Thursday, April 17, 2014

Are Animals Part of the Working Class?

Horses so often died from exhaustion, their bodies were left to rot in the streets of major cities

Vegan socialist Jason Hribal's challenge to anthropocentric leftism, from a 2003 issue of the academic journal Labor History, in which Hribal attempted to redefine the proletariat to include animals, is admirably ambitious in its goals. Unfortunately, in its execution the challenge was woefully under-theorized, with Hribal merely asserting that non-humans should be considered part of the working class, and to the extremely limited degree he attempted to back up his argument, Hribal relied on a source that many socialists will not take seriously.

In his 20-page article, only the last five pages broached the question of whether animals should be considered part of the working class, and within that section the topic was touched on surprisingly briefly given the implications Hribal's claim would presumably have on socialist theory. To defend his position, so far as I can tell, Hribal primarily leaned on two quotations from the French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon — and not much else. "Thus," Hribal quoted the Frenchman saying, "the horse, who draws our coaches, and the ox who draws our carts produce with us, but are not associated with us; we take their product, but do not share it with them." In another passage, Hribal quoted Proudhon saying, "The animals and laborers whom we employ hold the same relation to us. Whatever we do for them, we do, not from a sense of justice, but out of pure benevolence."

Pit ponies, once lowered to their fate in the mines, would labor and die deep below the surface and would never see sunshine or grass again. Many were intentionally blinded to keep them from spooking and ensure efficient work.

Needless to say, this is pretty-thin vegan gruel, especially given it's supposed to upend a century or more of socialist theory. Further, even if relying on a single, long-dead leftist's words were convincing, relying on a couple of quotes from Proudhon to win anthropocentric socialists to Hribal's view was a poor choice, since many hold the anarchist in low regard. Among other things, as Todd Chretien pointed out, Proudhon was opposed to strikes, ridiculously stating, "It is impossible, I declare, for strikes followed by an increase in wages not to culminate in a general rise in prices: this is as certain as two and two make four."

In response to Hribal, the vegan socialist Bob Torres upheld the conventionally anthropocentric definition of the proletariat. "Thinking more critically about what [Karl] Marx saw as the revolutionary potential of the working class, it seems that using 'working class' to describe non-human laborers can obscure some key differences between humans and animals and the forms of exploitation each experiences," Torres said. "While Hribal argues that animals do indeed struggle against capital, their struggle is necessarily qualitatively different than the global proletarian revolution that Marx hoped for in his understanding of the working class. Animals cannot unite and break the chains that compel them to labor; their resistance to capital is necessarily more limited, if only by the singular and absolute power that humans wield over animals."

To me, the appeal to what Marx intended or meant rings rather hollow. If Marxism is a living ideology, and not a dead dogma, it must be open to the kind of bold reinterpretation which Hribal attempts but ultimately fails to deliver. Torres is correct however when he argues Hribal's definition of the proletariat obscures the difference in revolutionary potential between human and  animal laborers. Perhaps Torres' placement of animals within Marxism comes closest to the mark: "As neither exactly like human slaves or exactly like human wage laborers, animals occupy a different position within capitalism: they are superexploited living commodities."

Unfortunately, I don't have the in-depth knowledge of socialist theory necessary to contribute to this conversation in a meaningful way. I was recently introduced to an aphorism by the socialist "Big Bill" Haywood that — while I don't have the scar tissue implied, and have in fact blindly trudged through the first volume of Marx's magnum opus — sums up the common-sense, verging on anti-intellectual approach to socialism I find most appealing. "I've never read Marx's 'Capital,' but I have the marks of capital all over me," the Wobbly leader quipped, upholding the value of experiential education. However, in this case, to redefine animals in an anti-speciesist manner within socialist theory, I'm afraid an encyclopedic knowledge of the ins-and-outs of Marxism will be required to be taken seriously by anthropocentric socialists.

Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from upstate New York. He is the author of Socialists and Animal Rights. Visit his website by clicking here

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Carpenter was Fabian Animal Advocate

Edward Carpenter was a socialist and early gay-rights activist, who practiced prefigurative vegetarianism and advocated on behalf of animals. It should be said that Carpenter's brand of socialism, Fabianism, was despised by many revolutionaries of his era, such as Leon Trotsky, who regarded it as overly reformist.

"The reformists who are fighting against a proletarian class consciousness are, in the final reckoning, a tool of the ruling class," Trotsky said in 1925. "The day that the British proletariat cleanses itself of the spiritual abomination of Fabianism, mankind, especially in Europe, will increase its stature by a head." Whether Carpenter's gradual approach was, in the final analysis, worse for the working class than Trotsky's Bolshevism, which I would argue inadvertently laid the groundwork for Stalinism, I'm unsure.

Writing in 1889, Carpenter admirably condemned capitalism and vivisection in the same breath. In doing so, however, he seemed to take a problematically condescending view toward non-European people, and made presumptions about ancient Egyptian attitudes toward animal welfare for which I'm unsure there is any basis. "On the whole we pride ourselves (and justly I believe) on the general advance in humanity," Carpenter said. "Yet we know that to-day the merest savages can only shudder at a civilisation whose public opinion allows—as among us—the rich to wallow in their wealth, while the poor are systematically starving; and it is certain that the vivisection of animals—which on the whole is approved by our educated classes (though not by the healthier sentiment of the uneducated)—would have been stigmatised as one of the most abominable crimes by the ancient Egyptians—if, that is, they could have conceived such a practice possible at all."

It should be noted that Carpenter was not particularly strict in his prefigurative vegetarianism. Writing in 1899, he confessed, "I have yet never made any absolute rule against flesh-eating, and have as a matter of fact eaten a very little every now and then - just, as it were, to see how it tasted, or to avoid giving trouble in Philistine households, and so forth."

In his 1920 criticism of the Catholic Church, Carpenter again returned to the issues of capitalism and animal testing. "The Church," he said, "which has hardly ever spoken a generous word in favor or defence of the animals; which in modern times has supported vivisection as against the latter; Capitalism and Commercialism as against the poorer classes of mankind...such a Church can hardly claim to have established the angelic character of its mission among mankind! [sic]"

In an essay published the next year, titled "A New Morality," Carpenter outlined his own, more inclusive, worldview. "Make this the basis of all teaching," Carpenter said. "Let them learn as they grow up, to regard all human beings, of whatever race or class, as ends in themselves—never to be looked upon as mere things or chattels to be made use of. Let them also learn to look upon the animals in the same light—as beings, they too, who are climbing the great ladder of creation—beings with whom also we humans have a common spirit and interest."

Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from upstate New York. He is the author of Socialists and Animal Rights. Visit his website by clicking here

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Make Your Reservations! Vegan Cuisine in Jeffery Dahmer's Murder House

No, you can't actually eat vegan cuisine in Dahmer's home . . . but yes, this is for real.  And, I'm sure no one is surprised to learn that PETA is behind the stunt.

Per usual, PETA cashes in on horrific human tragedies to draw attention to violence against animals.  In doing so, they effectively alienate veganism from the general public and embarrass vegans everywhere.  Though zoning restrictions thankfully prevented the project from getting off the ground, PETA apparently sought to turn one of the sites of Dahmer's serial killings into a vegan restaurant.

PETA has a long history of offending vulnerable groups and destroying any hope for movement alliances with various ridiculous tactics.  These have included having volunteers dressed as the Ku Klux Klan hand out fliers to dog show attendees, posting billboards of Holocaust victims, posting billboards of overweight women referring to them as "whales," running a series of ads mocking overweight people by photo shopping them to resemble pigs, and of course, blasting the public with thousands upon thousands of images of sexually objectified women--many of whom are depicted as victims of graphic violence.  All in the name of animal rights.

There is nothing cute or ironic about making a metaphor of Dahmer's violence and veganism.  Dahmer raped, killed, dismembered (and sometimes consumed) 17 boys and men, many of whom were children, gay, prostituted, and persons of color.  Indeed, local authorities have been criticized for not acting sooner by heeding the missing person reports of the victims' family and friends--as the victims were "low priority" minorities.

Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel reports:
The discovery of Dahmer's acts widened racial divisions in the city. He was white and many of his victims were black, though he also killed white, Latino, American Indian and Asian men and boys. There was a sense that Dahmer was able to get away with it for so long because of the perception that the missing males were marginalized because of race or sexual orientation. 
Many Americans have a very strange fascination with serial killers, and there has been considerable taboo over the sales of "murderbilia," as this is seen as as extremely hurtful to the family and friends of victims.  The Dahmer murders happened between 1978 and 1991, meaning that many, if not most, of the victims' loved ones are very much still alive and would likely be devastated by PETA's tasteless project.  Indeed, they are hoping for a memorial to be erected:
 . . . but not at the 25th and State site where the Oxford Apartments building, where Dahmer rented unit 213, was razed. That spot is forever marred by the memory of a freezer, a blue acid barrel and boxes of God-knows-what being carried out by police and the medical examiner on July 23, 1991. 
Murderers are prevented by law from profiting from the hype over their crimes, but third parties, unfortunately, are still free to do so.  The morality of cashing in on the fascination over Dahmer's crime to bring attention to veganism is suspect nonetheless.

The family and friends of Dahmer's victims at a candlelight memorial service

The Milwaukee Drum, a news resource for African Americans living in metro Milwaukee, reports:
For twenty years we watched the news and saw the local media make these families relive (or recreate in some cases), the pain they have lived with for the sake of ratings. Even though the local media has trivialized this tragic event, there are many in the community who continue to care and pray with these families as they felt the torment the families have been left to deal with. 
Veganism must be a message of peace and non-violence.  Yes, unimaginable violence is enacted against billions of animals every year, but associating veganism with a horrific American tragedy is in terrible taste.  PETA's project capitalizes on the suffering of vulnerable people, specifically, they are exploiting racialized violence.  This is antithetical to our position.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: The Ecological Hoofprint

The Ecological Hoofprint:  The Global Burden of Industrial Livestock was recommended to me by David Nibert as it is sociologically oriented and critical of animal product consumption.  It provides an excellent summary of the major environmental arguments against meat in the context of global inequality and the agricultural industrial complex.  It is a good companion to Meatonomics, This is Hope: Green Vegans and the New Human Ecology, and David Nibert’s work.  In general, I think this work is an excellent introduction into the sociology of food systems and environmental sociology.  It also speaks to animals & society discourse, though it is decidedly anthropocentric and speciesist in its conclusions.

It is very intersectional and critical of capitalism, tracing the historical process towards the system we have today. Weis argues that, in earlier times, most energy came from the sun (rather than fossil fuels) and travel was restricted because it was not efficient (a phenomenon he calls the “friction of distance”). Because the farmers couldn’t move around much, they had to take care of what resources they had locally available and farm more responsibly.  However, capitalism eroded this friction of distance with the rise of globalization and colonialism.  This has led to large scale environmental destruction and climate change.

The book also discusses how environmentalism has been framed in a way that obscures problems and protects capitalist interests.  Weis is refreshingly critical of the overpopulation rhetoric that blames environmental degradation on population (i.e. poor people and vulnerable communities).  This position ignores the role that livestock production plays.  He calls this focus on human population “corporate greenwash” and is critical of how technology, development, and capitalist growth are reframed as solutions, when they are, in fact, the problem.  Overpopulation rhetoric obscures global inequality and focuses on the more easily targeted “distant other”:
Rather than the persistence of high fertility rates being a cause of poverty and degradation, critics counter, these are better understood as a symptom or an effect of things like class, patriarchy, and other inequalities, and the dependence of the poor upon children for such things as labor and old-age security. (35)
This is perhaps the crux of his argument: We are ignoring the Nonhuman Animal component:
The ecological footprint presents a call to understand consumption in terms of the bundles of land, water, resources, pollution, and GHG emissions embedded in production, and in turn the tremendous environmental dimension of economic inequalities. The ecological hoofprint seeks to connect and extend some of these basic concerns to a different and much bigger ‘population bomb’ than what environmentalists have long focused upon: that which is occurring within systems of industrial livestock production. (50) 
A primary goal of the ecological hoofprint as a concept and metaphor is to call attention to the large, wide-ranging, and highly uneven burden of industrial livestock production.  To do this, it develops a political ecological framework for understanding the industrial grain-oilseed-livestock complex as a system in motion, and how its fundamental economic logic (or imperatives) gives shape to the social and ecological relations of production, including the associated instabilities and the ways they are overridden. (52)
Unfortunately, Weis operates under the assumption that animal products are good for human health, which is indicative that he has not addressed the volumes of research that have demonstrated quite the opposite.  He also hangs on to the falsehood that animal production could ideally be beneficial to humanity, even suggesting that small scale animal agriculture can be beneficial to the environment.  However, he does admit that not all societies relied on livestock or required it.  He also challenges the “contract” justification between humans and other animals (the fantasy that Nonhuman Animals happily give up their children, labor, and lives to be "cared for").  He rightfully refers to this as violent and evidence of human supremacy.  Much of the book also reiterates Nibert’s arguments and claims that animal agriculture is inherently tied to class and gender exploitation as well as colonialist expansion.  The rise of animal agriculture is a project of colonization and oppression.

To some degree, Weis is critical of the objectification of Nonhuman Animals and is quite critical of welfare reform (as it supports the logic of capitalism and only seeks to make industry more efficient).  However, it appears that the return to Old MacDonald's Farm is his ultimate desire:
An ecologically rational conception of efficiency thus turns a basic tenet of modernization on its head: rather than technology displacing labor in large monocultures, there is a need for labor and knowledge to displace mechanization. [ . . . ] In the course of rethinking efficiency, ways must be found to ensure equitable outcomes that valorize the labor, skill, and ecological services of bio-intensive farms [ . . . ].  What this analysis makes clear, though, is that dismantling the industrial-grain-oilseed-livestock complex is at the very center of any hopes of making world agriculture more sustainable, socially just, and humane” (149).
Weis suggests the “livestock population bomb” be addressed to reduce the livestock population dramatically.  He ends with a discussion of vegetarianism, humane farms, and veganism, but is very wishy-washy about veganism, indicating
that it is unrealistic or unnecessary.  This, I believe, is the greatest weakness of the book. Though the majority of the book was astonishingly intersectional, well-argued, and sociologically-sound, his stubborn refusal to seriously acknowledge the scientific research demonstrating the toxic effect of animal products on human health makes this book one I would probably not recommend.  No book that claims to take on environmental problems and issues of social justice but sells out the animals and continues to view them as expendable commodities will be credible social science in my opinion.  For this reason, I would direct readers interested in these topics to the books recommended at the beginning of this review, primarily that of David Nibert.

UPDATE 04/16/2014:

The author has since contacted me and is not happy with some of the conclusions I've drawn, specifically in my claims that he does not address the health risks of animal-based diets and the desire for a turn to "humane" farming practices.  I encourage readers to read the book for themselves and form their own conclusions.  This essay is a reposting from a review I posted on my account. In that review, I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars, as I do think the book has quite a bit to offer the field. Given the choice, however, I would still recommend Meatonomics, This is Hope, or Nibert's 2002 and 2013 publications over this one.

Guevara Defended Animal Space Flight


In late 1957, in the midst of the Cuban revolution, the iconic revolutionary Che Guevara defended the Soviet Union's plan to launch a homeless dog found on the streets of Moscow into space, on a flight in which there was no possibility of survival. Laika, the stray in question, was being used as an involuntary test subject, to pave the way for human space travel.

She was only three years old when she died and described by Vladimir Yazdovsky, one of the scientists involved, as "quiet and charming." Just prior to launch, Yazdovsky took Laika home to play with his children in an apparent moment of sympathy. “I wanted to do something nice for her,” he said. “She had so little time left to live.”

