By Steve Best and Jason Miller
For all the political prisoners of the animal liberation movement, for everyone involved in militant direct action for nonhuman animals and the Earth, and for all the nonhuman animals themselves who suffer at the hands of human barbarity.
We can’t say we’re disappointed with the responses to our publication of “Pacifism or Animals: Which Do You Love More? A Critique of Lee Hall, Friends of Animals, and the Franciombe Effect in the New Abolitionist Movement.”  We accomplished what we set out to do, and more.
We brought much-needed attention to the uncritical reception of Hall’s self-published polemic against militant direct action (MDA), Capers in the Courtyard. We alerted an unknowing UK activist community to the slander and distortions of militant anti-vivisection campaigns in England and the United States. The ensuing fiery commentary on our article (as it appeared on blogs such as Thomas Paine’s Corner and Mary Martin’s Animal Person) helped to expose the propaganda and advertising tactics that Hall, Priscilla Feral, and Friends of Animals (FoA) use as masks for “objective” review of Hall’s regrettable book.
The discussion – featuring the bitter encomium and slew of ad hominem attacks by Feral’s husband, Robert Orabona, against former FoA lawyer, Derek Oatis (we wonder what überpacifist Lee Hall thinks of Orabona’s approach and language) – casts a bright light on the problematic nature of FoA itself and perhaps has some value for the historical record as it serves to document some of the inner conflicts of FoA, a long-established animal rights organization. An insider expose revealed that Feral and Orabona pay themselves a hefty salary (which we verified to be over $180,000 a year) from donor money intended to help animals rather than to boost their bank account. As we quickly discovered, Hall is not wanting either, pulling down $82,000 a year, about $15,000 more than her annual salary in 2005.
Finally, we would like to think that our critique boosted the morale of US activists by strengthening the philosophical foundation for their efforts as they face persecution from the menacing corporate/state exploitation machine and continued fierce criticism from supposed animal rights advocates. We were delighted to have alerted UK activist Lynn Sawyer (comment #30) and thereby much of the UK MDA community about Hall’s book, which according to Lynn does little more than slander good activists and regurgitate police reports about incidents such as the alleged grave robbing of Gladys Hammond in order to pressure her family to stop breeding animals for vivisectors. We are eager to hear the UK activists’ thoughts on Halls’ book, and we hope this sparks vigorous debate over philosophy and tactics and further exposes the dogmatic, misinformed, hostile, and airy utopianism of her approach, which we attempt to demonstrate here.
We cannot possibly address all the critiques of our position or treat them here in any exhaustive fashion; we will simply correct the many misconceptions of our viewpoint and underscore the crucial aspects of our critique that were conveniently ignored by nearly every respondent, yet form the crux of the entire debate. We warn the reader that this is a long essay, but we hope it is one worthy of reading and debate. Our key response points concern: (1) the meaning of concepts such as “violence” and “war”; (2) the legitimacy and efficacy of sabotage tactics and violence; (3) the dogmatic and essentialist nature of what we call “fundamentalist pacifism,” which is a dominant ideology of the US animal advocacy movement and is aggressively pushed by Gary Francione and Lee Hall; (4) the manifestation of the Stockholm Syndrome in extreme pacifists like Hall and Feral; and (5) the importance of an alternative philosophical and political outlook to fundamentalist pacifism, namely: a militant abolitionism informed by a pluralist, contextualist, and pragmatist outlook and method.
The Fallacies of Fundamentalist Pacifism
To begin, whereas some critics objected to equating the positions of Hall, Feral, and Francione, we nowhere stated they formed a coherent group, although the differences between them seem negligible. We were unaware, but not surprised to learn, of the break between Francione and Friends of Animals, prompted by what some called “petty” squabbles of a nature that are inevitable in a war of position among absolutists and dogmatists, whether in the realm of religion or animal advocacy. We assume the direction of philosophical influence was Francione on Hall and FoA, rather than the other way around. Francione and Hall are both trained lawyers who espouse an extreme form of pacifism and promote a single-issue politics (despite their occasional remarks about capitalism and commonalities of oppression) anchored exclusively in vegan education.
Yet while Lee Hall has made it a central project to denigrate militant direct action and form alliances with the speciesist group Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) because they share her antipathy toward “violent extremists” in the animal liberation movement, Francione has focused his attack on welfarists, avoiding Hall’s obsessive hostility toward the MDA community as well as affiliation with the likes of SPLC. Both embrace pacifist philosophies, but Hall is the most outspoken proponent and she pushes the ahimsa ethic of Buddhism, Gandhi, King, vegan founder Donald Watson, Francione, and others to a divisive and injurious extreme.
A key intent of the essay was not to speculate on the relationship between Francione and Hall and FoA, but rather to describe what we call the “Franciombe effect” among animal rights activists and abolitionists throughout the world and in many languages. In “Pacifism or Animals: Which Do You Love More?,” we sought to highlight a problematic phenomenon that few have identified: the uncritical embrace of a dogmatic pacifist, legalist, and single-issue party line amongst abolitionists who champion and parrot Francione’s positions as if they were sacred scriptures. The Franciombe effect is evident in the slew of abolitionist forums and blogs in numerous languages, many of which are clones of one another, and all waiting for more pearls of wisdom from their revered mentor’s prolific output of books, articles, blog essays, and interviews.
Lest we appear as ingrates, we happily doff our hats to Francione for his substantive contributions to animal rights and his incisive critiques of welfarist practices rife throughout an “oppositional” movement on the verge of total co-optation, and as such pave the way to advancing an uncompromising abolitionist outlook. After Tom Regan’s pioneering work in the 1980s, the most important being the 1983 publication of his seminal work and riposte to Peter Singer, The Case for Animal Rights, Francione continued blazing trails in the 1990s with landmark works such as Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement (1996). Francione became the foremost theorist to challenge the mushrooming utilitarianism and welfarism in the animal advocacy movement, such as led to the blatant collaborationism of PETA and HSUS – the world’s two largest animal advocacy organizations – with the industries they claim to oppose. As Francione and his followers cogently show, the cooptation of animal rights is evident in HSUS’ “humane meat” and “free range” eggs campaigns and in PETA’s awards to Temple Grandin — the kind killer, merciful murderer, and benevolent butcher who designs efficient massacre technologies for slaughterhouses.
Whether they acknowledge it or not, Hall and Feral are much in Francione’s debt in their rights/abolitionist perspectives and they share his fundamentalist pacifism. We ourselves are vegans and abolitionists who have profited much from reading Francione and who share many of his concerns. But we espouse a markedly different philosophy, politics, and tactics, and we wish to convey that Francione and Hall’s’ positions are problematic – in fact, they are dead-ends – and that there are other and better ways of articulating animal rights and abolitionist theory and practice.
We reject essentialist outlooks such as Hall’s that try to rigidly fix the meaning of veganism and animal rights (see below). We emphasize that there are many different possible types of abolitionism, and we seek a richer form than that formulated by Francione and accepted by his followers. Our approach is contextualist, pluralist, and pragmatist, and much more in tune with the nineteenth century US abolitionist movement that inspires the contemporary struggle for animal liberation and that like virtually all other modern social movements for rights, democracy, justice, and liberation had a pluralist character and influential militant component.
Note we are not opposing “activism” to pacifism, as if nonviolence meant do nothing, for of course Gandhi and King advocated intense and dynamic action against pernicious forces such as imperialism and racism. Nor are we critically juxtaposing MDA to veganism, as if the latter were not in itself a powerful form of direct action. Rather, we are contrasting two different tactical philosophies and forms of direct action: pacifism works within the law, is single-issue focused, and condemns economic sabotage as “violent”; an alternative supports illegal actions such as raids, liberations, and property destruction, and promotes a multi-dimensional, multi-racial, global anti-capitalist alliance politics.
Although some may argue that our critique is divisive and that we should direct critical attention solely to animal exploiters, and ignore problematic philosophies and tactics in the movement, we think the pacifist and abolitionist alternative offered by Francione and Hall is as problematic as HSUS and PETA visions and an important critical task for today is formulating an alternative between welfarism and pacifist abolitionism. The force of Francione’s positions and Hall’s pacifist sweet talk and critiques of MDA have had a seductive effect far and wide, and thus these theorists have not received the sharp critical analysis their positions demand.
Hall’s self-published anti-animal rights terrorist manifesto, Capers in the Courtyard, has been hailed by some as “the best book on animal rights.” We find this judgment to be disconcerting given the book’s grave flaws and its embrace of a pacifist doctrine so extreme that it sympathizes more with animal exploiters than with animal liberators. Most of the book, in fact, is one long diatribe against the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty (SHAC), and other oppositional forces that attack exploiters through high-pressure tactics, threats, harassment, economic sabotage, and illegal raids and liberations.
One key reason for the unwarranted praise of Hall’s book seems to be that FoA mobilizes friends, allies, and paid staff to cloyingly extol it on Amazon.com and in animal advocacy forums, chat sites, and list-serves. This was exposed in Dustin Rhodes’ amateurish attempt in his commentary to our essay on TPC (see #16) to disguise the fact that he is an FoA employee and to pose incognito as a discriminating and objective reader of philosophical theory. But FoA propaganda and smoke and mirrors alone don’t explain the Hall phenomenon. Hall’s rigid, simplistic, feel-good outlook appeals to the legions who crave absolute truths, who carve up the world into black-and-white boxes, and who want to believe that the change they seek for animals will come far more easily than in fact is possible, such that they never have to question their own status and privileges as (typically) white Western consumers.
Our position contradicts the fundamentalist pacifism not only of Francione, Hall, and their followers but the vast majority of the US (and no doubt Canadian and European) animal advocacy movement. Our position is, first, modest in the sense of striving for the virtue of “intellectual honesty” championed by nineteenth century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Unlike Hall and her acolytes, we don’t think we possess “the truth” or indubitable knowledge of how animal liberation ought best to proceed. Part of intellectual honesty is giving up the pretence to knowledge one can’t have, such as when pacifists say a priori that the public will be alienated by direct action tactics, as if they had done scientific polling or historical research rather than armchair pontificating and dogmatic deductions from problematic axioms and assumptions. We can see the problem in Francione, for instance, who, voicing a standard objection to MDA, writes: “As a practical matter, it is not clear to me what those who support violence hope to achieve …They certainly are not causing the public to become more sympathetic to the plight of nonhuman animals. If anything, the contrary is true and these actions have a most negative effect in terms of public perception.” How does Francione know this? Is he speaking of the situation in the UK (with a public arguably more sympathetic to the ALF than the US public) as well as the US and elsewhere? Francione draws conclusions that flatter his own pacifist outlook, but have no empirical basis, as we do not see extensive and scientifically rigorous polls cited to support such a sweeping conclusion (see the “Dialectical and Contextual Concept of Violence” section below).
Second, we are pluralist in the sense that we embrace any and all tactics that advance animal liberation and social progress in general. While we agree with Francione and Hall that welfare campaigns ultimately set the animal advocacy movement back, we can just as easily embrace vegan education as we can liberation and agitation; indeed, all of our own work is through education (writing, teaching, publishing and speaking) and our everyday activism (organizing vegan dinners, writing letters, protesting, and so on) is not dissimilar to what Francione, Hall, and animal rights (vs. welfare) advocates do.
Third, we adopt a contextualist approach in rejecting the a priori and universal application of general principles and tactics without considering each situation on its own terms. Tired platitudes such as “violence only breeds violence” and “the ends don’t justify the means” are falsehoods oblivious to the dynamics of history and social change and naive about the possibilities of winning hearts and minds to animal liberation. Contextualism is antithetical to a prior thinking, essentialist mandates, and universalistic claims.
Fourth, we are pragmatist in our commitment to results over dogmas, rules, traditions, and teachings, such as tiredly invoking the verses of Gandhi and King. Theory of course is necessary for intelligent praxis, but theory ought to be flexible and subject to re-evaluation if the results of practice demonstrate it to be faulty, inadequate, impractical or obsolete given changes in objective social conditions. One change we emphasized in our initial article, and which we specify in greater detail below, is the extreme and rapidly worsening planetary ecocrisis, fueled in large part by an alarming spike in “meat” consumption in densely populated countries such as China and India. These new conditions render the Francione-Hall line of changing the world One Plate at a Time ludicrous and suicidal, a profound betrayal to humans, other animals, and to the surrounding natural world.
To our dismay and befuddlement, Francione, Hall and their faithful flock mostly – or in many cases completely — ignore the ridiculously tiny rises in veganism contrasted to the staggering surge in flesh consumption, as well as the ecocrisis itself, making their position completely untenable and irrelevant to current conditions of social and ecological reality. These changing conditions strongly suggest that the glacial and individualist strategies for change Francione-Hall urge are completely inadequate to address current social and ecological breakdown and crisis. The crisis of global capitalism cannot be touched by reforms or single-issue politics; it demands radical and systemic strategies that involve not individual spiritual enlightenment as much as social movements and collective struggles.
Our position is not that sabotage and liberation tactics alone are themselves adequate to this task, as they are stop-gap measures undertaken by a few; rather we advocate positive concepts of social revolution that unfold through the radical democratization of society. For now, however, the sabotage tactics of the ALF and ELF are important if for no other reason than to demonstrate resistance to capitalist omnicide is possible, that the flame of rebellious action (the praxis that must emerge from abstract theorizing) has not been completely snuffed out. But the value of underground tactics exceeds the symbolic to transform material realities, for liberationists are often effective in slowing the destruction of nature and life, if not in many cases stopping it altogether. The corporate-state complex fears them for a reason; it elevates them to the top terrorist threats for a reason; it levels prison terms longer than rapists and murderers get for a reason: they pose a real, imminent, and serious danger to their operations and profits.
Essentialism and the Breeding of Dogmas
“The test for speciesism is simple: If the victims were human, would you be speaking and acting as you are? If not, don’t speak and act that way when the victims are nonhuman.” Joan Dunayer
We reject Hall’s attempt to freeze, rigidify, and essentialize the meaning of animal rights such that the concept takes on the deceptive appearance of a natural or divine law, when in fact Hall’s definition is arbitrary, subjective, and reflects her extreme non-violent biases. Like any complex concept such as “freedom,” “democracy,” and “terrorism,” the meaning of “animal rights” is open, indeterminate opaque, and contested. It is the sign of a doctrinaire, absolutist, and fundamentalist mindset to reify such indeterminacy as closed, transparent, and unambiguous.
Fortuitously, an extreme example of this metaphysical/theological outlook is provided by Dave Shishkoff in his reply (#12) to our essay. Upon reading Shishkoff’s missive we were surprised to learn – despite years of tenacious commitment — that we are not vegans at all! Although we ourselves abstain from all animal-derived products for principled ethical, health, and environmental reasons, Shishkoff informs us that we are mere imposters because we do not accept the Word of Donald Watson and his nonviolent philosophy. If we are not vegans then we must be…vegetarians? Or have we been demoted further to …flexitarians? Have we been cast into the ice caves of ontological indeterminacy or dropped into the fiery pit of identity meltdown? No, it not our inconsistencies but the power pathologies of dogmatic pacifists who raise arbitrariness to a high-art mobilized around the signifiers of Stalinist semantics.
Even though in the 1940s he pioneered the moral and dietary outlook of veganism in critical contrast to the hypocritical and half-way measures of vegetarianism, neither Watson nor Shishkoff own the concept of veganism. Beyond a principled avoidance of animal-derived products, the meaning of veganism is open and amenable to various tactical outlooks, whether that of Francione and Hall or of the Animal Liberation Front (which in fact makes veganism and nonviolence a central part of its credo). Veganism is a moral philosophy not a tactical philosophy, and there is no Platonic realm or natural law that conjoins veganism to nonviolent actions in defense of animals. Certainly veganism is a noble zeitgeist, categorical imperative, and mode of life focused on nonviolence as a personal and societal goal, but this does not negate the fact that nonviolence often perpetuates violence and thus “violent” means in some cases are necessary to achieve nonviolent ends. This is a paradox of social action, not Orwellian doublespeak.
It is in this context that we can understand Nelson Mandela’s tried-and-tested insight that“Non-violence is not a moral principle but a strategy. And there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon.” Nazism provides perhaps the most blatant example of a malevolent force against which non-violence was an ineffective weapon, and if the idealized commitment to nonviolence is a hindrance to overcoming the stark realities of institutionalized violence, then “moral goodness” is indeed an ineffective weapon. And here we fully agree with the no-nonsense realism of Malcolm X, who clarified his outlook thus: “It doesn’t mean that I advocate violence, but at the same time, I am not against using violence in self-defense. I don’t call it violence when it’s self-defense, I call it intelligence.”
Vegan ethics are indeed about promoting peaceful relations toward nonhuman animals, and ultimately toward fellow humans and the Earth itself, but a pacifist essentialization of the meaning of veganism and animal rights begs the pressing question: how can employing solely pacifist tactics transform an insane, violent, and cruelly exploitative social structure (speciesist capitalism) into a sane, peaceful, mutualistic, and sustainable way of life? The question is not, as pacifists programmatically say, “Do the ends justify the means?” but rather how can the means possibly bring about the ends?” How, in other words, can Francione’s and Hall’s individualist strategy of changing the world “one person” and one plate at a time revolutionize systemic conditions of oppression?
Shishkoff’s crude appeal to authority might just as well have conjured up a Biblical psalm as the discourse of Donald Watson. Whereas Watson had expertise in the area of diet and ethics, he did not necessarily have it in tactics; his first word in vegan philosophy is hardly the last. Crucially, our contextualist approach emphasizes the fact that Watson, although he lived until 2005, developed his concept of veganism in another era –before corporate globalization, before the planetary expansion of the “meat” industry, before the sixth great extinction crisis, before global warming, and before systemic ecological crisis, and his philosophy and tactics never reflected these emergency conditions or adjusted in light of an entirely new world epoch – that of global warming and the 65 million year long transition to the newest stage of species extinction in the history of this planet.
Shishkoff reaches for a classic appeal to authority fallacy, one that illuminates the dogmatic mindset that characterizes the Franciombe phenomenon. We could just as easily, from an ALF standpoint, declare ex cathedra that a “true” vegan not only eschews animal-derived products, but also raids laboratories and sabotages exploiters’ property. We could just as well say to Shishkoff: “No, you are not a `true,’ `real,’ or `authentic’ vegan, and in fact, nor is your hero, Donald Watson; only the ALF and those who support them are bona fide, card carrying vegans.” Clearly, this would be absurd and authoritarian, but no less so that Shishkoff’s essentialized definition of veganism and Hall’s metaphysical concept of animal rights.
A Dialectical and Contextual Concept of Violence
“A small group of people have succeeded where Karl Marx, the Red Brigade and the Baader-Meinhof Gang all failed.” The Financial Times on the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) campaign, April 2003.
“Although violence is repugnant, there do seem to be times — primarily after all else has been tried — that it might be immoral not to resort to its use. This is why I can’t embrace ahimsa.” Rick Bogle
One wide misconception of our position is that we are somehow glorifying, romanticizing, or privileging violence and that we ourselves are physically violent people who contradict the ultimate goals of “real” vegans and “true” animal rights activists who seek to build on the high road to peaceful One Plate at a Time change. In fact, fear and paranoia seem to have overtaken Priscilla Feral’s mind, prompting her to comment on our original piece on Thomas Paine’s Corner (TPC) with this surprisingly sophomoric admonition to Best: “Buzz off, scary guy.” Feral’s husband, Robert Orabona, is not to be outdone in the ad hominem department. He veers far from the topic of our essay to sling mud and insults at Oatis (who tries to take the high road and keep the discussion on topic), engaging in a sustained personal attack that culminates with this bon mot: “If you want to save money on your suits, try shopping in the Boys Department” (# 58). We are certain such language would not receive the Lee Hall Seal of Approval, for it falls short of her pacifist ideals (inspired by Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King) that demand treating others with love and respect (including animal exploiters!), as opposed to heaping on them a bilious stream of abuse.
Numerous people misunderstood our position on violence, somewhat understandably given our brevity and tacit assumptions in a general polemic, though Best has spoken and written on the issue in many interviews, essays and books. Yet few pacifists seem to read material critical of their viewpoint and outside their box. Non-pacifist is not pro-violence, it is just realist, pluralist, contextualist, and pragmatic. As non-pacifists, we do not champion violence as a goal, a good, or end in itself.
We too seek a peaceful society, especially in the way humans treat other animals. Yet, we do not let ideals blind us to realities, and from our methodological positions, we also believe in (1) the need for, (2) the legitimacy of, and (3) strategic value of illegal actions, sabotage, coercive tactics, and sometimes “violence” as in the use of physical force with intent to cause bodily harm (e.g., as armed Rwandan soldiers protect elephants against poachers).
We don’t absolutely commit to pacifism or non-pacifism in the abstract, but rather apply what seems the best strategy for a given political situation. As contextualists, pluralists, and pragmatists, we look to the context to understand what is violent or nonviolent, we advance a number of resistance strategies, and for the animals’ sake, and we take principles that work in action over flowery ideals and fancy lounge chair philosophies any day. A non-pacifist is someone who sometimes allows the need and value for violence, as do we. We assert as a general principle that violence is the last, not the first, resort for social change.
Whereas advocates of direct action such as Paul Watson, Rod Coronado, and Kevin Jonas are examples of MDA supporters who use inclusive approaches that acknowledge the validity of different tactics in different situations, critics of direct action wield exclusive approaches that deny the need for and validity of a plurality of tactics — legal and illegal, underground and aboveground. If it is to succeed, the animal advocacy movement must embrace a multidimensional and contextualist model of change rooted in the insight that different situations require different and perhaps multiple types of tactics deployed simultaneously. Eschewing dogma and pre-packaged answers, this approach asks: what tactic or combination of tactics is appropriate to a specific situation? It is obvious that not all violence is justified, but it is equally obvious that not all violence is unjustified. Self-defense is one example where it is acceptable and prudent to use force against another person if necessary.
Like fundamentalist pacifists, we hope for a non-violent world achieved through non-violent means. We also grant the crucial role of vegan education and outreach and thus can acknowledge these positive aspects of the work of Hall, FoA, and Francione. Let’s face facts: we live in an advanced military-capitalist-industrialist system of power predicated on the taking and killing of all resources and life. The system’s omnicidal roots trace back ten thousands years, it is now a dying empire imploding in itself, and power and privilege will be defended at any cost.
We believe that a confrontation with the corporate-state complex is inevitable, but our vision is not a shoot-out with the FBI, SWAT teams, and sharpshooters, but rather waging a two-fold war, one belowground (such as the ALF or the Justice Department) and one aboveground, with one approach complimenting the other. To give just two examples of this effective interplay, the ALF was a key contributing force, along with mainstream groups such as In Defense of Animals, in the 2002 closing of the notorious Coulston chimpanzee “research” center in Alamogordo, New Mexico. In 2003, moreover, aboveground groups were able to exploit the media attention brought to the foie gras industry resulting from ALF attacks on French chefs promoting it and using that newly opened space to protest and educate about the horrible confinement and force-feeding method used to produce this “delicacy.”
Only the most doctrinaire and conceptually shuttered individuals such as Hall can deny that MDA tactics have been incredibly important and effective in the struggle for animal liberation, and will always play a pivotal role. Emerging in England in the mid-1970s, the ALF has shut down countless exploiters and liberated countless thousands of animals that otherwise were doomed to a slow and painful demise. SHAC arose in England in 1999, evolving from a pre-history of amazingly successful direct action campaigns designed to close down animal breeders and to disrupt the supply chain to the pharmaceutical industries. In rapid succession, from 1996-1999, militant activists and diverse communities of people in England closed down Consort Beagle breeders, Hillgrove Cat Farm, and Shamrock Primate Farm. Once HLS was exposed for particularly heinous forms of animal torture, and it became clear the government had no intention of enforcing its own welfare laws, SHAC founders Greg Avery, Heather Nicholson, and Natasha Dellemagne Avery went into action.
These brilliant activists formed SHAC with the novel intent to target one major drug and chemical testing company, Huntington Life Sciences (HLS). The goal was to rock the foundations of the entire pharmaceutical industry by bringing down a giant, chasing HLS it to all corners of the world with an unprecedented global campaign. And true to their militant spirit and intent, SHAC has had a devastating effect on HLS. They drove them to incorporate in the US so that they could hide the identity of their shareholders and lenders, caused them to be delisted from both the New York and London Stock Exchanges, and have forced numerous lenders, customers, and vendors to cease doing business with HLS. On the verge of collapse from such effective new tactics, HLS would have folded altogether if not for financial bailouts from both the UK and US, and it continues to stagger due to persistent SHAC attacks, even while the founders and other leading members of SHAC have been imprisoned across the Atlantic and here at home. SHAC paid a price, true, but so did HLS, and the war continues. SHAC’s innovative tactics proved so successful that other political groups have adopted them for their cause.
With an ignorance only matched by her arrogance, Hall contemptuously dismisses the SHAC campaign as the hoodlum nonsense of maladjusted youth — a grotesque and ageist stereotype of a large army of militants quite diverse in age and background. In fact SHAC is one of the most intelligent, shrewd, and cunning campaigns ever developed in any social movement. Striking a primary target by attacking secondary and supporting companies, innovative use of websites and the Internet to coordinate campaigns, novel types of pressure tactics such as home demos and public shaming, chasing HLS all the way from England to the NYSE and beyond are just some of the elements that characterize the SHAC campaign as a brilliant tactical breakthrough and potential historic watershed in the struggle for human, nonhuman animal, and Earth liberation.
Written from her US-Eurocentric, middle class, bourgeois, legalist perspective, Hall’s treatise does a tremendous disservice to the dedicated young vegan anarchists who do support or engage in direct action, whether through the ALF, the ELF, SHAC, or some other entity. Disconnected as she obviously is from radical anti-capitalist anarchists, many of whom have embraced veganism and animal liberation, Hall devoted much of Capers to caricaturizing them as uneducated social malcontents looking for ways relieve their ennui and anger, being nothing but lost souls seeking to forge an identity through their militant actions. To better understand how gross a distortion this is, consider an excerpt from an essay written by NYCVeganPunk, a member of a sub-culture Hall’s ridiculous stereotype blithely dismisses:
The rights of animals were brought to the forefront of punk rock thought by European anarcho-punk bands in the early 1980’s. Through their lyrics and outspoken support of direct action campaigns to sabotage foxhunts and end vivisection, these bands issued a “call to arms” for would-be activists and elevated punk beyond the nihilism and shock value of its early history. Bands like the Subhumans, Discharge, Icons of Filth, Riot/Clone, Anti-Sect and many, many others began to explore the possibilities of music as more than just entertainment but as a powerful form of communication. As these bands began to hone their skills, they developed a more articulate political criticism and rejection of the dominant culture of animal cruelty….. Politically and socially conscious punk bands began addressing a range of socially relevant issues, including animal rights. Punks began to organize animal rights benefit shows, released animal rights themed record compilations and published fanzines that tackled the issue as well. Today, in almost every major city in the world, many involved in the punk sub-culture are working hard to further the cause of animals. 
Vegan education is not going to bring down powerful corporate exploiters alone; that formidable task also requires MDA tactics and larger social objectives as well. As a SHAC proponent states:
The really powerful tool we have as activists is that they never know what we will do next, and that if we all act in a united cohesive way we can take out parts of their infrastructure that they cannot afford to lose. It basically boils down to three things:
1. Putting the fear of God into them.
2. Costing them financially.
3. Dragging their name through the dirt.
Don’t waste your time appealing to their better nature – it doesn’t exist among the people who really matter in a company. What you appeal to is how much money you are going to cost them, how you are going to destroy their morale and how they are never going to know when and where you will turn up next with a new, disruptive and embarrassing tactic they can do nothing about. Always changing tactics and hitting them at different points keeps them confused and disoriented so they cannot fight back properly.
We do not advocate violence as a tactic so much as we argue that there are strong justifications for the use of violence, such as in a “just war,” to intervene on behalf of genocide victims, or in self-defense. And we advance the concept of “extensional self-defense” to say that humans can be legitimate proxy agents for animals who rarely can defend themselves against their tormentors. For those shocked by our frankness, we are not saying anything more than what mainstream animal rights philosopher Tom Regan says in his essay, “How to Justify Violence,” in which he specifies conditions in which violence is a legitimate tactic in the struggle for rights and justice. Just as violence is not always right, so it is not always wrong. Only from a fundamentalist pacifist standpoint, or a position of complete historical ignorance, can one deny cases where violence has worked on behalf of social change and instances in which violence is legitimate and necessary. After all, if not for the American Revolution and the colonists’ war of independence from an oppressor, Shishkoff (were he living in the US rather than Canada) might be wearing a fancy white wig, britches, and a red coat, while paying respects to the King and Queen.
To paraphrase John Lennon, all we are saying is give pluralism and contextualism a chance. And our position goes far beyond defending the rear-guard actions of sabotage. As effective as they are in many cases, obviously these tactics alone cannot bring down speciesist capitalism, but nor can tactics that rely on state legislation and reforms (e.g., HSUS) and vegan education (e.g., Francione and Hall). Everyone has missed the key point that we are not promoting one tactic over another within a narrow field of animal advocacy politics; rather we are conceptualizing large-scale, systemic social change that includes strategic alliances amongst many social justice, anti-capitalist groups – quite unlike Karen Dawn’s vision of an apolitical, non-partisan, cater-to-all, and maximize-benefits-for-book sales approach to animal advocacy.
So far from advocating violence and destruction, we are championing the positive norms of peace, equality, sustainability, and ultimately social revolution to abolish both the conceptual and institutional roots of hierarchy, domination, and exploitation. We need every arrow in our quiver to defeat speciesism and exploitation, very much including both nonviolent resistance and MDA, each applied in the situations where they are most effective. Like MDA itself, veganism is a necessary but surely not a sufficient condition of revolutionary personal and institutional change.
One cannot judge the most efficacious tactics through the application of a general principle; one needs to make such evaluations through analysis of specific situations. In some cases (e.g., banning circuses and rodeos from one’s home town or city) education, gentle pressure, protest, or legislative change may be the best tactics, whereas in other cases (e.g., rescuing laboratory or factory “farm” victims) liberation and/or sabotage may be the right and only approach. Whether or not the tactic would be strategically sound and not incur a massive blowback from the state and alienation of public support, violent resistance against animal exploiters in (extensional) self-defense of animals is defensible on strong grounds.
To be absolutely clear: We are not claiming that all MDA is always warranted, tactically sound, or done intelligently – such blanket pronouncements violate our contextualist approach. Nor are we recklessly advocating violence and a “tear the house down” approach. We certainly agree with Mary Martin’s recommendation on her Animal People blog discussion of our essay that “readers consider both sides of the militant direct action (MDA) debate before jumping in as an ardent fan of either side.” Rather we advocate careful scrutiny of each situation and thinking not only of actions but also consequences. A contextualist position tends to disarm pacifist dogmas and open up the vistas of tactical thinking, and not only in US, European, or Western contexts, but also globally.
Ultimately, we assert that to win this war — or to put it another way, to stop this ongoing Holocaust and genocide against nonhuman animals — we have no choice but to employ every means at our disposal, including militant direct action and violence. While the formidable power of the enemy, the corporate-state-military complex, dictates that we engage them using asymmetrical tactics with violence as a last resort, we can ill afford to forbid ourselves from employing militant actions against an entity predicated on institutionalized violence and one that, like a sociopathic giant wielding a razor-sharp hatchet, slaughters nonhuman animal after nonhuman animal in a horrifyingly efficient assembly-line fashion. As for dogmatic pacifism, were Gandhi alive today and hunger striking against the flesh industry, they’d probably laugh and tell him to eat “Beef! It’s what’s for dinner!”
The Pipedream of Vegan Revolution
“If we say rational debate cannot carry the day, or that the violent acts of exploiters necessitate response in kind, we mock a movement’s core principle, we deride its integrity.” Lee Hall Capers in the Churchyard.
“Tactics based solely on morality can only succeed when you are dealing with people who are moral or a system that is moral.” Malcolm X
The vast network of Francione followers are digitally linked and multiplying throughout the Internet and blogosphere. There are definite positive advantages to his growing influence given the abysmal state of the US “animal rights” movement, mired in welfarism, collaborationism, and corporate models of development, but the disadvantages to the pacifist and liberal-individualist aspects of Francione’s (and Hall’s) approach are serious. Francione, Hall, and mainstream vegan proponents make a fair point that it is premature for any final judgments on the efficacy of veganism and nonviolent civil disobedience because neither tactic has been tried at any serious level given the reformist, welfarist, and collaborationist approaches that dominate the US animal advocacy movement.
So we are not saying that vegan education and nonviolent tactics have failed or should not be developed to their maximal potential. We argue, in fact, that Francione and Hall do not even promote their own tactics enough, given their blatant failure to reach out to communities of the poor, working class, marginalized, disenfranchised, people of color, and other parts of the world, especially China and India (see below). In this respect, we are urging them to develop their positions more, not less, to be consistent, non-elitist, and far more effective. But these should not be the only approaches to receive the abolitionist seal of approval and be fully utilized in the struggle against a universal and deeply entrenched human supremacism.
Whereas Hall peddles the narcotic of patience in order to inch down the road of Love, singing kumbaya arm-in-arm with our oppressors, as happy shiny people with faith in the Peaceable Vegan Kingdom, we are asking everyone to get real, to wake up, to get angry, and to understand that the window of opportunity is rapidly closing. The dire emergency of the global ecological crisis means that slow and purist methods of change are not going to cut it. And we are saying that in their formulation veganism has become a religion, a dogma, and a simplistic and mechanistic formula for change.
Francione and his acolytes don’t reject direct action, they define it exclusively in terms of veganism; their focus is on veganism as a necessary and sufficient condition of animal and social liberation. Veganism is not only a form of direct action, it is privileged as the form, and what we term militant direct action is ruled out from the start. Broadly understood, veganism is arguably the single most powerful and effective thing an individual can do to lighten their ecological footprint and promote positive change on both social and environmental levels. But Francione takes a sound argument to untenable extremes by decontextualizing veganism from its larger social context and reducing it to a mechanistic logic. He makes grandiose claims about the efficacy of nonviolent vegan direct action as a panacea and technofix for the social-environmental crisis threatening the entire globe. Francione advances an evangelic, Salvationist, determinist vision that the vegan revolution will spread worldwide and will revolutionize human society.
In a stunning series of non sequitor and determinist fallacies, he assumes not only that (1) the vegan revolution is unstoppable, but also that (2) it will trigger the abolition of other forms of exploitation, and, by implication, it will (3) undermine other forms of oppression and revolutionize society as a whole. One can identify this type of thinking clearly in one of Francione’s faithful followers, Jeff Perz, who writes intelligent commentary on the violence/pacifism debate but tends to erase the nuances of his analysis in favor of totalizing generalizations and mechanistic thinking. “As a result of our efforts in abolitionist vegan education,” Perz writes, “fewer and fewer non-human animals will be eaten, killed or otherwise harmed. This will lead to the eventual abolition of all non-human animal exploitation. Exclusive non-violent animal rights activism is ethical, realistic and absolutely necessary to create the world we are seeking. Let’s do it!”
Perz assumes that if one form of exploitation (food production) is abolished, all others (such as vivisection) will follow, like falling dominoes, and that once speciesism vanishes so will follow all other forms of prejudice, hierarchy, and domination. Defying the complexity of history and social change, Francione reverts to single-issue reductionism and clumsily attempts to shift the burden of explanation, writing: “Anyone who says that vegan education is ‘not enough’ [i.e., a sufficient condition of change] must have a crystal ball. There has never been a movement that has been directed at clear, unequivocal vegan education. Let’s try that first, and then we will be in a better position to judge its efficacy…my experience is that it is the most efficient and cost-effective way of proceeding.”
What Francione, Hall, and others fail to acknowledge, at least in general pronouncements such as these, is the fact that practices such as flesh consumption and vivisection, while part of the same fabric of speciesism, do not fall together in logical sequence, as society may decide (however erroneously) that eating animals is unnecessary but experimenting on them is vital. Needless to say, the connections among veganism, animal liberation, and progressive social and environmental change are even more tenuous, complex, and problematic.
Similarly, James Crump commented (#45) on “Pacifism or Animals” by stating, “Once we have recruited all those who are amenable to vegan education, then we can worry about the hardcore speciesists.” Apparently, Crump is looking to base his revolution on the fringes of the fringe, and the strategy is simple and breathtaking: first take the easy marks, then go for — or rather worry about — the hardcore programmed! Crump seems to know a law of history we don’t, one that is linear and progressive, allowing you first to persuade the pliable and then conquer the most firmly entrenched opposition. Never mind the fact that billions of people have identities, traditions, lifestyles, and livelihoods heavily invested in speciesism and exploitation. Somehow, according to Crump’s logic, the Force of Reason will win them over and reach their true inner goodness and moral soul. Here we see a stellar example of the Socratic-Enlightenment metaphysics running through the Panglossian paths of abolitionist veganism.
Thus, in Francione, Hall, Crump, and countless others, there is a presumption that vegan revolution – in its fullest sense, including a moral gestalt shift away from anthropomorphism and speciesism – will somehow trigger the social revolution that will topple global capitalism, the overarching socioeconomic structure that embodies and enables myriad hierarchies and exploitations. It would seem that fundamentalist pacifists and Procrustean vegans are the ones who believe they possess Francione’s “crystal ball,” as they move in the faith that vegan education mainly or alone will revolutionize humanity , transforming Homo sapiens – whose history began with the slaughter of the Neanderthals in Europe and proceeded to systemic global genocide and destruction — into a peaceful, loving, cooperative, and non-exploitative species living in harmony with itself, other species, and the Earth as a whole.
Dan Cudahy completely missed the point of our critique and failed to acknowledge, as did everyone else, the full extent of our positive and systemic vision of social transformation. As he writes:
Best misrepresents Francione a number of times and only magnifies this in his hyper-rhetoric. The biggest misrepresentation of Best’s is that Francione sees veganism as a “diet change.” Francione does NOT see veganism as merely a diet or a diet change (Francione has said this dozens or hundreds of times), but as an entire moral paradigm shift. Francione’s also presents his arguments against violence much more cogently than the arguments Best sets up as straw men, a brief summary of which one can read at the following link:http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/?p=92 . Best focuses on the “evil corporate-state complex,” and “the man” as the culprit, but 98.6% of the individuals in our society share the blame. Corporations and governments make bad decisions, but ultimately they are little more than a reflection of our nasty society (i.e. individuals) in the mirror.
We did not suggest that Francione views veganism as a mere change in diet. We fully acknowledge that he is doggedly pursuing a legal and moral paradigm shift and applaud his contributions to the animal rights movement. However, Francione’s goal of revolutionizing society through vegan education and outreach alone is hopelessly idealistic and pragmatically untenable. As a follower of Francione and Hall, Cudahy advances a liberal model of change that is individualistic, reformist, and idealist (in the Marxian sense that moral change is sufficient to drive social change). The liberal model lacks a systemic critique of capitalism and modes of oppression and places the burden of blame and change on individuals rather than on social structures and powerful institutional forces. Certainly every person on planet Earth contributes to the depletion resources, extinction of species, and breakdown of the environment, but how Cudahy arrives at his 98.6% figure is beyond us, but that means that corporations are only responsible for 1.4% of the global social and environmental crisis!
Clearly, Cudahy’s emphasis on individual responsibility is informed by capitalist ideology he has yet to scrutinize and individual responsibility is a reifying abstraction unless key distinctions are made. Just as carnivores leave a much heavier ecological footprint than vegans, and people in Western “developed” nations contribute to ecological entropy many times more than those in the “undeveloped” world, so corporations are far more responsible for rainforest destruction, global warming, air and water pollution, desertification, and so on than is any individual, but Cudahy’s ultra-individualist outlook shifts the burden of blame from General Electric, ExxonMobil, and Monsanto to a faceless populace, from the timber, oil, mining, and agriculture industries to statistical individuals. We shudder at the political consequences of this regressive liberalism and inverted form of thinking.
Francione, Hall, and their followers want to have their vegan cake and eat it too. Convincing themselves that focusing strictly on vegan education and outreach will ultimately end the abject torture and murder of animals they abhor enables them to feel good about their commitment to animal liberation while simultaneously preserving the reprehensible system that facilitates such horrors against the animals. Capitalism and its myriad attendant ills of corporatism, imperialism, consumerism and the like must go if we hope to empty the cages and, just as importantly, mitigate or end the impending eco-crisis. It is no slur on the “integrity” of reason to say that it cannot “carry the day,” rather it is a vital character of reason and a movement’s lucidity to recognize the limits of rational persuasion amidst a force-field of violence, irrationality, and entrenched economic interests, and to develop the tactics adequate for this unfortunate human and social reality.
As noted anarcho-primitivist John Zerzan observed, “It is important to question ideological limitations stemming from a place of extreme privilege. Most people on earth do not have the comfort to decide what the most `righteous’ response to domination should be, and often the stakes are life and death.” The institutional rewards and privileges enjoyed by Francione, Hall, Feral, and other liberal vegans are those of the professional, white, Western elite class who project their nonviolent philosophies onto the entire world as if everyone enjoyed the rights and privileges they do. But these biases have gone unquestioned by a legion of abolitionist followers who share Francione and Hall’s fundamentalist pacifism and liberal-reformist politics.
Zerzan is not a vegan and we are not primitivists, but his prescriptions for slaying the beast of Westernized socioeconomic rape, pillage and plunder, as just the head of the monster of agricultural society and “civilization” are far more palatable to us than Francione’s because Zerzan recognizes the depth and urgency of the apocalyptic situation in which we find ourselves after ten thousand years of “civilization.” Saving the animals is futile if the Earth is rendered uninhabitable by the techno-industrial machine, or rather by agricultural society and its inexorable logic of growth, expansion, and violence, an economic-political-military system of imperialism inseparable from a conceptual system of imperialism based on a hierarchical ordering of difference that informs every pernicious form of bias, prejudice, and discrimination.
Single issue, bourgeois, liberal, white upper middle to upper class people are NOT going to carry out a successful revolution by becoming vegans and trying to teach others to do the same. They are going to become touchy-feeling, electric car-driving, organic gardening, Whole Foods shopping consumers. The vegan lifestyle championed by Francione, Hall, & Co. is devoid of political and environmental content and is reactionary by default. The vanilla white faces of most of the US neo-abolitionist movement are emblematic of the lack of ethnic diversity in the modern vegan, abolitionist, and “animal whites” movements, as their legal backgrounds and middle-class status smack of class privilege. And yet Francionites are oblivious to how this insularity impedes “vegan revolution,” and they make few visible efforts to build bridges from privileged white communities to the poor, people of color, and the oppressed in southern nations such as South Africa (a country to which Best personally has ventured three times to promote veganism, animal rights, and awareness of the interconnectedness of human, nonhuman animal, and environmental issues).
Although a vegan society of any significant dimension would have a massive positive impact on human health, social justice, and planetary ecology, these pseudo-abolitionists burdened with the Superego of the state fail to acknowledge how their vegan version of lifestyle politics can be easily co-opted by capitalism (as is already clearly evident in the many lines of vegan foods, restaurants, clothing, and merchandise) and be transformed into just another individualist, new-age, spiritualist, consumerist mindset and lifestyle that promotes market growth, labor exploitation, and environment destruction (e.g., whether through clear cutting needed to grow soy crops, long-distance transportation of organic fruits and vegetables, or support for an inherently repressive and anti-ecological global economic system).
Violence: Vilified and Verboten
“You’ll get freedom by letting your enemy know that you’ll do anything to get your freedom; then you’ll get it…when you stay radical long enough and get enough people to be like you, you’ll get your freedom.” Malcolm X
Billions of animals suffer intense psychological and physical violence every day at the hands of the agriculture, vivisection, clothing, hunting, breeding, and entertainment industries, to name just a few interested parties, who slice, dice, and spice them for their bloody lucre. Just why exactly would they surrender their power, position, and profits to a miniscule vegan and animal rights community? Just how do we rally an ignorant, indifferent, and self-interested public to ethical boycotts in the numbers needed? And exactly why would animal defenders categorically reject the use of any tactic that could weaken industries, save nonhuman animals, and strengthen their own role as an oppositional force amidst planetary omnicide?
Francione and Hall have two reasons for rejecting the use of “violence” as a legitimate tactic of struggle, insisting that on moral grounds it is hypocritical and wrong, and on pragmatic grounds it is ineffective and self-defeating. To begin with the moral argument, both believe that the animal rights movement is unique in relation to other social movements in representing the “ultimate rejection of violence” (Francione), a peace movement deeper than anything yet conceived in that it is extended to all sentient beings, not just humans. Neither provides a careful or rigorous definition and analysis of violence beyond the conventional definition that violence involves an intentional act of causing physical harm or injury to another. Both, however, extend the definition of violence to include property destruction, threats, and harassment, and thus view the ALF and SHAC as violent groups.
Astonishingly enough amidst a rapidly escalating animal Holocaust both elevate the Buddhist ethic of nonviolence, ahimsa, to the pinnacle of ethical theories, personal virtues, and tactical imperatives. So intoxicated with ahimsa, Francione declares himself to be “violently opposed to violence.” Not to be outdone in the rhapsodic pacifist department, however, Hall carries this venerated tradition – formulated over two thousand years before the sixth great extinction crisis and the ecocrisis currently convulsing the planet — to ludicrous extremes. A postmodern Jesus, Hall implicates overly harsh or critical language and enjoins us to turn the other cheek, to love human and animal oppressors, to cleanse our hearts of hostility and anger, and to see humanity as One, without spiritually fogging concepts such as “enemy.”
This absolutist position rejects violence as always wrong and admits no exceptions, including the use of violence for a “noble” cause, as they embrace the cliché that “the ends don’t justify the means.” They do not explore self-defense as the most obvious counter-example to their rigid rule, and thus do not address the question of whether animal advocates can use violence against exploiters because animals cannot defend themselves (what we call “extensional self-defense”).
If Francione and Hall were next to a baby seal about to be clubbed to death and the only way they could stop it would be to physically intervene in some aggressive and violent way, or at least to grab and throw the weapon into the sea (an act that earned Paul Watson expulsion from Greenpeace, an organization he co-founded), would they do it? Or would they stand idly by and watch, perhaps making a moral argument for ahimsa or a plea to the sealer’s inner goodness or moral conscience, as he drives the spiked club into the seal’s head, grinning ear-to-ear while proceeding to strip the skin off its bloodied but still breathing body? We wonder who the seal would wish present on the ice in those crucial moments before the club came down on its skull – a devotee of ahimsa or a militant direct activist?
We consider this a case of how nonviolence leads to violence when pacifists refuse to intervene when violence is occurring, as the capitalist speciesist butchers bash in brains and carve up the planet knowing their violence is protected by the shield of nonviolence practiced by opponents with dulled instincts and a slave mentality, opponents who throw down their weapons before entering into battle. The fundamentalist pacifist argument is an ideal pertinent to communities of saints but not to a society of human beings rooted in both a social and biological past riddled with violence, murder, and genocide. Nonviolence should be the first option, but not the only option.
Francione and Hall agree with us that history is a slaughterbench of oppression, but use the same premise to reach the opposite conclusion. If violence is what brought the world to its current state, they reason, then violent means of resistance are part of the problem not the solution and the “truly radical” approach, the only answer, is to break with all past history and inaugurate a nonviolent revolution that extends throughout humans and to all species and the earth as a whole.
It is incredible, implausible, and naïve to uphold pacifism as the one and only acceptable way of overcoming the orgy of violence and brutality that is human history. If we cannot always stop violence through nonviolence, through love and persuasion, then we either adhere to rigid principles inconsistent with logic and social reality or we deploy a counter-violence to stop a Holocaust and create conditions for potential peace. The ALF does not consider their sabotage actions to be violent, and if pacifists in the movement agreed we could without undue fanfare add sabotage to the list of morally acceptable tactics to mount a much stronger resistance than with love and reasoning alone. But of course Francione and Hall block this option too, and leave us weaker than we already are in relation to the powerful animal-industrial complex.
The facts of history and human character, however, provide strong inductive evidence that animal exploiters will not abandon their blood trade without a prolonged violent struggle waged with the continued aid of the state and its police and military forces. Derrick Jensen notes: “Is it possible to talk about fundamental social change without asking ourselves questions we too often refuse to ask, such as `What if those in power are murderous? What if they’re not willing to listen to reason at all? Should we continue to approach them nonviolently? … [W]hen is violence an appropriate means to stop injustice?’ But with the world dying—or rather being killed—we no longer have the luxury to change the subject or delete the question. It’s a question that won’t go away.”
The massive gulf between social history and human nature (defined but not exhausted by a habitual use of violence) on one side and utopian pacifism on the other side invites more than a bit of skepticism, especially amidst the severe crisis situation of the present. You can’t win a fight against a much larger and armed opponent if unarmed oneself, or even with many unarmed allies, if the opponent is huge, powerful, and uses violence without hesitation or qualms.
Their second wedge against using violence to defend nonhuman animals from cruel killing and exploitation is the pragmatic argument that violence is counterproductive insofar as it leads to results such as alienating the public and inviting the blowback of fierce state repression that endangers our very right to speak and to dissent. To this we respond: it is dogmatism and studied ignorance of the highest order to deny the numerous times that MDA, and often only MDA, freed nonhuman animals and shut down their exploiters. We already described some powerful examples of effective MDA and additional instances of it are detailed in countless videos and documentaries like Behind the Mask, and are richly described in accounts through personal narratives and historical accounts (e.g., Keith Mann’s From Dusk ‘till Dawn and Best and Nocella’s Terrorists or Freedom Fighters).
There is, we admit, merit in the rejoinder that raids and sabotage actions have been effective only in the short term, such that nonhuman animals liberated from laboratories are quickly replaced and insurance companies cover the costs of smashed equipment and torched buildings. Not all ALF actions are good, intelligent, or successful, certainly, but many have been, permanently shutting down operations such as “fur farms,” vivisection labs, and breeders and have intimidated countless people from making a career in animal exploitation. Famous cases such as the liberation of Britches the monkey and the raid on the University of Pennsylvania head injury lab clinic stand as monuments to the value of a militant underground component of the animal liberation movement.
Obviously, these tactics alone are not going to end animal exploitation in a nihilistic capitalist society ruled by the profit imperative, exchange value, and a deeply inculcated speciesism and anthropocentrism. Animal liberation in a meaningful sense is not possible until we extirpate the roots of human supremacy and related modes of oppression, a revolutionary task which requires education on a massive scale. To ensure that actions against exploiters on the production end do not just lead to replacement of nonhuman animals and property, there must be an education effort on the consumption end that persuades as many people as possible to boycott and eschew any product or process involving animal exploitation. Beyond mere consumerism, education must strive to eliminate the values and attitudes of oppression, such as are rooted in contempt for difference and instrumentalizing others. But, as we are arguing, education itself is hardly adequate in the context of a cancerous global capitalism that feeds off of war, violence, oppression, and the destruction of all life.
Part of the education process is controlling the message of MDA. Francione argues, for instance, that because people perceive a need for “biomedical research” and “meat and dairy products,” attacks on these industries rile people and cause them to turn against a movement that requires as much popular support as possible. In fact, often just the opposite of the alienation effect occurs, as ALF actions have inspired many people to wake up to the human war against animals and to join the struggle on the side of the innocent, and perhaps the public is waking up to the lies of Big Pharma whose poorly designed and inadequately tested research protocols make prescription drugs the fourth leading medical cause of death in the US, exceeded only by heart disease, cancer, and stroke, killing over 100,000 people a year. Francione posits a false option between MDA and vegan education; instead of viewing them as two contrasting positions working together dialectically, Francione separates them antagonistically.
Facile statements such as “There is simply no social context in which violence against others can ever be interpreted as anything but negative” invite a thousand counter-examples (in England, for example, ALF actions enjoyed a high degree of popular support) and demands for a clear definition of violence. Such declarations assume, moreover, (1) that the media reports militant actions, which they typically don’t (partly because they happen virtually every day in some form), (2) that pacified publics care one way or the other about animal advocacy tactics and (3) that citizens’ potential disagreement or alienation matters more than the damage sabotage strikes can inflict on exploiters, and (4) that an organization like the North American Animal Liberation Press Office (NAALPO) cannot help control and shape any report or story on MDA.
The Art of War
“Although animal use, like war, comes packaged as an eternal violence . . . advocates are not obliged to consider the animal rights movement a war . . . .Copying the activity of warmakers or soldiers, forcing people to behave or not to behave in certain ways—this perpetuates the paradigm of daily social control by some authoritative force.” Lee Hall, Capers in the Courtyard
“Right now we’re in the early stages of World War III. It’s the war to save the planet. [Direct] action will be getting stronger. Eventually there will be open war.” Paul Watson
Perhaps there is no better sign of a mystical holism that erases ineliminable differences and conflicts than Hall’s attempt to expunge the category of “enemy” from our thinking and to reduce the concept of war to a macho projection or internalized ideology of authoritarian state power systems. Hall entreats us not only to “love thy enemy” but to deny one has enemies at all. An “enemy” is a person, group, or nation that is intent on exploiting another person, group, or nation. Enemies are power forces that threaten survival and must be acknowledged as threats to freedom or life for self-preservation. The concept of enemy thus alerts one to a real danger to one’s existence and dispels any illusion of peace or rapprochement.
Throughout history humanity has waged a permanent war of extermination. As Ronnie Lee, founder of the ALF, put it: “We have been at war with the other creatures of this Earth ever since the first human hunter set forth with spear into the primeval forest. Human imperialism has everywhere enslaved, oppressed, murdered, and mutilated the animal peoples. All around us lie the slave camps we have built for our fellow creatures, factory farms and vivisection laboratories, Dachaus and Buchenwalds for the conquered species. We slaughter animals for our food, force them to perform silly tricks for our delectation, gun them down and stick hooks in them in the name of sport. We have torn up the wild places where once they made their homes. Speciesism is more deeply entrenched within us than even sexism, and that is deep enough.”
A war is a violent conflict between two parties, either through a clash of interests or aggressive act on one party’s part. Wars preempt or preclude dialogue and negotiation such that differences are settled through violence. Just as wars can break out between any type of human group, so humans can wage war against other animals through perpetual violence and assault.
Wars are no more limited to intrahuman dynamics than are rights, nor do they need involve two “rational” (a most ironic alleged attribute in this case) and consenting parties, or a condition where each group is capable of fighting back or of self defense in any significant and organized way. Thus, it seems to make perfect sense to agree with Ronnie Lee that humanity indeed has waged a protracted war against nonhuman animals in the most brutal way; in fact this is the most barbaric, prolonged, and costly war in the history of the planet, and continues to be. Whereas some animal species are captive slaves bred for exploitation and profit, others are hunted and massacred into oblivion.
On the TPC comment thread, Derek Oatis doesn’t challenge the use of the term “war” so much in this context as he problematizes the implications of framing the conflict in these terms. Oatis tries to pin us with a slippery slope fallacy, such that those taking up battle against corporate exploiters with whom they have no illusion of placating are committed to carrying out a firefight with virtually the entire population except a miniscule population of vegans, a blade of grass in the forest of humanity. Oatis writes: “It seems to me inaccurate and perhaps disingenuous to claim that ALF or SHAC’s `war’ is in anyway limited in scope …Unlike the civil rights movement or other human liberation moments, I’m not sure what sense it makes to start a `war’ when the other side is just about everyone on the planet …if nearly all people are speciesist, and nearly all in the US consume meat — or `humane meat’ for the `conscionable and “aware’ – why aren’t we attacking our speciesist, carnivorous colleagues, family members, friends, and neighbors? Doesn’t the war move from corporate headquarters, university science labs, fur farmers to neighborhood communities?”
As we noted above, we recognize that many individuals can potentially be persuaded to become vegans and animal rights proponents, like we were. The movement is full of examples of people who were former factory “farmers” (Howard Lyman), hunters (Steve Hindi), vivisectors (Don Barnes), and so on. But there is an important distinction – missed by single-issue fetishists like Karen Dawn who want to open up the animal protection movement to embrace anyone and everyone, including “compassionate conservatives” and the far right – between changeable individuals and inflexible institutions and corporations whose bottom line depends on torture, bloodshed, and mass murder. As a movement, we need to continue to focus our direct action efforts on the moneyed interests that perpetrate institutionalized violence on non-human animals en masse. To suggest that those who engage in violent action against the state will shift their focus and start bombing grandma’s kitchen because she has hamburger in her freezer is a reductio ad absurdum at its worst.
Actually, the ALF targets producers, owners, researchers, and others more or less directly involved in the exploitation of animals, thereby keeping a fairly narrow and well-defined target range. The brilliance of SHAC, however, is that it broadened the circle to encompass “non-combatant support personnel” by instigating direct action against employees and suppliers to a corporation as well as against the corporation itself. This far broader target area thus diffused responsibility for oppression to a far wider circle of people, and riled the dragon of the corporate-state complex which fought back with heavy jail penalties for “harassment” and “stalking,” and related charges not commonly meted out to even to the ALF. Although they broaden the meaning of “non-combatants” in a “just war,” SHAC targets only those who are involved with companies that provide services to HLS, and while their targets are many they are neither amorphous nor arbitrary, and certainly have not spilled over into battle with flesh-eaters in restaurants and family homes.
In a wild disanalogy, Oatis goes on to write, “The way this `war’ is described by Best/Miller sounds a hell of a lot like George Bush’s war on terror. That plan was ‘let’s just start killing Midwestern looking folks’, screw any sort of strategy.’” Bush’s “war on terror” is propaganda cover for imperial invasions for resources and geopolitically strategic positions. It also sets up terrorism as a scapegoat to replace communism, a scapegoat the US needs to rationalize the perpetuation of the leviathan military-industrial-academic complex. In the war on terror, nearly anyone can be labeled a terrorist and tortured accordingly. In contrast to this moral abomination, the war to defend nonhuman animals and to end the genocide against them is just and has no hidden agenda. The enemy is distinctly defined; the tactics don’t create millions of innocent victims (there is no “collateral damage”); in fact, thus far even the most militant direct activists have not killed a single human being.
We of course have a significant problem comparing Bush with animal liberationists, but Oatis makes this important qualification and observation for us: “Direct action is not necessarily (as Lee Hall would have us believe) a means of degrading the ‘other side.’ Direct action can be a way of communicating that our commitment and our passion are as deep as any other’s and that we are willing to put our own safety and freedom on the line. Within a certain context, this is an expression that can earn respect, even from those that do not agree with us. And respect is how to begin a dialogue.”
Direct action does make the movement more respectable to the opposition because it demonstrates courage and a high degree of dedication. It is also empowering in that we are not waiting for someone else such as legislators to take the action for us— in the vast majority of cases they will not; we seize the initiative ourselves. As American anarchist and feminist writer Voltairine de Cleyre (1866-1912) put it, “Direct action is always the clamorer, the initiator, through which the great sum of indifferentists become aware that oppression is getting intolerable.”
But Oatis only goes so far in agreeing with us, adding: “as I have stated, although I largely agree with the criticisms of Ms. Hall and her work I also believe that non-violence is the only acceptable means of activism.” Here we see Oatis lapse into the same dogmatic quicksand that immobilizes Hall and Francione
The pacifist position flies in the face of all known empirical dynamics of struggle. Bea Elliott captured this point well in a thoughtful comment on Mary Martin’s site: “An inevitable increase in direct action is a certainty… How can it not be? As things progress in social awareness, the opposing side will of course, be compelled to defend their `rights’ still. Confrontations will escalate in frequency and in degree. We are after all, going up against ancient institutions and modern economics. Nothing short of Revolution is at hand. But as Cudahy said, timing and numbers are critical. We must, through vegan education and information based activism, increase public awareness that our `platform’ is based on `less harm’ and not more. We must change a cultural view that sees Animal Rights not as radical but rational. We shouldn’t jeopardize the goal of abolitionism by premature or `unpopular’ strikes… And I agree with [commenter] Elaine that for now, open rescue [freeing animals from cages without hiding one’s identity or destroying property] has the most positive influence and is of help to all… But I can envision a time, when different lines are drawn. I think it’s important for the most passive vegan among us to realize and prepare for more physical activities as circumstances will necessitate. We may for a time continue to (nicely) invite the public to look at the emperor… and to look into the mirror. But, at some point – there will be resistances that will not be conquered unless we are wiling to opt for all strategies. I think it’s naive to think that this `war’ of ideology will not eventually include grand-scale counter `violence.’ As for fighters who have awareness of this battle ahead, and who act in justified desperation now, how can one possibly not cheer them on?”
The China Syndrome
“Lee has said veganism is achieved one person at a time; we’re striving to achieve a critical mass.” Priscilla Feral
“The human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future—deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities and the spread of disease.” World Watch Editors
Juxtaposing Feral’s brief encapsulation of Hall’s vision of the vegan “revolution” with World Watch’s succinct but thorough summary of the litany of challenges comprising the impending ecocrisis illuminates the profound inadequacies in their strategy. Hall and her fellow Francionites are desperately trying to quench a raging inferno with thimbles of water.
A mere glimpse at a few headlines gathered from a variety of new sources throughout the world , both mainstream and alternative, provides a clear indication that the time necessary to implement the vegan “revolution” is a luxury we do not possess:
“Parched: Australia Faces Collapse as Climate Change Kicks In”
“Long Droughts, Rising Seas Predicted Despite Future CO2 Curbs”
“World Sea levels to Rise 1.5m by 2100”
“Number of Strong Hurricanes Doubles Over Past 35 Years”
“Riots, Instability Spread as Food Prices Skyrocket”
“Billions Could Go Hungry from Global Warming by 2100”
“Brazil Amazon Deforestation Soars”
“Over 15,000 Species Face Extinction”
“Apes ‘Extinct in a Generation’”
“THE SIXTH EXTINCTION: It Happened to Him. It’s Happening to You”
“Both Ends of Earth Are Melting”
“U.N. Warns of Rapid Decay of Environment”
“Panel Issues Bleak Report on Climate Change”
“Save the Planet? It’s Now or Never, Warns landmark UN report”
“Humans Living Far Beyond Planet’s Means”
“Earth Can’t Sustain Humans”
In just 10,000 years, a millisecond of geological time, Homo sapiens civilization, embodied by the repulsively rapacious paradigm of Western speciesist capitalism and anthropocentrism has managed to push the planet to the brink of ecological collapse. Droughts, violent hurricanes, melting ice caps, drowning polar bears, increasing hunger, food riots, diminishing supplies of potable water, species of plants and animals disappearing at an alarming rate, and a host of other frightening events are unfolding more quickly that scientists can even document. Scientists throughout the world are warning of a rapidly narrowing window of opportunity for averting a catastrophic level of climate change, and NASA scientist James Hansen warned newly elected President Obama that he has “four years to save Earth” through a radical shift in US energy policies or face the real potential of ecological breakdown reaching a crucial tipping point.
We don’t deny that widespread veganism would go a long way toward mitigating the planet’s dire problems with climate change, rainforest destruction, water pollution, desertification, resource scarcity, hunger, social conflicts, and species extinction. But considering the facts that the concept of veganism emerged in 1944 and in 65 years no more than 2% of the human population has embraced veganism, and that world flesh consumption has increased five-fold from 1950 to 1997, the singular devotion to vegan education (and its resultant sweeping dismissal of myriad other potential strategies) is clearly a tactical dead-end and losing strategy. Raging flesh consumption is shredding the vegan paradigm, and despite some gains the vegan and animal rights cause is rapidly losing ground and hemorrhaging badly. Emerging capitalist entities with huge populations, like China and India, are driving the demand for rotting animal corpses and other animal-derived products through the roof as the disease of consumerism –stoked by Madison Avenue advertising — whets the appetites of the populace for hamburgers, bacon, fried chicken, eggs, and milk shakes, all conveniently provided by the scourge of fast-food outlets and the globalization of the animal-industrial complex.
In a February 17, 2009 interview, Mia MacDonald of Brighter Green, a non-profit environmental think tank based in New York, discussed her case study of China’s runaway demand for animal-derived food products:
Since 1980, meat consumption in China has risen four-fold. It’s now about 119 pounds per person a year, just over half the average American’s per capita annual meat consumption of 220 pounds.
In 2007, China raised and slaughtered 700 million pigs. That’s about 10 times the number in the U.S., although pork is China’s most popular meat and China’s population is more than four times as large as the U.S.’s, dairy consumption is rising even faster; the dairy industry in China has grown 20 percent a year over the past decade, and consumption of milk products in China has risen three times since 2000.
As Mark Bittman writes, “Americans are downing close to 200 pounds of meat, poultry and fish per capita per year (dairy and eggs are separate, and hardly insignificant), an increase of 50 pounds per person from 50 years ago.” There is a shocking spike in global flesh consumption as well: “The world’s total meat supply was 71 million tons in 1961. In 2007, it was estimated to be 284 million tons. Per capita consumption has more than doubled over that period. (In the developing world, it rose twice as fast, doubling in the last 20 years.) World meat consumption is expected to double again by 2050.”
Whilst Hall and Francionites cling to their messianic faith in pacifistic veganism, the systemic savagery of capitalism that they rarely, if ever, address escalates its violent assault on nature, human animals, and nonhuman animals. Corporate overlords like Don Tyson aren’t concerned that human activity is creating an increasingly disturbing dystopia and mutating the Earth into a lifeless and barren asteroid. As Hall dedicates herself to converting white middle to upper class liberal Americans to veganism at an annual growth rate of about .03% per year, Tyson Foods, Inc is preparing to globalize its special brand of institutionalized violence, thereby positioning itself to enable billions of new dead animal flesh addicts around the world. The November 2, 2008 edition of USA Today reports that:
Tyson plans to duplicate his company’s domination of the U.S. livestock industry, but on a global scale. “Our company, as I would view it today, is in kind of a consolidation stage, getting ready for our growth overseas,” Tyson said in a rare and extensive interview with The Associated Press. If the strategy succeeds, it could do far more than deliver profits to the company and its shareholders. As Tyson Foods Inc. replicates its uniquely American model of corporate meat production throughout the developing world, the company could fundamentally transform rural economies in nations like India, Brazil and China.
Make no mistake about it. Don Tyson and a host of ruthless hardcore exploiters are slavering over the tremendous profits to be had in China and other emerging capitalist nations with mammoth populations. For every dollar that we put into vegan education, they put a million into advertising, lobbying, and campaign donations that buttress the twenty first century’s “peculiar institution” that the USA Today euphemistically refers to as a “uniquely American model of corporate meat production.” Going head to head with the likes of Tyson without hammering them with every guerrilla tactic at our disposal is idiocy. It is the passive dark side of the public face of aggressive vegan outreach campaigns. And like it or not, if we want to end the animal holocaust, we have no choice but to take on the exploiters and the system that facilitates their loathsome existence in a much more varied, dynamic, and – when necessary – confrontational and militant form.
Hall envisions a “one person at a time” vegan revolution achieving “a critical mass” when there are billions of dollars driving capitalist exploiters to resist said revolution with all their considerable might and billions of newly minted consumerists poised to devour ton upon ton of factory “farmed” animal flesh. So we simply hand out vegan pamphlets in hopes that people will accept them, create a vegan cookbooks to sell at hip independent bookstores, and advertise a dinner with a speaker at the vegan café in the Village, debate welfarists on podcasts, and maybe the number of vegans will rise to 5 or possibly 10 % of the human population within the next 100 years? But by 2050, the human population is projected to jump from 6 to 9 billion people, and these teeming billions will consume flesh at twice the already disastrous current rates. Whatever the percentage of plant-eating converts in 50 years, we can be fairly sure that the vegan tugboat will continue to lose ground to the flesh-eating cruiser and that if vegan education means anything it has to break through the glass ceiling of Western white privilege and begin to build bridges and alliances in their neighborhoods and nations, across barriers of race, gender, age, culture, religion, language, race, country, class, and continents to forever dispel the justly-deserved widespread view that vegans and animal rights advocates care “only” about nonhuman animals and indifferent to the plight of other people.
Borrowing a phrase from Carol Adams, China – and the ecocrisis as a whole – is the “absent referent” in the work of Francione, Hall, and countless other vegan advocates. It boggles the mind: why don’t they acknowledge these alarming statistics and make them a central part of their analysis and critique of speciesism, flesh consumption, and capitalism? The answer is clear: to recognize the reality of the global ecocrisis is to understand its emergency nature; this in turn forces one to admit that the single-issue vegan education glacial model of change tactics are completely inadequate to the task and that more varied, alliance-oriented, and radical actions are necessary.
This opens the door to actions such as sabotage which pacifists want to lock up in the basement like a vicious, terrifying monster. It destroys the complacency that asks us to be infinitely patient and disable any number of effective tactics in obedience to a party line that is increasingly out of touch with reality and the true severity of the planetary crisis. And it forces us to think outside the single issue box, to explore commonalities of oppression (beyond the vague gestures of Francione and Hall), and to begin building bridges with other social movements in a global anti-capitalist multiracial politics that challenges hierarchies of all kind, very much including that of human over nonhuman animals and the natural world.
Conclusion: Total Liberation in the Era of Ecocrisis
“Let’s be honest. The animal rights movement as we now know it will never become a revolutionary struggle because the representatives of the oppressed enjoy enough privilege from the system they oppose to prevent them from supporting, let alone engaging in actual revolutionary activity that would risk those comforts.” Rod Coronado, former ALF activist and political prisoner
In summary, we salute the efforts of Francione, Hall, and a host of others who are part of a growing new abolitionist movement with roots in the US anti-slavery movement of the nineteenth century and the human and animal rights traditions. A galvanizing force for the growth of the new abolitionists has been the welfarist and collaborationist campaigns of HSUS and PETA that in the attempt to reduce the horrific suffering animals experience within modern conditions of confinement and slaughter have abandoned and arguably forfeited the struggle for the elimination rather than amelioration of nonhuman animal exploitation.
The new abolitionism is a decisive advance over the dominant welfarist and pseudo-rights tendencies in the contemporary animal advocacy movement. Our purpose, however, had been to uncover the highly problematic nature of new abolitionism which has been uncritically received throughout the world, specifically as evident in the work of leading voices such as Francione and Hall.
We want to emphasize that, despite the patronizing and pontificating dogma of Hall, there are other forms of abolitionism besides one-dimensional vegan pacifism, forms more true to the pluralistic character of nineteenth century abolitionism. This movement included whites and blacks, men and women, privileged and non-privileged, free person and slave, and nonviolent and violent elements. Its social composition and alliance politics character (common throughout the nineteenth century, uniting movements militating for women, workers, African-Americans, children, and nonhuman animals) was more complex and advanced than the single-issue “animal protection” movement, and pacifist doctrinaires did not straightjacket abolitionist tactics.
From the 1840s and for decades to come Frederick Douglass preached the Gospel of struggle. Harriet Tubman pioneered the Underground Railroad that freed dozens of slaves to the North in blatant violation of slave “ownership” laws, and she advocated nonviolence, although she provided aid to John Brown. A white Christian who loathed slavery as a violation of the will of God, John Brown led a failed armed rebellion on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, yet Brown and his courage and commitment to equality inspires resistance to this day. And in 1831, lay preacher Nat Turner led a slave uprising with a band of over 50 people. For 30 hours, they travelled from house to house freeing slaves and killing over 60 white people and striking fear into the hearts of all white oppressors. In fact, we suggest that the Animal Liberation Front, which has its own Underground Railroad to shuttle liberated animals to place they can receive care and shelter, is a more authentic contemporary example of nineteenth century abolitionism than the timid and tepid form that Francione and Hall represent.
The main problem with their position, as should be evident, is dogmatism, which takes forms such as what we are calling fundamentalist pacifism. In their outlooks, nonviolence is more of a theology, metaphysics, and religion than a critically reflexive ethical, political, and tactical philosophy. The vehemence of this worldview is well captured by Francione’s declaration that he is “violently opposed to violence.” The dogmas are encased with essentialist definitions of “animal rights” and “veganism,” such that they, and only they, command the true and real understanding and praxis of these concepts which, as if through divination of a Natural Law, are wedded to nonviolence. We thank Shishkoff – who Zeus-like threw down a thunderous pronouncement that we, despite decades of abstinence of animal-derived products between us, are NOT vegans – for making this point more eloquently and powerfully than we could have done ourselves. This essentialism is particularly virulent in Hall’s worldview and it informs her excoriation of the MDA movement – comprised of a quilt work of distortion, misrepresentation, inaccuracies, misunderstanding, slander, and ad hominems.
This studied caricature in our view constitutes nothing less than a betrayal of the movement and nonhuman animals themselves. Indeed, even if one consults the propaganda of animal exploitation industries and corporate front groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom – it is hard to find a more distorted and venomous characterization of militant direct activists. Capers in the Courtyard certainly assists FBI efforts to repress, jail, and annihilate militant direct action. It is most ironic that Hall blames groups like SHAC and the ALF for bringing on repressive laws such as the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, when her polemics have a regressive effect that contribute to the vilification of MDA groups and facilitates the very state repression she bemoans. We defy any objective reader (e.g., someone not an employee of Friends of Animals) to read Capers and not find evidence of the Stockholm Syndrome in Hall’s mindset, such that she sympathizes more with animal exploiters than hard-core animal activists.
Whereas Francione and Hall think the task is to steer between welfarism on one side and MDA on the other, we see a different way to proceed. Against a dogmatic and one-dimensional abolitionism we propose a methodological and tactical outlook based on pluralism, contextualism, and pragmatism. Against a one-dimensional, single-issue veganism, we advocate a multidimensional alliance politics. Opposed to the elitist, white, Western-centric standpoint of Francione and Hall we advocate a radical extension of veganism to communities of the poor, working classes, and people of color, and beyond into South Africa, Brazil, China, India, and elsewhere.
Francione and Hall are reformists at the grand level of working within capitalism, seeking change within the system. Given that they are both lawyers, each has an inherent professional bias and institutional advantage to seeking change within the constraints of the capitalist state, legal system, and mode of production. Moving from animal rights to the more general level of society overall, they are much closer to HSUS and PETA than they think. In fact, at this level, they are all reformists; they want us all to have a bigger cage in the Global Capitalist Gulag. They are all liberals, seeking piecemeal change and trying to abolish animal exploitation in a vast global animal industrial complex whose profits increasingly are dependent upon whipping up new “carnivorous” desires, opening up flesh markets throughout the world, and becoming more, not less, entrenched, more, not less, materially wedded to the destruction of all life and the planet, and more, not less, fiercely committed to stopping ragtag vegan organizing if necessary. And it will never willingly relinquish its death grip on this planet. Certainly not to 100 white professionals from Friends of Animals who might protest against it, and who approach on friendly and respectful terms, proudly proclaiming their allegiance to soulforce and disavowing the use of a potentially stronger force that might actually be able to challenge an exploitative industry. And so the purveyors of death extend their hand in friendship, knowing that they have absolutely nothing to worry about with the ahimsa-beholden minuscule numbers of a marginalized vegan subculture.
We defend a form of animal liberation that (1) defends the use of high-pressure direct action tactics, along with illegal raids, rescues and sabotage attacks; (2) views capitalism as an inherently irrational, exploitative, and destructive system, and sees the state to be a corrupt tool whose function is to advance the economic and military interests of the corporate domination system and to repress opposition to its agenda; (3) has a broad, critical understanding of how different forms of oppression are interrelated, such that human and nonhuman animal liberation are ultimately one and the same project; and thus (4) promotes an anti-capitalist alliance politics with other rights, justice, and liberation movements who share the common goal of dismantling all systems of hierarchical domination and rebuilding societies through decentralization and democratization processes.
Throughout the world today we find runaway “meat” consumption in China, India, Brazil, and throughout the world, as fueled by capitalism, the “livestock” industry, “factory farming,” and the agricultural-industrial complex. This is a cancerous system growing out of control and must be stopped, but it will not stop, stall, or slow down simply because merely 2% (and barely growing) of the US population is vegan.
Despite their attempts to effect a break and paradigm shift from welfarism and to position themselves as antithetical to groups like HSUS and PETA, Francione, Hall, and their flock of digital devotees share more similarities with the welfare movement than differences because they all speak to elite white audiences almost exclusively, pursue single-issue and non-confrontational politics, might utter a peep against capitalism but ultimately endorse it with a roar, advance dogmatic pacifist philosophies, and, in the case of HSUS and Hall in particular, denigrate MDA in official corporate-state language and help demonize them so the FBI can then criminalize them.
Despite the fanfare of Francione and followers who tout their abolitionist approach as radically different from welfarism, whether “old” or “new,” both share core assumptions and values. These enemies are ideologically and socially inbred in fundamental ways. Pacelle – one of their arch foes – is actually their doppelganger. Pacelle and Francione-Hall are wedded to the state and to capitalism and pursue no larger social changes and no confrontational politics. Again, all speak to elite white audiences almost exclusively; all think in terms of fragments not whole systems; all are single-issue in their politics (despite Francione and Hall’s occasional lip-service support of alliance politics). To be clear: the problem is not that Francione and Hall never talk about capitalism, state power, and commonalities of oppression, they do; the issue rather is that they talk only in the abstract and do not systematically or concretely incorporate larger social and environmental issues into their work, let alone their practice. Whatever intentions to the contrary they may have, their work is overwhelmingly one-dimensional and single-issue and certainly to our knowledge they never mediate any such insights with practice.
The problem with their gradualist approach, like the problem with the incremental approach of HSUS or anyone else, is this: although a widespread vegan revolution will not grow roots for many decades, a century, or perhaps longer, the narrowing window of opportunity to stave off total ecological crisis is a few decades or only years away. The situation of dwindling oil supplies, rising food prices, and skyrocketing levels of flesh consumption by China and India should alert us to a crisis condition, not lull us into a condition of complacency. To reference The Matrix, they are peddling the blue pill of complacency over the red pill of knowledge, outrage, and radical action. We’re hurtling into an apocalyptic abyss and they are trying to sell us a vegan “revolution” that stacks up One Plate at a Time and is expected to reach a “critical mass” sometime in the indefinite future. But global catastrophe is here and now.
To be as blunt as we need to be: the vegan “revolution” pushed by Francione, Hall, Friends of Animals, and countless others in the vegan and animal rights/abolitionist movements is a myth, a fantasy, and a narcotic that lulls people into the deep sleep of complacency. Mainstream vegan politics is a one-dimensional, single-issue, Western-centric, white, elitist, consumerist, capitalist concept that this movement needs to shed quickly.
The fundamentalist pacifism that Francione and Hall are promulgating is a distorted outlook that is the product of the Jesus-Gandhi tradition of turn-the-other-cheek (although Jesus turned over some tables in his day), the Socratic-Enlightenment fallacy of humanity as a rational species that does the Good once it knows the Good, and the Rousseauian myth of an inherently sympathetic and benevolent humanity. This ideological concoction is mixed with the biases of white elite professionals who are products of the legal system and statist ideology and blended into a seductively sweet product distributed for mass consumption.
If we are to avert an ecological China Syndrome and liberate nonhuman animals, we must strike at the roots of the capitalist-anthropocentric paradigm with every tool at our disposal, including vegan education, MDA, and a host of others. The ecocrisis renders fundamentalist pacifism obsolete. While the kind of abolitionism championed by Francione and Hall is a sharp advance over welfarism, its lack of social politics and its deafening silence on the explosive growth of the global animal-industrial complex relegates it to a historical cul-de-sac and tactical dead-end that we must maneuver around and beyond.
Dr. Steve Best is TPC’s senior editor of total liberation and animal rights. Associate professor of philosophy at UTEP, award-winning writer, noted speaker, public intellectual, and seasoned activist, Steven Best engages the issues of the day such as animal rights, ecological crisis, biotechnology, liberation politics, terrorism, mass media, globalization, and capitalist domination. Best has published 10 books, over 100 articles and reviews, spoken in over a dozen countries, interviewed with media throughout the world, appeared in numerous documentaries, and was voted by VegNews as one of the nations “25 Most Fascinating Vegetarians.” He has come under fire for his uncompromising advocacy of “total liberation” (humans, animals, and the earth) and has been banned from the UK for the power of his thoughts. From the US to Norway, from Sweden to France, from Germany to South Africa, Best shows what philosophy means in a world in crisis.
