. It is rarely asked of them. But the most obvious objection, among the animal rights activists, would include admitting that great human suffering is caused by the Capitalist. However, despite that, the amount of suffering inflicted on animalkind is easily thousands of times greater, simply based on the number enslaved and killed. For every sweatshop full of forced child labor, there are endless amounts of factories for the slaughter of living, conscious beings.
If a union organizer were to give an objection, it would probably be that there won’t be any positive environmentalism until the workers themselves are in power. After all, the union organizer and Socialist seeks to encourage self-emancipation, a concept that isn’t so immediately transferable to the realm of animal rights. To see a few Animal Rights groups, attacking this issue or attacking that issue, is viewed like a charity group that hands out bread during the depression. It’s a tiny amount of aid, in an entire sea of misery, and there won’t be any real change in the situation without self-organization of the oppressed — again, not quite as common among animals as among humans.
What’s the point of organizing for workers’ power, when Animal Rights represents the far more oppressed group? What’s the point of fighting for Animal Rights, when it poses no social organization that would allow the people to create Animal Liberation? These are the two primal objections of both groups. The first question that every involved individual asked themselves was, “What can I do to change the world?” The answer has definitely been to organize against the worst injustices on the planet. The mutual combination of Socialism and Vegetarianism, in uniting against all suffering, will mean even greater organization of the revolutionary movement.
This does not mean that these movements should lose their autonomy to each other, any more than an individual of these movements loses their autonomy to the whole group. A mutual federation of many organizations must allow for cooperation as much as for disagreement. The whole, with a brilliant vision, will be able to produce great results; and if a small part was hampered by the whole in its brilliant vision, its autonomy would allow it to prove the validity of its tactics in revolutionary change.
Being a Socialist doesn’t mean voting for the Socialist Party, just like being an Animal Rights activist doesn’t mean donating to some charity group. These are only half-hearted attempts at genuine change. Being a true Socialist, like the true Animal Rights advocate, means withdrawing all support from the tyrannies of the planet as the beginning. It means boycott as the beginning and social organizing as the form for achieving justice. In practice, it makes Socialism and Vegetarianism into the same thing, characteristics that overlap on the same face. A withdrawal of support from all those who are based on slavery and mass killing; that means a boycott of Capitalism as much as the animal exploitation industry.
*1. “Seven Years in Russia and Siberia, 1914-1921,” by Roman Dyboski, translated, edited, and annotated by Marion Moore Coleman, published by Cherry Hill Books, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 79-137001, published 1971, page 106: “The only meat we had which was not spoiled was — obviously — that of the dog. When a levy of dogs, for their fur, was made, one dog from each six huts, the peasants at first thought in not only the skins, for which they would be paid, but the carcasses as well, thus expressing, ironically, their opinion of the prevailing food situation. Often they would mix these dogs in with their slaughtered sheep, so as the keep the sheep levy down somewhat, and I am absolutely certain that in 1921, when as a prisoner in the Krasnoyarsk jail I was to my astonishment once given a meat soup, supposed to be lamb, actually I was eating dog.”
*2. “The woman behind the most successful radical group in America,” by Michael Specter, April 4th, 2003, MichaelSpecter.com.
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