The Left and animal rights activists have much in common
- Published: 11 September 2010
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The anti-capitalist Left’s focus on humanism is far from progressive, and the animal rights movement is elitist, but both sides could learn a lot from each other. Dr Steven Best explains why in this interview with Jon Hoch.
Why do you think there’s so much hostility between the anti-capitalist Left and the animal rights movement?
The Left has disdain for the animal rights movement because the Left is humanist and speciesist. The Left politics are always about human rights above all else.
The highest ethic that the Left has been able to reach in terms of animal rights is animal welfarism, which is the ethic of the industry and which is a euphemism for animal torture … it’s like their peddling ‘Clean Coal’ or something.
The Left also sees animal rights people as elitist. Some people of color, rightly so, see them as, maybe not racist, but certainly not anti-racist.
There is a problem of white elitism in the animal rights and vegan movement; there is no doubt about it.
The composition of the movement is overwhelmingly white and middle class. It promotes all these expensive cruelty-free products. It doesn’t take its message into the inner city. It never targets people of color. There’s a huge gulf between black vegans and white vegans. It really is a very isolated movement.
So to a degree, do you sympathize with that criticism of the animal rights movement?
Yeah. What you’ve got to understand about me is that I started out from the Left. I started off looking at imperialism, and juntas, and neoliberalism and the structures of capital.
Marx and the whole Left internalized the Darwinian tradition. They certainly understood natural evolution and social evolution. They understood how we evolve as animals and how societies evolve throughout history.
Remember, Marx is very influenced by Darwin. He wanted to dedicate Das Kapital: Volume One to Darwin. But what he failed to pick up from Darwin was Darwin’s emphasis on the continuity of species, on the continuum of animal existence. All animals have rich subjective lives, complex emotions and intriguing minds. Yet the Left just reduced animals to a machine.
How, if at all, do you think the two struggles are intertwined?
Animal rights activists are not making the connections between the oppression of humans and the oppression of animals.
They’re not making the connections, for instance, between patriarchy and speciesism, between racism and speciesism. They don’t see how speciesism and capitalism work together to create a holocaust, a global holocaust, where 50 billion animals are being killed each year just for food consumption.
This is devastating the environment. Poor people are being pushed off their land so that large agricultural industries can move in.
There are all these connections here that need to be made, but neither side is making them.
But by exploiting animals, aren’t capitalists simply fulfilling a consumer demand? You don’t think that demand will just disappear in a socialist society, do you?
No, because people are speciesist.
Now if you want to look how all these things work together, let’s look at the case of factory farming. It becomes an industry under capitalism which produces demand.
The advertising of all these meat and dairy products stimulates the demand and seeks to satisfy the demand through profit and by using the most efficient technological conditions possible.
So that means the concern is not the humane welfare of animals. The concern, rather, is efficiency. Capitalism uses “Taylorization” and industrialization to mass-mechanize the production of animals as food.
What are the consequences of this? Well, people’s health is absolutely destroyed by this: cancer, strokes, obesity – tens of thousands of people die every day around the world.
One of the reasons is certainly political. It has to do with authoritarian regimes keeping food from people, stealing food from people, making profits off the food that’s supposed to go to people.
But it also has to do with scarcity of resources. You can look up some of the statistics about how inefficient it is to eat food by first mediating it through the blood and body system of an animal, and therefore eating the animal.
Just eat directly from the earth; take the animal out of the equation. Eighty-nine percent of our oats and corn in the United States is fed to cattle–not to humans. Now they’re saying it’s the agribusiness industry, not the transportation industry that is the largest cause of greenhouse gas emissions.
What do you think the two movements can learn from each other?
What the Left could learn from the vegan and animal rights movement, I suppose is to really get rid of this last arbitrary form of discrimination and bias and prejudice and hierarchical domination. They could learn to look at their lifestyles more and integrate their lifestyles into their principles.
But then the vegan movement tends just to be lifestyle politics and not social movement politics. So the vegans should look at the social movements and move into a social movement.
Make veganism more of a social movement that is more out there, more talking about connections and justice, and less with baking vegan cookies at home for Christ’s sake. I mean, come out of the kitchen folks!
Dr Steven Best co-founded the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, whose representatives speak on behalf of the militant animal rights movement. His activism has earned him a lifetime ban from the UK and nearly cost him his teaching job. Visit his website for more information.
This article was first published on Thomas Paine’s Corner.