FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Does Socialist Critique of Terrorism Apply to Animal Activists?

by JON HOCHSCHARTNER

The animal rights movement has long been divided between militants and pacifists, between those who support violence against property or institutional exploiters and those who do not. In one camp, we find activists like Steven Best, who argue the scope of animal exploitation is so great that preventative violence is a moral necessity. In the other, we find activists like Gary Francione, who argue all forms of violence are wrong, including those directed at institutional exploiters or their property.

I’d argue that by focusing so intently on the morality of violence, the animal rights movement often ignores whether the debated tactics are effective. Additionally, I’d like to investigate what, if anything, we can learn from other movements that have grappled with the question of terrorism. In this essay, I will be examining the revolutionary workers’ struggle specifically.

Most socialists don’t have a moral opposition to violence, but recognize it’s generally incapable of creating large-scale, permanent change when carried out by individuals or small groups. By the 1890s, according to Randall Law, even anarchists were distancing themselves from the doctrine of ‘propaganda by the deed,’ with luminaries such as Peter Kropotkin declaring a “structure based on centuries of history cannot be destroyed with a few kilos of explosives.”

In a 1911 article, “Why Marxists Oppose Individual Terrorism,” Leon Trotsky, whatever one’s interpretation of the Bolshevik Revolution might be, neatly summarized the socialist case against political violence carried out by individuals. First, it’s important to understand how Trotsky defined terrorism for the sake of his article. Terrorism was not limited to “the killing of an employer… (or) an assassination attempt, with revolver in hand, against a government minister.” Terrorism included “the damaging of machines by workers, for example.”

For Trotsky, the human masses were the fundamental agents of progressive change. Practitioners of terrorism falsely believed they could become these agents themselves and skip past the process of winning the masses to their position. “In our eyes,” Trotsky writes, “individual terror is inadmissible precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes towards a great avenger and liberator who some day will come and accomplish his mission.”

Obviously, the points about agency Trotsky raises here doesn’t apply to the animal rights movement. Unlike the human masses, who must collectively liberate themselves, animals cannot do so. They must rely on the human masses for their freedom. Some contemporary socialists, such as Paul D’Amato, have argued this fact justifies denying animals rights. But such a position ignores that many human groups, such as infants or the severely-mentally disabled, cannot fight for their interests either and must rely on the human masses to do so for them.

Still, if Trotsky is right, and terrorism discourages collective action by the human masses, when that is what’s required for real change for animals, one must conclude terrorism is a dead-end. On the other hand, one could also argue that collective action by the human masses on behalf of animals is so unlikely in the present era that individual terrorism is the best for which we can hope.

In his article, however, Trotsky goes on to highlight how little terrorism achieves, besides increased police repression. “The smoke from the confusion clears away, the panic disappears, the successor of the murdered minister makes his appearance, life again settles into the old rut, the wheel of capitalist exploitation turns as before; only the police repression grows more savage and brazen,” Trotsky writes. “And as a result, in place of the kindled hopes and artificially aroused excitement comes disillusionment and apathy.”

Trotsky’s point regarding increased police repression is undeniable in the context of the animal rights movement to anyone who has read the work of writers such as Will Potter on the Green Scare. Further, as Trotsky says, the wheel of systemic exploitation is generally unaffected by terrorism. Slaughterhouses and laboratories are generally rebuilt. While the non-human lives saved by terrorism should not be ignored, animal activists frequently seem to mistake the use of terrorism as the symptom of a robust movement, when in fact it’s the opposite. Resorting to such desperate actions represents an inability to garner the mass support needed to create real change.

To be clear, I’m not prescribing solutions in this article. I’m merely suggesting animal activists move beyond abstract debate regarding the morality of political violence to a concrete discussion of its effectiveness. To do this, we needn’t reinvent the wheel. Let’s learn what we can from other movements that have grappled with the issue of terrorism. Some of the lessons won’t be applicable, but many will.

Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from upstate New York. Visit his website at JonHochschartner.com.

Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer. 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
Libby Lunstrum - Patrick Bond
Militarizing Game Parks and Marketing Wildlife are Unsustainable Strategies
Andy Thayer
More Cops Will Worsen, Not Help, Chicago’s Violence Problem
Louis Yako
Can Westerners Help Refugees from War-torn Countries?
David Rosen
Rudy Giuliani & Trump’s Possible Cabinet
Joyce Nelson
TISA and the Privatization of Public Services
Pete Dolack
Global Warming Will Accelerate as Oceans Reach Limits of Remediation
Franklin Lamb
34 Years After the Sabra-Shatila Massacre
Cesar Chelala
How One Man Held off Nuclear War
Norman Pollack
Sovereign Immunity, War Crimes, and Compensation to 9/11 Families
Lamont Lilly
Standing Rock Stakes Claim for Sovereignty: Eyewitness Report From North Dakota
Barbara G. Ellis
A Sandernista Priority: Push Bernie’s Planks!
Hiroyuki Hamada
How Do We Dream the Dream of Peace Together?
Russell Mokhiber
From Rags and Robes to Speedos and Thongs: Why Trump is Crushing Clinton in WV
Julian Vigo
Living La Vida Loca
Aidan O'Brien
Where is Europe’s Duterte? 
Abel Cohen
Russia’s Improbable Role in Everything
Ron Jacobs
A Change Has Gotta’ Come
Uri Avnery
Shimon Peres and the Saga of Sisyphus
Graham Peebles
Ethiopian’s Crying out for Freedom and Justice
Robert Koehler
Stop the Killing
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: Of Dog Legs and “Debates”
Yves Engler
The Media’s Biased Perspective
Victor Grossman
Omens From Berlin
Christopher Brauchli
Wells Fargo as Metaphor for the Trump Campaign
Nyla Ali Khan
War of Words Between India and Pakistan at the United Nations
Tom Barnard
Block the Bunker! Historic Victory Against Police Boondoggle in Seattle
James Rothenberg
Bullshit Recognition as Survival Tactic
Ed Rampell
A Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits
Kristine Mattis
Persnickety Publishing Pet-Peeves
Charles R. Larson
Review: Helen Dewitt’s “The Last Samurai”
David Yearsley
Torture Chamber Music
September 22, 2016
Dave Lindorff
Wells Fargo’s Stumpf Leads the Way
Stan Cox
If There’s a World War II-Style Climate Mobilization, It has to Go All the Way—and Then Some
Binoy Kampmark
Source Betrayed: the Washington Post and Edward Snowden
John W. Whitehead
Wards of the Nanny State
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail