Veganism in a violent society.

Banksy_Flower_Throw__00016.1435110346.168.168*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.


 

Resources.

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.

 

One world. Many lives. Our ‘choice’?

The current Vegan Society slogan is ‘One world. Many lives. Our choice’, and whilst it can be said there is one world experienced through many lives, there appears to be a certain issue with the claim that veganism is ‘our choice’.

The word ‘choice’ is used by many people when advocating veganism, and this includes the abolitionists that use it to mitigate the claim they are just ‘telling people what to do’. However, they also add the prefix ‘moral obligation’ to circumvent the troubling notion they could be offering people the choice to participate in the exploitation of non-human animals.

When we talk about choice, we automatically overlook non-human animals that are necessarily forced into a system that brings inevitable suffering. Even when the ‘choice’ we are advocating is underpinned by veganism, it still originates from a position of domination.  So for example, ‘these are the sound arguments in favour of veganism, but at the end of the day, it is your choice.’

It is certainly true from an anthropocentric perspective that it is a ‘choice’ that humans can make, and it is also true that people are not compelled to become vegan, yet this position overlooks the argument that non-human animals possess intrinsic rights. To resolve this issue, it seems the least we can do is to avoid appearing to offer the ‘choice’ to exploit non-human animals, instead we could offer an opportunity for people to be consistent with their fundamental beliefs. That is those beliefs almost everyone shares, where non-human animals should not have to suffer unnecessarily, and where we can put that belief into practise through veganism.

 


 

*I also have an issue with the term ‘many lives’, where veganism is concerned with exploitation, the phrase ‘many lives’ overlooks the exploitative nature of capitalism, and the presence and impacts of social division.  Though it is essentially just a slogan, it seems there could be a different one that would better reflect the vegan philosophy.

Summon The Vegan Police.

vegan-police The Vegan Police typically refers to a group of people that go around ‘policing’ vegan practise. There is only one problem… it is not possible to police vegan practise. Instead it is very much up to the individual how they demonstrate veganism within the constraints of modern society. Some things are easier than others, like choosing not to go to an aquarium or zoo. Though perhaps that isn’t so easy if your school is trying to force you to go, which is why we need to be aware of the structural forms of oppression that exist within society.

There is no 100% vegan, or 99.9% vegan, or 70% vegan, these benchmarks just don’t exist. This is because veganism is essentially unorthodox in a non-vegan world, where we experience varying amounts of privilege (that can make veganism ‘easier’), and have different life experiences that people cannot possibly know about. So the answer here is to be vegan ‘as far as is possible and practicable’ so we do the best we can to adhere to the generally accepted definition of veganism:

“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—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.”

Some people say they don’t want to be associated with veganism because they see it as having negative connotations. But what really seems to be happening here, is that people don’t want to be associated with (for instance) the Beyoncé shaming or the Miley Cyrus shaming that takes place. Part of this issue appears to be based upon media [mis]representation of people we know nothing about. Though where we refer to the behaviour of shaming, of which veganism is just one weapon, it really is something to be appalled by. Yet, it isn’t veganism that is at fault, it is the people who are using it as a stick to hit other people. This form of behaviour appears to be what needs to be called out, rather than sweeping that behaviour behind ‘vegan policing’.

The Vegan Police have also been summoned to describe behaviour toward people that aren’t vegan, which seems to suggest that vegans ought to diminish their advocacy in the face of the dominant culture, and it is fair to say that many omnivores would prefer it that way as well. Sometimes it is easier to ignore people that don’t make a fuss, at the same time, this ‘fuss’ might also trigger omnivores to contemplate issues of animal exploitation.  At the end of the day we should be critically supportive of different approaches, recognising that people view the issue of advocacy in different ways, and that we can also adapt our approach to suit different situations.

The Vegan Police have also become a handy tool for people who want to hold onto the vegan ‘label’ whilst choosing to consume animal products, but are uncomfortable that people keep reminding them of the vegan definition. This term was originally coined to oppose animal exploitation as far as is possible and practicable, and if you call yourself ‘vegan’, then that is essentially what you are ‘signing up’ to do. Though it is also worth remembering that it is an ongoing process, rather than a point where we become members of a ‘vegan club’.

When the vegan diet is discussed, it is in reference to products that don’t contain any animal ingredients. However, you can intentionally consume animal ingredients and still be vegan if it is actually essential to do so, or if it is a mistake, where the intent remains to ‘seek to exclude’. But I wouldn’t go on a vegan forum and let people know I had to eat an animal, unless I was explicitly looking for ways to avoid doing that in future. You have to wonder why another vegan would be supportive of animal consumption. That isn’t to say we should shame people in any way, instead we can be supportive and help people look at ways to put their beliefs into practise, making veganism easier for people, and also bearing in mind the society we presently live in, and how that needs to change if we want to see veganism flourish.