Exactly how and when Laika died was something of a mystery for many years as Soviet publications gave conflicting accounts. "Some reports claimed she had died after about a week when the satellite's batteries lost power and could no longer circulate oxygen," according to Colin Burgess and Chris Dubbs. "Others suggested that she had been euthanized with poisoned food, poisoned gas or a poisoned injection. Later, Soviet sources hinted that Laika had died after several hours when her cabin overheated," a claim that was validated in 1993.

In Jon Lee Anderson's magnificent biography of Guevara, the author quotes from an article the Argentine revolutionary wrote in El Cubano Libre, the guerrilla newspaper, regarding Laika's planned fate. Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate the full version of the piece, so Anderson's quotations of Guevara are the only ones to which I have access. "Compassion fills our soul at the thought of the poor animal that will die gloriously to further a cause it [sic] doesn't understand," Guevara said, before attempting to link American animal advocates' outrage at Laika's treatment to their government's support for the murderous regime he was fighting. "But we haven't heard of any philanthropic American society parading in front of the noble edifice asking clemency for our guajiros, and they die in good numbers, machine-gunned by the P-47 and B-26 airplanes...or riddled by the troop's competent M-Is. Or is that within the context of political convenience a Siberian dog is worth more than a thousand Cuban guajiros?"

Painting with a broad brush, Guevara seems to suggest those Americans who opposed Laika's exploitation supported their governments efforts to repress the Cuban people. I have no idea to what degree this is accurate. Guevara was presumably correct there was a large amount of political expediency involved in American animal advocates protesting Soviet testing, given the United States' space program was exploiting non-human subjects as well. Perhaps these activists were equally vociferous in their protest of their own government's experiments, but I doubt it. Ultimately though, none of this is relevant to the question of whether the Russians should have killed Laika to serve their interests. Guevara's defense of animal abuse seems to have rested entirely on the fallacious argument we know commonly as "two wrongs make a right," which, as we all learn as children, is not the case.

Decades later, another of the scientist's involved in Laika's killing expressed remorse for what he had done, albeit still within the speciesist framework that the experiment might have been justifiable had the Soviets gained more from it. “Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us,” Oleg Gazenko said. "We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog.”

Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from upstate New York. He is the author of Socialists and Animal Rights. Visit his website by clicking here

Sunday, April 13, 2014

In Search of the Vegetarian Bolshevik

Numerous sources suggest vegetarianism was banned in the Soviet Union. But one must assume this wasn't immediately the case, as a prominent member of the Bolshevik Old Guard, meaning one active prior to the 1917 revolution, was a vegetarian. Whether his dietary choices were due to solidarity with non-human animals or some other reason is unfortunately not clear.

In early 1914, Vladimir Lenin wrote a letter in which he queried the recipient regarding Alexander Fyodorovich Ilyin-Zhenevsky, apparently a party member who abstained from consuming meat. "What has become of that young Bolshevik, the Witmerist, the highly strung vegetarian, whom I saw at your place last year?" Lenin asked, with obvious condescension that could perhaps be interpreted as jocular.

According to Brian Pierce, who translated Ilyin's work The Bosheviks in Power: Reminiscences of the Year 1918, Ilyin "defended his views on this subject [of vegetarianism] against Lenin's criticisms: Lenin joked that Ilyin might provoke a fresh split in the Party, forming a faction of Bolshevik vegetarians." Lenin was obviously kidding here, as Pierce notes, but it wouldn't seem to be much of a stretch to read Lenin's comments as suggesting there were other vegetarians in the Bolshevik ranks who have simply been lost to history.

Ilyin "served Soviet Russia," according to Pierce, "in six main capacities -- as journalist, soldier, military administrator, historian, diplomat and chess-player." He died in 1941, but it's unclear whether he perished under Joseph Stalin's purges or as a result of the Second World War. "Volume 5 of the Soviet Historical Encyclopedia, published in 1964, states that he was 'subjected to illegal repression during the period of the cult of personality' --
which may or may not mean that he was actually executed. Volume 10 of the Large Soviet Encyclopedia, published in 1972, says that he 'died during the siege of Leningrad,' and Botvinnik, in the book already quoted, specifies that 'he perished from a German bomb at Novaya Ladoga,'" according to Pierce.

As mentioned earlier, many sources suggest vegetarianism was eventually banned in Russia. To what degree this information is a product of Red Scare hysteria, I'm unsure. After all, such a law would presumably be impossible to enforce outside of shuttering explicitly vegetarian restaurants and organizations. The website of the International Vegetarian Union suggests this was the case
The Soviet State authorities considered vegetarianism as a pseudoscientific theory that reflected the bourgeois ideology and therefore harmed to Soviet people. In 1929 the last vegetarian society in Moscow was closed [...] The leaders of the vegetarian societies were persecuted, many of them arrested and sentenced.
I'm curious to know when the crackdown on vegetarianism started. While I'm far from an uncritical admirer of Lenin, I suspect it began with the rise of Stalin, as this would fit a pattern of increased conservatism in Russia following Lenin's death. Homosexuality, effectively legalized under Lenin, was outlawed in the 1930s under Stalin. Similarly, abortions were legalized under Lenin, but again outlawed in the 1930s by Stalin.

Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from upstate New York. He is the author of Socialists and Animal Rights. Visit his website by clicking here

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Science was a Founding Principle of the Vegan Movement, Have We Heeded the Warning?

The primary argument in my upcoming book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights, is the unfortunate disconnect between activism on behalf of other animals and scientific evidence.  Tactics and theory in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement are largely designed according to personal leanings, hunches, religious beliefs, or that which brings the biggest financial return.  Important leaders in the movement spend a lot of time on podcasts, blogs, and books pontificating on what they think will work and why, and rarely, if ever, do they actually consult the decades of research in social movement theory, social psychology, sociology, psychology, economics, etc. to support their approach.  Meanwhile, new ageists promote plant-based eating for spiritual purity, good energy, or enlightenment.  I think Donald Watson and others who spearheaded the historic split from The Vegetarian Society would be quite disappointed to know that ideology and non-profitization has robbed our movement of one of its greatest strengths, that being considerable scientific support for our positions.  They would be disappointed indeed, but likely not surprised.

Supreme Master Ching Hai and her vegan Loving Hut enterprise comprise one of the largest cults in the world

In my book, I explore some of Donald Watson's and Henry Salt's early writings about the relationship between anti-speciesist work and scientific rigor.  From the very founding of this movement, they warned against woo woo.  The Ernest Bell Library has released an early issue of The Vegan yesterday which features another important push for respecting science in our outreach that I would have loved to have included in my manuscript.  Adherence to scientific rigor and the avoidance of nonscientific, religious claimsmaking was a founding principle of the vegan movement.

Titled, "Veganism and Science--And A Warning," author W. S. James writes in 1948:
[...] a warning is necessary if the vegan movement is to avoid the embarrassments and setbacks which the vegetarian movement has suffered.  There are those in the vegetarian movement, and no doubt there will be those in the vegan movement, who oppose scientific thought and try to pick a quarrel with science, attempt to discredit it, and thereby ridicule their own movement in the process.
Publications by the Vegetarian Society, it seems, included horoscopes and bizarre, unfounded dietary theories. James fears the disrespect for science gives the public the impression that we are a cult:
Veganism needs to avoid this sort of bunk and bathos, otherwise it will scare away the intellectually minded reformer for ever.
Scientific rigor, it is argued, is necessary to protect veganism "as a vital, progressive force."  Religion, too, was not part of the early Vegan Society values:
Keep veganism a practice based on ethics, aesthetics, humaneness, health, economics and science.  We shall agree on this: and we shall disagree on anything else.
The vegan movement founders warned us from the start that a disregard for science would imperil our effectiveness.  "Veganism has everything to gain by a wholehearted scientific attitude, and everything to lose by an unscientific approach," James concludes.  Have we heeded the warning?  I'm afraid we have not.  The vegan movement today appears to be more overrun with religiosity, new age quackery, and non-profit fundraising rhetoric than ever before.