Vii issue 1 2009 Journal for Critical Animal Studies

Commonalities of Oppression and Alliance Politics

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Commonalities of Oppression and Alliance Politics

CAS rejects liberal reformist visions rooted in the deep delusion that an inherently irrational, violent, and unsustainable system can be rendered rational, peaceful, and sustainable. Its revolutionary outlook sees “separate” problems as related to the larger system of global capitalism, and rejects the reformist concept of “green capitalism” as a naïve oxymoron. It repudiates the logics of marketization, economic growth, and industrialization as inherently violent, exploitative, and destructive, and seeks ecological, democratic, and egalitarian alternatives.
Capitalism sucks everything inorganic and organic into the vortex of mass production and consumption. The profit imperative overwhelms the moral imperative; value is reduced to exchange value; everything, including human labor, becomes a commodity; market competition gives way to economic monopolies and political oligarchies; and Darwin’s “survival of the fittest" concept is the regulating principle of social life. In pursuit of the development and accumulation imperatives that drive its dynamic grow-or-die economy, capitalism devours nature, species, human lives, and indigenous cultures. The global capitalist world system is inherently destructive to people, animals, and nature. It cannot be humanized, civilized, or green-friendly, but rather must be transcended through revolution at all levels - economic, political, legal, cultural, technological, moral, and conceptual.
Of course, capitalism did not pioneer the reduction of living beings to things and exploitable resources. The domination of humans, animals, and the Earth has ancient institutional and ideological sources in Western culture and, ultimately, agricultural society (spawned some ten thousand years ago) that transcend class and economic dynamics. But while the domination of nature and nonhuman animals hardly began with capitalism, the capitalist system raises human alienation from, and contempt for, the natural world to its highest expression in a global system of individualistic property rights and an advanced technological empire governed by transnational corporations. And when ancient pathologies are conjoined to modern technologies; to an industrial paradigm that subjects work, production, and living processes to mechanized procedures (such as the transformation of agriculture into agribusiness and farming into factory farming); to a bureaucratic state driven by efficiency imperatives; and to an economic system organized solely around accumulation and profit, the result is an unprecedented crisis stemming from a culture of carcinogenic growth and murderous extermination imperatives.
CAS is abolitionist, but in a far richer and more radical way than the prevailing abolitionist approach, as mentioned earlier. Despite recognition of the commonalities of oppression and the need for alliance politics, advocates of this approach appear ultimately to advance a one-dimension, apolitical, elitist program of vegan education. Symptomatic of this outlook is the depressing absence of an ethically and racially diverse membership attracted to the modern vegan abolitionist movement. This lack of diversity within the abolitionist camp exposes the broader movement to loud criticism, very much in keeping with other “progressive” and “radical” academic and activist movements. In its crudest terms, animal rights advocates are wantonly dismissed as yet another, “Western, white, middle class movement.” Until this insularity is recognised and effectively addressed it will continue to seriously compromise any achievements of the “vegan revolution.”
Moreover, there is a serious contradiction between the ‘one plate at a time’ glacial approach to social change, and the dramatic spikes in global meat consumption (particularly in the most populated nations of the world, China and India) not to mention the dramatic worsening of the planetary ecological crisis. Yes, veganism is a crucial and necessary step for total liberation and turning back the furies of global ecological breakdown, but on its own it is hardly a sufficient condition. Unless tied to alliance politics and a revolutionary social movement, veganism becomes just another bourgeois individualist consumerist and egoistic based outlook. Any advocate of a “vegan revolution” that fails to engage its larger social and economic causes, and that seeks to sever all ties with radical abolitionists (and other social movements and groupings) is destined to relegate veganism to an elitist bourgeois lifestyle practice rather than a broad and diverse social movement. Truly bold and innovative approaches must focus on: overcoming the narrow, elitist, and Euro/US-centric nature of contemporary vegan and animal rights; branching out to working classes, people of color, and southern nations; and recapturing the pugilist spirit of the nineteenth century abolitionist movement, all of which are frequently jettisoned in favor of a toothless pacifism.
Animal exploitation is part and parcel not only of capitalism, growth, profit, and property-ownership relations, but also of a mass technics and instrumental rationality that objectifies and quantifies nature, culture, and the human personality. And it is this vision - the abolition of both speciesism and every other oppressive hierarchy - that guides this radical critique of MAS and development of constructive alternatives. CAS seeks to abolish not only animal exploitation, but also the exploitation of humans and the natural world. It challenges not only the property status of animals, but the institution of (corporate controlled) “private property” itself. Therefore, it is crucial that we continue to develop alternative, broader, alliance-based, bridge-building, anti-capitalist, anti-hierarchical social movements.
Since the fates of all species on this planet are intricately interrelated, the exploitation of animals cannot but have a major impact on the human world itself. When human beings exterminate animals, they devastate habitats and ecosystems necessary for their own lives. When they butcher farmed animals by the billions, they ravage rainforests, turn grasslands into deserts, exacerbate global warming, and spew toxic wastes into the environment. When they construct a global system of factory farming that requires prodigious amounts of land, water, energy, and crops, they squander vital resources and aggravate the problem of world hunger. When humans are violent toward animals, they often are violent toward one another, a tragic truism validated time and time again by serial killers who grow up abusing animals and violent men who beat the women, children, and animals of their home. The connections go far deeper, as the domestication of animals at the dawn of agricultural society is central to the emergence of patriarchy, state power, slavery, and hierarchy and domination of all kinds.
In countless ways, the exploitation of animals rebounds to create crises within the human world itself. The vicious circle of violence and destruction can end only if and when the human species learns to form harmonious relations that are non-hierarchical and non-exploitative - with other animal species and the natural world. To repeat: on its own the animal liberation movement cannot possibly bring about the end of animal exploitation. It can only do this in alliance with progressive social causes, anti-capitalist struggles, and radical environmental movements. CAS asserts the need for more expansive visions and politics on all sides of the human/animal/Earth liberation equation, and we call for new forms of dialogue, learning, and strategic alliances. Animal, human, and Earth liberation are interrelated projects that must be fought for as one, as we recognize that veganism is central to peace, ecology, sustainability, nonviolence, and the healing of the major crises afflicting this planet.
In addition to gaining new insights into the dynamics of hierarchy, domination, and environmental destruction from animal rights perspectives, Leftists should grasp the gross inconsistency of advocating values such as peace, non-violence, compassion, justice, and equality while exploiting animals in their everyday lives, promoting speciesist ideologies, and ignoring the ongoing holocaust against other species that gravely threatens the entire planet. Conversely, the animal advocacy movement as a whole is politically naive, single-issue oriented, and devoid of a systemic anti-capitalist theory and politics necessary for the true illumination and elimination of animal exploitation; areas where it can profit greatly from discussions with the Left and progressive social movements. Furthermore, environmentalists can never achieve their goals without addressing the main cause of global warming – factory farming – and grasping how water pollution, rainforest destruction, desertification, resource depletion and other key problems are shaped principally or significantly from global meat production and animal exploitation.
The human/animal liberation movements have much to learn from one another. Just as those in the Left and social justice movements have much to teach many in the animal liberation movement about capital logic, social oppression, and the plight of peoples, so they have much to learn about animal suffering, animal rights, and veganism. Whereas Left radicals can help temper single-issue and antihumanist elements in the animal rights movement, so animal rights can help the Left overcome speciesist prejudices and move toward a more compassionate, cruelty-free, and environmentally sound mode of living.
“New social movements” and Greens have failed to realize their radical potential. They have abandoned their original demands for radical social change and become integrated into capitalist structures that have eliminated “existing socialist countries” and social democracies as well in a global triumph of neoliberalism. A new revolutionary force must therefore emerge, one that will build on the achievements of classical democratic, libertarian socialist, and anarchist traditions; incorporate radical green, critical race, feminist, and indigenous struggles; and synthesize Earth, animal, and human liberation standpoints and politics. It must reach out to radical academics, political prisoners, exploited workers, indigenous peoples, subsistence farmers, tribes pushed to the brink of extinction, guerrilla armies, armed insurgents, disenfranchised youth, and to everyone who struggles against the advancing juggernaut of global capitalism, neo-fascism, imperialism, militarism, and phony wars on terrorism that front for attacks on dissent and democracy.
Animal liberation, vegan, and environmental movements must address radical anti-capitalist politics, just as social progressives and radicals must engage these issues in sensitive, serious, holistic, and inclusive ways. Diverse interests can come together in recognition of the common goal of building a social-ecological revolution capable of replacing global capitalism and hierarchical systems with radically democratic, decentralized, and ecological societies. While standpoints such as deep ecology, social ecology, ecofeminism, animal liberation, and Black liberation are all important, none can accomplish systemic social transformation by itself. Working together, however, through a diversity of critiques and tactics that mobilize different communities, a flank of radical groups and positions can drive a battering ram into the multifaceted structures of power and domination and hopefully open the door to a new future.
The three volumes that I co-edited with Anthony J. Nocella, II -- Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals (Lantern Books, 2004); Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of the Earth (AK Press, 2006); and Academic Repression: Reflections from the Academic Industrial Complex (AK Press, 2009) – represent not merely a theory of alliance politics and total revolution but also concrete practices of radical politics. Each book brings together diverse people and positions that ordinarily never meet. These works break down boundaries that typically exist between academics and activists, scholars and political prisoners (former and current), whites and people of color, men and women, and human and animal rights advocates. Diverse voices together challenge capitalism and hierarchical domination of any and all kinds in pursuit or a more free, just, and sustainable world.
In addition to the various books, essays, and reviews produced by our members, ICAS has taken numerous other steps to implement change, such as through organizing annual conferences, initiating protests and boycotts, launching campus campaigns, hosting fundraisers, and always working in these ways as well to build bridges (such as with former members of the Black Panther Party, leaders from the American Indian Movement, and disability rights activists), promote alliance politics, and engage controversial political and tactical issues mainstream groups of all orientations fear and shun. In this manner, ICAS – in little time and with a paucity of resources – has taken a quantum leap beyond pacifist abolitionist who sometimes talk about alliance politics, but never actually do it, and who respond to radical direct action tactics with the same mindset and level of sophistication as Christian fundamentalists in response to Darwinist evolution.21
Thus, CAS aims to replace partial concepts of revolutionary change in favor of a far broader, deeper, more complex, and more inclusive concept of total revolution. We must exchange the critique of any one system of domination (be it speciesism, sexism, racism, or classism) with a critique of hierarchy as a multifaceted and systemic phenomenon. And as we seek to understand and transform various forms of hierarchy, we must recognize that capitalism is a metastasizing cancer eating away at the planet and that a viable program for total liberation and transformation necessarily seeks to replace global capitalism with decentralized democracy and a dismantling of hierarchy in all forms.

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