The emphasis of this series thus far has been on the oppressive relationship between humyns and nonhumyn animals and how the industrial exploitation of animals is scarcely tenable as far as morality is concerned. Examined in this article will be the various ways in which the oppression of animals is related to the oppression of humyns by other humyns. We will then, equipped with the understanding of the necessity of animal liberation to the revolutionary cause, offer a brief critique of the modern animal rights movement.
The Overlap of Patriarchy, Capitalism-Imperialism, and the Industrial Exploitation of Animals
Having argued for the moral significance of animals, and hence that their brutal treatment and commodification constitutes a form of oppression, We must now turn to the issue of how these practices affect the way that humyns treat one another. Specifically, We will examine the ways in which brutally oppressive practices on animals are reflected on to humyns, both directly as a concrete practice and as an ideological rationalization for other oppressive practices under capitalism-imperialism.
For example, the abusive treatment of nonhumyn animals involved in the various animal industries conditions members of the oppressor class/nation/gender, by way of psychologically legitimizing the objectification of living, feeling beings, to perform said practices on members of the oppressed class/nation/gender. What occurs therefore is the intersection of systems of oppression within capitalism-imperialism, which happens in such a way that said systems mutually reinforce one another. This phenomenon is perhaps most visible in the meatpacking industry, where imperialism, racism, misogyny, and anthropocentrism all converge.
Due to the political priority of the First World to keep the labor pool of the Third World shackled in place, harsh immigration restrictions are imposed to prevent the free flow of labor across the world. The few immigrants from the Global South who manage to successfully enter the First World, in an attempt to escape the impoverishment imposed on their home countries by the First World, are generally forced into positions of absolute destitution. The meatpacking industry can without a doubt be classified as an industry that relies heavily on the consequences of racism and imperialism – it preys on the most economically vulnerable and socially immobile stratum of society to perform its excruciating and grotesque labor. And grotesque it is. Gail A. Eisnitz, in her unsettling persynal account of laboring in the meatpacking industry entitled Slaughterhouse, depicts in gruesome detail the miserable conditions in which both humyn and nonhumyn animals alike are forced to live and die. Moreover, the prospect of being deported prevents many immigrant workers from being vocal about their lamentable working conditions and also the frequent violations of whatever safety rights they are “guaranteed of” while on the job. Without racist-imperialist relationships dominating our society, it is rather unlikely that sufficient laborers could be employed in such a practice; as Brian Luke notes,
“Economic sanctions are used to get people to do the revolting work of animal slaughter. On the one hand, the dire economic situation of the dispossessed is exploited to recruit slaughterers: “IBP [Iowa Beef Packers, the nation’s largest ‘beef processor’] and its competitors seized upon the rural poor and the new immigrant groups flooding into the country from Mexico, Central and South America, and Southeast Asia, building corporate empires on the backs of a cheap pool of largely unorganized workers” (Rifkin 1992, 129). On the other hand, workers from the primary labor pool (i.e., the better paid, less transitory workers) are retained through what William Thompson calls the “financial trap”: though the slaughterhouse employees hate every minute of the job, they stay because they must to pay off debts accrued through conspicuous consumption (Thompson 1983). In a vicious circle, this consumption is apparently an attempt to compensate for the low social status of slaughterhouse work, a status undoubtedly tied to the work’s repellant nature.”
Carol J. Adams’s also observes in her book, Neither Man nor Beast, this trend whereby the oppression of animals occurs via the oppression of humyns. For instance, the social composition of amerikan laborers in the meatpacking industry is predominantly “women with a high school education or less, of black, Hispanic, or French-speaking ethnic background” who are on a daily basis subject to “filthy working conditions, sexual harassment and ignored or poorly treated employee injuries.” A pervasive commonality that exists in all such institutions is that those at the bottom of the social hierarchy are those who serve as the mediums through which the profit-driven motives of Euro-Amerikan, bourgeois men impact the billions of animals awaiting certain, excruciating deaths. Rosemary Ruether explains said process as such, “The exploitation of natural resources does not take place in an unmediated way. It takes place through the domination of the bodies of some people by other people.”
