*This is a piece originally submitted to Project Intersect, ‘an anarcha-feminist zine focusing on ethical veganism, activism, & the collective struggle against capitalist patriarchy. . ‘ The title of the second zine in the series is ‘on violence’, and more information can be found by following this link.*
A standard definition of veganism is that ‘the word “veganism” denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.’
An important question regarding violence and veganism is how the broader philosophy of veganism fits into a capitalist society where violence is endemic. Veganism in western society is generally reliant on the capitalist economy, albeit in a way that attempts to exclude non-human animals. So when we perceive this society to be predicated upon the exploitation and discrimination of people, we can ask whether this situation can be reconciled within the philosophy of veganism; and the short answer to that question is no. Instead, the emphasis needs to be on a broader political philosophy to concurrently oppose the system of domination, exploitation and division expressed through class, race, species, gender, to include all forms of division and hierarchy utilised by capitalist society to maintain the system of domination.
The challenge to veganism has been set out in the pamphlet ‘from animals to anarchism’, where the authors argue for the integration of vegan praxis and anarchism, so the various forms of discrimination and oppression can be challenged equally across the spectrum, and our activity directed at the heart of the system. If we focus on the rights of either women, non-human animals, people of colour, without acknowledging the system of oppression, then far from our activity being liberatory, we (tacitly at least) accept or ignore the structure of oppression when applied to others. It would reflect the criticism often cited toward animal rights ‘single issue campaigns’. Where for instance, people have campaigned for the freedom of orcas, but have neglected the structurally identical position of seals or penguins. In a different way, when someone self identifies as a woman, and person of colour it makes sense to address both those experiences of oppression when they are mutually reinforcing (1). We therefore aim to confront the system that underpins exploitation and oppression through the false demarcations apparent in current society.
Veganism itself sets out to address all forms of exploitation toward animals, and therefore should naturally include human animals. For this reason it is inconsistent to argue for the cessation of exploitation regarding cows, pigs and dogs, yet believe it reasonable to ignore the situation of people enslaved on a tea plantation. It can be argued that it does not matter where people focus their efforts to confront this systemic issue of exploitation in society, though we do need to undermine that structure through increasing awareness of the presence of other systemic struggles, and draw them together. This means we can bring attention to the structure of hierarchy and exploitation, and explore alternative ways to live that more closely reflect beliefs in equality, mutual aid and freedom. If we are serious about addressing the situation of non-human animal exploitation then we need to look at the system which perpetuates the exploitation of human and non-human animals, whilst also reflecting on the deleterious impact this society has upon the environment.
This isn’t to say that anarchism can offer a carefully laid out plan for action, as there are many challenges. One such challenge comes from the anarchists that demonstrate little consideration for the lives of non-human animals, believing they are not worthy of meaningful consideration, or claiming that issues of human and non-human animal exploitation are mutually exclusive. There are also some libertarians that emphasise the freedom of self over freedom for ‘others’ (2). This is where the contention of ‘freedom to’ and ‘freedom from’ arises. This case can be exemplified where some libertarians believe the freedom to consume a beef burger carries a greater weight than for animals to be free from a situation of exploitation. This approach can be viewed as a ‘freedom to violate’, and reflects the perpetuation of learned social norms and desires found in contemporary society.
Where anarchists have a shared perspective is in the state seeking to monopolise and normalise its own use of coercion and violence for control. This is not something we are trying to change, rather it is something we are trying to end (3). So our energy ought not be wasted with appeals to government for changes to society, but our appeal ought to be for people to join the struggle against the institutional violence of the state (4), to take back power (5), and find subversive ways to interact that will lead to situations where discrimination no longer has value or relevance. This will require changes in our behaviour (learning and unlearning) to allow us to be consistent with our values, and veganism represents an intrinsic part of that philosophy; one which can be initiated (as far as is possible and practical) so we can progress beyond the violent system of exploitation that harms both human and non-human animals, and the environment we live in.
‘From animals to anarchism’. Watkinson and O’Driscoll. (2014)
‘How Nonviolence Protects the State’. Gelderloos. (2007)
(1) Loretta Ross discusses the origin of the phrase ‘women of color’.
(2) The Zapatistas say: “For everyone, everything. For us, nothing” (Para todos todo, para nosotros nada).
(3) Marcuse is particularly interesting on this point.
(4) Peter Gelderloos discusses different interpretations of ‘violence’ conducted by the state and the struggle against the state.
(5) We can see in most countries that the state, those with vested interests in capitalism, or armed groups pursuing their own agenda, do not hesitate to use force in order to promote or protect their interests. This results in the marginalisation and repression of dissenting communities and voices. Many communities fight back against this form of oppression. For example.