Several months ago an analysis I made of Barry Horne’s hunger strikes was severely criticised in certain quarters. You can find it by clicking on the vivisection tab. One of the allegations was I used his death to score cheap political points. In that case what can be said about the document pictured left? Entitled – replete with symbolic meaning – A CROSS FOR BARRY, it seeks to use his memory to promote a political party that he had nothing to do with while alive.
It first appeared on Ronnie Lee’s Facebook page with the statement: “On May 7th vote for a party without the blood of animals and of activists on their hands!” Then it was shared by Kevin White who is the Green candidate for Redditch. Ronnie and Kevin are veteran AR activists whom I’ve known for a very long time. I first met Ronnie in the eighties when he was ALF Press Officer. At the time he wrote:
Any campaign which calls upon the government to do something for us, instead of us doing it for ourselves, only serves to increase the power, influence and apparent credibility of the state – and neither human nor animal liberation will be properly achieved until all governments and states are abolished.
Shortly afterwards he was sentenced to 10 years for ALF activities and decisively changed. On release he evinced a misanthropic view of the world. Anarchists believe that humans, while not always good, are social beings who can cooperate and build a society based on equality and justice. Ronnie’s view was diametrically different. In Arkangel magazine #3 he opined that “ordinary unenlightened people” were “dragging out their tiny meaningless lives, changing nothing, achieving nothing, merely taking up space in an already grossly overcrowded world.”
Just before the 2005 general election, Ronnie advocated voting Labour in case the Tories won and overturned the Hunting Act. Later on he became a staunch supporter of the Green Party. He’s now renounced his misanthropic beliefs and campaigns on social justice issues as well as for animal rights and veganism but he still holds an essentially pessimistic view of human nature.
In his one and only blog entry, “Greenprint for Animal Liberation”, he states: “it is a fundamental trait of humans in general to be passive and to not want to stand out from the crowd…Most human beings are fundamentally leader-followers, so the problem is that if there is no good guy (or gal!) for people to follow, most of them will inevitably follow the bad guy.”
Ronnie gives no evidence to back up his claim. It is easily refuted if one looks online at sites such as Indymedia, New Internationalist, Libcom or even Facebook and Twitter. There are millions of people fighting back across the globe but most of the time you hear nothing about this on mainstream news. Ronnie is guilty of taking the media at face value.
As an interesting anecdote, I debated anarchism v parliamentary campaigning with Ronnie and Kevin at an Animal Rights Gathering a few years ago. It was a Saturday evening and I recall Ronnie mentioning how people were too lazy to do anything except watch tv. On the way home I heard on the radio how a demonstration at Tottenham police station had turned into a riot and within days the country was convulsed by the biggest insurrection in living memory.
That potential for upheaval is always there. If we learn anything from history it should be that class conflict can be suppressed but it never goes away and we’ve seen plenty of examples of that over the past five years since the austerity policies of the coalition government have wreaked havoc on peoples’ lives.
Ronnie, however, clearly thinks people cannot organise and fight back themselves and instead need leaders and politicans. He pins all his hopes on the Green Party, which flies in the face of logic. He also emphasizes their commitment to “animal protection” as though that is one of their core principles. In reality the section of their 2010 election manifesto devoted to it was less than one page out of 48!
That document calls for an immediate ban in “causing harm to animals (including but not only primates) in research, testing and education, and invest in the development of alternatives to animal experiments.” All well and good but where is the evidence they have the desire to implement such a policy?
Try and find any mention of vivisection or repression of anti-vivisectionists in any speech made by a prominent figure in the Green Party and you’ll have a long wait. Why was there no undertaking to repeal SOCPA s145/146 in the 2010 manifesto after it had been used for the previous five years? Will there be any such commitment in the coming election. Of course not! Will the abolition of animal testing be a precondition of entering into coalition with another party. Don’t be ridiculous!
The Green Party never has been a party of animal rights and never will be. It is about animal welfare – using animals in a kinder, gentler way. Some forms of animal exploitation could be outlawed, say the fur trade, badger culls and wild animals in circuses, but animals would remain mere commodities. How could it be different when the party accepts the capitalist system, albeit with a greener tinge.
Voting for the Green Party in the expectation of them bringing about animal liberation is like voting Labour for human liberation. The two just don’t go together.
Which brings us back to Barry Horne. He was an animal liberationist who believed fervently in direct action and grassroots campaigning, not party politics. Reading what he wrote, the contempt he had for politicians of all parties is obvious.
Ater being arrested and receiving the longest ever sentence, he decided, rather than just rot in gaol, to use his incarceration to hold New Labour to account through the tried and tested tactic of the hunger strike.
Prior to Labour’s election under Tony Blair in 1997, lots of promises had been made on animal issues, especially vivisection. Barry wanted to test the government, to expose them to the glare of publicity and at the same time galvanise the movement into action against animal experimentation.
His hunger strikes proved beyond doubt that politicians – of all parties – are never to be trusted. It transpired that rather than curb vivisection, Labour was its resolute defender. The same would apply to other parties, including the Greens. If they ever came even close to power, they would renege on their promises too. This is, after all, a party whose membership elected a meat eater to be its leader.
We can have some idea of what a Green government might be like if we look at where they have been successful. Such examples are not easy to find in this country but an exception is Brighton where despite trumpeting calls for the living wage, they joined forces with the Tories on the council in attempting to impose a “pay modernisation” scheme on low-paid workers, meaning some faced a paycut of up to £4,000 a year. This led to them being denounced as: “F***ing Tories on bikes!”
When the Greens are in power, they are like other parties. How could it be any different? I wouldn’t trust Ronnie Lee, Kevin White, myself or anyone else with political power. Hierarchy always leads to inequality and exploitation.
Using Barry Horne as a way of garnering a few votes for a political party is a cheap and shoddy tactic. He believed in militant, confrontational campaigning and direct action against animal abuse industries. Yes his strategy of trying to involve the UK animal rights movement in all out war with the state never worked but to suppose the solution is to somehow try and emulate the state is naive and would be disastrous for animal rights itself.
Ronnie and Kevin have lost hope in the ability of people to bring about real change. In their view, because the animal rights movement failed to shut down HLS or the Oxford University lab, there is now no alternative to activists joining the political establishment and trying to use it for animal protection. This is the same establishment which is busy curtailing human rights and attacking the most vulnerable people in society.
The idea that the ruling class can be persuaded or entreated to protect animals when they’re busy using the capitalist system to gain wealth and power is laughable. Ronnie and Kevin would be chewed up, spat out and made to conform. I’m sure they have the best of intentions but their tactics are naive and ill-thought through. Ronnie got it right 30 years ago when he said: “Neither human nor animal liberation will be properly achieved until all governments and states are abolished.” That includes Green governments too.