Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Animal Activists are All Reformists

by

At the 2013 Subversive Festival in Croatia, Marxist writer Richard Seymour was asked by an interviewer whether he believed the dichotomy between revolutionaries and reformists in the context of class struggle was useful. His answer, I think, would help inform similar debates held between animal advocates who seek for non-humans revolutionary and reformist change, or what is also called abolitionist and welfarist change.

“Well I think the categories matter,” Seymour said. “I think there is a difference between reformists and revolutionaries. But the problem is that in practical terms today, we are all reformists in terms of what we can actually do.” It’s my firm belief the animal movement needs a strong dose of such sobriety, and we must realistically assess the political landscape in which we find ourselves. Abolition, animal liberation, species revolution — whatever one might call it — is simply not on the table at the present moment. We can delude ourselves that this is not the case or curse our luck for being born into an era in which the possibilities of change for non-humans is, at least for the immediate future, rather limited. But ultimately this won’t change anything or help animals. Like it or not, all that’s possible in the present moment is reform, which in practical terms makes us all reformists, whatever we might call ourselves.

Still, Seymour believed the categories mattered to some degree. “There was an old argument made by Alasdair MacIntyre who used to be a member of the International Socialist Group, a Trotskyist group,” Seymour said. “He basically said that there was a law, a little known law, known as the diminishing returns of socialism, which meant that basically under capitalism there was a pressure for everybody to act somewhat to the right of their nominal beliefs. Therefore the only people who would probably take a radical stance regarding capitalism would actually be revolutionaries. In practical terms that often turns out to be the case.” If I’m interpreting Seymour correctly here, what he’s saying is that in conservative periods, revolutionaries are limited to pursuing reforms and reformists generally don’t take an oppositional stance at all. No doubt the same holds true for abolitionists and welfarists within the context of the animal question.

“In real terms there is very little in the way of a revolutionary agency that we could activate,” Seymour said. “So therefore most of the time what we’re doing is trying to advocate reforms that will strengthen the agencies that would be capable of being mobilized in the event of a revolutionary situation.” In other words, there is simply no revolutionary potential in the present historical moment, whether it be for the working class or animals. So revolutionaries are limited to pursuing reforms not due to lack of commitment or incorrect theory, but because reform is all that is possible in the current era.

“I think the sociologist Goran Therborn had some insight here,” Seymour said. “He pointed out that really being revolutionary or reformist for most of the working class is not a question of ideology or subjectivity. I mean that’s part of it. But the most important question is the context, the circumstance. Whether they’re revolutionized or not depends whether or not they’re in a situation which seems to demand a revolution. And that’s really the appropriate way to think about it.”

I believe this point regarding the historical context being more important than ideology in revolutionizing the human masses against capitalism is crucial in relation to understanding how the human masses will be revolutionized against domestication. So the question is: how can we create a situation in which revolution for animals seems inevitable? To me, the most obvious situation which would begin to produce such anti-speciesist consciousness would be one in which in-vitro meat, or similar analogs, required less labor to produce and were gastronomically superior than the slaughtered flesh of animals. We are not yet at this point, but we can certainly speed it along by pouring the funds to which the animal movement has access into relevant research.

“To me, most of the time these dichotomies are used in a sectarian and moralizing way,” Seymour said, concluding his remarks on the usefulness of the categorizing revolutionaries and reformists. In a similar way, I believe equivalent dichotomies within the animal movement are unnecessarily divisive and used to shut down debate regarding strategy, given that reform, like it or not, is all that’s possible at the present moment in terms of the exploitation of animals.

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:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
Ralph Nader
Are You Ready for Democracy?
Chris Martenson
Hell to Pay
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Debate Night: Undecided is Everything, Advantage Trump
Frank X Murphy
Power & Struggle: the Detroit Literacy Case
Chris Knight
The Tom and Noam Show: a Review of Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech”
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
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail