Animal rights from an anarchist perspective

Red Black Green is produced by Paul Gravett, an anarchist, activist and writer. I have been writing about politics and society since the eighties, contributing to publications, producing leaflets, newsletters and papers for workshops. This is my first blog and it is appropriately published – just – on May 1st, International Workers’ Day, a traditional day of revolt, dissent and mischief-making!

Why now? Partly because writing and sharing ideas is what floats my boat. Fewer leaflets and written media are produced these days. But primarily this is a response to the current situation we are in. I am an anarchist who been very active in animal rights and very aware of the commonalities between them.

In my view animal rights needs libertarian ideas more than ever before. In the past 10 years the movement in Britain has suffered unparalleled repression. This country is not unique in this either – as animal liberation has spread across the world, so in its wake has followed a state and corporate backlash. Anarchism – with its critique of power, hierarchy and capitalism – can help us understand how repression works and how we can work to resist it.

The threat of far right and racist infiltration has grown as well. Attempts in the past to use AR as a vehicle for fascism failed. Now thanks to the internet, social media, low morale and  fragmentation – and the naïve belief some hold that fighting for animals takes precedence over everything else- extreme right wing groups are trying to gain a foothold.

These problems don’t affect animal rights alone. Anarchism and the libertarian left also face them. This week The Earth First Journal published an article entitled “The New Face of the Radical Right” about Anarchist Nationalism. Sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it? But some on the so-called radical right are suggesting building alliances with groups such as Earth First! and Occupy Wall Street to spread an anti-state but also nationalist/fascist agenda.

Animal rights needs also needs anarchism because unfortunately those who should know better are now trying to push it in a statist and electoral direction. Over the decades politicians of all parties have lied and betrayed us again and again. It used to be the case that only the established, reformist national societies like the BUAV, LACS, CIWF, etc, advocated political campaigning. Sadly  it is now some grassroots activists too. The last few years have even seen the emergence of animal-focused parties such as the Animal Welfare Party (formerly Animals Count) and the Animal Protection Party, which fought a few seats at the 2010 general election.

As elections loom nearer, politicians start crawling out of the woodwork to make promises on which they won’t deliver. We’ve seen this with the impending European elections but it will be even worse next year. UKIP, Tory, Labour, Lib Dems, Greens, any of them – let this be a forum to dissect and discredit their mendacious policies.

Does anarchism need animal liberation? In my opinion, yes! A philosophy which is based on removing hierarchies between people can’t ignore human domination of the rest of nature. Ecology and animal rights are no strangers to anarchism. Peter Kropotkin wrote Mutual Aid: a Factor in Evolution over 100 years ago. 19th century anarchists  Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy and Elisee Reclaus were vegetarians and advocated animal rights too.

The greening of anarchism continued in the 20th century with anarcho-naturism,  a  society composed of  vegetarian communes or ecovillages where humans lived close to nature. Though influential, it remained outside mainstream anarchism, which remained class-struggle centred, and was disparaged as “lifestylist”.

A key figure of the 20th century was Murray Bookchin who developed the idea of social ecology. He was opposed to lifestylist or primitivist anarchism and believed that technology wasn’t inherently destructive. Domination of nature, he said, was preceded by human domination. This was the beginning of class society, when those in power began controlling the means of production: “Just as men are converted into commodities, so every aspect of nature is converted into a commodity, a resource to be manufactured and merchandised wantonly.”

Bookchin is important as a conduit between class struggle and green anarchism and his theory of social ecology has influenced my views. I describe myself as a class struggle anarchist who understands that other forms of hierarchy and oppression exist too. Ultimately though it is class struggle that drives change and that means we will not see the end of capitalism and human and animal exploitation until the vast majority it.

If you would like to know more about animal rights and anarchism, an excellent pamphlet I would recommend is “Beasts of Burden: Capitalism, Animals & Communism” or it can be bought here from Active Distribution for only 66p per copy!

Your comments are welcome