The impact of the industrial exploitation of animals on wimmin via the meat and dairy industry is wholly destructive since the exploitation of animals serves as a mechanism to perpetuate patriarchy, in part by producing a psychological effect of devaluing wimmin. The devaluation of wimmin via animal exploitation is evidenced by the sexualization of meat consumption on the one hand and the linkages between hunting and male sexual predation on the other, noted by Carol J. Adams in The Sexual Politics of Meat and Brian Luke in Brutal: Manhood and the Exploitation of Animals, respectively. These linkages between the degradation of animals and wimmin are further evidenced by the violence inflicted upon wimmin by their partners who have engaged in intense animal exploitation, who have immersed themselves in the practice of killing and controlling. Jennifer Dillard, in her article “A Slaughterhouse Nightmare: Psychological Harm Suffered by Slaughterhouse Employees and the Possibility of Redress through Legal Reform,” describes how the institutionalized slaughter of animals produces individuals with severe psychological trauma. This consequence is highly likely to result in abuse against other sentient beings (in this case, humyn wimmin),
“The intensive, production-focused nature of factory farming has led workers to suppress their “spontaneous empathy” for the animals, and this study suggests that male workers are affected more strongly by this phenomenon of empathy suppression. “Because compassion is not an attitude compatible with the requirements of economic competition and maleness, men may have suffered more than women in this repression of affect and learned to hide their feelings.”
This lowered ability to empathize with weaker creatures may cause the slaughterhouse workers to be more likely to commit violent crimes, particularly against women and children.
[C]ounties with slaughterhouses have higher arrest levels for sex offenses and more frequent reports of murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, and arson… compared with other industries, the slaughterhouse industry has a more significant effect on community crime rates… the slaughterhouse industry’s effect on its employees and the communities are dissimilar and more deleterious than the effects of other “manufacturing” industries, indicating that the differences are likely to be located in the particularized psychological effect of the slaughterhouse work on the employees.”
Though one may protest that the instance of workers murdering thousands of animals every day in rapid succession is surely an extreme example to cite in defense of the linkage between violence against wimmin and violence against nonhumyn animals, the linkage does not exist exclusively at this level. Indeed, it exists at all levels at which animal abuse is practiced, from the strictly domestic sphere to the practice of hunting. Such parallels between patriarchy and animal oppression visibly overlap and reinforce one another, and as Adams notes, include: “descriptions of hunting of animals that often use rape imagery in such a way that rape is seen as benign, animals incorporated either dead or alive as trappings in pornography; the equation of the eating of animals with human maleness so that a corpse-eating culture is called a “virile” culture; the killing of animals by batterers.”
It’s no wonder then that We can so easily discover parallel forms of female humyn exploitation in the industrial exploitation of animals. There exists no clearer example of this than “rape racks” – mechanical contraptions in factory farms that keep cows, pigs, chickens, etc. effectively immobilized so that they may be raped rapidly. Sexual violence – a disturbing and pervasive tactic used by men against wimmin – is widely employed against animals as an invariable component of activities such as milk and egg production. In both cases, the interests and experiences of both wimmin and animals are negated, and in the eyes of the oppressors (men), they posses value only insofar as they are useful in some sense to men. In the case of wimmin, they are seen as little more than sexual objects to be exploited by men to reaffirm their dominance. In the case of nonhumyns, their reproductive capacities are exploited for commercial purposes. Moreover, anthropological evidence points to the fact that this mechanized animal husbandry ultimately harkens back to early forms of animal domestication activities, in which the forced breeding of animals served as a precursor to line breeding and the subsequent oppression of wimmin.
Such parallelisms are instrumental to our capitalist-patriarchal system, in which the virtues of control and domination are extolled as the essence of masculinity. This realization enables us to understand how the abuse of wimmin and the abuse of animals can so frequently intersect in practice and ideology, and consequently build off of and contribute to each other in the service of patriarchy.
The relationship between animal exploitation and misogyny is also prevalent in cases of domestic violence, since the tendency of abusive men to use violence against animals as a means of imposing intense psychological trauma on their partners is well-documented. Specifically, violence against animals serves to isolate wimmin, construct a relationship of dependency on the abuser, inflict grief and distress upon the victim, and make the victims fear for their lives. In all instances, these actions serve to reinforce the control of men over wimmin and buttress their sense of hegemony – they are effectively acts of patriarchy. These facts therefore validate the findings of Jennifer Dillard that violence against animals can be and all too often is a precursor to violence against wimmin.
The connection between oppression against animals on the one hand and humyns on the other is deeper still, however. The historically legitimized demarcation of humyns and nonhumyn animals into categories of superiors and inferiors, respectively, has always served the interests of colonial conquest. Indeed, the ideology of anthropocentrism objectively aided the colonialist subjugation of the peoples of Afrika, Asia, and Latin Amerika, as European powers justified their imperialism on the grounds that it logically followed from the pre-existing humyn-nonhumyn hierarchy. Furthermore, the actual practices of the colonizers against the colonized heavily mirrored the common methods of control and domination used on nonhumyns. Indeed, the evocation of the humyn-nonhumyn divide was used for the brutalization of non-whites in all major imperialist conquests waged by amerika since its conception, from the invasion of the Philippines to the War in Iraq.
What is evidenced by this trend is far more than the widespread historical employment of verbal contrivances to devalue animal life, but a more fundamental issue relating to the implications of humyn domination over nonhumyn animals. In effect, this demonstrates that the devaluation and objectification of nonhumyn animals lends itself well to the ideology of imperialism and colonialism, by implying that morally irrelevant characteristics legitimize the oppression of certain groups. Indeed, this ideological consequence of anthropocentrism has in fact always served the purpose of legitimizing the oppression towards members of our own species (who are perceived to lack certain “humyn” qualities) ever since the advent of the industrial exploitation of animals. Echoing the conclusion that the oppression of animals has always served as a model on which to base our oppression of other humyns is Charles Patterson, who declares that “The study of human history reveals the pattern: first, humans exploit and slaughter animals; then, they treat other people like animals and do the same to them.”
By objectifying animals (who are especially vulnerable due to their inability to defend themselves), capitalists, men, white people, and able-bodied persyns convert sentient beings into mere objects to be disposed of and exploited as the needs of the oppressors dictate. Such animal exploitation provides the training ground and ideological justification for the objectification of oppressed humyns, in part by likening them to nonhumyn animals either through direct practice or through superstructural outlets (language, media, etc.).
Further evidence of the ideological relationship between racism and anthropocentrism exists in the psychological studies of Kimberly Costello and Gordon Hodson. In their remarkable study of psychological connections between prejudice in youths and the perception of animals as inferiors, Costello and Hodson’s findings provide definitive evidence that the greater extent to which children supported humyn supremacy over nonhumyns, the more likely they were to express racist sentiments towards minority children. The “Interspecies Model of Prejudice,” as it is called, is effectively the notion that the devaluation of minority ethnic groups on the basis that they possess fewer “humyn qualities” and are more animalistic stems directly from the classification of nonhumyns as inferiors within the social hierarchy. This study therefore serves to demonstrate that the causal link between institutionalized animal exploitation and racism is verifiable.
In light of this copious evidence, it is abundantly clear therefore that capitalism-imperialism has historically relied upon the legitimacy of anthropocentrism to further its own ends, and that the industrial exploitation of animals is reliant to a large extent upon the degrading social effects of imperialism, racism, and misogyny. Humyn exploitation and animal exploitation are inseparable, and as such an effective attack against capitalism-imperialism must take into consideration and dismantle other structural oppressions which defend said system, such as the industrial exploitation of animals.
Ultimately, the same underlying process is instrumental to the systems of capitalism-imperialism, misogyny, ableism, racism, etc. – objectification. Objectification, the conversion of beings into objects for the benefit (economic, sexual, etc.) of the oppressors is present in all forms of oppression, be it racism, misogyny, ableism, anthropocentrism, etc. Given that the worker, the womyn, the non-white persyn, the disabled persyn, the nonhumyn animal, etc. all suffer from being objectified and commodified to serve the economic ends of those in power, and that their respective oppression visibly overlaps with and reinforces one another, We must conclude that the struggle for animal liberation is integral to the broader struggles being waged by all oppressed peoples.
Explored at greater length in the following section will be the failures of the contemporary animal rights movement in both theory and practice (which often stem from a failure to recognize the intersection of these oppressions). In highlighting these shortcomings, We hope to offer a rough outline of what is required for a genuine movement for animal liberation – as part of a broader, intersectional anti-oppression struggle – to be successful.
The Folly of the Contemporary Animal Rights Movement
Having arrived at the conclusion that sentient animals, by virtue of their sentience, are entitled to genuine moral consideration, that there can be no talk of a non-brutal industrial usage of animals, and that the industrial exploitation of animals is inextricably linked with capitalism-imperialism and patriarchy, We must now analyze how the contemporary animal rights movement measures up against our own understanding of animal liberation.
Immediately, one notices that a host of movements today which ostensibly argue for the protection animals either do so only in words, or are interested in “protecting” animals within the framework of the industrial exploitation of animals, or both. The rights these advocates seek for animals are therefore exclusively nominal in that the exploitation of animals continues unabated. As We stated in the previous article, it makes no sense to speak of “rights” for animals within the confines of a system in which their institutionalized oppression is legitimate.
Given that liberal animal rights groups lack the ideological tools necessary to formulate a plan of attack against the industrial exploitation of animals, can We at all be surprised that the tactics of said organizations effectively play into the hands of the oppressors?
These weaknesses necessarily lead to the proliferation of other fatal shortcomings within the contemporary animal rights movement – for if crucial errors do not already exist in the theoretical conception of rights/liberation, they exist in the methodology used to attain that liberation/those rights.
For example, the failure to understand the interconnectedness of the systems of oppression We face today leads many animal rights groups to undermine the struggles of certain oppressed groups for the sake of others. In particular, We have in mind the example of PETA’s usage of deeply misogynistic advertising campaigns, which reinforce a hypersexualized conception of wimmin. Activists who are guilty of such contradictory practices effectively uphold the objectification of one group for the sake of another (though even PETA’s commitment to animal rights, which wimmin’s dignity is being effectively sacrificed for, is suspect to say the least). The fatal error here is largely bound up with a non-existent conception of how animal exploitation relates to patriarchy.
Alternatively, there is also the issue of the reform-oriented or life-stylistic conceptions of the word “action” as understood by contemporary animal rights activists. Liberal animal rights activists often see persynal veganism, and non-violent activities in general, as the sole category of methods to be used. That is to say, liberal animal liberation activists perceive their goal to be attainable within a capitalist-imperialist society (since capitalism-imperialism can be eliminated through no other means than violent revolution), and that the only changes that need to be made are on an individual level rather than on an institutional level (or that the former can lead to the latter). Although veganism is important for the sake of moral consistency on an individual level, and although it would necessarily be adopted on a massive scale under communism as a necessary result of abolishing the industrial exploitation of animals, it alone is an insufficient measure. While We absolutely support the decision to adopt veganism, there are several reasons why this alone simply will not aid out cause.
First of all, as admirable of a decision it may be, veganism as a persynal choice will not mitigate the plight of the billions of animals currently awaiting their deaths in factory farms or vivisection labs. As Camille Marino notes in her article “Ethical Veganism Doesn’t Help Animals,”
“being an ethical vegan does absolutely nothing to relieve animal suffering. In the real world “free market,” when demand for meat/eggs/dairy declines, the government subsidizes a given exploitation industry and buys any excess supply of animal products, thus ensuring that the suppliers’ profits as well as the economy remain intact. The government buys the surplus and generally diverts it into schools and welfare programs or the surplus is exported to other countries to satisfy federal debt.”
It is simply too easy for the capitalist class to circumvent the ethical choices of individuals to ensure the safety of their profits and practice in general. The second issue, which in our opinion is far more serious, is that under capitalism-imperialism, veganism is not a practical lifestyle option for many families. Food deserts exist en masse throughout the world, and it is common knowledge that the most affordable food options that exist (largely in the form of fast food) are less than accommodating to those seeking a vegan diet, to say the absolute least. Even if one does not reside in a food desert, a lack of autonomy (which restricts the diets of many a youth) is another unfortunate impediment towards adopting persynal veganism under capitalism-imperialism. In this sense, liberal animal rights activists often completely discount reality in their approach towards animal rights, or if they do take into account reality, it is only the reality of their lives – narrowed by petty-bourgeois illusions and privileges/purchasing power.
As for reform, the reason this is ineffective should be obvious. The capitalist class will never voluntarily surrender to the cause of justice an industry which is immensely lucrative and which works, in the ideological realm, to buttress and perpetuate co-existing forms of oppression that defend capitalism-imperialism. By presenting reform as the answer to the abolition of the industrial exploitation of animals, liberal animal rights activists objectively serve the interests of the capitalist class, which never must worry about its position being threatened by reform.
There are of course far more errors to take into account, stemming from a conception of animal rights within the framework of retaining capitalism – often manifesting as racism. Indeed, all too often the failure to recognize the industrial exploitation of animals in its totality produces a sort of arbitrary and half-hearted concern for animal rights whereby the cultural practices of racial or religious minorities are singled out and attacked. This tendency of oppressor groups to single out minorities while hypocritically failing to acknowledge their own complicity in the industrial exploitation of animal promotes the idea of religious/ethnic minorities being “savages” or inferiors, generally.
Ultimately, this selectiveness plays into the hands of First World chauvinism and racism, belittling the peoples oppressed by imperialism while simultaneously failing to bring us any closer to a proper conception of animal liberation. On a related note, while We are interested in the wholesale abolition of animal exploitation, it is paramount to understand that for a struggle of this sort, of such a massive scale, it would be reckless and destructive to believe that this goal can be achieved without a protracted plan of action. To this end, We must understand that not only are there people whose lives depend upon certain practices, but more so, there has been an historic trend on the part of the colonizers to undermine the livelihood of the colonized by intervening in Indigenous People’s relationship to animals. An example of this would be the fishing regulations passed to apply specifically to indigenous peoples in the Pacific Northwest, although it was clear that Indigenous People had only a marginal effect on the natural cycles in the river’s ecosystem – accounting for only 10% of the total fish extracted from the region. This is but one example of countless colonialist endeavors throughout history that have served to displace, destroy, and assert dominance over the oppressed peoples of the world.
Our goal in pursuing a truly revolutionary ecology is to bring to light the related patterns and intersections of animal exploitation/oppression and the forms of exploitation/oppression that are created and recreated in humyn society as a whole. In this sense, We must conclude that since these oppressions do intersect, their solutions must also adhere to the material conditions which connect them. We cannot abolish animal oppression irrespective of it’s role in colonialism, capitalism, and patriarchy. Similarly, while We as communists seek the destruction of “nations” as a social category, We simultaneously recognize that this must correspond to a protracted struggle to eliminate the conditions which produce “nations” as a social category – as opposed to, for example, attacking the nationalism of oppressed peoples. In this sense, a rough analogue can be made with regards to animal exploitation, in that although the abolition of said practice is our end goal, it is very conceivable that our principles will not be readily adopted throughout the entirety of the world for a very long time. Like the struggle to abolish nations generally, the struggle to abolition animal exploitation should not be conducted in such a way that it undermines the lives of those who we also support the liberation of. This necessarily corresponds to reality, and is something that We must accept and work with.
As far as our long-term goal is concerned, it is clear that just as with all other forms of oppression, revolution will be the only means through which a genuine liberation of animals can be realized. While the anti-capitalist left has come to understand, to some extent, the existence of overlaps of oppressive systems, it has largely failed to acknowledge the exploitation of animals as a necessary impediment to complete liberation for both humyns and nonhumyn animals alike.
Our approach cannot stop halfway; We cannot afford to be selfishly selective in our mission to abolish the industrial exploitation of animals. We must learn from the failures of liberal animal rights activism and seek out the elimination, rather than reformation, of the industrial exploitation of animals and understand the struggle for animal liberation to be necessarily bound up with the struggle against capitalism-imperialism, racism, and misogyny. Only then can We arrive at a truly effective and coherent theory of animal liberation, as a necessary component of the broader struggle against capitalism-imperialism.
- Eisnitz, Gail A. Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment inside the U.S. Meat Industry. (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1997)
- Brian Luke. “Taming Ourselves or Going Feral? Toward a Nonpatriarchal Metaethic of Animal Liberation,” in Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations, ed. Carol J. Adams and Josephine Donovan (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), 309-310
- Adams, Carol J. Neither Man nor Beast: Feminism and the Defense of Animals. (New York: Continuum, 1994), 81-82.
- Rosemary Radford Ruether, To Change the World: Christology and Cultural Criticism (New York: Crossroad, 1981), p.61.
- Adams, Carol J. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-vegetarian Critical Theory. (New York: Continuum, 1990)
- Luke, Brian. Brutal: Manhood and the Exploitation of Animals. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007)
- Dillard, Jennifer. “A Slaughterhouse Nightmare: Psychological Harm Suffered by Slaughterhouse Employees and the Possibility of Redress through Legal Reform.” Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law & Policy 15, no. 2 (2008): 391-408.
- Adams, Neither Man nor Beast, 132.
- Best, Steven. Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?: Reflections on the Liberation of Animals. (New York: Lantern Books, 2004), 141
- Patterson, Charles. Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust. (New York: Lantern Books, 2002), 10
- Carol J. Adams. “Woman-Battering and Harm to Animals,” in Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations, ed. Carol J. Adams and Josephine Donovan (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), 70-73.
- Patterson, Eternal Treblinka, 26-36
- Ibid., 32
- Ibid., 36-42, 52-54
- Thomas, Keith. Man and the Natural World: A History of the Modern Sensibility. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983), 41.
- Patterson, Eternal Treblinka, 109
- Costello, Kimberly, and Gordon Hodson. “Explaining Dehumanization among Children: The Interspecies Model of Prejudice.” British Journal of Social Psychology 53, no. 1 (2014): 175-97.
- Adams, Carol J. Interview with Megan Murphy. Vancouver Co-op Radio CFRO 102.7fm. August 22, 2011.
- Marino, Camille. “Ethical Veganism Doesn’t Help Animals.” animalliberationfront.com. http://www.animalliberationfront.com/Practical/Shop–ToDo/Activism/VeganismDoesntHelp.htm
- Kymlicka, Will, and Sue Donaldson. “Animal Rights, Multiculturalism, and the Left.” Journal of Social Philosophy 45, no. 1 (2014): 116-35.
- Chrisman, Gabriel. “The Fish-in Protests at Franks Landing.” depts.washington.edu. depts.washington.edu/civilr/fish-ins.htm