Jason Miller, Senior Editor and Founder of TPC, is a tenacious forty something straight edge vegan activist who lives in Kansas and who has a boundless passion for animal liberation and anti-capitalism. Addicted to reading and learning, he is mostly an autodidact, but he studied liberal arts and philosophy at the University of Missouri Kansas City . In early 2005, he founded the radical blog Thomas Paine’s Corner and is now the Senior Blog Editor and Blog Director for the Transformative Studies Institute. An accomplished, prolific essayist on social and political issues, his writings have appeared on hundreds of alternative media websites over the last few years. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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1. The essay is online at:http://thomaspainescorner.wordpress.com/2009/02/07/pacifism-or-animals-which-do-you-love-more/.
2. By “militant direct action” we mean legal and illegal actions taken against animal exploiters by animal liberationists. We contrast this to the “direct action” vegan approach of Francione, Hall, and their followers. We agree veganism is a powerful form of direct action, but we eschew their efforts to make it the only form of direct action, and we argue for the need to take a wide range of actions against animal oppressors, including the sabotage tactics of the ALF and ELF and the high-pressure and confrontational approach of SHAC.
3. For the historical record on the salaries of the FoA executive elite, seehttp://bartlett.oag.state.ny.us/Char_Forms/search_charities.jsp. To access the information, type “Friends of Animals” in the name category, go to the 2008 Form 990: Feral’s salary is listed on page 8, and Hall and Orabona’s salaries are provided on page 13.
4. They are both, for instance, adamantly attached to an extreme pacifism. In an interview with Lee Hall, for example, Francione says: “I am absolutely and unequivocally opposed to any sort of violence directed toward humans or nonhuman. I am firmly committed to the principle of non-violence. The revolution I seek is one from the heart.” “An Interview with Professor Gary L. Francione on the State of the U.S. Animal Rights Movement,” September 2002, Actionline, http://www.friendsofanimals.org/programs/animal-rights/interview-with-gary-francione.html.
5. Of course we are specifically talking about the type of pacifism Francione and Hall promote in contrast to the MDA outlook we ourselves champion, and there will be different understandings of each general orientation. We note here, however, that in their strict emphasis on legal forms of activism and change through vegan education, Francione and Hall are considerably more conservative than Gandhi and King who consistently advocated civil disobedience and ways of non-cooperation that could challenge or throttle an entire social system.
6. Francione cited at the Animal Rights Community Online forum, athttp://www.animalsuffering.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=6258.
7. In paternalistic and patronizing tones, Shishkoff scolds us: “Finally, do not call yourselves vegans. You’re not vegans. If you took the time to read what Donald Watson (who coined the term vegan in 1944) had to say, you’d know that what you’re doing is in direct opposition to what he envisioned. He was a dedicated peace activist and promoted ideas of peace and respect, and this was embodied in the vegan philosophy. The notion of blowing things up, militarism, or threatening people personally is anathema to veganism. Do not call yourselves vegans until you agree with the principles behind it. Anything less would be…well…hypocritical.”
8. Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom (Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1995), p. 158.
9. “Barack changes everything,” interview with Spike Lee, January 4, 2009, The Observer,http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/jan/04/spike-lee-interview-john-colapinto
10. See, for instance, the Introduction to Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals, eds. Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella II. New York: Lantern Books, 2004, pp. 9-63.
11. On how underground and aboveground groups can compliment one another, without literally cooperating on tactics, see Kevin Jonas, “Bricks and Bullhorns,” in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters, pp. 263-271. For the power of this one-two punch approach to work, however, aboveground groups cannot demonize the underground as thugs and terrorists such as Hall does in her inimitable style.
12. For video documentation of some of these campaigns, and why such examples of horrific animal abuse drove activists to do more than hold up protest signs and write letters to the editors, see: “Save The Hillgrove Cats Campaign” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZS9DMam53H8&feature=related) and “Save The Shamrock Monkeys Campaign” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrWcAlmZYtM&feature=related).
13. For a surprisingly sympathetic article in the most unlikely of places, see Fred Burton, “SHAC Convictions: The Martyrdom Effect,” March 16, 2006, Stratfor Global Intelligence,http://www.stratfor.com/shac_convictions_martyrdom_effect.
14. For details on SHAC’s modus operandi, see “SHAC Attack: Targeting Companies Animal Rights Style,” Do or Die, Issue #10, http://www.eco-action.org/dod/no10/shac.htm.
15. “About Punk Rock and Animal Rights,” Punk Rock and Animal Rights,http://punkandanimalrights.com/about.php#. Even Francionite Bob Torres takes Hall to task for her vulgar caricature and dismissal of punk and hardcore music and subcultures; see his review of Capers at: http://blog.veganfreak.com/index.php?archive/2006/09.
16. “SHAC Attack.”
17. Tom Regan, “How to Justify Violence,” in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters, pp. 231-236.
18. See Best’s critique of Dawn’s single-issue politics, opportunism, and farcical apology for far right shill and speechwriter Matthew Scully, “From “Dominion” to Domination: The Duplicity and Complicity of Matthew Scully,” September 6, 2008, Thomas Paine’s Corner,http://thomaspainescorner.wordpress.com/2009/01/20/from-dominion-to-domination-the-duplicity-and-complicity-of-matthew-scully/
20. As Brandon Becker understood, “I’m not a pacifist, so I don’t categorically reject counter-violence. I don’t categorically support it either. Context matters” (http://www.animalperson.net/animal_person/2009/02/on-pacifism.html#comments).
21. As James Crump noted in response to our essay (TPC comment #45), the mainstream of this movement “has always marginalized veganism in favor of regulatory welfarist campaigns which seek to make institutionalized animal slavery more `humane.’ In light of that fact, the claim that vegan outreach has `failed’ as a movement strategy is vacuous as it is grounded in no empirical evidence.”
22. For an effective critique of Francione’s ahimsa dogma, see Rick Bogle’s contextualist reflections (as well as the responses by Justin Goodman and Derek Oatis) in “Animal Rights Violence,” August 23, 2007, Primate Freedom,http://primateresearch.blogspot.com/2007/08/animal-rights-violence.html.
23. Jeff Perz, “Exclusive Non-Violent Action: Its Absolute Necessity for Building a Genuine Animal Rights Movement,” Abolitionist Online, http://www.abolitionist-online.com/article-issue05_exclusive.non.violent.jeff-perz.shtml. Perz carried out an extended and most illuminating debate with Daniel Peyser. For Peyser’s general position, see “Beyond Pacifism” at: http://www.abolitionist-online.com/article-issue05_beyond.pacifism.daniel-peyser.shtml. Peyser responded to Perz’s “Exclusive Non-Violent Action” essay at: http://animalliberationfront.com/Practical/Shop–ToDo/Activism/Non-violence.htm. Perz’s rejoinder to Peyser’s critique is at:http://www.animalrightscommunity.com/abolitionists/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=402.
24. Francione, Animal Rights Community Online, Nov 16 2007,http://www.animalsuffering.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=5658&start=15.
25. We also observe a common assumption that because far more nonhuman animals suffer and die for “food” production than any other form of exploitation, veganism should be the only or main focus of the entire animal advocacy movement, such that work on other issues wastes time and hurts the cause. But different issues are important in different areas (e.g., the vivisection is far more intense in the UK than here), and all contribute to challenging speciesism and ending animal exploitation in significant ways, as anti-vivisectionism, for instance, mounts a critique of one of the leading religions of the day – Science – and challenges powerful social and economic institutions as it facilitates the emergence of new forms of knowledge that sever the tie to a disabling Cartesianism and positivism.
26. Moreover, mainstream animal advocacy – reformist, single-issue, and pro-capitalism, whether by commitment or default — is perfectly compatible with right-wing, militarist, and imperialist philosophies (e.g., Matthew Scully, author of the widely-hailed book, Dominion, wrote pivotal speeches for George W. Bush and Sarah Palin).
28. Cudahy did, however, write a blog entry on building bridges to other social movements, which shows that he understands the need to break out of individualist ideology. See, “On the Strengths and Limitations of Alliance Politics,” November 21, 2008, Unpopular Vegan Essays,http://unpopularveganessays.blogspot.com/2008/11/on-strengths-and-limitations-of.html.
29. John Zerzan, “Summarizing Primitivism for purposes of exploration and debate with Michael Albert,” North American Animal Liberation Press Office Newsletter, Volume One, Number 2, January 2006,http://www.animalliberationpressoffice.org/Newsletter/archives/2006-01/economicsab.htm
30. As seasoned activists like Paul Watson point out, while the US animal advocacy movement is lily-white, this generalization does not apply universally as throughout the world people of color oppose animal exploitation. For a critique of the single-issue, elitist, and maladroit aspects of the mainstream animal advocacy movement, PETA above all, while more than a bit speciesist on his side, see Tim Wise, “Animal Whites: PETA and the Politics of Putting Things in Perspective,” August 13, 2005, Counterpunch,http://www.counterpunch.org/wise08132005.html.
31. Freeganism is a quantum leap beyond mainstream veganism in that it commonly adopts an anti-capitalist and anti-consumerist philosophy and mode of living. For many freegans (some are carnivores), veganism is the starting point, not the ending point, of thinking and lifestyle changes that challenge consumerism as a whole. For an excellent statement on the politics of freeganism, see Adam Weisman, “The Revolution in Everyday Life,” in Best and Nocella’s, Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of the Earth. Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2006, pp. 127-136.
32. Francione interviewed by Bob Torres in a Vegan Freak radio show, at:http://veganfreakradio.com/index.php?id=143.
33. Joan Dunayer is much better than Francione or Hall on the validity of liberating animals. When discussing rescues of individual nonhuman animals, including illegal liberations, she says: “Such actions are non-speciesist, akin to saving individual Jews from the Holocaust or helping individual African-Americans escape from slavery. Providing sanctuary to those in need in no way violates their rights. It gets them out of danger and frees them from abuse,” Speciesism (Derwood Maryland, Ryce Publishing, 2004), p. 151. Similarly, in Animal Equality: Language and Liberation (Derwood Maryland, Ryce Publishing, 2001), discussing the liberation of imprisoned dolphins in 1977, Dunayer comes out on favor of liberation: “I wholeheartedly support the illegal liberation of oppressed nonhumans. But someone must provide for liberated animals’ safety and well-being if they seem unable to defend themselves. Kea and Puka were released – while debilitated – into the Pacific rather than their native Atlantic. No one prepared them for freedom or took measures to protect them. Almost certainly they died” (p. 240, footnote 7). This passage makes clear that she supports ALF-style liberations, provided the rescuers plan ahead to make sure the liberated beings can survive on their own or are cared for by humans, which indeed is what the ALF does according to its credo.
34. Derrick Jensen, End Game, Volume I: The Problem of Civilization. (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2006, pp 9-10).
35. Elliot cited on Mary Martin’s blog Animal People, at:http://www.animalperson.net/animal_person/2009/02/on-pacifism.html#comments.
36. Robin McKie, “President ‘has four years to save Earth,’” The Observer, January 18, 2009,http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jan/01/scentist-letter-hansen-barack-obama
37. Results vary significantly from survey to survey with none exceeding 2%, little information on the vegan population outside the US and the UK is available, and most polls show the vegan populations in the US and UK to be closer to .5%. See the Vegan Research Panel, at:http://www.imaner.net/panel/statistics.htm.
38. “United States Leads World Meat Stampede,” July 2, 1998, Worldwatch Institute,http://www.worldwatch.org/node/1626.
40. Mark Bittman, “Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler,” January 27, 2008, The New York Times,http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/weekinreview/27bittman.html.