Further reading:

From animals to anarchism‘ by Watkinson and O’Driscoll (2014).

Links:

The Vegan Intersectionality Project.

The entanglements of welfare campaigns.

329A 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.’

Many vegans advocate welfare campaigns that promote better treatment for non-human animals from within that system of exploitation, (in different possibly less harmful ways) and it is interesting to consider how this fits into vegan philosophy and practise. The issue of animal welfare is often framed as caring about non-human animals, but there is a difference between caring about animals within the constraints of that system of exploitation, and the caring and opposition that can take place when viewed from an animal rights perspective.

The animal rights movement has sometimes been called the ‘animal confusion movement’, because vegans have a tendency to support campaigns or organisations that make the claim ‘we are all heading in the same direction’, so all animal campaigns are necessarily good campaigns, because they raise awareness of the situation of exploited animals. However, whilst it is true that awareness is being raised, it is difficult to identify their usefulness when so many different messages compete within that space.

So for instance, within the different organisations, there is support for ending dolphin slaughter in Japan, whilst others support welfare campaigns for pigs and chickens in the United States. There are campaigns to stop eating dogs in China, but organisations also promote regulation of the dairy industry. There is support for campaigns freeing orcas, but they concurrently overlook the situation of penguins or sea lions. There is also opposition to welfare reforms for the orcas at Seaworld. Whaling should end. Go vegetarian! Meatless Monday. Awards for ‘humane’ meat distributors. Go vegan! Stop live exports! Empty the tanks! Ban bullhooks. Ban snares. Ban fox hunting. Stop the cull. Abolish vivisection. Go ‘cruelty free’. Don’t eat illegally caught fish. Stop shark finning. Save moon bears.

These campaigns are usually based on the sound intentions people have toward caring about non-human animals. However, many ‘animal rights’ organisations present a disparate message by combining animal rights and welfare positions, and adopt a different view on each issue, sometimes welfare, sometimes abolition or rights based, and sometimes no position at all. Within these groups it is interesting to look for the question of why animals should be used at all? Or is it clear from their activities how they believe that issue can best be resolved?

The messages arising from the ‘animal rights’ movement are not always aligned to veganism; and it is difficult to expect people to understand what we are campaigning for when this is the accepted approach. The entanglements of welfare and rights create complexity, and complex situations have a tendency to perpetuate the status quo. This situation can also act as a disincentive for people to continue their own critical journey around animal rights in favour of passing responsibility to those with ‘expertise’, or the ‘professionals’, so people join mainstream organisations and take part in their campaigns rather than valuing their own ideas, and deciding what they believe needs to happen. One consequence of this situation could be that people end up supporting sexist, racist, classist and ableist campaigns, because the welfare/rights approach tends to support the view that to be critical is (amongst others) negative, divisive, and inherently harmful to animals.

It could be said that animals have moved out of focus in favour of a corporate approach of growth and income maximisation, and this may explain how campaigning organisations have chosen the various approaches within their overall ‘strategy’. For if they believe ‘improving’ the welfare of pigs is the way forward, why not regulate and legislate for humane dog farming in China? Or do the same with fur farming? Why do those industries require abolition? Why does the campaign against orca exploitation not recognise the desperate welfare agenda of Sea World in its attempt to placate protesters and consumers? The very same welfare reforms that are utilised to placate people concerned with other forms of animal consumption.

If you take the perspective of animal use, then it is a position that all animal use/exploitation should be avoided as far as is possible and practical, which requires the recognition of intrinsic rights (1). It is clear that we are not trying to achieve increased regulation or improved welfare, we are instead campaigning to abolish that exploitative industry, whilst demonstrating an alternative way to live. Of course it is better if animals suffer less within that system of exploitation, and by using the orca example we can argue that can happen by promoting abolition. Too many times we have been sucked in by an industry that has callously used the fact we care about animals to help perpetuate that system of exploitation (2).

When we take a clear position on ‘use’ we can talk about abolishing animal entertainment that allows us to talk about orcas in a way that includes sea lions and penguins, or to talk about penguins that allows us to include sea lions, orcas, pigs, cows and dogs. When we underpin the connections between various forms of animal exploitation with the vegan philosophy, we provide that necessary link to animal liberation. This allows us to go further and look at the structural issues at play that maintain the system of animal exploitation. So for instance, how the animal industry collaborates with government, and how laws sustain exploitative practices. How power relations mean that animals can be put into zoos without any genuine consideration for their own interests. How animals become commodities and how that allows us to use them as we see fit. We can recognise the issues with hierarchy and division and explore how that applies to other social movements. We can do these things because we are not bogged down by welfare reform.

Sometimes it is believed that if we are opposed to the exploitation of animals it follows that we cannot consider the well being of animals in those situations to which we are opposed. The reason most of us are activists is because of the situation non-human animals find themselves, and we have been motivated to do something about that. But we can help animals without engaging in the welfare campaigns that are concerned with treatment. So rescuing animals is a good thing to do, exposing situations of animal exploitation, supporting sanctuaries, organising film showings, protests and outreach events, those (single issue) campaigns based on abolishing certain forms of animal use when they are codified with vegan principles (3).

This means to say that we can create campaigns that are based on vegan philosophy. That doesn’t mean that *veganism* itself needs equal prominence in any campaign, but it does need to be signposted for people to see we are not dividing animals into groups that we care about whilst overlooking others, (essentially a class based speciesism) or failing to provide the means to address the issue of animal exploitation in the most effective way (veganism).

The property paradox.

So whilst many animal rights organisations do some good things, their overall strategy is flawed.  As vegans we ought to reject the commodity status of animals, but that happens to be something welfare campaigners (and incidentally vegetarians) implicitly accept within their own campaigns. This is an irreconcilable position (4) because they not only fail to question or challenge the property status of animals, they are actually engaging in, and reinforcing that situation.

We can choose not to support the confusing welfare/rights organisations that implicitly reinforce the property status of animals, but that does not mean the well resourced ‘mainstream’ welfare campaigns cannot be useful for animal rights activists in various ways. We can discuss and examine their pitfalls, and notice how they have the potential to be useful vehicles for promoting veganism and animal rights.

One example could be a campaign like Meat Free Monday, which isn’t particularly useful to vegans as it stands. However, where it can be useful is when we convince the cafes taking part in the promotion to veganise their extra vegetarian options, therefore appealing to a market of meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans. You can then ask them to put those vegan dishes on the menu all week, so that it becomes a destination for vegans who then demand (5) more and different types of food.

Other welfare campaigns can be approached in different ways, where we provide a more radical animal rights message, even though we don’t endorse or promote the campaign itself.  We can use that opportunity to promote ideas (6) to people that are already thinking and acting along the lines of ‘helping animals’. This is an example of the ‘strategic’ campaigning that people sometimes believe is not compatible with positions of abolition. Where it is possible to go out into the world and find different ways to promote animal rights that is a reflection, rather than a compromise of vegan philosophy.

 


 

(1) That is, we don’t have the right to affirm the exploitation and consumption of non–human animals.
(2) Farmers go so far as to sell animals at above market prices so they can be saved from the abattoir. The following day the sheds are replenished, whilst the practice becomes more profitable and attractive. This can allow the farmer to appear more ‘compassionate’ or beyond criticism, because activists are reliant on the farmer’s goodwill to allow them to save animals.
(3) It is also worth considering that campaigns underpinned by veganism can deter racists from getting involved, because the philosophy of veganism is aligned with that of the broader social justice movement.
(4) It requires the rejection of vegan philosophy.
(5) A demand supplemented by meat reducers, vegetarians and flexitarians.
(6) We’re introducing veganism and animal rights ideas for people to think about, and endorsing them through our own practise. The idea of incremental change, where people mull over these issues and make changes on their own terms is something Tom Regan called muddling, which he placed alongside DaVincians and Damascans as the way people become animal rights advocates.

 


 

Further references:

From animals to anarchism‘ by Watkinson and O’Driscoll (2014)

 

The phenomenon of ‘new welfarism’.

Veganismus_logo.svgIt may seem consistent that vegans would promote vegan philosophy and practice. However, this is not always the case, and part of the reason could be that many of the large North American animal campaigning organisations adopted an approach that operates at the lowest common denominator for change, where they have channelled a common desire to care about animals into tepid reforms of exploitative practices. The recent Walmart (non-binding) agreement to improve animal ‘welfare’ is a case in point, where organisations are shown to celebrate and perpetuate ideas of ‘progress’, when in reality there is little evidence things have changed, or when they believe the exploitation of non-human animals will eventually end. Though these organisations (essentially businesses 1) are often run by vegans or have vegan staff they maximise their potential influence by promoting small incremental changes in ‘treatment’, rather than promoting a paradigm shift to address the issue of ‘use’ in a way that is compatible with a vegan perspective.

Some advocates believe that animal liberation is best served by withdrawing the challenge to animal use (as discussed between Francione and Friedrich), and instead place the emphasis on reducing suffering, because this tactic is said to be more effective in bringing forward the ultimate goal of animal liberation. It is the belief that progress is achieved by people reducing (or merely changing) their animal consumption, because they argue it is something attainable, compared to campaigning for people to end their consumption of animals entirely. This approach of incremental change also has the effect of enabling organisations to engage with the animal industrial complex for their own gain through agreements, publicity, self-promotion and partnerships.

The foundation for the new welfarist perspective is the idea that people require ‘softening’ 2 before they make an eventual ‘leap’ to veganism – that is, these organisations still believe in veganism itself (as an ‘ideal’), as it is the chosen practise of many at the top of these organisations. However, this ‘softening’ does not allow veganism to be presented in a clear or coherent way. This is a different approach from the ‘ripened by human determination’ that Donald Watson spoke of. The difference is apparent among new welfarist activists, where they believe the recipient of their message hasn’t the potential to make changes when presented with a vegan perspective.

As such, veganism tends to be framed by new welfarists as advocating ‘all or nothing’ when the point of education could be that we describe our lived reality of veganism, and how that compares with the generally accepted definition. Telling people ‘how to live their lives’ or demanding people ‘go vegan right now’, is a false polarisation that rarely demonstrates (in my view) the reality of vegan campaigning from any perspective. Instead, this has more to do with vegaphobic propaganda, internalised both in and outside the movement, rather than an issue with promoting veganism itself. Being honest about veganism is not a demand for other people to do as you do, it is meant as a challenge to a belief system, and an opportunity to engage with ideas.

Some vegans tend to talk about vegetarianism instead of veganism, and others talk about their ‘flexibility’ where they intentionally consume non-vegan food. This lack of ‘purity’ it is claimed, leads people to be more open to the ideas of ‘veganism’ because they get to see that it isn’t a ‘strict’ discipline. So maybe they aren’t ‘vegan’ in all situations because some situations might be inconvenient, difficult, or a struggle, so the easy way in consuming animal products is sought. This isn’t to say that on a case by case basis there may not be situations following an explanation of veganism, where a mistake is made and non-vegan food consumed. There are likely to be issues in any learning process in a vastly non-vegan world. For people that are new (though rarely these days in western society will someone not have heard of veganism at all) to veganism there are going to be plenty of situations where learning can take place, and there will always be opportunities to learn no matter how long we have been vegan. However, instead of aiming at something that is less than vegan for our practise, we can be consistent as far is possible and practicable, and ensure exploited animals are kept visible.

The question of purity also appears on various ‘vegan’ facebook pages.  I haven’t seen much evidence of the ‘vegan police’ 3 dissuading potential vegans with harsh criticism and general intolerance; (I am not saying they don’t exist, rather they seem to be in the minority, and should not garner much attention unless they need to be challenged for an unreasonable claim) instead, identifying ‘policing’ seems to be reliant on perspective and interpretation.  So when someone says ‘I’m vegan but still haven’t given up cheese’ it isn’t surprising that people clarify why this isn’t vegan, so we can draw attention to that issue whilst also supporting a move toward veganism. If someone else approaches a forum saying they are hoping to transition to veganism, the responses tend to be positive and helpful, with advice and personal experience given. Being true to the definition of veganism isn’t about being puritanical, it is more about being honest. Supporting the exploitation of animals whilst people transition isn’t a useful (or realistically vegan) form of assistance, nor is it what you might expect from a vegan group.

This is because we are not trying to assuage the concerns of people in their exploitation of non-human animals, instead we are trying to help people understand the issue with which we are engaging. Honesty can replace the dishonesty we find so often in contemporary politics, corporate marketing strategies, and subsequently society itself. Though this culture plays a part in maintaining animal use, it is also the unequal structure of society that undermines the practice of veganism, as for some it is easier to adopt vegan practices than others. However, this ought not affect the intent or recognition of animal rights, instead it should fuel a broader effort to bring about a society that would reflect equality and mutual aid, so that we can more readily practise our beliefs.

Further criticism for new welfarism can be directed toward Mercy For Animals, Peta and Farm Sanctuary. These groups have vegan directors and tend to promote ‘veganism’ in some way, whilst they simultaneously support exploitation through partnering with the animal industry. This is a speciesist strategy that some organisations adopt in order (they allege) to reduce animal suffering. But instead they end up reinforcing the normativity of exploitation, which in itself does nothing to challenge the commodity status of animals.

It is important to engage with people that exploit animals through consumption (in ways that can increase awareness, leading to succour for non-human animals). Yet the animal industry is fully aware of its complicity, and their continued propaganda for animal consumption can be reinforced by groups such as Peta when they become part of that same propaganda, rather than providing a consistent challenge to industry. As Roger Yates says, let the welfarists do welfarism and the people that believe in rights based advocacy do that. The mixed messages of groups promoting welfare and an incompatible veganism do little to present ideas of animal rights in a clear manner. Instead, they fudge the issue. Opportunities to pressure industry and their powerful supporters have been lost by ‘animal rights’ groups that have collaborated and in some cases celebrated the exploitation of animals.

The approach of new welfarism is also undermined by the argument that promoting veganism, and exposing various forms of animal use can influence industry to make welfare changes, where they adapt to increasing consumer scepticism. So when taking this view we see that animals can suffer less, regardless of whether the new welfarist groups are directly involved. It could even be argued that greater changes might have been made without the support of animal groups that have reassured consumers about their support for exploitation.

When groups openly collaborate with an industry that harms animals, it is a strategy that is going to draw scepticism from social justice advocates. In turn this is exacerbated when groups such as Peta use sexism and racism to sell their brand of ‘animal rights’ to the ‘mainstream’. In order to address these issues a broader critique of society is necessary so that our awareness includes an understanding of the exploitation of people, animals and the environment so that we can utilise strategies that are consistent with the radical aspects of a broader movement for liberation. So if we are going to oppose exploitation and domination of non-human animals, it makes sense to explore these ideas and how they relate to people and the environment as well.


 

Further references:

ARZone Podcast 84: Steve Best – The Politics of Total Liberation.

Circles of Compassion: Essays Connecting Issues of Justice’ by various authors (2014).

Comparing Social Justice Movements’ by Saryta Rodriguez (2015).

From animals to anarchism’ by Kevin Watkinson and Donal O’Driscoll (2014).

‘Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights’ by Bob Torres (2007).

‘Protest Inc.’ by Peter Dauvergne and Genevieve LeBaron (2014).

Thoughts on Whether Animal Welfare Campaigns – and Many Welfare Organisations – are Even Needed’ by Roger Yates (2015).


 

1 Part of what Bob Torres called the ‘animal rights industry’.

2 As in softened by animal welfare ideology. So for instance, consuming ‘humane’ meat, or choosing vegetarian food that is generally considered to be morally progressive by society when compared to consuming meat, dairy and eggs.

3 The Vegan Police are a group rarefied by new welfarists because they juxtapose an incremental approach to veganism.

 

The election and its aftermath

This was the 14th election of my lifetime. The earliest I can recall with any clarity was 1979, when I was a sixth form politics student and Thatcher came to power. By the next one, 1983, I was old enough to vote but didn’t, as by then I had been an anarchist for several years.

1979 marked the beginning of 18 long years of Tory ascendency and when Blair came to power in 1997 it felt like a watershed to many. Stories of people dancing in the streets in the early hours are not apocryphal. Nevertheless New Labour was pretty awful – especially for political activists.

Blair & Co. were very popular for about 10 years but first the Iraq War, then the economic crash of 2008, ruined that and the ConDem coalition took over from 2010. They have ruthlessly pursued their austerity agenda, targeting the poorest and most vulnerable in society while the rich have never had it so good.

2015 was different in that it was the first social media election. Facebook and Twitter were around five years ago but they were far less popular then. This time they became the platforms on which a bitter feud between Green Party and Labour Party supporters was played out every day of the campaign.

With the shock result came the blame game. Those who voted Green were told they had let in the Tories while me and others who didn’t participate in the farce of parliamentary democracy were roundly condemned as just as responsible for the all the bad things that will occur over the next five years as the perpetrators themselves.

Someone on Facebook said the only way I could earn redemption for not voting Labour was by going to the cull zones when the badger massacre starts this summer. A ludicrous idea if you think about it because my vote would have made not a jot of difference. Equally I could ask the Labour voters whether they would have become anti-vivisection campaigners had Labour been elected.

There is a long history of animal rights groups turning into cheerleaders for Labour when elections roll around. In the eighties and nineties campaigns like Putting Animals Into Politics, Mobilisation for Laboratory Animals and Manifesto for Animals tried to get Labour elected and failed. They were run by national organisations like the BUAV, League Against Cruel Sports, Compassion in World Farming, etc, and were generally ignored or condemned by activists as an expensive waste of money.

It’s a shame, therefore, that  the grassroots chose to get mixed up in this sorry mess this time. The main culprit was Cull the Tories whose strategy spectacularly backfired. As the results rolled in they were forced to confront the disaster on Facebook: “Every household in Cardiff North was leafletted by “stop the cull” activists, but the tories have held onto it”. Oh dear!

The result has seen collective hand-wringing on the left, followed by deep reflection for Labour and its supporters. But for revolutionaries it has been a dismal few days as well. Although an anarchist, I have definitely not been gloating or saying “I told you so!”. That over 11 million people voted for a party that has heaped so much misery and suffering on ordinary people.

Labour believes it lost because it was too left-wing and didn’t attract the “aspirational” middle classes. In fact as I spelled out in my post on Labour and the working class last week, the party was far from being left wing or even social democratic in the conventional sense.Unfortunately the promised post on Labour and animals never got published due to another problem with network23.org’s servers.

In the end the Tories won because the electorate – in England – didn’t warm to their “austerity-lite” package of further cuts to public spending and benefits and because they were blamed for the crash in the first place. Miliband’s tactic of putting clear-red water between him and New Labour backfired.

