Socialists and the Animal Question

by Jon Hochschartner on July 25, 2013

Despite government repression of animal activists, there has never been an easier time to be vegetarian or vegan. One can find a wide selection of food without animal products in the most unlikely of places, such as small towns of upstate New York, where typical accoutrement is not tie-dye shirts but NASCAR caps. The national vegan population is increasing rapidly, doubling between 2009 and 2011, according to a Harris Interactive poll. And yet the socialist left remains particularly inhospitable for those concerned with animal domestication.

This hostility goes back a long way. As Dr. Steve Best points out, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels “lumped animal welfarists, vegetarians, and anti-vivisectionists into the same petite-bourgeoisie category comprised of charity organizers, temperance fanatics, and naive reformists.” Leon Trotsky railed against those opposed to revolutionary violence, scornfully describing their ideology as “vegetarian-Quaker prattle.”


Things aren’t that different today. Paul D’Amato, a writer for whom I have a good deal of respect, took on the animal question in a Socialist Worker column that reads as little more than uninformed trolling.

“Does a mountain lion that kills a deer have a right to a trial by a jury of its peers?,” he asks ridiculously. “Should cows have freedom of assembly, speech and religion?”

He acknowledges that he is speaking with tongue in cheek, but insists “there is a point to it.” D’Amato goes on to recount Adolph Hitler’s animal protection efforts, because, you know, animal activists are actually closet Nazis.

Things are hardly any different on the anarchist side of the aisle.

For instance, log onto the forums, which are maintained by London-based libertarian communists, and ask the otherwise nice folks what they think of vegetarians or vegans. You’ll see the British didn’t get their reputation for beef-eating for nothing.

And yet animal activists have always been part of progressive change. John Oswald, for instance, was a Scottish vegetarian who was a member of the Jacobin Club, took part in the French Revolution, and died fighting monarchist forces. Elisee Reclus, also vegetarian, was a
participant in the Paris Commune of 1871, for which he was imprisoned and exiled. Of course, Mahatma Gandhi, vegetarian, led the movement to topple British colonialism in India. Cesar Chavez, vegan, co-founded the organization that would become the United Farm Workers union. One could go on with such examples. But I would prefer to hear from readers of historical figures they know who incorporated animals in their progressive vision. I am most interested in hearing of leaders who were women, people of color, or engaged in explicit class struggle.


In a preface to an edition of Animal Farm, George Orwell explained the central metaphor of his satirical novel, writing, “Men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.” Modern animal activists, such as Bob Torres and David Nibert, have expanded on this unifying theme, injecting Marxist thought into the emerging field of critical animal studies. But there has been no similar effort on the part of anti-capitalists.

I don’t expect the socialist left to suddenly develop an appetite for veggie burgers and almond milk ice cream. The broad movement anti-capitalists hope to create will be reflective of the masses. And veganism is just not where the masses are yet. Much of this has to do with vegan options, at least the processed ones, being prohibitively expensive.This will change when economies of scale come into play.

But the attitude toward animal rights among the socialist left is more reactionary than that of the general population. My low-wage coworkers might think my views regarding non-humans are privileged and eccentric, but they never display the vitriolic scorn my beliefs earn among then socialist left.

My theory is that large segments of the socialist left, which at the moment are disproportionately made up of white-collar workers, has adopted a misguided workerism, by which I mean a perspective that glorifies a crude caricature of blue-collar culture, in an attempt to bond with those on the lowest tiers of the capitalist system. To these more privileged members of the working class, casual indifference to animal exploitation is a defining trait of blue-collar workers. That this is immensely condescending should go without saying. But it’s also not based on a socialist understanding of class. For socialists, economic groups are not defined by eating habits, culture, or even income. They’re defined by someone’s relationship to the means of production.

My class-struggle résumé isn’t anything to write home about. But it’s not something I’m embarrassed about either. I’ve written for a variety of leftist publications, from Socialist Worker to Z Magazine. I was active in the Occupy movement, for which I spent a couple days in jail. I filed charges against my employer, and won a settlement, for their union-busting. I feel I’ve made some humble contributions. But I’m also vegan. And I’m sick of feeling I’ll be treated like the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield — no respect! — if I don’t hide this in socialist circles.

{ 72 comments… read them below or add one }

Deran July 25, 2013 at 2:04 pm

It’s partly a problem ot Marxism. Instrumentalism; all things are the resources of the a communist society. It goes back to the Abrahamic religions where humans are put at the top of a pyramid of life forms, and put there by god. In so-called Rationalist Instrumentalism humans are still put at the top of a pyramid of life forms, but based on 19th century false scientific assumptions.

More and more contemporary science shows us that many other highly evolved animals have evolved both individual drives for food, safety breeding etc, but also that many other species use mutualism and cooperation, just as humans do. And it seems to me that mutualism is also a basis for us humans desire for socialism.

More and more science is trying to get away from vivisectionism because it is also false science to assume that medical experiments on nonhuman animals are not actually valid comparisons as to how a medicene or cosmetic will effect a human animal. And yet many pharma and cosmetic companies continue to use non human animals for testing, in many cases because corporations that breed nonhumans for vivisection make good money off these uses of nonhumans. And they, in conjunction with big pharma and cosmetics companies have convinced the FDA that animal vivisection is still a valid way of proving both the efficacy and safety of their products.

In the case of nonhumans for food. The real socialist argument against factory farming and increased human consumption of meat is ecologically unsound and contributes to not just the overall environmental crisis, but the these factory farms also create an unhealthy working class via promotion of unhealthy amounts of meat as being of central importance to showing that people are developed and no longer poor.

I am not a vegetarian per se, but I eat little meat because it is an expensive form of protein and factory produced meat is so generally unhealthy. On the other hand, cheap tofu is generally produced with gmo soy beans. So, really, protein under capitalism goes from being healthy to being environmentally damaging, expensive and unhealthy.


Brian S. July 25, 2013 at 3:27 pm

A fair enough statement – but the poster does seem to have a bit of a siege mentality. I’m not a campaigner on these issues, and wouldn’t extend to to veganism, but otherwise have similar views, as do many people on the left. . Everyone I know would enquire of a guest if they have food preferences and respect any choices that they want to make. I’ve never known it to be a big deal.People have the right to make their own ethical choices and choose their own life style. So I wish you well – but relax.


Jon Hoch July 25, 2013 at 7:00 pm


The problem with criticizing animal agriculture and vivisection from a purely environmental or human health standpoint is that you’re not really challenging the religious-based anthropocentrism (always wanted to use that word!) to which you alluded. You’re not revaluing non-human life, suffering or interests. You’re just putting forward a more “enlightened anthropocentrism,” a phrase I’m pretty sure I’m stealing from Best.


Deran July 26, 2013 at 2:44 pm

I agree, I was trying not to come off as too extreme in my views on nonhuman animals. I was trying to make points that people who consider nonhuman animals as “resources” to consider what those “resources” really are. I find this is less and less of a problem among Leftists I hang out with, but, as when I’m trying to discuss socialism with non-socialists, I try not to come off as extreme as I did 30 years ago when I was young punk – “Communes or bust!” :=)


Todd July 25, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Jon Hoch wrote:

“You’re not revaluing non-human life, suffering or interests.”

What, exactly, does this mean? It can be interpreted in a lot of ways.


Jon Hoch July 26, 2013 at 4:37 am

Well, at the moment we don’t put much value on fundamental animal interests, like avoiding pain and continued life, etc. We place the most frivolous human interests, like gustatory preference, above these. By “revaluing non-human life, suffering or interests” I’m basically saying that, hey, maybe non-humans’ presumed wishes in what’s done with their bodies should be given more sway than, say, the human desire to test the umpeenth redundant oven cleaner. Anyway, it’s 4:30 am and I’m getting ready for work. I’m probably not as clear as I’d like to be. Hopefully I don’t sound sanctimonious.


David Walters July 26, 2013 at 3:15 pm

John, in general I agree. But might life was save on multiple occasion by the use of adrenaline which, at the time I was a young boy, could only be garnered from the adrenal glands of horses (and killing them as a result). This is no longer the case and I’m glad for it. Some testing, it seems, is warranted when there are no other methods of testing new life saving medicines. I think, I *hope* most of humanity will always agree on that. And equally so to dispense with such testing when other methods an be used.


David Walters July 26, 2013 at 3:15 pm

John, in general I agree. But my life was save on multiple occasion by the use of adrenaline which, at the time I was a young boy, could only be garnered from the adrenal glands of horses (and killing them as a result). This is no longer the case and I’m glad for it. Some testing, it seems, is warranted when there are no other methods of testing new life saving medicines. I think, I *hope* most of humanity will always agree on that. And equally so to dispense with such testing when other methods an be used.


Louis Proyect July 26, 2013 at 8:14 am
Todd July 26, 2013 at 10:30 am

Jon, I’m afraid I find your answer still horribly vague, but there seems to be a thread running through it that I can very easily get behind: the anti-capitalist one (which Louis’ post goes into somewhat). A lot of the cruelty, pain, and suffering animals intimately connected to capitalism eg veal calves, chickens, hogs, etc. comes about entirely due to the owners’ interest in bigger profits. I certainly don’t have a problem with action intended to put the pain of an animal that can’t move in a tiny cage over the pain a capitalist feels in his wallet from lost profits, and I don’t think anyone else on the left would either.

“I’m basically saying that, hey, maybe non-humans’ presumed wishes in what’s done with their bodies should be given more sway than, say, the human desire to test the umpeenth redundant oven cleaner”

This, I can get behind, no question.


This fact, no self-respecting Marxist should have to pay more attention to than the obvious: human beings before other animals (with equally obvious, specific reservations). This isn’t a blanket endorsement for cruelty or wanton slaughter, but it is recognition that human beings aren’t _just_ other animals, and that fact should be kept in mind.


Deran July 26, 2013 at 2:49 pm

“but it is recognition that human beings aren’t _just_ other animals, and that fact should be kept in mind.”

No, actually, humans are just other animals. All animals vary in their evolution and mutualism, but the notion that humans are special is no longer a scientific answer. Too much information has been discovered by us humans that we are in fact very much like other animal species.


Brian S. July 26, 2013 at 4:21 pm

“Too much information has been discovered by us humans that we are in fact very much like “ther animal species.” Partly true – but our important difference is that we have developed a cultural level that allows us to have ethical discussions like this one.


Deran July 27, 2013 at 3:50 pm

As we learn more and more abt other animals (recent BBC article on dolphins referring to each other by name), how can we maintain an assumption that other animals do not have ethics? We know some other animals have culture – the transmission of information and lifestyles from one genreation to the next.

And it is not a matter of other animals maintaining the same civilization we do. “Rights” are no guaranteed to humans who were previously not recognized as having such rights – children for instance. If a four year old human is guaranteed the right to not be eaten or abused why then is not, say, an octopus (who are understood by humans to have an intellect and behavior of a four year old human) not guaranteed similar rights?


David Walters July 26, 2013 at 10:41 am

The problem depends on what one is discussing. The idea that animals have any “rights” at all should be problematical for Marxists. Does the planet Earth have “rights”? Some think so. It is not a straw-man argument. It’s a question of Marxist materialism and a understanding of the human species uniqueness (among which is inventing the concept of rights itself which, historically, have always been applied to our species alone) and *our* ability to determine the future of the planet and all that exists on it.

But rejecting such non-materialist concepts of rights for animals doesn’t mean necessarily that issues of animal cruelty are not our concern. Or that vegetarianism (broadly inclusive of the whole gambit of consumption life-style choices people make for whatever reason they choose) isn’t legit to talk about and discuss. The problem is placing an equal sign between humans and animals. This is, IMO, a *reactionary concept* that is not based on a scientific understanding of the real world, but at best is wishful thinking.

I think the straw-man argument is the assumption by the author that all socialists are somehow “white collar” and, therefore “workerist”. This is nonsense and an act of projection bordering on desperation to make a point. I’ve been in blue-collar heavy industry all my adult life until recently retired. In my work career, at union picnics to weekend b-b-ques to going over to people’s homes, my *impression* is that among such workers vegetarianism is a rare thing. The culture is meat eating, generally. Or was.

I think it’s evolved and is part of the synthesis of culinary culture in capitalist America, and is often quite regional, and, dependent on a lot of things, including some of the things the author raised. I would bet the percentages of vegetarians among the population follow exactly these lines and evolve, in many directions, over time. That they are keyed into people’s upbringing, the role meat plays in their diet and their immediate ancestors, and where they are from. And, an examination of this, not ‘what socialists think’, is the real starting point for a discussion on the issue(s).

In terms of socialists (just to go there anyway :) …. the old Socialist Party of America had “Vegetarian clubs”. Not a lot but enough to place adds or notices in such journals as The Liberator and Appeal to Reason. What I respect about them is that they were clubs for socialists who followed a particular lifestyle. They were not advocacy groups per se, they didn’t “polemicize” over the issue. The SP was a big house party, open to meat eaters and non-meat eaters. So should any modern 21st Century Socialist organization.


Deran July 26, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Marxist materialism as applied to other life forms is non-scientific if it is used to suggest that humans are special in a way that is meant to place us humans at the top of some mythic life form pyramid.

I am not personally opposed to eating meat. When I visit my 2%er friends, who can afford healthy meat, I eat meat. Humans are omnivores. Our smaller guys (than other primates) points out that we evolved eating meat. Other highly evolved life forms (I like crows) eat meat as well as vegetable life.


David Walters July 26, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Deran, no, you miss the point then…and the science. It is not a question of physical or even brain-to-weight size that is salient here. In fact it’s really irrelevant. The fact that we are even discussing this on an electronic medium shows that humans have the capacity to consciously *self evolve* in our social being and our views of the universe. And…to *change* the universe we live in.

Materialism and Marxism *starts* with this fact of human’s ability to take nature, make tools, and then change nature. It’s our *consciousness* based on our physical and social evolution that makes “on top”, that is, the superior species on this planet. It is fundamental to Marxism. In my opinion, it’s reactionary to suggest as you do that equal sign between humans and all other species as you lower humanity to the passive instinct driven animals that also share the planet with us.


Deran July 27, 2013 at 3:58 pm

You miss the point comrade. Read “In the Company of Crows and Ravens by Prof John Marzluff as a start, there are other life forms that are not acting only of “instincts”. Humans have instincts that drive us, but we also have other facets, as do other animals. Another good recent study is the Benobo and the Atheist. The author looks at how human mutualism is also expressed in our primate cousins, and he hypothesis that what we humans have turned around and used to organize socialism – mutualism and compassion for instance, are also aspects of benobos and other life forms. I’m not saying benobos are socialists, I am saying what we have melded into socialist ideals are in fact mutualistic expressions found in other life forms interaction among themselves.

To the extent that Marxism is unable to understand this makes Marxist materialism a pseudo-science, if not a dogma.


David Walters July 26, 2013 at 3:05 pm

On your 2%er friends…not sure what healthy meat is. Organic grass fed beef? Probably 1%. But it’s the bottom 99% that do eat meat, healthy or not, that is, animal products of the very cheap chicken, processed eat, and pork varieties. And seafood.

You raise the other issue, in a way: that meat has become so cheap that it’s what everyone relies on for food. If we removed the hormones, feedlots, grain fed beef in the world today, then it would be more expensive and grain and non-animal product proteins could become cheaper (OK, I’m projecting here) and a real, healthier balance between consuming animal products and plant foods would likely ensue.


David Walters July 26, 2013 at 3:19 pm

The term that has been used of late is one made more known by Peter Singer (see Proyect’s link) and Ralph Schoenman on Pacifica Radio, as:

“Species Chauvinism”.

Here is 3 part show here:

the others listed are here:


Deran July 27, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Yes, those are interesting links. I think “Human Exceptionalism” is a more useful term.


Jon Hoch July 26, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Hey folks,

I appreciate the interest my article has attracted. But I don’t really want to get in a debate in the comments section, for a variety of reasons. If someone wants to write a response to my piece, I’ll definitely answer it if I have time and think I have anything to say that would be productive. Open invitation! :)



Jon Hoch July 26, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Oh, last but not least, I wanted to say I’m a fairly regular reader of Louis’ blog and remember finding his post about the documentary pretty sympathetic, which was very refreshing! :)


Jon Hoch July 26, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Lol, just went back and re-read Louis article and found Pham’s comment at the bottom. Tell us how you really feel, bud! :P


Jon Hoch July 26, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Can someone explain to me what Marxists mean by the term “moralistic?” As far as I can tell it just means giving a c.rap about anything outside of class struggle.


Pham Binh July 27, 2013 at 2:42 pm

I use the term to describe appeals to morality — supporting the Syrian uprising against Assad and not eating meat are simply the right thing to do. Every struggle has some type of class content and people can and do support class struggle on a moral basis, so class struggle and moralism are not counterposed.

What has always irked me about animal rights activism is its moralism (for example, tactics like guilt-tripping). Generally speaking, I haven’t seen any strategic discussion of how it relates to humanity’s struggle with itself.

What interests me about this whole question is the way the concept of inalienable human rights since the bourgeois revolutions began some 300 years ago have expanded (through vicious and protracted struggles) to encompass greater and greater sections of humanity, from white property owning Europeans to Haitian slaves to Vietnamese peasants, and now, seemingly, to the animal kingdom, or parts of it. Slavery disgusts us today because human beings were treated like (or worse than) animals, or “beasts of burden,” and now there is a reaction against treating animals like animals, so to speak.

I also tend to think the animal question is tied up with environmentalism and the growing recognition among people (over centuries) of how humanity and nature are interdependent, animals being part of nature just as much as the soil, plants, and the oceans.

Whether the above trend towards according human rights and qualities to animals will continue into an era of socialist democracy is very difficult to say. However, I would note that psychologists have found that people who torture cats or other animals tend to be more prone to sadism and violence towards people (probably because they lack or don’t have much empathy), so there is a connection between the animal and human/class questions I think.


Deran July 27, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Comrade, I don’t think of it as a matter of according non-human life forms with “human rights”. I mentioned a book, The Benobo and the Atheist. The author proposes that mutualism and compassion exist among other highly evolved life forms (Benobos in this case) specifically because mutualism and compassion are evolutionarily useful. The life forms that can apply mutualistic practices “do better” than those that do not. The author suggests that we humans have then gone further and developed ideologies that build off of these evolutionary developments.

When Marxism wanders out of economic analysis, it is far less useful and becomes a dogma that would seem to me to impair practical actions that do not fit with in the Marxist materialist dogma.


ISH July 27, 2013 at 9:31 am

Well I keep sitting on this thought but I’m gonna say it. I have no problem with believing animals should be treated ethically, nor with personal choices not to consume meat. But this thread is a kind of meta example of what I find questionable about this.

Doesn’t it seem odd that there is no thread even acknowledging the George Zimmerman verdict on North Star? When socialists consider talking about animals more important than talking about people, we have a problem.


Jon Hoch July 27, 2013 at 11:54 am

Right, Ish, because it’s actually a zero sum game.


Pham Binh July 27, 2013 at 2:09 pm

It’s best not to feed concern trolls. They are somewhere below animals and above plankton.

People who want to use Trayvon Martin’s death and George Zimmerman’s acquittal to posture can do so elsewhere. It’s beneath contempt, really.


David Walters July 27, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Pham lays this out concisely and accurately. But so you know the arguments (IMO)…this issue is moralistic, but others might argue it’s about ethics, nor morality. The best arguments are the ones whose links I posted, to Ralph Schoenman and Mya Shone, Marxist and an animal rights “opinionator”.

The argument is a bit about semantics. They argue that ‘animal cruelty’ is about eating them. A “genocide” of billions. That’s it’s not about torture, per se, but the “use” of animals for our purposes (whatever they may be: beasts of burden to consumption). They say this all amounts of “animal cruelty” and “species chauvinism”. I use ironic quotes to show I don’t agree with them. not that I’m exposing some sort of untruth on their part.

Thus they move the argument away from the issue of medical research on animals and the torture by individuals of their pets to the social question of use-value (in the consumer way). My argument is that their argument by conflating all usage of animals amounts to a false-conflation when the very real issues of animal cruelty we all would agree one: how they are raised, laboratory testing, etc etc should be taken each as an issue as they appeal to others.

For the Peter Singers and Ralph Schoenmans, its about the underlying philosophy how we view our selves relative to animals (they might say “non-human animals”?) and that an equal sign must definitely be placed between ourselves and those we would deny their “rights” too. [I’m trying to get Schoeman to intervene as it’s not good that I, who wholly oppose his philosophy, try to paraphrase it for him.]

This is a serious flaw, IMO, that they approach the whole issue this way as the *only way* to approach it. It’s self defeating because it requires leftists, socialists, progressives etc to “see it their way” or, it’s no way for them. So instead of finding common ground on the real issues of animal cruelty as the majority of people understand it, it works against united front perspectives over the real cruelty we know about…and agree on.

George Spria, the ex-SWPer who founded the American anti-cruelty-to-animal movement would, I believe, no doubt support what I’m saying. That there are two different discussions: the discussion of specific forms of cruelty (he pioneered FDA regulations on how animals were slaughtered in animal processing plants) which can unite leftists and activists, and, the overall philosophy espoused by many over the use of animals altogether.



Jon Hoch July 28, 2013 at 12:36 am

Hey, my laptop broke down, so until my parents are able to drop off my old desktop in a couple days, I’ll be accessing the internet through my Xbox. It’s a pretty clunk way to surf the net, so I apologize in advance if my arguments are oversimplified or if I don’t reply to everything folks say.

First, thanks to folks like Pham and David for what feels like good faith engagement despite our disagreement.

Second, I’m not the biggest intellectual, so I don’t really understand the Marxist criticism of the “rights” concept. But let’s just assume when words like those are used it’s short hand for legal guarantees of some kind. Just like LGBT rights, women’s rights, etc.

Third, for me the argument against animal domestication is pretty simple:

1. It causes suffering. How much suffering is debatable, but since tens of billions of land animals are pushed through the torture chambers that are factory farms every year, I’d argue it’s on a scale that makes most human injustices look pretty minor. I don’t think the Oppression Olympics game is helpful. So let’s just agree it causes suffering of some amount.

2. By and large, it’s unnecessary. While animal domestication might still be needed in some areas of the world, this would not be the case in a more economically egalitarian society.

3. If it causes suffering and it’s unnecessary, we should get rid of it.

There are a lot of other ways to approach the issue, such as the more controversial Argument from Marginal Cases. I’d link to the Wikipedia page about it but I’m not sure how to do that on the Xbox. Anyway, I agree with the argument, so basically I feel like if we wouldn’t use a so-called “marginal case” human in a way, we shouldn’t use an animal in that way either. The only way to justify inconsistent treatment in that scenario, in my opinion, is to rely on religious inspired notions of an “inherent dignity” or “sanctity” of life exclusive to humans.

Anyway, I think I’m going to go to bed. I don’t really want to get into a massive debate, but, you know, like Al Pacino said, “They keep pulling me back in!” Night all :)


Sheldon July 28, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Hoch said:
“Well, at the moment we don’t put much value on fundamental animal interests, like avoiding pain and continued life, etc. ”

I just want to call out this fact for explicit attention regarding “animal interests of continued life”.

If if is not hunted from the wild, then all animal production and consumption is based on domesticated animals; and those animal populations very reproductive existence is dependent on human’s productive efforts. Capitalist factory farming makes these large populations of animals an ecological disaster. But the life of these animals would not exist without it. I wouldn’t argue that it is a better existence than nothing, but then again, I am not a cow or pig awaiting slaughter.

My point is, that if “after the revolution” it is decided that these systems of production are dismantled, then those herds would have to be drastically culled down to near nothing. You just don’t let those animal populations go free. That would be another ecological disaster. So I think “their interests of continued life” is an irrelevant issue, but not necessarily their pain.


Sheldon July 28, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Another thing that is troublesome no matter how it is phrased is this idea of anthropocentrism, or specie-ism, chauvinism, human exceptionalism etc. to argue that humans eat other animals because we have this ideology of human superiority over other animals. Is this really the reason that humans eat meat? Because we think we are special? No, this is the idealist explanation.

A historical materialist explanation of why humans eat meat would look at the conditions in which we became meat eaters at least in some particular times and places. Also the fact is that we eat meat because our evolved physiology permits us to. Like other omnivores, we are opportunistic in our dietary choices.

Note, I am not arguing that we must eat meat, or should eat meat, but just that we don’t do it because we think we are superior to other animals, but that we eat meat, or don’t, because we are omnivorous animals.

I also have no doubt that if an ecosocialist future is ever achieved, then in that society we will most likely eat much less meat, and so be it.


Jon Hoch July 28, 2013 at 6:04 pm

Sheldon, you act as if domesticated animals magically spring into existence and aren’t the result of human intervention at every step. If we stopped breeding them, they would disappear in a generation. For situations where this would not be the case, animals could be sterilized. That might sound sinister, but it’s no different than what the SPCA does with dogs and cats. Whatever a violation of animal autonomy sterilization might be, it’s preferable to the endless, violent cycle of domestication.


Sheldon July 28, 2013 at 6:41 pm

Maybe I didn’t write clearly enough in my first comment? Or is it your reading comprehension?

I said: “…..then all animal production and consumption is based on domesticated animals; and those animal populations very reproductive existence is dependent on human’s productive efforts. Capitalist factory farming makes these large populations of animals an ecological disaster. But the life of these animals would not exist without it.”

Nope, I take it back, its your reading comprehension. But I do think you get my point in offering the option of sterilization. Or we could just slaughter the remaining animals and have one last feast? (s0rt of kidding)

But no, its not inevitable that now domesticated animals would naturally disappear (i.e go extinct) if we stopped breeding them, or would their populations come to an ecologically balanced equilibrium if we set them free. In the present day, so-called “wild” but actual feral horses in the American west and escaped feral pigs in Texas for example cause environmental problems.

The end of animal exploitation for human consumption would require human action, as you do seem to acknowledge. Is the complete end of animal exploitation for food consumption absolutely necessary or desirable? I am ambivalent on this question, but I do think the system of mass market meat production under capitalism is unacceptable.


Dave Riley July 29, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Unfortunately the existence of factory production per se is often concertina-ed into an excuse to oppose the raising, killing and butchering of ALL animals.En route ‘rights’ are projected onto animals — and internalised as consumption choices. But do animals have ‘rights’?:Revolution in the hen house?

I’ve come back to this topic of late primarily because I object to Ethics based on rigid ‘principles’. It’s another version of 10-Commandment-Thinking’ and while it may apply to many Vegan perspectives it also underscores some of the thinking that passes itself off as Marxism. Nonetheless, it’s useful to unpin some of what passes as Vegan thinking: Does meat make the meal? and be reminded how ethereal it can be (but also respect it for its some of its good intentions)

But then if you consider the perspective advanced by Peter Singer — whose roots are Utilitarianism — Animal liberation is an idea packaged as a novel Ethicism. Although Marx had intended to write a book on Ethics, I think modern Ethics has caught up esp in the work of Margaret Urban Walker which you could call ‘Relational’. I’d refer to it as ‘dialectical’., indeed materialist — when Singer’s Ethics is not at all. Nonetheless it’s worthwhile exploring how ‘bad’ and shallow Singer’s philosophy can get in the context of his overall argument: .Can we be ethical without being revolutionary?

I think the killer aspect that undermines the animal liberation logic is the problem of consistency. What does it mean if you apply the same thinking/the same logic across the board — such as applying ‘Ethics’ to abortion? This contradiction — both in logic and politics — is captured sharply here: Are Pro-Life Lawmakers Plagiarizing PETA?

Ethics aside. I’d oppose any argument that suggests that Veganism (a) is a healthier ‘diet’ than omnivore consumption; and (b) is better environmentally than animal husbandry.(And that includes ruminant gases).This latter point is assiduously addressed by Simon Fairlie in his book Meat: A Benign Extravagance (review and summary) — but it also relates to the ecological significance of ‘rotational grazing’ as argued by Allan Savory.


Neal D. Freedman July 30, 2013 at 12:31 am

….Every U.S. lefty omnivore I have ever spoken to – joined by most Americans – is repulsed by the idea of eating a dolphin or a monkey or a dog or an antelope, (apart from “in an emergency”). Why these exceptions? Upon what sacral injunctions are these animals excluded? To what religious alter do Western, socialist, “humanist” appetites sacrifice this animal but not the other? Or will the present fetishistic discretions of these secular totem worshipers be phased out over time, until they become unnecessary?….Vegetarians and vegans need not, alone, be on the defensive.


Sheldon July 30, 2013 at 8:28 am

Because U.S. lefty omnivores are embedded in cultural ideas, practices, and rules about what is considered edible and what is not, just like everybody else. What does your question have to do with this discussion?

As an aside:
An antelope, a herbivorous big game animal with hunting seasons in several western states, so probably not the best animal for your list.


Jack August 4, 2013 at 11:23 pm

All 3 sound like they could be delicious. I’m not a huge fish guy, so maybe the porpoise lives.


David Walters July 30, 2013 at 10:00 am

Or, to use the converse, why is it that every lefty vegetarian will go to bat for any higher end mammal but the every day extermination of insects, mollusks and other lower forms of animal no one bats an eyelash at. One might feel bad about accidentally killing a pigeon, but no one, I mean no one, mourns such an act and goes to their therapist. Thus, no equal sign even for vegetarians. Where is the line drawn for the vegan extreme?

[Personally I’ve eat some of those on that list, including dog and monkey. Nothing to write home about the former, quite good the latter. And it wasn’t in the U.S. I also do a lot of fishing…do these join the list of species deserving the human construct of ‘autonomy’?]

As for science…no, Marxist materialism works fine. Modern science, while making huge inroads into the human understanding (as animals have no sense of this at all) into the cognitive and emotional debt of various higher animals still show a cosmic gap between human intellectual existence and potential, and those that have hit the end of their biological and social evolutionary development. Even if I were to condescend and become a vegetarian in practice, my view of the species I formally ate (sheep, cows, fish, fowl) would not change.

Even the books cited above that supposedly show a ‘closer’ linkage between the way humans think and animals is at best a projection on the part of the science writers.
The point is that the capability and values shared by our species, while *sometimes* apparent in the lower animals (including among apes, empathy and “speech”, among others, sadness and terror) it is not generalized in all lower species and is severely limited in the higher ones. No “science” is ever going to change that.

David Walters


southpaw July 30, 2013 at 10:14 am

I’ve been vegan over a decade and an anticapitalist all the while. Unfortunately, I think I’ve learned not to get into “the animal question” since its mostly just frustrating, so I appreciate Jon’s breaking into the subject here and on SoWo.

I think what’s written here represents a pretty standard animals rights position appealing to the left, which draws on historic figures to legitimize the cause. Its interesting history, but I don’t think it’s very convincing. At the very least, it’s a game of sums, since you can find admirable and shitty characters who care about animals fairly equally–Caesar Chavez was a vegan pacifist, but against rank and file democracy for the UFW; Bush staffer Matthew Scully wrote a theological pro-animal book “Dominion”; Whole Foods Exec John Mackey is a “vegan” (questionable) union-buster, libertarian and against public healthcare; and of course the behavior of animal organizations like PeTA are just all kinds of fucked (I’m thinking about their fur for the homeless picture shoot, ads about sexual potency or just showing skin, and insensitive race comparisons).

There’s a much stronger case to be made on the facts. Staying instrumental for a moment, three years ago the UN urged people to adopt a meat and dairy free diet–and they’re no animal stalwarts: Hog farms and slaughters are pretty much always opposed by local communities when they’re being cited, and they’re enormous producers of greenhouse gas. Yadda yadda, if you don’t know all this shit you’ve probably been living under a rock.

Jon is up to something when he calls out how the left conceptualizes workers’ attitudes towards animals. The image out there is of a brusque, masculine worker uncaring or unfeeling about an animal’s well-being. But I think its worth pointing out that there’s all kinds of trauma and anxiety that workers in slaughters and meat-processing plants face–industries take note of it since it makes for higher turnaround of the workforce and there’s a book of interviews with slaughter workers who do their best to put on a hard face by taking to alcohol and other coping mechanisms. I don’t want to overstate that, but it’s a factor.

So what else to say? Clearly, we care at some length about animals otherwise it wouldn’t be a question at all. People are against what they view as excessive mistreatment, which means that to some extent they believe animals have some standard owed to them, it just isn’t clear what.

I agree that framing it in a moralistic sense can actually be unhelpful or divisive and not necessarily the best guide to action. In part I think “animal people” are guilty of the “all or none” criticisms launched at them, where they save their fire for people closest to them. There needs to be a shift in perspective where you can recognize that people have to do some shit just to live and you can’t fault them; I don’t know that it’s clear to animal advocates is that the most important thing is that people eat and are taken care of, but that that doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive with animal interests.

Here again I think the focus remains on individuals, and socialists are right to point out the limits of a strategy for animal liberation that rests on individuals becoming vegan. Instead, I think we could look at some of the systemic factors that craft people’s actions and behavior and aim for those instead: heavy subsidies to animal industries that lower the price of animal products below healthy vegetables; free passes to pollute water for farms and slaughters; food deserts in urban environments; etc. I mean, the fucking food pyramid was changed so that animal products wouldn’t be on the “consume less” side of the thing!

Conceptually, framing the problem in terms of use seems like it collapses the real distinctions between humans and animals, since we can agree that while we’re all product of the same process there is something different about humans in the first place; in this I think Marx is correct. So I don’t think we can approach these things in a sort of “re-wilding” framework–your view of the world has to have some place for human-animal interaction.

On the socialist side, I think people need to do some homework. Most of the socialist arguments are so abstract that they’re effectively meaningless (“thinking about animals isn’t materialist”), or they’re steeped in personal prejudices: “I like meat.” Well that’s great, I think things taste good too, but that’s hardly a reason. At this point everyone seems to admit that animal industries have an enormous role to play in climate change and environmental destruction, its just that for some reason its like they want to do everything they can so long as it doesn’t affect the day to day. Older comrades I’ve met always want to confide their agreement with a vegan lifestyle in private, and then admonish it in public. There’s no reason for that. Jon is right that it’s never been easier–you should be vegan, and if you don’t feel like you can do that (which, again, you can) you should reduce your consumption as much as possible. It’s not the end all be all, but its a place to start.

Lastly, I would say that we could benefit from taking a broad view of the animal question. If you’re interested in cohering a left, look at the potential anticapitalist implications. Like I’ve said, shit needs to change and get away from the moralism, but its worth a thought. A few years ago someone mentioned to me the troublesome legacy that Trotsky and Mandel left for the socialist left in terms of their environmental hubris–I hope it doesn’t become another missed opportunity.


Matthew July 30, 2013 at 10:24 am

Why is it that I read Paul’s article and find a reasoned attempt to contrast animal rights from humane treatment of animals, while you only cite his Nazi comparison and the quote comparing human social rights to animal rights to life?

Seriously, you mentioned he had a point, but then glossed over it to get to the Nazi quote! Here’s what it was for those interested: “Non-human animals don’t possess the biological and physical attributes that would allow them to engage in the activities and behaviors we associate with “liberation” and “rights.””

This, however, does not undercut the first section, which clearly concluded with: “These are all practices that many of us would like to see changed. There is a clear connection between how a rapacious capitalism mistreats animals, how capitalism degrades the environment, and how capitalism cruelly exploits human beings.

It may be a legitimate critique to contrast animal rights activism with current socialist practice, but I think it would have been far more interesting to refer to recent Eco-socialist positions, given that the subject of relating to the environment has been evolving lately.


Jack August 4, 2013 at 11:39 pm

Here it is FYI:

I completely agree Matt.

Paul brings up that animals cannot operate within human levels of organization and will never have that capability (unlike most children). I think that really excludes them from receiving rights.

Notwithstanding the horrible effects that a world/society trying to support vegan lifestyles enmasse would do to the environment. Most vegans are supportive of organic farming. organic farming requires a shitload of water, and fresh water is in short supply in many areas. To get all that extra water, it seems de-salinization would be required, which requires a lot of work and energy. In addition, soil depredation, desertification (common effect of agriculture), it seems more detrimental to support that sort of lifestyle than it is to just allow for multiple ways of living. Too much evidence against such a thing being sustainable.

…..and my favourite argument. f- you, animals are dumb, nasty, and taste too good. No logic? sure. don’t care.


Jack August 4, 2013 at 11:41 pm

“EarthFirst! co-founder Dave Foreman made a similar point in a 1991 interview for Sports Illustrated: ‘If it came down to a confrontation between a grizzly and a friend, I’m not sure whose side I would be on. But I do know humans are a disease, a cancer on nature. And I also know I am far more interested in the plight of the spotted owl than I am in a logger in Oregon. I have a problem with glorifying the downtrodden worker.'”

this is damning enough for me.


David Walters July 30, 2013 at 10:37 am

Andrew, great comments! Though we come from opposite sides of the kitchen on this, your methodology is one that I’ve tried to put forward as well…I noted in my first comment, I think, that the “all or nothing” isn’t helpful except at the high end of philosophical talk (important, I’m not putting it down, but totally uneffective).

George Spira understood this and went after animal cruelty on a case-by-case (or industry-by-industry) basis. I support this. Then you can have the philosophical talk as a sideline or ‘after the action’ sort of salon thing. Because THIS is very effective.

The problem with the slaughterhouse situation is that it’s an uneven discussion. If it’s a question of what happens in these big-ass slaughterhouses, you won’t get arguments from me on this. But what about grass-fed, Poly Face Farm-type environments where there is not stress whatsoever? Where animals live the closest to truly free-range situations (though some have heated barns in the cold of winter!) and the only “cruelty” is the end of their lives?

But I’m glad this was raised as it hasn’t been raised enough as a discussion point.


southpaw July 30, 2013 at 11:01 am

David, honestly I think the “free-range farm” is mostly a fiction. The regulation definitions for those things are so loose that at times having a whole cut in the ceiling counts for “free-range”. Someone took some video of the practices at one of those farms, I think the one Michael Pollan praises in Omnivore’s Dilemma, and it was still pretty grotesque. My sense is that all this literature about “happy farms” came out after the global justice movement when there was so much attention placed on the livelihood of animals in the industries that this counter-narrative started coming up and has helped repair the industry’s image–Gary Francione posted some statistic about how people who are favorable to the concept of “humane” meat are more likely to increase or maintain consumption of conventional products anyway. The National Cattlemen’s Conference at one point had this discussion about how to isolate the radicals and maintain the industry.

But also, keep in mind that the reason why these big farms exist this way is to produce at an industrial level. Cramming all that shit together and slaughtering on an assembly line is more efficient, and to change to the family-farm style would require that you basically farm the entire earth. It would be a disaster. So honestly, I don’t spend any time endorsing that model–if you’re going to partake, I don’t care to say what you should prefer. At the very least, that starts to undermine the concern with animals and gives a tacit endorsement. I’m not living in a dream world, I acknowledge it happens and will happen, just saying that our concern should be more in saying “cut it down and out.”


David Walters July 30, 2013 at 11:35 am

Andrew, yes, I’m sure what you say is true. However…I know Poly Face Farms is exactly as Pollen describes. He’s come under a lot of attack by vegans because he basically argues eating meat or animal products is a very personal choice and you do have choices, about the way animals are raised and what one consumes. To the degree we live in a capitalist society, that will always be the same when it comes to purchasing commodities of any sort, but especially food where we do have so many choices, at least in the United States (don’t know about anywhere else).

I’ve been to several free-range dairies and beef cattle farms in the SF-Bay Area where I live. The best egg I ever had came from one of these places and I’ve visited where the chicken, hundreds of ’em, run around in the grass.

My family (from Nicaragua) often, in the past, go up with me to Petaluma and buy a cow, have it slaughtered (which I’d participate in) and then divide it up among the 20 of us or so. The area’s farms, perhaps because of the very strong foodie, enviornmental and animal rights movement here sort of respond to all this. I even went to a goose -frau grois farm that actually demonstrates who to humanely (there’s that word again :) raise goose for their liver and meat.

So it can be done with regulations. Thus fighting to triple and quadruple meat inspections is key and can be accomplished as has been demonstrated. But it is sort of a vigilance thing.


Jon Hoch July 30, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Can someone break down the critique of moralism for me again, in as simple terms as possible? As far as I can tell, socialists make moral judgements all the time. They just throw around the cudgel of “moralism” when it suits them. For instance, if someone–in the most humane way!!–was breeding and slaughtering humans with profound mental disabilities that left them with the sentient capacity of cows, I don’t think anyone on the SW editorial board would have a problem with saying the practice was messed up.


Jon Hoch July 30, 2013 at 2:46 pm

And obviously individual choices don’t make a huge difference. The end goal is to change the law. But how is being vegan that different from participating in BDS?


David Walters July 30, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Change the law with regards to what, Jon?


Jon Hoch July 30, 2013 at 3:00 pm

The property status of animals.


admin August 1, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Can animals be “liberated?”

JON HOCHSCHARTNER, in his letter on “Socialists and animal liberation,” disagrees with Paul D’Amato’s analysis of animal rights and liberation from a socialist perspective.

Unfortunately, except for one brief quote, he never engages with Paul’s original analysis. Readers interested in this topic should go back to Paul’s article, “Socialists and ‘animal rights,'” which makes a strong case for recognizing the mistreatment of animals in the context of capitalism’s drive for profit and is not dismissive at all of the concerns of activists on this question.

Paul rightly explains that there is a large difference between concerns about animal welfare and humane treatment on one hand, and animal “liberation” on the other. The first is possible in a humane society (socialism), while the latter is impossible.

Jon lumps different issues together. He has an excellent point that socialists should not put down vegetarians or vegans. Many socialists have been and are vegetarians. Socialist organizations and movements should have no hard position on any lifestyle matters–except as they impact political organizing.

Just as there cannot be a “correct” socialist position on smoking, drinking, or what is good music or art, we should not try to prescribe what people eat or don’t eat. Of course, “personal” expressions of racism, sexism, anti-working class attitudes, etc., are a political matter that socialists should confront head on.

Jon admits that we cannot base a socialist movement on vegetarianism, since the masses are not “there yet.” However, the very concept of animal “rights”–and certainly animal “liberation”–implies compulsory vegetarianism. Certainly, of all rights, the right to live is the most fundamental. If animals have the right to live, people have no right to eat them (unless they died of natural causes). If “meat is murder,” it should be outlawed. The very concept of animal “rights” implies the need to base a socialist movement on vegetarianism–whether Jon wants to admit this implication or not.

Our exact attitude to particular movements around animal welfare needs to be worked out concretely, but the approach taken by Paul D’Amato’s article is a much better place to start than Jon’s letter in response to it.
Steve Leigh, Seattle


David Walters August 1, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Steve, I disagree with some of what you wrote (I haven’t yet read Paul’s article, but will).

You wrote “Just as there cannot be a ‘correct’ socialist position on smoking, drinking, or what is good music or art, we should not try to prescribe what people eat or don’t eat.”

I think that is wrong, or, mixing of metaphors, anyway. Smoke is unhealthy for you. Socialists can and should take a position “it’s bad for you and while we respect an individuals right to do with their body as they want, for society, and as society, we will mobilize political resources to get people to stop smoking”. There really should be no debate about this. Smoking has grave societal consequences and should be deemed as something to be eliminated from society. Thus actions have to be taken based on this position that Socialists should advocate programs that get people off their addiction to smoking.

Eating or using animals is wholly different. The debate around this involves perceived “rights” “autonomy”, etc. It starts, really, from the concept of looking at it from “their (the animal) POV”. I agree, however, that in this case, since that is where the debate is about, I would agree with Paul (as you’ve paraphrased him here): There is no generalized view by humanity that eating animals is bad. There is about smoking and there is no debate about the latter.

David Walters
San Francisco


Dominic August 1, 2013 at 8:12 pm

I think it needs to be pointed out that the best critique of Veganism as a doctrine — political, social, ethical, nutritional –emanates from within the ex-Vegan community and it’s not the business of the socialist left to rule on the matter except where Vegans argue that their individual dietary choices are (a) an ecological solution and (b) an overbearing ‘ethical’ prescript.

Ex-Vegans tend to be brutal in their critique.

Veganism makes for a complicated catering inconvenience — more so than Islam — but nowadays boutique diets are the norm. So inasmuch as I respect any one’s personal beliefs, I’ll defer to those who believe that killing animals is wrong.

However, in my experience — and I’ve been catering for socialists and left event dinners for 4 decades — Veganism on the left is rising and may be breasting (in my experience) now over 25% among (esp young) activists. So it isn’t insignificant or unusual to be an activist and a Vegan. In fact it’s almost normative….

And aside from the catering it really isn’t an issue except if you want to argue for a consistent Materialism. ..and Veganism fails that test. But then, I know some great dialectical materialists who are Vegan.


southpaw August 4, 2013 at 9:51 am

John Sanbonmatsu also wrote a lengthy article on a lot of this same stuff for the journal Upping the Anti, and reposted at ZNet:


admin August 13, 2013 at 10:55 am

For an end to animal exploitation
August 13, 2013

WHEN I discovered the International Socialist Organization (ISO), it was as though the world finally made sense. Here was a group of passionate, funny, articulate activists who were further left than I had ever met before. It seemed natural to assume that when I eventually declared myself as a vegan, they would unfurl banners, confetti would fall from the ceiling and we would all hug and cry and have a sleepover with vegan cupcakes.

Alas, the reality was much less festive. The responses ranged from blank stares, to passive aggressive Facebook comments, to outright derision. “YOU DON’T EAT HONEY? That’s completely stupid.” As if not eating honey is the most radical thing this person–who advocates a complete transformation of human civilization–can imagine.

In hushed conversations with other vegan comrades, this appears to be the standard experience for vegans who encounter the ISO, or–perish the thought–ISO members who go vegan. And that is why I appreciated Jon Hochschartner’s letter opening back up this much-needed conversation.

The very least socialists can do when talking to people who care deeply about this issue is not be hostile or dismissive. We know that recycling or biking to work will not save the environment, but we don’t introduce our politics to environmental activists by telling them their reusable shopping bags aren’t worth the effort.

As Lenin taught, we must patiently explain that an end to the environmental destruction of Earth is not possible without the end of capitalism. In the same way, we must patiently explain to vegans that an end to the exploitation of animals–human and non-human–is not possible without the end of capitalism. They won’t be inclined to listen if you’ve already scoffed at their soy burrito.

But once we’re all agreed that we’re socialists, what do we have to say about our relationship to non-human animals, as socialists? Is it simply that we can’t settle this question until after the revolution, and any effort to make changes under capitalism is a waste of time? Is it, as Paul D’Amato contends, that calling what we do to non-human animals “oppression” trivializes the oppression of people? Is there any place at all for animal rights or animal liberation in Marxism? To answer these questions, we should start with a historical materialist analysis.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

HUMANS BEGAN herding other animals at the same time as the division of societies into classes, and for the same reason. By herding animals, particularly animals that could pull a plow, we were able for the first time in history to produce a surplus of food, and the surplus had to be controlled by a minority ruling class. It is no accident that the root of the word “capital” means “head,” for the original measure of wealth was head of cattle. In fact, “cattle” simply means “property,” which is why African slaves were called “chattel.”

It was as a result of the same process that men were elevated socially over women. Sharon Smith writes:

According to the sexual division of labor, men tended to take charge of heavier agricultural jobs, like plowing, since it was more difficult for pregnant or nursing women and might endanger small children to be carried along. Moreover, since men traditionally took care of big-game hunting (though not exclusively), again, it made sense for them to oversee the domestication of cattle.

It didn’t just make sense because of tradition–physical force was required to control large animals and protect them from predators and other people, and that labor fell primarily to men. The status of women eroded until they were treated largely, often explicitly, as property.

Brutal treatment of animals who are considered property–human and non-human–has been an immutable feature of class society from its inception, and has only accelerated under capitalism. It is therefore not racist opportunism on the part of animal activists to draw connections between human slavery and animal exploitation. Nor is it sexist grasping at straws to protest the exceptionally inhuman treatment of female animals on feminist grounds. Angela Davis writes in Women, Race and Class:

Since slave women were classified as “breeders” as opposed to “mothers,” their infant children could be sold away from them like calves from cows…children could be sold away from their mothers at any age because “the young of slaves…stand on the same footing as other animals.”

When animal rights activists talk about “animal liberation,” we’re not talking about tossing our companion animals out on the street, or granting cows voting rights (absurd assertions I’ve heard no vegan actually make). We’re talking about an end to the treatment of animals–human and non-human–as property.

This of course begs the question: is our treatment of animals as property really a problem? For many thousands of years, the existence and progress of civilization depended on our exploitation of animals for food, clothing and transportation. Few vegans will deny that.

However, just as capitalism has raised the level of production to a point where there is enough to go around and a ruling class is no longer necessary, capitalism has also produced the conditions necessary to feed the world healthfully without exploiting animals at all. I contend that there will be no justification for treating animals as property for food, with the unavoidable suffering involved (to say nothing of fashion and entertainment), in a world where starvation and want have been eradicated.

Furthermore, even though it is not exactly the same as the oppression of humans, what we do to non-human animals for no defensible reason is clearly a violent system of oppression that operates in the same way as any other:

1. A dominant ideology justifies the status quo as normal, natural and necessary, and dismisses challenges to it (veganism) as abnormal, unnatural, and unnecessary.

2. The most egregious suffering, violence and death is physically segregated and hidden as much as possible (very few large, remote factory farms and slaughterhouses).

3. The victims (farm animals, slaughterhouse workers) are blamed for their victimization.

4. The system and its ideology are perpetuated by the dominant culture (virtually any food ad, bacon-worship) and reinforced by the state (farm subsidies).

To think that we can carry on with this violent system of oppression unchallenged through the revolution, and only then deal with it–because it’s “different”–is not a thoughtful, strategic abstention in the interest of furthering the class struggle. Rather, it is a justification for inaction that supports the dominant ideology. Capitalist oppression is expressed in many ways. Oppression of non-human animals is one of them, and socialists should fight it.

That non-human animals cannot emancipate themselves should be all the more reason we should fight for them in the here and now. To be sure, our strategy should not be to demand that all members of revolutionary organizations become vegan (I know of no vegan comrades making such a demand).

But we should demand an end to the most cruel and environmentally destructive farming practices. We should demand the repeal of the fascist Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. We should demand an end to massive subsidies for animal agriculture. And we should demand that all people have access to an affordable, healthy plant-based diet.

We should, as we always have, agitate for reforms today while we argue the need for revolution. We should fight for a future free from exploitation and oppression, not only for humans, but all animals.
Alan Peck, San Diego


Sheldon August 13, 2013 at 11:32 pm

“HUMANS BEGAN herding other animals at the same time as the division of societies into classes, and for the same reason. By herding animals, particularly animals that could pull a plow, we were able for the first time in history to produce a surplus of food, and the surplus had to be controlled by a minority ruling class.”

No, this is not true. It was not inevitable or automatic that animal and/or plant domestication was coupled with the division of societies into classes. There existed (relatively) egalitarian pastoralist and agricultural societies for millennia and into the present day. Not all societies followed the path of class division and state formation as a consequence domestication.

And this is a curious statement, that a surplus “had to be controlled by a minority ruling class”. Really? Then you might as well give up the cause of socialism if this is true. Fortunately it is not. If you are going to use anthropology in your arguments, then use it correctly and accurately.

(Eric Wolf in Europe and the People Without History has an excellent discussion of how social surplus’s and be controlled and distributed outside of class divided society)


David Walters August 13, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Alex, hi.
ok, you’ve made an impassioned and reasonable response. You are like many “mixing metaphors”.

First, I agree with you on this: “The very least socialists can do when talking to people who care deeply about this issue is not be hostile or dismissive. ” Agreed. Though I try I’m not always successful.

But at the same time you DO in fact get vegans advocating some rather amazing things like banning meat, in united front organizations when it time to do a fund raising dinner that ONLY vegan food be served. I was at several Occupy’s where this became a huge issue…including the *right* to eat meat at Occupy events. It *does* happen. and getting screamed at being called a perpetrator of genocide…. Just say’n…

OK, so, human evolution. At some point we started eating meat. We started defending ourselves actually, from those animals that would eat us, and we replied in kind and, low and behold, some of these predators were tasty. The eating of meat predates class society (and thus property) well before the advent of human civilization of any sort.

Meat eating was NOT about wealth, as you state it was, rather it was about survival, especially *before* the advent of agriculture. “Wealth” though conceived of in tribal societies, only existed at the point of surpluses existing enough to say “ah, I got more than you”. This is relatively recently, say 7,000 years ago or something thereabouts.

So, as this is a personal lifestyle choice (and this as I’ve pointed out, is fine to discuss in any socialist organization. The old Socialist Party of E.V. Debs had ‘vegtarian clubs’). But this doesn’t mean we can’t agree on things.

Where do we agree. Your raise this “…we should demand an end to the most cruel and environmentally destructive farming practices. We should demand the repeal of the fascist Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. We should demand an end to massive subsidies for animal agriculture. And we should demand that all people have access to an affordable, healthy plant-based diet.”

OK, most of that is ok. And seriously the first demands are something as organizations we should come down for. The last one I don’t agree with because it’s nonsensical. Is anyone forced to eat an unaffordable, unhealthy meat-based diet? I don’t think so. If you mean for example the lack of grocery stores and farmers markets to serve the oppressed national minorities in America’s urban areas I agree 100%. But it’s frame wrong. It should be the right to access by *anyone* to have available fresh, farmed raised produce (including ALL diary products, eggs, chickens, etc etc) regardless of whether is animal or plant based.



Alan August 13, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Hi David,

Thanks for the response. In general I find that there are ass hole vegans that make problematic arguments and demands in about the same measure as there are ass hole Marxists that make problematic arguments and demands. As a vegan and a Marxist I don’t feel that I need to defend any of those things. So there were some vegans in Occupy who were wrong on some things. You’ll get no argument from me there.

As far as hunting in pre-class society, the anthropological evidence suggests that ‘gatherer-hunter’ would be a more appropriate description than ‘hunter-gatherer’. We ate mostly plant foods so long as they were available. But our relationship to animals changed qualitatively with the transition to herding. In any case, the fact it’s that we no longer need to eat animals or their secretions to survive.

Lastly, I do think people are economically and ideologically coerced into eating animals, and a demand for an accessible, affordable plant diet (for those who want it–not a mandate) would materially benefit both the animals and the working class.


Dominic August 14, 2013 at 12:23 am

There are two items I think are worth reading. One is a very recent article :
Archaeology: The milk revolutionWhen a single genetic mutation first let ancient Europeans drink milk, it set the stage for a continental upheaval.
and another is a book the Vegans hate:
The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability – by Lierre Keith .

But Alan also writes: “In any case, the fact it’s that we no longer need to eat animals or their secretions to survive.”

Nor do we ‘need’ to grow corn or wheat or rice in ‘order to survive’. I can propose a perfectly logical, stronger and more consistent arguemnt agisnt growing grain and generate a powerful environmental message en route.I can also construct a sweeping ethical argument too about what monoculture growing of these grains has done to communities and ecologies, the American bisen and other fauna. 

For anyone to argue that this is consumerist choice abstracts human lived experience from  the social  ecology context all together…and that fails Materialism 101. We need to keep animals in order to survive.And if we have to keep them we are sure gonna kill and eat them. 

Thats’ the human lived experience since the Neolithic epoch.The relentless logic of the larder. The primary morality.

Otherwise we enter an absurd idealised universe like this one: First Lab Grown Hamburger –and even The Guardian could see throught such sham choice: Feeding the planet: beyond the £250,000 hamburger

I mean what’s the options: Banning the keeping of animals for food? Taxing meat production? Placing a surcharge on chickens and their eggs? Forcing range lands to be ploughed for crops?


Alan Peck August 14, 2013 at 1:35 am

Notwithstanding the fact that we would grow less environmentally destructive monocropped grain were we to simply eat the grain and not first filter it through animals (losing 90% of the protein and energy and causing a host of new environmental problems in the process), there’s no reason why we could not build a food system on a sustainable rotation of vegetables, pulses, nuts, seeds, and fruits. That system would not require monocropping of grains at all.

I’m not sure how one can claim we need to keep animals to survive. Is it about fertilizers? There are crops that fix nitrogen better than cow shit.

And I do hate ‘The Vegetarian Myth’, but not because it offends me as a vegan, but because it offends me as a scientist:


Dominic August 14, 2013 at 3:13 am

“…there’s no reason why we could not build a food system on a sustainable rotation of vegetables, pulses, nuts, seeds, and fruits. That system would not require monocropping of grains at all.”

Is there? And what petroleum based fertiliser would you employ to do that? There’s a lot more to agriculture than ‘fixing Nitrogen’ I’m afraid…as the 19th century found out before embarking on the world wide rush for guano. Wars were even fought over the stuff.

Going back to Marx, you’ll note how much he lamented the waste of manures under capitalism.It’s in Capital…by the way.

The US may rely on perverse corn-to-beef production but elsewhere we grow beef,milk, lamb, goat etc on pasture. Indeed one fifth of the planet is primarily only habitable as range lands. That’s huge swathes of Africa, a lot of Asia and Russia, most of Australia…to introduce large scale agriculture in these environments would be an ecological disaster.

There are considerate systems –such as Permaculture and those based on past agricultural traditions using local flora– but these are dependent on a partnership with animal husbandry. In part this is why sacred cows became sacred: milk and manure.

I’m sorry, but pandemic Veganism is Utopian not because of any ethical precept but because it cannot fulfil the requisites of the primary motor of historical materialism. Even slavery, which is indeed very ethically objectionable, stopped being systematised not because it was morally reprehensible but because it held back the development of the means of production.

Did almost a million die in the American Civil War and the US ruling class go to war with itself because they wanted slaves to be free human beings? One answer:No.

That’s the complication vis a vis Marxism and Veganism:Concrete reality.

There is indeed a strong animal welfare movement which has developed as an adjunct to a rising environmental consciousness and the persistent influence of the sixties counter culture. Go back and read Diet for a Small Planet to capture the logic, especially the subjective logic, of this trend. I think we all have to relate to that development …but that doesn’t mean that Veganism must then become an imperative and be written into our collective manifesto.

But then — my view –Frances Moore Lappe and the seventies soya bean advocates were wrong.

I think the political/environmental as well as the nutritional arguments for Veganism don’t hold up to scrutiny.

The only credential I’ve conceded in the past is the complication of ruminant gases as a factor in climate change. But then, considered holistically and with carbon sequestration in mind, I’m on the side of grazing…indeed the way I’m reading the science, holistic management is win/win.


Jon Hoch August 14, 2013 at 8:21 am

From a letter I wrote a while ago:–of-meat.html?nav=5003

In ‘Walden,’ Henry David Thoreau wrote, “I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other.”

I share his optimism. Perhaps this strikes you as a sort of secular millennialism. But it would not surprise me if, within the coming centuries, we drastically reduce our consumption of meat, in the sense we traditionally know it.

I don’t, sadly, think this will be because of the reasonableness of the animal rights argument. Nor do I think it will be because of the growing environmental crisis, in which animal agriculture plays a prominent role. Rather, I think it will be because of something called “in-vitro” meat.

Named one of the “50 Best Inventions of 2009” by Time Magazine, the meat, in this case, is grown from stem cells.

As Raizel Robin of the New York Times explains, “The process works by taking stem cells from a biopsy of a live animal (or a piece of flesh from a slaughtered animal) and putting them in a three-dimensional growth medium — a sort of scaffolding made of proteins. Bathed in a nutritional mix of glucose, amino acids and minerals, the stem cells multiply and differentiate into muscle cells, which eventually form muscle fibers.”

A meat cell culture has the potential, as Robin writes, to “function the way a yeast or yogurt culture does, so that meat growers wouldn’t need to use a new animal for each set of starter cells.”

Once the science progresses to the point at which in-vitro meat is cheaper than, and indistinguishable or superior in taste to, slaughtered meat, it’s hard to imagine how simple market forces will not make animal agriculture a thing of the past. After all, the latter has permanent costs—such as housing, feeding, and transporting animals—which the former does not.

Some believe this will take place sooner than we might expect.

“I would be very surprised if we still had factory farming in fifty years,” says Paul Shapiro, the senior director of the Humane Society of the United States’ factory farm campaign. “I think the meat people will be eating in fifty years will be mostly in-vitro meat. It will happen the way digital photography replaced film and CDs replaced cassettes.”

Whenever it happens, the ethics will likely follow the economics.

As the muckraking journalist Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding.”

With this in mind, I’d guess that as animal agriculture becomes comparatively expensive and thus increasingly marginalized, we’ll understand it for the exploitation it is. No longer necessary, our self-serving rationalizations of violence will slowly lose hold. Or so one hopes.


Alan Peck August 14, 2013 at 10:08 am

I fully agree that out food system will have to be built on a material basis (we didn’t stop riding horses until we had horseless carriages), but I don’t at all concede that you need animals to operate a sustainable crop system. I suppose I’ll do more research, but from a cursory material and energy balance analysis, animals don’t add anything useful to the system. When we had no machines, they were quite useful to the point of being essential. But insofar as we can create carbon fiber nanotubes and prosthetics that operate by reading brain waves, it seems absurd that we could not dispense with incredibly inefficient (and sentient, feeling) animals to do whatever work need be done. If your assertion is correct, it would be an immense tragedy, because as I laid out in my article, non-human animal oppression operates just like and is dialectically related to oppression of humans (base and superstructure). I don’t think we’ll be able to eradicate violence against humans in the future society without eradicating violence against animals.


David Walters August 14, 2013 at 10:18 am

Alan, then you don’t know about producing food. The only time we didn’t need animals was when we were primative hunter gathers (or “gatherers-hunters” if one wants). We didn’t *produce* anything. The basic needs for fertilizers, nitrogen or otherwise, can be provided by chemicals or by animals. If you read the link Dominic provided and others on that site, you will see a very sustainable form or agriculture laid out on a national basis that involves the massive use of animals.

Your “high tech” way, BTW, of doing this are chemicals and I think we want to phase these out. Oh…and other other way are GMO R&D which, BTW, likely can solve most of the problems.

But the premise is something I don’t agree with. The “Freeing” of animals. This is the problem with trying to figure out a food supply for 7 billion people totally without the use of animals. Why would we ever want to do that? (BTW…we haven’t talked about fisheries and why we shouldn’t consume fist. But we can do that under a different thread, maybe).


Dominic August 14, 2013 at 9:05 am

The socialist party I belong to includes many Marxists … as well as Christians, Buddhists, Moslems …and Vegans. A good number of the folk who see themselves as Marxists are practising  Vegans.

Our Agricultural Policy tries to be considerate of the complexity of food production and ecology as we are deeply involved in many environment campaigns. But no one is arguing that we must move away from meat eating for reasons of ecology — even in an environment so tender and fragile as our’s — and enshrine Veganism as part of our platform.

At some point you have to accept that the Vegan divide doesn’t have very much to do with the sort of struggles we have to collectively engage in and it’s a mistake to get caught up on the issue, like some shibboleth. There’s far too much of that on the socialist left already.


Jon Hoch August 14, 2013 at 9:29 am

To be honest, I think animal agriculture produces suffering of a significantly greater depth and scale than capitalism does. So when socialists like you dismiss this issue, which is a priority for me, it kind of makes me want to dismiss you. We don’t have to agree, but don’t call what what I’m concerned about a distraction. That you are approaching animal agriculture solely from an ecological perspective, which considers the issue just with humanity’s resource sustainability in mind, makes it pretty clear that you still are incapable of shedding your anthropocentric blinders.


David Walters August 14, 2013 at 9:58 am

Hey Domonic! I actually had a small hand as a ‘consigulatori’ with the author, a working farmer, going over various aspects of this and her other documents on ag policy. It was a great experience.

The problem of course is exactly that expansion of the productive forces. Operative word “expansion” which has to occur for us to develop a planetary socialist society, one based on abundance. Which means, at the end of the say “more stuff”. Including more food, but produced not by mowing down rainforests to grow soy beans for the world market but in a planned way.



Dominic August 14, 2013 at 9:30 pm

But ‘ethics’ is quintessentially anthropocentric — always was/always will be. It’s an artefact of human culture….and working through our shared ethical POV is one of our great cultural achievements.

Human judgement is formatted by ethics. But judgement relies on the concrete reality of our lived experience…and we don’t live in this world as other mammals do.

To project a ruling about suffering onto other animals — to even comprehend ‘suffering’ for any sentient being — is overwhelmingly anthropocentric. It’s a very human capability.

If animals have rights then it is because we invented rights in the first place and chose to project them onto animals.

How ‘anthropocentric’ is that?

So I rather value the expletive use of anthropocentrism and I’ll wear the label.

Being anthropocentric also means that it is our collective power to alleviate the suffering of other animals. Obviously we cannot free animals from all suffering just as we cannot expunge suffering completely from our own lives.

So in seeking to alleviate animal suffering there has to be a continuum of tasks with which we can actively and collectively relate.

But ultimately what you choose to alleviate is going to be conditional on your POV as other animals have no pristine existence separate from homo sapiens. Everything we do directly or indirectly impinges on nature and the animal condition (including our own) .From fostering Climate Change to factory farming…

Implicit in the Vegan doctrine– when advocated as a political perspective — is the belief that the anthropocentric ‘we’ can free animals from all suffering. But of course we can’t because animals will continue to suffer as existence is hard (“nasty , brutish and short”) for all creatures.

We’re stuck with this bargain which we cannot negotiate with other animals because they don’t speak English. Instead we have to fall back on our anthropocentricism and decide for them.

Under Vegan rule we decide — we decide — that animals are better off if we don’t eat them, that we don’t ‘keep’ them, that we divest them from our productive landscape.

I disagree with that..logic.

Michael Pollan has explored this issue by reprising the arguments advanced by the English Marxist, John Berger, in his 1980 book About Looking , which carries an important discussion about animals: “Why Look at Animals?”

Berger/Pollan suggests that the animals we husband have effectively traded their own deaths (even their own suffering and sacrifice) for a primary and very opportunistic ecological niche. That in terms of pedigree and genes — in terms of relentless evolution — it is they who have ‘exploited’ us.

Of course that doesn’t excuse cruelty, industrial or otherwise, but it surely turns the primary Vegan presumption on its head . In a turnaround, such a perspective credits other animals with more chutzpah than does the animal rightists who tend, I think, to treat animals as passive victims of their own condition.

Why look at animals — John Berger.


John Lesnick November 9, 2013 at 8:20 pm

Your point of view is incredibly bourgeois. So much, it was not necessary to concede as you did in your final paragraph. Marxism is based on historical materialism, not subjective metaphysics. Because in your brain, animals hold the same position as humans, that does not make it so here in the material world. Simply, it is neither moral nor immoral to eat animal meat (especially not for the sake of an animal’s right to life, liberty, and happiness) while the devices we read and write these well meaning, but petty, tirades are stained and dripping in human blood. Drip.Drop.Drip.Drop.


new balance運動鞋 July 13, 2015 at 6:48 am



Ian McDonald April 5, 2017 at 2:37 pm

You should listen to my show on Resonance 104.4FM ;). To help, Keir Hardie dabbled with vegetarianism; and Annie Besant was a socialist before she was a Theosophist, and vegetarians were at the heart of the American radicalism that helped defeat slavery.

I make “The Vegan Option”, and the latest series is a full history of vegetarianism, from the bronze age to the present, with interviews with expert historians and visits to where the story happened. It might be an interesting listen whilst you do chores:


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