The Vegetarian Communard


Elisee Reclus, the French anarchist and geographer, was a proselytizing vegetarian who held progressive views of other animals. Serving as a militia member, he was an active participant in the Paris Commune of 1871, a working-class uprising that Karl Marx dubbed “the glorious harbinger of a new society.” After his capture by government forces, Reclus was initially to be deported to New Caledonia, an archipelago off the coast of Australia. But due to the intervention of his supporters, which according to some sources included Charles Darwin, Reclus’ sentence was reduced to banishment, which allowed him to live in Switzerland.

Reclus was sensitive to violence against animals as a young child. “One of the family had sent me, plate in hand, to the village butcher, with the injunction to bring back some gory fragment or other,” Reclus wrote, recalling an example. “I still remember this gloomy yard where terrifying men went to and fro with great knives, which they wiped on blood-besprinkled smocks. Hanging from a porch an enormous carcass seemed to me to occupy an extraordinary amount of space; from its white flesh a reddish liquid was trickling into the gutters.” Overwhelmed by the sight of the slaughterhouse, Reclus apparently fainted.

Reclus wrote perceptively about the process which allows humans to commit such violence, a process we might call speciesist socialization. A child’s horrified reactions to the exploitation of animals “wear off in time; they yield before the baneful influence of daily education,” Reclus stated. “Parents, teachers, official or friendly, doctors, not to speak of the powerful individual whom we call ‘everybody,’ all work together to harden the character of the child with respect to this ‘four-footed food,’ which nevertheless, loves as we do, (and) feels as we do.”

Perhaps anticipating the work of writers such as Joan Dunayer, Reclus recognized the role language plays in denying or rationalizing animal exploitation. “The animals sacrificed to man’s appetite have been systematically and methodically made hideous, shapeless, and debased in intelligence and moral worth,” Reclus wrote. “The name even of the animal into which the boar has been transformed is used as the grossest of insults; the mass of flesh we see wallowing in noisome pools is so loathsome to look at that we agree to avoid all similarity of name between the beast and the dishes we make out of it.”

And of course Reclus believed there was a connection between violence against animals and violence against humans. “Is there then so much difference between the dead body of a bullock and that of a man?” Reclus asked. “The dissevered limbs, the entrails mingling one with the other, are very much alike: the slaughter of the first makes easy the murder of the second, especially when a leader’s order rings out, or from afar comes the word of the crowned master, ‘Be pitiless.'”

Reclus died in 1905 at the age of 75. “It is reported that his last days were made particularly happy by news of the popular revolution in Russia,” according to Camille Martin and John P. Clark. “He expired shortly after hearing of the revolt of the sailors on the battleship Potemkin.”

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

Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer. 

November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”
November 23, 2015
Vijay Prashad
The Doctrine of 9/11 Anti-Immigration
John Wight
After Paris: Hypocrisy and Mendacity Writ Large
Joseph G. Ramsey
No Excuses, No Exceptions: the Moral Imperative to Offer Refuge
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS Thrives on the Disunity of Its Enemies
Andrew Moss
The Message of Montgomery: 60 Years Later
Jim Green
James Hansen’s Nuclear Fantasies
Robert Koehler
The Absence of History in the Aftermath of Paris
Dave Lindorff
The US Media and Propaganda
Dave Randle
France and Martial Law
Gilbert Mercier
If We Are at War, Let’s Bring Back the Draft!
Alexey Malashenko
Putin’s Syrian Gambit
Binoy Kampmark
Closing the Door: US Politics and the Refugee Debate
Julian Vigo
A Brief Genealogy of Disappearance and Murder
John R. Hall
Stuck in the Middle With You
Barbara Nimri Aziz
McDonalds at 96th Street
David Rovics
At the Center of Rebellion: the Life and Music of Armand
Weekend Edition
November 20-22, 2015
Jason Hirthler
Paris and the Soldiers of the Caliphate: More War, More Blowback
Sam Husseini
The Left and Right Must Stop the Establishment’s Perpetual War Machine
Mike Whitney
Hillary’s War Whoop
Pepe Escobar
In the Fight Against ISIS, Russia Ain’t Taking No Prisoners
Ajamu Baraka
The Paris Attacks and the White Lives Matter Movement
Andrew Levine
The Clintons are Coming, the Clintons are Coming!
Linda Pentz Gunter
Let’s Call Them What They Are: Climate Liars
Paul Street
Verging on Plutocracy? Getting Real About the Unelected Dictatorship
Nur Arafeh
Strangling the Palestinian Economy
Patrick Howlett-Martin
The Paris Attacks: a Chronicle Foretold
Vijay Prashad
Rebuilding Syria With BRICS and Mortar
Brian Cloughley
Why US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is the Biggest Threat to World Peace