FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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. 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
Joseph Natoli
The Politics of Crazy and Stupid
Sher Ali Khan
Empirocracy
Nauman Sadiq
A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot
Franklin Lamb
A Roadmap for Lebanon to Grant Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Colin Todhunter
Power and the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass Murder
Michael Barker
UK Labour’s Rightwing Select Corporate Lobbyist to Oppose Jeremy Corbyn
Graham Peebles
Brexit, Trump and Lots of Anger
Anhvinh Doanvo
Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and Drones
Christopher Brauchli
Kansas and the Phantom Voters
Peter Lee
Gavin Long’s Manifesto and the Politics of “Terrorism”
Missy Comley Beattie
An Alarmingly Ignorant Fuck
Robert Koehler
Volatile America
Adam Vogal
Why Black Lives Matter To Me
Raouf Halaby
It Is Not Plagiarism, Y’all
Rivera Sun
Nonviolent History: South Africa’s Port Elizabeth Boycott
Rev. Jeff Hood
Deliver Us From Babel
Frances Madeson
Juvenile Life Without Parole, Captured in ‘Natural Life’
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail