Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 19, 2015

I understand despair driving ALF

Filed under: animal rights — louisproyect @ 3:24 pm

A guest post by Jon Hochschartner

In June 2015, according to the Mississauga News, the Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the firebombing of two trucks in Canada owned by Harlan Laboratories, a company which provides research animals to vivisectionists. Police said the blaze caused no injuries.

For a while now, I’ve counseled animalists against this sort of illegality, advocated by groups like the ALF. Not because I have a moral opposition to torching the vehicles of vivisectionists. But because I’m convinced such actions are ineffective. Individual acts of sabotage cannot address systemic problems. They do, however, invite government repression against the animalist movement as a whole and send dedicated activists to prison for decades at a time. And yet, frequently, I wonder whether the alternative — building a mass movement against animal exploitation — is possible in this moment in history.

Take Jacobin Magazine, the current voice of the far left in the United States, which should be a proponent of animalism. So far as I’m aware, the publication has addressed our movement twice. Both times, it has done so with hostility and condescension. In an article from August 2015, called “Peter Singer’s Race Problem,” Sarah Grey and Joe Cleffie pushed back against the idea animal suffering and human suffering were in any way comparable, and argued making analogies between them was inherently reactionary. In an article from October 2015, called “Welfare for All,” Adam Fisher argued workers were the real victims of factory farming, as opposed to animals being literally dismembered. As the saying goes, with friends like these, who needs enemies?

This is at a time in which animalists are bending over backwards in their attempts to court leftist allies. In our movement, blogs are proliferating everywhere, trying to examine non-human exploitation from a socialist lens, from a feminist lens, or from an anti-racist lense. And yet it seems no matter how much we concede, ideologically or tactically, we have gotten nothing in return from the broader left. Further, this is at a time, in which — animalists should not need to be reminded — over 65 billion land animals are slaughtered every year, according to Farm Animal Rights Movement. To put that in a bit of perspective, the Population Reference Bureau estimates only 107 billion humans have ever lived. So in this respect, we can agree with Grey and Cleffie. There can be no real comparison between animal and human suffering. The former is infinitely worse.

So I understand the despair that drives groups like the ALF. While, ultimately, I know only a mass movement can liberate animals, I understand the despair which led animalists to place incendiary devices in vehicles owned by a company profiting from non-human exploitation. I understand the despair that makes animalists give up on humanity’s capacity to change, and take matters into their own hands. After all, if we can’t sway the left, those who should be most sympathetic to our arguments, perhaps systemic change — even mild reform — is not possible in the here and now.


  1. Speaking as someone on the far left I think animal rights issues can be related to critiques of capitalism.

    Much of the suffering animals endure is for products that humanity has no need for but want because they have been conditioned to want products of all kinds. Capitalism has a vast array of techniques to create wants and to create subjects who value their life based on the products they can accumulate. If we can’t persuade people that these wants need to be subjected to criticism and that society needs a different st of values then both animal liberation and socialism are utterly futile prospects.

    Also, animal suffering can cause great distress to many humans, so if people put humans before animals they should be wary of the affect animal cruelty has on humans.

    I would expect a socialist society to place much greater emphasis on the impact on animals when deciding how and what gets produced and if they don’t then come the revolution I am going underground!

    Comment by Simon Provertier — November 19, 2015 @ 5:21 pm

  2. Animals don’t have to die for us to live.

    Comment by Watson — November 20, 2015 @ 7:49 pm

  3. Yes, animals do have to die for humans to live. Agriculture kills animals as does transportation, power generation, medical research, aquaculture, mining, etc.

    Worry not though. Animals have no independent value of their own nor can they even conceive of such. Humans are the only living thing that can conceptualize value or attribute it. Animals gain value by helping us survive. Dying to feed people gives meaning to an animal’s life unlike dying from a snake bite in the woods and rotting under a log.

    A world without humans is a world that for our purposes doesn’t exist. Without us there is no planning, morals or rationalization.

    Comment by Kob Khunka — November 21, 2015 @ 11:44 am

  4. ” Animals have no independent value of their own nor can they even conceive of such. Humans are the only living thing that can conceptualize value or attribute it.”

    Actually, not all humans have those abilities either: for example, infants, people who are severely brain damaged, people who are comatose. Nevertheless, we generally regard the killings of such humans to be homicides, if not murders. Why is that, when after all by Kob’s reasoning these people would also be lacking independent value? Kob then tells us that ” Animals gain value by helping us survive”, but in the cases of the kinds that I mentioned above, it would seem that they do not necessarily help us to survive but probably do the opposite by using up disproportionate amounts of resources that could help others to survive. Nevertheless, most of us do see it as a moral imperative to help the kinds of people that I mentioned to survive.

    Comment by Jim Farmelant — November 28, 2015 @ 3:07 pm

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