Marx’s Son-in-Law Hated Animals

by JON HOCHSCHARTNER

Paul Lafargue, son-in-law to Karl Marx and a revolutionary in his own right, supported vivisection in the socialist newspaper L’Egalité in late 1881. Lafargue, who would die in a suicide pact with Marx’s daughter, defended the exploitative practice in a manner that revealed his deep speciesism and scathing disdain for animal advocates.

“When it comes to beasts the bourgeois have the tenderness of angels,” Lafargue wrote sneeringly. “Everywhere there are societies for the protection of dogs, cats, sparrows, etc.” The subset of animal advocates that most disturbed him apparently were those opposed to animal testing. “Of all these societies the most bothersome, the most hypocritical, the most nauseating is the anti-vivisection society,” Lafargue wrote. Interestingly, however, Lafargue had many of the same criticisms of welfarist organizations that modern animal advocates do. “All of these societies are speculations,” he wrote. “A certain number of influential members (presidents, secretaries, agents, inspectors, etc) are lavishly maintained on the funds intended for beasts.”

Lafargue continued on, taking anti-vivisectionists to task for their supposed pretentiousness. “Pigeon shooting, where thousands of tamed pigeons are wounded and mutilated for the amusement of a few imbecilic aristocrats, is highly approved of by the anti-vivisection society,” Lafargue wrote. “Several of its most influential members are big pigeon shooters.” Whether these accusations are true I’m unsure. But either way, such gotcha anti-veganism, by which I mean criticism of failures or inconsistencies in animal advocates’ personal practice, is inherently ad hominem. It’s used to ignore the merits of non-human advocates’ policy proposals.

Lafargue bemoaned what seems to be public oversight of animal testing, strangely suggesting that this government regulation was capitalist inspired. “The society of anti-vivisectionist animals of England has pulled so many strings that it has obtained from parliament a law prohibiting physiological experiments on living animals without permission from the police,” Lafargue wrote, disbelieving. “This is how the bourgeois treat their illustrious men. They degrade them to the point of putting them under the control of the cops even in the laboratory.”

Much of Lafargue’s argument rested on a dubious dichotomy between political work on behalf of animals and political work on behalf of the human working class. Animal advocates, “feel themselves to be closer relatives of beasts than of workers,” which, according to Lafargue, was a reflection of their supposedly uniformal ruling-class station. And yet if this were true, why so often was capitalist exploitation justified by comparing the human proletariat to domesticated animals? Challenging speciesism undermines a common ideological rationale for class domination.

Paraphrasing an English factory inspector, Lafargue wrote that “there exist two kinds of experiments: one practiced by physiologists on a few animals, the other practiced on thousands of men by speculators.” As an example of the latter, Lafargue wrote that “two years ago a manufacturer of rice powder in London, Mr. King, falsified his merchandise with clay and arsenical dust.” Human infants who were exposed to the powder died of poisoning. Lafargue seemed to suggest that animal advocates, who were opposed to vivisection, were not outraged by this. My guess is Lafargue was attacking a straw man here. But even if he wasn’t, his accusation that animal advocates’ sympathies were reductionist could easily be flipped to apply to him. Where perhaps anti-vivisectionists were blind to class injustice, he was blind to species injustice. After all, the “few animals” he blithely described as vivisected in the name of anthropocentric science likely had a higher level of consciousness than the human infants poisoned by rice powder.

Ultimately, if indifference to animal exploitation is inherent to socialism as conceived by the likes of Lafargue, it’s not a socialism I want to have anything to do with. Animal liberation and the class struggle are linked, if only because capitalists employ speciesism to justify their exploitation of the human masses.

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

Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from New York. 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman