“I only wish to say that for a good life a certain order of good actions is indispensable; that if a man’s aspirations toward right living be serious they will inevitably follow one definite sequence, and in this sequence the first thing will be self-control in food — fasting. “…in fasting, if he be really and seriously seeking to live a good life, the first thing from which he will abstain will always be the use of animal food, because, to say nothing of the excitation of the passions caused by such food, its use is simply immoral, as it involves the performance of an act which is contrary to the moral feeling — killing.” —Leo Tolstoy, 1891 “The First Step”
If the Animal Rights activist has objections to involvement with workers’ movements, then what could the Socialist object in response to Vegetarian groups? The arguments are just as wide and varied. The Vegetarian accuses unions and Socialist groups of being neglectful of the condition of animals. The Socialist, in just the same tone and degree, accuses the Vegetarian groups of the same exact crime, except on behalf of the working class. Consider some of the spokespeople chosen for the Animal Rights movement today. Many of them are actors and actresses. PETA, the most well-known of mainstream Animal Rights organizations, does everything it can get famous people onto its magazines. Pamela Anderson, Drew Barrymore, Bill Maher, and Alicia Silverstone are more than just a few that can be handpicked from their advertisements. [*2] All of these people may have some strong sensitivity toward the plight of animal suffering. But you can’t really forget that the DVDs for their films are printed in sweatshops under Fascist dictatorships — their films get advertising from union-busting capitalists like Coca Cola — and their films are full of subliminal ads that imprint people with the consciousness of the consumer. With profits based on sweatshop factories, on child labor, and the forced labor of indigenous peoples around the globe, they advocate for the liberties of animals. Naturally, many workers groups can regard the Vegetarian movement as the previous types of puritanical movements; those philanthropists who came and said that they would uplift the worker to something dignified, while leaving him in the position of a slave. It is not an organizing force that appeals, because it feels like it something almost built up exclusively by an elitist class, without understanding or even sympathy for the common, laboring individual. At the same time, though, a revolutionary movement is stale if it still permits such great cruelty and injustice to happen within its own house. How can you mourn for the worker who was bayoneted in the street by police, when you cannot mourn for the animal who met the same fate by the worker? How can you expect a revolution against the sufferings of most humans, when you reject a revolution against the suffering of most animals? How can you create anything to genuinely eliminate suffering, when its vision is exclusive and its power is restricted? How can you cheer on your own liberty from above, when it is based on an even greater slavery from below?
“Do not ask how your bread is buttered; it will make you sick, if you do- and the like. A man had better starve at once than lose his innocence in the process of getting his bread.”
—Henry David Thoreau, 1863
“Life Without Principle”
Why should these movements matter to each other? This is not the question that members of these groups ask themselves. It is rarely asked of them. But the most obvious objection, among the animal rights activists, would include admitting that great human suffering is caused by the Capitalist. However, despite that, the amount of suffering inflicted on animalkind is easily thousands of times greater, simply based on the number enslaved and killed. For every sweatshop full of forced child labor, there are endless amounts of factories for the slaughter of living, conscious beings.
If a union organizer were to give an objection, it would probably be that there won’t be any positive environmentalism until the workers themselves are in power. After all, the union organizer and Socialist seeks to encourage self-emancipation, a concept that isn’t so immediately transferable to the realm of animal rights. To see a few Animal Rights groups, attacking this issue or attacking that issue, is viewed like a charity group that hands out bread during the depression. It’s a tiny amount of aid, in an entire sea of misery, and there won’t be any real change in the situation without self-organization of the oppressed — again, not quite as common among animals as among humans.
What’s the point of organizing for workers’ power, when Animal Rights represents the far more oppressed group? What’s the point of fighting for Animal Rights, when it poses no social organization that would allow the people to create Animal Liberation? These are the two primal objections of both groups. The first question that every involved individual asked themselves was, “What can I do to change the world?” The answer has definitely been to organize against the worst injustices on the planet. The mutual combination of Socialism and Vegetarianism, in uniting against all suffering, will mean even greater organization of the revolutionary movement.
This does not mean that these movements should lose their autonomy to each other, any more than an individual of these movements loses their autonomy to the whole group. A mutual federation of many organizations must allow for cooperation as much as for disagreement. The whole, with a brilliant vision, will be able to produce great results; and if a small part was hampered by the whole in its brilliant vision, its autonomy would allow it to prove the validity of its tactics in revolutionary change.
Being a Socialist doesn’t mean voting for the Socialist Party, just like being an Animal Rights activist doesn’t mean donating to some charity group. These are only half-hearted attempts at genuine change. Being a true Socialist, like the true Animal Rights advocate, means withdrawing all support from the tyrannies of the planet as the beginning. It means boycott as the beginning and social organizing as the form for achieving justice. In practice, it makes Socialism and Vegetarianism into the same thing, characteristics that overlap on the same face. A withdrawal of support from all those who are based on slavery and mass killing; that means a boycott of Capitalism as much as the animal exploitation industry