In June 2017 a “liberation gathering” took place in Bristol. It came from “an anarchist perspective” and focused on “animal exploitation as a result of capitalism and domestication and how best to challenge it in this context.” I blogged about it here but afterwards could find no mention of what had happened. Finally I’ve come across the document that came out of that gathering and others like it. It’s called Animal Liberation Zine and is described as “A collective project based on outcomes & conversations from animal liberation gatherings.” It is a manifesto for anew kind of movement and it is very good.
The first section is called Time to move on from animal rights and says: “The concept of ‘rights’ legitimises the state by putting the responsibility of change onto the state…The concept of liberation, and especially anarchist animal liberation, is that the very idea of a state ultimately leads to oppression. For that state to continue it needs to have the means to protect itself against anyone trying to effect significant change.”
One of the key themes of the zine is that individual, consumerist choices within capitalism will not bring about real change, ie animal liberation. The recent boom in vegan consumerism comes in for special criticism as “capitalism has very quickly and effectively adapted to and profited from the increasingly fashionable search for a guilt-free lifestyle.” But the project goes even further by arguing that even veganism in itself can be detrimental due to it leading to a “simplistic ideology” rather than a message of “intersectional animal liberation.”
Intersectionality only emerges from non-hierarchical movements based on local groups and: “An animal rights campaign that tolerates classist, racist, sexist, ableist or homophobic attitudes or doesn’t challenge hierarchies that are developing within the group, even if they are subtle, is a barrier to liberation.” Also problematic are national societies which “are centralised and reinforce hierarchical models of organising.”
In a view that would no doubt be rejected by many activists, the zine says it is “easy to demonise” workers in slaughterhouses and meat packing plants but that fails to “recognise the complex layers of oppression and exploitation within our own species as a result of capitalism.”
The next section asks Do animal liberationists contribute to the objectification of animals? The answer, according to the project, is yes. This is probably its most controversial conclusion because it takes a swipe at what has been one of the enduring features of the modern animal liberation movement since it was founded nearly 50 years ago, that of the activist as saviour – think of the images of masked activists rescuing animals from laboratories and factory farms:
The model of non-humans as the dis-empowered victims, and us as the saviours, is a barrier to animal liberation. Other animals are individuals with intrinsic value and a need for autonomy and respect. We are not their saviours, we are their oppressors and while there are still domesticated animals and we maintain our privilege over them that will remain the case. If people are encouraged to see animals as anonymous victims that we should ‘save’ then we are just reinforcing existing hierarchies, with us positioned above all other species. As animal liberationists we are trying to change how people view otherspecies, and encourage them to reject a system which is dependent on their suffering.
The Project also attacks the use of “cute” images by animal rights activists. It says they reinforce the stereotype of animal dependency on humans and “we are unlikely to think about how domestication has led to animals having so little autonomy, and their dependence on humans.” The next claim is equally if not more radical: “An obstacle to animal liberation is the enjoyment that many people, including animal liberationists, have in keeping animals captive in their homes.” While re-homing is necessary it is wrong to become an end in itself as it should be merely the “transition phase towards the end of domestication not an ongoing response to exploitation.”
The penultimate section asks So how can animal liberationists use imagery? The answer is only with great care as obviously animals cannot consent for images of them to be used and we should therefore be “mindful of the privilege we have over them and the importance of the context of the image and how we use it.” Context is crucial because it can lead down two contrasting paths – a “victim and saviour” model or “an anarchist, animal liberation message which acknowledges and seeks to challenge the hierarchical position we have over non-humans.”
The zines with a section called What’s next? which identifies some practical steps which anarchist animal liberationists can make. These include: “Create new animal liberation focused propaganda (being thoughtful and respectful in our use of images) and distribute widely”, “Think more about the ideas here, learn and talk about anti speciesism and total liberation with friends and comrades” and “Help build radical and resilient national and international networks of animal liberationists.” The last point made is: “Take action against perpetrators of non human animal abuse and exploitation.”
Anarchist Animal Liberation gives food for thought. In essence it is a blueprint for a radically different kind of animal liberation movement, one that goes far beyond what has been the most radical wing up to now – direct action/ALF. It is collectivist in outlook, eschewing the notion of the brave, heroic activist who triumphs against the odds, and reflects some of the ideas I have presented on this blog over the last four years.
Unfortunately it is not likely to have an immediate impact as at present the animal rights/liberation movement is on a completely different trajectory and those taking part are convinced it is the right one. Nonetheless, despite what the majority thinks, it is worthwhile to discuss ideas and tactics. Out of this cauldron could be born strategies and theories which will exert influence in the future. And, let’s face it, they will be needed because one thing we can certain of is that reformism under capitalism will not deliver animal or human liberation.