Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters


Beyond Pacifism                    

On the matter of violence, the animal liberation movement is nothing if it is not confused. It wants to have its cake and eat it too: abolition without any sort of violence or armed struggle whatsoever. This is simply not going to happen. The absolutist position of pacifism taken by some in our ranks is one of comfort, and ultimately privilege. Violence out of context, and as a singular tactic, will never be a winning strategy–but neither will all-out pacifism. To eschew all tactical forms of violence, ab initio, is not only intellectually dishonest, but is to abandon entirely the struggle for animal liberation.

Abolitionists frequently compare the animal liberation movement to the abolitionist movement of the Nineteenth Century. Other prominent theoreticians within abolitionism also compare it to the peace movement, or at least its logical extension. There are at least two fundamental differences between the abolition movement of the Nineteenth Century and the modern peace movement. First, one was effective, the other not. Second, one ultimately came down to a combination of political and armed struggle, whereas the other assembled its forces only in a political sense. We can build a modern abolitionist movement or an extension of the modern peace movement, keeping in mind there is a very real dichotomy. It is not a decision between victory or defeat, but between the possibility of victory and the utter certainty of defeat. We can model a movement after Gandhi, or we can consider the reality of the situation: excluding any form of struggle at this point is tactical suicide. If we’re in it to win, we need John Brown.

Here’s the thing about pacifism: it relies on the possibility, and in most cases naively upon the probability, that the power is open to moral persuasion. If they are not, then absolutist pacifism is absolutely worthless. Like forms of political violence, non-violence must be tactical and targeted in order to be effective. The bottom line, however, is that if moral appeal worked as a singular tactic, everyone would already be vegan. For what other cause is so readily apparent other than the brutal torture, exploitation, and murder of billions of innocent animals? How many times can we parade out images of animals compromised in the most gruesome situations only to have most people in turn look away?

Regarding contemporary human liberation movements, Ward Churchill said, “We do not foreclose on any tactical options available to us. We do not have a moral prerogative to foreclose, as a moral principle, any tactical option available to us in the face of what it is that’s actually going on…” Yet many animal liberationists are ready to do just that. The abolitionist movement is grounded in the notion of applied equal consideration. Pacifism is a doctrine wholly inconsistent with this notion. If what is happening now to animals were instead happening to masses of people, we would not be having a debate about the moral implications and gravity of tactical violence to win their liberation. For to do so would be a luxury at the expense of billions of human beings.

No, that is a luxury we reserve for ourselves only when it comes to nonhuman animals (or the slow death of the Third World). Then it is a suitable and even necessary discourse, and equal consideration flies out the window. In the context of equal consideration, pacifism is a fundamentally speciesist position to assume. It is a position of species privilege, and herein lies the intellectually dishonest core of the pacifist program in regards to animal liberation. To use moral appeal as a tactic is one thing, to foreclose outright on all forms of tactical political violence is a different and damnable thing all together.

Let us not forget equal consideration works both ways–to condemn outright any and all acts of violence, however targeted, in order to aid the cause of animal liberation, is to condemn outright all acts of violence used to aid human liberation. This would clearly include the struggle to free enslaved blacks in the South during the Civil War, the crushing of the Nazi war machine by the Red Army, the rebellion of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, and even the resistance fighters who raided concentration camps after whom the Animal Liberation Front models itself–and many more examples. At its heart, to adhere in a strict sense to pacifism is to make a conscious ethical decision to side with the oppressor against the oppressed under the disgustingly hypocritical cloak of “taking the moral high ground.”

Certainly, moral appeal has its place. In everyday propagandizing and public work, we must rely heavily on it to form the basis of outreach to win people to veganism–and ideally, an alignment with abolitionism. It can be pragmatic. However, moral appeal also has very defined limits, particularly when it comes to dealing with the animal exploitation industry–something many animal activists seem reticent to acknowledge. But in the case of the animal exploitation industry we must find alternate tactics. In the words of the late war criminal Richard Nixon regarding the CIA campaign in Chile, we must be able to “make [their] economy scream,” to make the industries of animal exploitation, in whatever form they take, as unprofitable as possible.

In this respect, the animal liberation movement has already made some headway, particularly with regards to fur farming and vivisection. Internationally, the ALF have made great strides in making these forms of exploitation as unprofitable as possible, while simultaneously exposing the horrors of their functioning to the general public through footage captured during raids. It is perhaps doubtful that the tactics of the ALF could be, at this point, exported to dealing with other areas of animal exploitation, such as slaughterhouses, etc., unless the raids included arson. However, as it stands, the tactics of the ALF represent a powerful weapon in the arsenal of animal liberationism.

Other organisations have taken more directly violent approaches than the ALF, who express a formal creed of nonviolence. The Justice Department, Animal Rights Militia, and other groups have taken to using the threat of violence or direct violence itself as a tactic. Some in the animal liberation movement have noted this as a logical step in the struggle for animal liberation, such as Dr. Jerry Vlasak. However, before proceeding, it is worth returning to the ALF’s creed of supposed “nonviolence.” Are ALF actions really nonviolent? If the ALF torches a lab, does this really carry the guarantee that no animal life was harmed–say, animals living in the immediate surrounding area of the lab? The ALF creed represents not only a moral principle of nonviolence, but also a public relations strategy: whenever an action is carried out, ALF spokespersons and defenders can say “But no life was harmed,” when what is often meant by this is “No human life was harmed.” It is of course impossible to know that no life was taken in a raid. Yet the ALF, and similarly the ELF–and here I am writing about them in a philosophical, not organisational, sense–clings to the principle of total nonviolence in an increasingly disingenuous fashion. Let me be absolutely clear that this is meant as a principled and comradely criticism of the ALF credo concerning total nonviolence, not a condemnation of the ALF, who are our soldiers on the front line.

Once we have established the essential bankruptcy of pacifism both in principle and operationally, we must consider similar questions about violence. If violence is to be used, then how? Concerns exist about how this will affect the public relations of animal rights, the sympathy of the public at large towards issues of animal oppression, and how the State will respond in terms of repression. All of these concerns are legitimate. Targeted, tactical violence (armed struggle) can be used towards two effects: making exploitation unprofitable through exacting maximum economic damage, and drawing public attention to this exploitation. In judging whether or not violence is an effective tactic, one must take into consideration the actual goal; for without understanding the goal, it is impossible to judge relationally whether or not the tactic itself was effective. If the goal is to draw the attention of the public, the public must understand the context of the violence. If they do not, then the violence amounts at best to mere adventurism, and at worst to a massive setback for the cause of animal liberation. The violence becomes not revolutionary, but totally reactionary. If the goal is to “make the economy scream” of a specific animal exploiter, then other considerations apply: frequency, duration, severity of attacks, etc. Sometimes the goal is both. In such cases, efficacy must be balanced against public relations on a case-by-case basis.

Regarding state repression: as with all revolutionary forms of sociopolitical movements, the level of repression from the State generally rises or falls in consistency with the efficacy of the tactics of the liberation movement. In other words, the more effective animal liberationists are, the greater the repression of the State, and animal exploitation industries it serves, will be. We should expect nothing but repression from the State, and when that repression intensifies, understand that we are doing something right. To operate under the rubric of minimum repression from the State as a desirable thing, or that the State needs the animal liberation movement to make an excuse for it in order to repress, is illogical. Moreover, the thought that animal liberation will ever be achieved without significant conflict and repression with the State is lunatic. Progress is made only through sharpening conflict.

And what of public sympathy? This is a legitimate question. However, let us consider: if the ALF ceased all actions tomorrow, in ten years would we have more vegans than if things continue down their current path? Would their be more sympathy for the cause of “animal rights” in the minds of the general public, or would they have forgotten the phrase itself? Of course, it is a matter of speculation, but I imagine the outcome to be about the same. Perhaps it could mean even a few less vegans–ALF actions draw a lot of attention to the cause of animal liberation, not all of it negative. But the big difference would not be a more sympathetic public image or more or less vegans, but fewer liberated animals. It is a truly unfortunate thing when vegans and animal liberationists let fear of negative coverage in the media become a paralytic injected directly into the spine of the movement, something which helps only the animal exploitation industries.

When it comes to covering animal liberation news (or “animal rights violence” as it is called in the media), the Fourth Estate takes two different tacks: one is “animal rights terror is being ratcheted up, eventually someone is going to be murdered, and by the way–the public doesn’t like you hooligans anymore.” The other, usually published right next to the first, is about an actual decline, as of late, in animal liberation direct actions. Neither sort of news is particularly good, nor particularly newsworthy. Both are ultimately geared toward sabotaging animal liberation activities. Regardless, unless John and Jane Q. Public have a reason to pay attention to news about animal liberation activism when it appears in the papers, they simply aren’t going to bother reading about it. Unless one has a reason to pay attention to said news–i.e., one is either an animal exploiter or a supporter of animal rights–one likely won’t peruse. As a result, the impact of even the most viciously negative publicity is, I would argue, minimal.

In terms of what tactics are actually damaging to the cause of animal liberation, one need look no further than the Animal Rights Industry welfarist organisations like PETA or the Humane Society of the United States. Recently I had the chance to experience welfarist “animal rights” close to home. Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, based in my home state, was taken to task by the HSUS for its egg supplier being cruel. After minimal pressure, Ben and Jerry’s switched suppliers. The Humane Society then ran a full-page ad in Vermont newspapers (and possibly nationally) thanking Ben and Jerry’s for switching suppliers. Specifically, the ad basically thanked the company on behalf of the chickens it would now more politely enslave and exploit. The significance of that advertisement? Everyone reading the paper that day now thinks they are not only not harming, but perhaps even helping chickens if they eat Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Thanks, HSUS.

PETA, on the other hand, believe a well-mounted animal liberation campaign involves the mass murder of pound animals, the elimination of an entire species of dog, or simply a theatrical protest by folks in chicken or lobster outfits waving from the side of the road. More damage is done every day to the animal liberation movement by a PETA staffer in a chicken costume hailing traffic on the side of a busy street during rush hour than by any temporary media blitz that would follow another piece that “extremists” carried out raids on labs or lorries. The tactics of the welfarists and the Animal Rights Industry represent the slow death of the very idea of animal liberation. Welfarism is the disease, abolitionism is the cure.

Having considered the major questions surrounding the use of targeted, tactical violence, it seems clear–at least to this author–that excluding violence on mere principle of pacifism is a lunacy this movement cannot afford (nor the animals it seeks to liberate). Just as Ward Churchill said, “We do not foreclose on any tactical options available to us. We do not have a moral prerogative to foreclose, as a moral principle, any tactical option available to us in the face of what it is that’s actually going on…”.

It is privilege and luxury in their most vile forms to waste precious time and resources debating in academic and activist circles notions of what is or is not morally justifiable regarding the liberation of animals, especially considering the level of immorality we are up against. It is an immorality that no measure of violence meted out by animal liberation advocates could ever hope to match. To foreclose entirely on tactical violence in aid of animal liberation is something speciesist at its very core. We need every tactic available to us to be present in the abolitionist’s toolbox, not only the most palatable. Placed in the broader context of the struggle against capitalism, what we are aiming at, ultimately, is a revolution. And like the little red book says, a revolution is not a dinner party.  

Taken from: Abolition Radio - Proud to be “socially unacceptable.” (2007)

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