It’s obvious that Labour has failed and will now quickly revert to a slightly less rabid version of the Tories. In any case we’re stuck with the latter until at least 2020 by which time Labour could have morphed into something as bad or even worse than Blair’s brigade. We will have to organise to resist the onslaught of further cuts and austerity ourselves.

Although I would never fall into the trap of saying “things have to get worse before they get better”, perhaps another five years of cuts, social cleansing, benefit sanctions, badger culls, etc , can concentrate the minds of those on the left who aren’t content with the “lesser of the two evils” option and want to radically shake things up.

The signs so far are promising. Within a day of the election result there was a 2,000 strong demo outside Downing Street. People are angry at the prospect of the Tories and fighting back. As Johnny Void said on his blog:

What recent events show is that the days of boring A to B marches, with routes agreed in advance with police and heavy stewarding, are clearly no longer what people want. If thousands are prepared to take to the streets then that should be the only mandate necessary. Fuck asking permission, there is no law anyway that says you have to go crawling to the authorities before you can hold a static demonstration. And if that demonstration is so strong it can take the streets then there is fuck all anyone can do to stop it.

Many more protests are being organised across the country with big ones called for in London on 30 May by UK Uncut and 20 June by the People’s Assembly. Martin Wright of Class War, speaking on Ian Bone’s blog, reckons there will be a “summer of turmoil”. Who knows? He could be right.

But the fightback isn’t just about mass shows of defiance. In March 2011 about 100,000 people marched against austerity and there was black bloc disorder in central London. It didn’t bring down the government.

According to So, the government got in… on libgcom.org, there is no single blueprint for creating a mass movement “that effectively resists the attacks we face as a class…We need to pick winnable battles, draw more people in by showing that our methods work, and escalate as our numbers grow.”

And for the animal rights movement it consists of doing what it has always done best, organising locally and getting activists out onto the streets. It was heartening to see the latest British Heartless Foundation day of action on Saturday 9 May, just two days after the election.

As libcom.org says:

So, with the voting done, the only effective thing we can do is build up resistance from the ground. Otherwise, in five years’ time, we’ll still have nothing else but the desperate, futile hope that Labour aren’t as bad. And make no mistake – that’s a sure sign of a broken movement.

That was World Week that was

World Week of Action For Animals in Laboratories finished yesterday, 26 April. The wwaail.org website listed a number of events, most of them in the USA and connected to the No New Animal Lab campaign which is trying to stop the building of a $124 million animal laboratory at Washington University.

Saturday’s march drew hundreds of people and has been called “the largest grassroots animal liberation demo in the US in some time”. A report in The Seattle Times said: “500 animal-rights supporters marched across the University of Washington (UW) campus Saturday and temporarily blocked neighborhood streets.”

The following day saw many home demos against “key players” in the construction of the lab in Seattle. Home demos were outlawed in the UK in 2003 but they are still legal in America. There were also protests against the company building the lab, Skanska. One activist commented:

“In solidarity elsewhere (nationally and globally), activists had their own local office Skanska demos and office disruptions throughout the week.  On Friday, UW lost a significant lawsuit against the activists legal team for secretly voting to build the lab.  All of these combined factors electrified the mass protests onSaturday.  And this was all grassroots!

The cloak of fear and that has shrouded the US scene for over a decade was lifted this past week.  Comfort vegan lifestylism was replaced with hundreds taking the streets of Seattle and activists elsewhere demonstrating in solidarity.  I haven’t seen this level of enthusiasm
and mass action since the SHAC days.”

Skanska is also the corporation behind the building a new facility for AstraZeneca in Cambridge.  On Saturday a march in that city attracted about 300 people from all over the country. Cambridge University already uses 170,000 animals in cruel experiments every year and with planning approval for the new laboratory this looks set to rise steeply.

The march was organised by Cambridge AR, which is one of the oldest – if not the oldest – local group in the UK. Whether a sustained offensive will emerge from the protest remains to be seen. Since SPEAK failed to stop the building of a animal research lab in Oxford eight years ago, there have been a number of campaigns against universities who use animals, including Leicester, Cardiff and Newcastle, but none have lasted for more than a few months.

Finally I’d like to give a big shout out to Merseyside AR who organised a whole week of events including street stalls, a demo against Liverpool University and a day of action against charities who fund animal experiments, such as British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK.

The university protest received good coverage in the Liverpool Echo who reported:

Merseyside Animals Rights group staged a protest after learning through a Freedom of Information request the university carried out 14,753 experiments on animals in 2014.

The group said the animals used included mice, rats, rabbits and other rodents, chicken, sheep, cattle, horses, zebra fish and trout. The animals were used for biological, medical and veterinary research.

In a statement activists said: “1,451 of these experiments were classed as severe in terms of the pain and suffering inflicted on the animals. These severe experiments all involved mice or rabbits. Most other experiments inflicted mild to moderate pain and suffering.”

The university was forced to defend itself and used the same old cliches about animal use being “essential” and ensuring: “The number used is minimised and that procedures, care routines and husbandry are refined to maximise welfare as far as possible. Liverpool’s facilities for animals involved in research are among the best in the UK.”

Well done to MARC for their week of action and for putting Liverpool University under the spotlight and forcing them to account for their despicable actions. This is exactly what they want to avoid. All vivisectors wish for is to be left alone to continue with their grisly work. They hate having to justify what they do because it is unjustifiable.

No one can deny that opposing vivisection in the UK has not been easy in recent years. The failure to stop the Oxford Lab and the survival of Huntingdon Life Sciences, together with media-orchestrated smear campaigns and repressive laws targeting anti-vivisectionists, has led to a decline in morale and the numbers of activists.

MARC’s successful week of action shows the best way back could be through local groups targeting laboratories in their areas. As ever, it is decentralised grassroots campaigning that offers the best way of rebuilding the animal rights movement.

Flashback: 25 April 1992 – the biggest anti-vivisection demo ever

On this day 23 years ago, thousands of people marched through central London to mark World Day for Laboratory Animals (WDLA). The event was organised by the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) who said: “This year we broke our own record for the largest anti-vivisection march ever as in the region of 23,000 people supported a good natured but noisy march to Earls Court.

NAVS’ giant inflatable beagle, Charlie, greeted the marchers and inside Earls Court was a massive 35 screen video wall playing films. Numerous stalls distributed information and sold merchandise and there was even a fashion show.

The rally was addressed by Jan Creamer of NAVS, representatives of overseas anti-vivisection groups, MPs, MEPs and celebrities. An incident occurred when a group of people called out for ALF Press Officer Robin Webb to speak. NAVS said: “No-one was interested in this self-indulgent and destructive minority, who were quickly ejected.”

In context: WDLA was established in 1979 and 24 April was chosen as it was the birthday of former NAVS president, Hugh Dowding. It quickly became the movement’s centrepiece and large marches took place throughout the eighties against Porton Down, Shamrock Farm, Hazelton, Wickham and other animal hellholes.

From 1990, NAVS held protests in London to maximise the turnout. That year 10,000 marched from the Little Brown Dog in Battersea Park. This increased to about 15,000 in 1991. Grassroots anti-vivisection was also on a roll as there were high profile ALF raids against breeders and laboratories such as Interfauna, Royal London Hospital and Boots.

The campaign against Boots the Chemist intensified following an inspection of its Nottingham laboratory by the Animal Liberation Investigation Unit. This led to the formation of London Boots Action Group (LBAG) and other anti-Boots groups. It was reported that 60 of their stores were being attacked by the ALF each month.

What happened next: 1993’s WDLA was slightly smaller at 20,000 and along the route of the march there was a sit down outside Boots, which was condemned by NAVS. Resentment towards grassroots campaigners had been simmering for some time as they had refused to let the ALF Supporters Group, the Animal Rights Coalition and LBAG have stalls at their fair. An “alternative fair” was set up instead.

In their magazine The Campaigner NAVS railed against the activists for asking to speak at the rally (“No-one has the right to speak at World Day”), for being “money grabbers” by having stalls in Hyde Park, and urged “people who do not care about the future of the World Day march to organise their own events.”

In ARC News, Neil Lea defended using World Day to make money as it was used for campaigns to save animals. He also said: “I am not against national groups in principle but against the way our three major national groups are presently run. Talking to other activists…I feel this the general feeling of the movement.”

Another WDLA march and rally was held in 1994 but numbers had declined to about 15,000. An “alternative fair’ took place and also a protest at Shamrock Farm primate breeders in East Sussex. Activists were heeding NAVS’ advice to organise their own protests.

In 1995 NAVS dropped the demonstration as “there were no new elements we could add…and that it could start to become stale.” Since then no WDLA demo has come anywhere near the numbers of the early nineties. Boots caved in to pressure and shut its laboratory down in 1995.

Meat is for pussies?

feminismJohn Joseph suggests that meat is for pussies with the title of his book, and the issue has recently been discussed in an article with Carol J. Adams.

But what does the title actually suggest? In common parlance, he is suggesting that meat is something which is feline/feminine/weak/irrational and hence less than male. This is meant to cause men to question whether meat consumption is aligned to masculinity or whether it actually flies in its face.

Challenging meat consumption by turning the tables on attitudes of masculinity and meat is a problematic argument because it relies in making a claim on patriarchy to do so. Why would we want to reinforce the false proposition of patriarchy, a hierarchy feminists are attempting to expel, to prove a point about meat consumption and animal rights? It makes little sense to take a rational proposition; that is the avoidance of unnecessary suffering, and illustrate it with an irrational claim. Instead you could utilise an empathetic / rational approach; if you care for cats and dogs then it is irrational to consume the flesh of pigs and cows. This makes an objective appeal. Even so, if the idea of rational (male) and emotive (female) is apparent in the claim, then it would end up perpetuating the false binary.

We shouldn’t use any form of discrimination to promote veganism, whether it is racism, ableism, class or any other arbitrary form of division in society, so why use sexism? Why utilise one form of oppression in a vain attempt to undermine another? It doesn’t make any sense when you look at the ways people are oppressed, and the structural way that speciesism operates in tandem with other forms of oppression. Appealing to mainstream society by using endemic forms of discrimination may appear attractive in terms of promoting an issue, but if you are alienating women by doing so, then your attempt to promote animal rights overall is going to be significantly undermined.

So the focus ought not be on the notion of masculinity and the ‘real’ man (whatever that might mean), but on the activity of each individual. So a better approach would be to turn the tables on the fact people generally believe animal consumption is harmless. It isn’t, the consumption of animal products is largely detrimental to health, detrimental to the environment and clearly detrimental to non-human animals. Culture, that is tradition and habit, stand in the way of ending widespread animal abuse and exploitation, mainly because of the problematic aspects of identity that are tied up within it, so reinforcing those aspects in different ways just isn’t helpful overall.

This is the difficulty with uncritical appeals to ‘the mainstream’, the attempt to fit veganism into current society, instead of getting current society to shift toward veganism.  This is because in the end, veganism is a small but essential part of an endeavour for social change, and we need to avoid promoting the liberation of non-human animals at the expense of a liberatory movement with which we share a great deal in common.

Resources:

‘The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory’, by Carol J. Adams. (1990)

The Hidden Cost of Patriarchy‘ with Jennai Bundock.

‘Rise of Sentimentalism: Implications for Animal Philosophy’, by Elisa Aaltola.  In ‘Animal Ethics and Philosophy: Questioning the Orthodoxy’, Elisa Aaltola and John Hadley (eds.) (2014)

When is a vegan not a vegan?

2014 US Open Celebrity Sightings - Day 4The story this week about Adam Richman ‘going vegan’ has brought with it quite a bit of discussion about what it means to be vegan, and how that term is often misrepresented in the media.

The story of Richman going from the extremes of Man vs. Food (a television programme I have never watched) to veganism is at the core of the media articles. However, there is just one issue. He isn’t vegan. He has just reduced the amount of dairy, eggs and meat in his diet, albeit by quite a significant amount. This is hardly worthy of a news story in itself, especially as many people in society seem to be doing just that; and generally for the health reasons that Adam Richman seems to be advocating, rather than ‘for the animals’, which is the core tenet of veganism.

There has been discussion about whether this actually matters? Does it matter that the word ‘vegan’ is used to garner publicity when the actual meaning of the term is absent from the story? In this case it does matter because veganism is about animal exploitation, and is an attempt (as far as is possible and practicable) to avoid activities and products that involve the consumption of animals. It isn’t reducible to a diet, as the Richman story seems to suggest, and even then he is ‘plant strong’ if you like, or a meat reducer, but not a vegan, because he intentionally consumes non-human animals.

Other aspects of the discussion have centred around the apparent need for an identity, and a desire to categorise people. ‘I am vegan’, ‘I am plant strong’, ‘I am a vegetarian’. In some ways it is useful to adopt these terms because it helps with communication, but at the same time we can see many people have also internalised the stereotypes in these words. Even vegans themselves have internalised false stereotypes, and appear to search for people to categorise as ‘vegan police’, ‘preachy’, ‘inflexible’ or ‘extreme’. Whilst in reality there is nothing extreme about veganism. It might be unusual in society to show compassion for non-human animals, but it is not an extreme act, and it is strange to see these false ideas perpetuated by vegans themselves. A better approach would be to challenge instances of ‘vegan policing’, where people have criticised the unintentional consumption of animal products, and recognising this is different from challenging the use of the term ‘vegan’ when applied to people that intentionally consume those products.

Is all publicity good publicity? An article like the one featuring Richman (which was trending according to facebook), may well cause people to research veganism, and the story itself didn’t have an overtly negative theme beyond the implication of the ‘extreme’. However, for the other readers that may decide the meaning of veganism is merely to reduce the amount of meat and dairy you consume, it becomes both misleading, and absent of the challenge to animal use. Though this story does present an opportunity to engage with the issue of veganism, it has appeared to many that discussion has originated from a ‘negative’ or ‘preachy’ standpoint, because vegans once again have had to clarify what the term actually means.