Animal liberation or social revolution?

A debate between Subversion and Steve on animal rights.

Submitted by Steven. on June 16, 2011

Dear Subversion,

The main purpose of this letter is to respond to the article "ALF [Animal Liberation Front] LASH OUT" which appeared in SUBVERSION 8.

The main thrust of this article is to condemn ALF activity as being "terrorist" and hence anti-working class since it discourages mass action and intimidates people. No attempt is made to deal with the theory behind the action (that the domestication and exploitation of the non-human animals is oppressive and to be opposed) although presumably the author doesn't accept this. For some reason attacks on vivisection and hunting appear to be OK but actions against the exploitation of non-human animals for food are not. Let me assure you that animal farming involves at least' as much violence and exploitation as vivisection and hunting and on an incomparably larger scale. You seem to think it funny or extreme that the ALF should target a cheese shop but it is simply consistent; the dairy industry and the beef industry are the same thing, you can't have the one without the other. If you attack butchers' shops then why not a cheese shop.

I'm sorry but it really is nonsense to condemn ALF activity as terrorist, and to accuse them of "cavalier disregard for human life" is as absurd as it is slanderous. To my knowledge no human being has ever been harmed in any ALF action, great care being taken to ensure this....yet one hunt sab has now been killed, activists have been seriously injured on numerous occasions and recently an unarmed ALF group on an operation were arrested by armed cops with helicopter backup. Who are the terrorists?

ALF activity primarily consists of sabotage which has a long standing and proud place in the history of working class struggle. Would you condemn the workers' "hit squads" which emerged during the miner's strike? I presume not. If you oppose the politics of animal liberation then you should do so politically, not by trying to smear people as terrorists.

You refer to the fact that capitalism is falling over itself to provide highly processed vegetarian and vegan products. Of course it is, that is the nature of the market economy. Similarly the supermarket shelves are stuffed with so-called "green" commodities.

"Anything you can sell, sell" is the motto. This doesn't mean, as you are well aware, that capitalism has ceased to wreck and pillage our planet and nor does the fact that you can buy Quorn products or meat in Safeway's mean that capitalism is being "nice to animals" _ what a ridiculous suggestion

Your comparison of animal liberation work with charity is also wrong. When people gave money to "Live Aid" that was charity. If people give money to the RSPCA out of guilt or something, that also is charity; but what about the group that broke into and damaged EC grain stores in response to the Ethiopian famine, was that charity? Well if it wasn't then neither is opposing physically the exploitation of non-human animals. Or are you saying that people should only ever act in their own immediate self interest? Or are you saying that the cause of nonhuman animals is different because not being human they don't count for anything?

Having just re-read the article "ALF LASH OUT" I see that you do admit that capitalism inflicts violence and oppression on non-human animals, you even condemn past ALF actions. If you are prepared to condemn activities around these issues now would you also say to women, blacks and gays etc that they should wait until after the revolution".

In conclusion I would repeat what I said to you in a previous correspondence on this matter:

Animal liberation is an important issue for revolutionaries to address because it is very linked to a project which is vital, namely a reappraisal of what exactly is and should be the relationship of our species to the planet we inhabit and our fellow creatures. The absolute schism between "man" and nature has led us to the nightmare of ecological disaster and totalitarianism which is the 20th century.

in solidarity,


Many thanks for your letter discussing our article "ALF Lash OUT" in Subversion 8. As promised this is an attempt at a proper reply.

We feel that your letter confuses a number of points. You say that ALF activity "primarily consists of sabotage which has a long standing and proud place in the history of working class struggle." You ask whether we would, "condemn the workers' hit squads which emerged during the miners strike?" We do not believe it is possible to equate the two.

There is, of course, one similarity between the actions of ALF and the miners' hit squads. Both are the product of movements faced with a downturn and the prospect of defeat. Had the Miners' Strike been winning, it is doubtful whether such activities would have been necessary. ALF is really in a similar situation, isn't it? They'd like there to be a mass movement fighting animal cruelty, but it doesn't exist. Our contention, of course, is that such an elitist, secretive activity militates against the existence of a mass movement.

There is a vital difference between the two. The actions of the miners was in the defence of their own living standards and conditions of life. This is something that they shared in common with other workers, e.g. working class women, blacks and gays. All struggle in their own self-interest and as such their actions can be seen as part of the struggle for socialism - something which will only come about by the mass of workers consciously fighting for it.

The actions of ALF and others are, on the contrary, not the actions of one group struggling for its own interests. Unfortunately, animals are unable to do this. As such they have no 'rights'. What animals have are the actions of altruistically minded humans who object to the way animals are treated. This is really not so different to the kind of charity initiated by Live Aid and so on.

We've said before that we don't object to charity as such. All of us reach into our pockets for some worthy cause or other and some members of Subversion go further. But we don't confuse this with revolutionary activity. It is merely our attempts to alleviate some of the problems around us and we recognise that such efforts are pitiful in comparison to the destruction and waste daily perpetuated by capitalism.

We also object to bombings because they are terroristic. Sometimes bombers get their intended targets and sometimes those targets deserve what they get. Equally often the victims are ordinary members of the working class who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or in ALF's case, young children who happen to be in the right car at the wrong time. Bombing can never be accurately targeted. They always have a randomness about them. As such they have no place1 in the armoury of the working class.

We do not, of course, equate the activities of terrorist groups with those of the state. When it comes to terror the state is in a league of its own. It was, after all, the British and American states who massacred thousands of Iraqi civilians and fleeing soldiers. The states terrorism is routine and incredibly vicious. Even such experienced practitioners in terror as the IRA are mere babies in comparison.

We are against cruelty to animals for a number of reasons. One is that cruelty begets cruelty. Those who habitually abuse and degrade animals, or are associated with it, find it easy to be equally cruel to humans. This is particularly so when one group defines another as being less than human. Nazi Germany was an obvious example, as was Stalinist Russia and today's Yugoslavia.

We are against cruelty to animals because the food it produces is of an inferior quality. We are against it because intensive farming uses up enormous quantities of energy and foodstuffs which would be better used to feed hungry people and not contribute to global warming. You are obviously aware just how much vegetable protein is used to produce tiny amounts of animal protein. The animal protein that is produced is usually of an inferior quality to that produced in more humane ways.

We are against much animal experimentation because it is unreliable and because it teaches many people the kind of cruelty we described above. We are against it simply because it is cruel and because we can't believe a communist society could be based on cruelty.

On the other hand we believe some use of animals is necessary. Maybe we are biased, but members of Subversion have friends and family whose lives depend on medication produced from dead animals. We fervently hope that a socialist society would render this unnecessary. We described the problems of diabetics in our last issue, many of whom have died as a result of having their animal based insulin replaced by synthetic insulin. Another example is cystic fibrosis. This effects 6000 people in Britain. It usually kills people before they reach the age of 30. Untreated they'd be lucky to reach two. The successful treatment of this condition requires the routine taking of enzyme capsules derived from pigs. The techniques for heart and lung transplantation that many people with CF need were first practised on animals. Their need for concentrated protein is such that they cannot be vegetarian and must eat meat.

Maybe one day there will be adequate therapies for diabetics and cystic fibrosis sufferers that don't require the slaughter of animals. We certainly hope so.

In the meantime we see no contest between a cow and a human being.

Footnote: reading through this again, we are not so sure about the statement about people with CF needing to eat meat. However, we don't want to go about changing an article we've already written.


  • 1 libcom note: this text originally stated "they have place", however it seems clear that the word "no" was accidentally omitted



12 years 3 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Steven. on June 16, 2011

In response to this:

I see that you do admit that capitalism inflicts violence and oppression on non-human animals, you even condemn past ALF actions. If you are prepared to condemn activities around these issues now would you also say to women, blacks and gays etc that they should wait until after the revolution".

now, I know this discussion is from the 1990s, but several studies since then have actually indicated that women, blacks and gays are actually different from [nonhuman] animals.