Saturday, January 11, 2014

Examining the Species Politics of Socialist Party USA

Socialist Party USA is the only nationwide anti-capitalist organization which addresses the treatment of animals in its political platform as far as I'm aware. Groups such as the International Socialist Organization, the Industrial Workers of the World, Solidarity, Democratic Socialists of America, and Communist Party USA,  among others, don't offer the most tepid welfarism in their unity statements.

Socialist Party USA is a multi-tendency organization, made up of state and local groups from Wisconsin to Mississippi and New York to California. It claims to be the successor to Socialist Party of America, the organization led in the early part of the 20th century by Eugene Debs.

The very final section in Socialist Party USA's 2013-2015 platform is dedicated to what's termed 'Animal Rights,' but would be identified as animal welfare in protectionist circles. The first sentence in the brief section states, "The Socialist Party recognizes the rights of animals to live free from unnecessary pain and suffering, and the responsibility of people to protect those rights."

This position is so vague it's useless. A minimalist interpretation would suggest that any pain and suffering inflicted on animals that's outside of what's needed for their successful exploitation should be opposed. A maximalist interpretation would suggest that since almost all animal exploitation involves pain and suffering and is unnecessary for human well-being, all animal exploitation should be opposed. One must assume that Socialist Party USA meant something much closer to the former.

The second sentence asserts, "We support the spaying and neutering of pets to prevent the massive extermination resulting from overpopulation." As far as I'm aware, this is a near-universal position that is unfortunately not put into practice enough. I don't think that it would get serious argument from anyone, anywhere on the political spectrum. So I'm not entirely sure why it's included.

The third sentence says, "We oppose entertainment that causes pain to animals." This position does not include, as that in the first sentence does, the qualifier 'unnecessary,' which is so open to interpretation. Still the position is vague enough that it's not particularly useful.

The fourth sentence states, "We call for the banning of the fur trade." This, I would argue, is the first position in the section that proposes a substantive, progressive reform to our exploitative relationship with animals. Yet it establishes a certain cognitive dissonance. Why should the fur industry be banned and not, say, the 'leather' industry? Why, for that matter, the fur industry and any of the other industries associated with the exploitation of animals? One must assume it's merely because those who buy fur represent a smaller percentage of the human population than those who buy other animal products. Thus the fur industry is seen as an easier target for reform than others.

The fifth sentence asserts, "We support greater inclusion and enforcement of the Endangered Species Act." This, of course, is more of an preservationist position than an animal protectionist one.

The sixth sentence says, "We call for a ban on animal experimentation for product development, and for an oversight board to examine and limit the use of animals in scientific and medical research." While obviously merely a reform and far from ideal from an animal rights perspective, this is another substantive, progressive proposal.

The seventh sentence states, "We oppose factory farming practices of overcrowding, drugging, and otherwise cruelly treating animals." Again, this final proposal suffers from vagueness which leaves it relatively useless.

Despite my criticism here of the platform of Socialist Party USA as the document relates to animals, it should be again pointed out that, as far as I'm aware, none of the other nation-wide, anti-capitalist organizations address the use of non-humans in their unity statements. That groups nominally dedicated to fighting exploitation wouldn't have anything to say about the treatment of the world's overwhelming majority of sentient creatures is shocking. But one shouldn't be shocked given the speciesism of society, of which the left is a part.

Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from upstate New York. Visit his website by clicking here.