Beasts of Burden: 20th anniversary edition of landmark pamphlet

A new edition of the groundbreaking pamphlet Beasts of Burden (BoB) has just been published by Active Distribution to mark its 20th anniversary. About time too; the last edition came out in 2004 and it has been out of print for several years.

I should declare an interest here: Active asked me to write the introduction and I happily agreed (sorry about the wait, Jon). I also wrote a much briefer foreword to the previous edition. You see, this inconspicuous pamphlet has exerted a considerable influence over me ever since I came across it right at the beginning of the century.

There had been loads of magazines, booklets, leaflets and the like which argued that anarchism and animal rights were synonymous, including the long running publication Green Anarchist. There was the Animal Liberation Front as well, often described as anarchist because it carried out illegal direct action and was non-hierarchical.

What makes Beasts of Burden noteworthy, however, is that it is one of the first – if not the very first – attempt to address the relationship between humans and animals (the “animal question”) and integrate it with a communist-based historical materialist theory of class struggle (the “social question”). Prior to that the strands of anarchism which supported animal liberation tended to be those which eschewed class struggle in favour of “individualist” or “lifestyle” solutions.

This subject is tackled at some length in the fascinating postscript, “Anarcho punk, the ALF and the miners’ strike – a cautionary tale from the 1980s.” Anyone who like me became politically active in that decade will recognise the story of how anarcho punks who went veggie while listening to Crass and Conflict later “simply jettisoned their previous views and adopted traditional anarchist or Marxist ideologies wholesale.”

Beasts of Burden made such an impression on me that I started using it in workshops I held at anarchist festivals and animal rights gatherings. After one such workshop one of the authors of the pamphlet I was praising introduced himself to me. Although delighted to meet him, I had several other people wanting to speak to me so we never got a chance to have a conversation. I wish I’d asked for his name but perhaps he will see the new edition or this blog and get in contact.

I hope you will track this publication down and see what all the fuss is about. After all if it hadn’t been for Beasts of Burden I would probably never have started this blog. The new edition hasn’t made it onto the Active Distribution website yet but you can contact them below and find out when it will be available.

And in the mean time there is an archived version online:

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