Review of Dysophia open letter #3: from animals to anarchism

Dysophia is a Leeds-based publisher of green anarchist pamphlets and other materials similar to this blog, that is to use anarchism as “a powerful tool for analysing much of the world around us, from interpersonal relationships to how we take on the big problems standing between us and our ideal society… to educate and encourage debate, to question everything then bring it together with solutions that take us forward.”

They have brought out an exceptionally wide ranging series of publications on issues such as the financial crisis, climate change, polyamory and anti-Semitism. In addition there are also occasional zines or open letters which analyse topics of interest to anarchist “in greater depth and length than most publications are capable of accommodating.”

The latest of these is written by Kevin Watkinson and Donal O’Driscoll and is called From Animals to Anarchism. Its aim is to “challenge those involved in animal to sort their politics out if they truly believe in liberation, but at the same time not let anarchists off the hook – demanding that they consider more fully the nature of human-animal relations in their politics.”

The zine is 39 pages long and offers an in depth look at the relationship between animal liberation and anarchism, which it correctly says have a great deal in common. In fact I go further and say they are inseparable. Nevertheless there is, the author’s argue, “an enduring reluctance to view the issue of animal liberation as relevant to anarchism.” This true of mainstream Western anarchism which is based on a class struggle perspective but ideologically anarchism has no trouble embracing animal rights and liberation in its other forms.

I would also maintain there is no intrinsic reason why class struggle and animal rights/liberation should be mutually exclusive. Yes in practice there has usually been little commonality between them but in reality it is the same forces that exploit people and animals – the ruling class, the state and capitalism. One of the objectives of this blog is to show the connections are there and how the struggle to liberate the working class must also include non-human animals.

As the article points out, the main problem for anarchists with the animal rights movement lies in its ideological incoherence. It is “a very broad set of beliefs and campaign activities which focus on the position of animals in human society” and the authors divide these into welfarism, rights and liberation. The first two can be accommodated within the present system – the first somewhat more easily than the second – but the third they argue is incompatible with capitalism and the state.

This is correct yet it should also be noted that even some spheres of animal liberation do not see the necessity for revolution and the overthrow of the state. While the ALF was also seen as close to anarchism, other groups and prominent individuals were not. SHAC, for example, eschewed anti-capitalism and its co-founder Greg Avery rejected anarchist ideas.

The “core aim… to challenge all domination, no matter what form it takes” is highlighted. The authors say “we believe animals should be liberated from the same systems of domination that are also in place to oppress people…we are not natural allies with those on the political right who claim to be animal rights activists, and in the same breath we equally condemn the sexism of PETA and the racism expressed by some campaigners.”

While it’s good that racism is mentioned, little further attention is given to the issue of  the far right infiltration of the movement in recent years. With the emergence of groups such as 269life, Negotiation is Over, and Non-Humans First, this is for many the most pressing problem we have to face along with state repression. It also has the potential to further alienate anarchists from animal rights yet it isn’t tackled to any extent in From animals to anarchism.

That aside, however, the article makes a very strong case for the intersection of animal liberation and anarchism and is especially good in its critique of veganism when just another form of consumerism and “those who are obsessed with diet to the exclusion of everything else.” On the other hand it staunchly defends the vegan ethic as a broad critique of animal exploitation, not just a plant based diet alone.

The pamphlet also makes telling remarks about “the animal rights scene” itself – its fashions and exclusivity – as being akin to “building a house in the woods”, that is consciously rejecting the outside world, while conversely activists on the left “avoid the inconvenient question of their relationship with other animal species.”

The answer is for animal activists to “develop a better sense of class and anti-oppression politics while “anarchists stop turning a blind eye to both animals and the planet.” Well put but in my experience easier said than done!

The zine ends with an exhaustive list of resources – books, pamphlets, articles, websites, etc – and finally an appendix which critically analyses “some anarchist critiques of animal rights”.

All in all well presented and persuasively argued. It’s available as a download from the site below or as hard copy from Active Distribution for just £1.41.













    • Hey! I thought this was an EXCELLENT ZINE! One big question, where can I find an imposed or booklet pdf of this? Would love to distribute this far and wide. Also, would the authors have any problem with an additional cover used for this zine? (our cover would go over the original cover so it wouldnt replace it.) Solidarity!

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