Taking the Meat Out of the ISO
Alan Peck, a vegan and member of the International Socialist Organization, the largest group on the revolutionary left, hopes to launch an animal-liberation tendency within the organization. He believes capitalism and animal exploitation are connected and suspects a significant minority of the ISO would be interested in joining the tendency. While saying all this, he wanted to be clear that he was speaking for himself, not the organization as a whole.
Peck was first introduced to the ISO in late 2011. “I met the local branch of the ISO during the first general membership meeting of my union after I was hired, right as Occupy Wall Street broke out,” he said. “I’d already followed left-of-Obama politics for a number of years, so when a guy made a proposal to endorse Occupy San Diego and form an Occupy solidarity group within our union, I made a point to strike up a conversation with him.”
As it happened, the person Peck spoke with was a revolutionary and together they joined the Occupy San Diego Labor Solidarity Committee. There he found that “many of the activists making the clearest, best arguments and being the most effective leaders were all from this strange socialist group,” Peck said, referring to the ISO.
His political transformation occurred quickly. While the Occupy San Diego General Assembly fizzled, the Labor Solidarity Committee to which he belonged flourished. “Within a handful of months, I transformed from a disaffected former Democrat who thought a repeal of Citizens United would solve everything, into a full-on Marxist,” Peck said.
He believes the ISO needs an organized tendency for vegetarians and vegans to agitate for animal-liberation positions within the group. “The combination of laws, customs, and economic incentives that support animal agriculture closely resembles other systems of oppression within capitalism, often eerily so,” Peck said. “Just as we believe that racism, sexism, and queerphobia will not end without the overthrow of capitalism, and capitalism cannot be overthrown without challenging these oppressions inside the system, I think that what we do to animals is interrelated with the exploitative system of capitalism in the same way.”
Still, Peck seems to concede that widespread veganism is not necessary to overthrow private ownership of the means of production. “Materially, there is nothing keeping the working class from organizing to overthrow the rulers while still eating animals,” he said. “However, the ideologies that support the infliction of unnecessary suffering on non-human animals in the interest of profit are the same ideologies that must be confronted and undone in the process of ending capitalism and building a better world.”
Additionally, Peck said, the worst animal abuse occurs on factory farms, the same spaces where the most severe exploitation of human workers and degradation of the environment also take place. “Given these facts, I think it is right for revolutionaries, and revolutionary organizations, to challenge the system of animal exploitation,” he said.
Peck is hopeful that a sizable portion of the ISO membership would join an animal-liberation tendency. “In the branch, about a fifth are vegan or vegetarian,” Peck said, adding he believed that percentage might join the tendency. “I don’t know the landscape in other branches. I suspect the numbers are similar in other urban branches.”
He said he hoped an animal-liberation tendency within the ISO would achieve at least four things. The first task would be to, Peck said, “develop an analysis of animal exploitation using Marxist theory — a material analysis that includes the historical development of our relationship to non-human animals and the struggle against animal exploitation. There is surprisingly very little written from this perspective.”
The second task would to be end socialist hostility toward animal activists. “I’ve watched this aggressiveness and defensiveness calm since I came to the branch, and I think that’s due largely to having multiple open and confident vegans in the branch who can make the case against animal exploitation — including the ethical arguments — without moralizing individuals or oppressed groups,” he said. “This could be replicated elsewhere.”
The third task, Peck said, was to “convince the membership that veganism is not just a lifestyle choice that should be respected, but is a valid form of political expression akin to a movement boycott — as opposed to a bourgeois peer-pressure boycott like not shopping at Wal-Mart.” The fourth task, which Peck said might be a long way off, would be to convince a majority of ISO members that the liberation of humanity is bound together with the liberation of non-human animals, so animal exploitation should be addressed in the organization’s revolutionary platform.
Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from upstate New York. Visit his website at JonHochschartner.com.