Towards a Marxist Animalism


To develop a Marxist animalism, we must situate non-humans within the labor theory of value, building on the intellectual groundwork laid by anti-speciesists like Barbara Noske and Bob Torres. The vegetarian socialist George Bernard Shaw reportedly argued, “I don’t need a theory of value to tell me the poor are exploited.” I’m sympathetic to such anti-intellectualism. But the truth is that for animalists to effect the species politics of Marxists, who have a disproportionate ideological influence on the far left, we must learn to speak their language. While I am very far from an expert on the minutiae of communist theory, this is what I have attempted to begin doing here.

Domesticated animals, like slaves, are distinct from proletarians in that they do not sell their labor power under the pretense of free choice. Rather, they themselves are commodities. Their labor power is sold all at once, unlike proletarians’ whose labor power is sold in increments. “The slave did not sell his labour-power to the slave-owner, any more than the ox sells his labour to the farmer,” Karl Marx said. “The slave, together with his labour-power, was sold to his owner once for all. He is a commodity that can pass from the hand of one owner to that of another. He himself is a commodity, but his labour-power is not his commodity.”

Within Marxism, necessary labor is that work needed to reproduce the exploited’s labor power. In the human context, it’s the work slaves or proletarians perform to create the equivalent of their livelihood. All work over and above this is surplus labor, unremunerated toiling which creates profits for the slave master or capitalist. Domesticated animals also perform necessary and surplus labor for their owners. When an animal exploiter purchases a non-human, he is not only purchasing the animal herself, but a lifetime of her labor power, which is used to create commodities that include — among others — her offspring, her secretions, and her own flesh. Her necessary labor would be that required to create the equivalent of her food and shelter. Her surplus labor would be all that beyond this, which is used to enrich her owner.

Within Marxism, there are two different methods with which slave masters or capitalists can increase the surplus value their laborers produce. Absolute surplus value is obtained by increasing the overall amount of time laborers work in a particular period. For instance, a slavemaster or capitalist might increase the length of the working day or allow fewer days off a year. Meanwhile, relative surplus value is created by the lowering the amount of work dedicated to necessary labor in proportion to that dedicated to surplus labor. For instance, a slave master or capitalist might reduce what constitutes their laborers’ livelihood or increase their laborers’ productivity.

Domesticated animals’ surplus labor can also be divided into the generation of absolute and relative surplus value. For instance, when a carriage horse’s working day is increased from six to nine hours, absolute surplus value is produced for the animal exploiter. In contrast, relative surplus value is created when chickens’ productivity is increased through genetic manipulation and the introduction of growth drugs. Similarly, relative surplus value is produced by lowering the cost of chickens’ livelihood through intensive confinement.

Of course, what constitutes liberation for slaves or proletarians is different than what constitutes liberation for domesticated animals. Whereas the ultimate economic goal for human laborers is social control of the means of production, domesticated animals, were they able, would presumably not want to seize, say, a factory farm and run it for themselves. They would want to be removed from the production process entirely.

I hope there are no theoretical errors here, besides the intentional subversion of classical Marxism’s anthropocentrism. But again, the intricacies of theory are not my strongest suit. I have no doubt others can radically expand, and where necessary, correct, this brief outline of a potential Marxist-animalist analysis. In this era of Occupy Wall Street, Kshama Sawant, and Fight for 15, I believe it will become increasingly relevant.

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

Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer. 

Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai Park: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxemburg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
Majd Isreb
America’s Spirit, Syrian Connection
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving