Animal Liberation Currents takes its place at a time marked by a historically weak Left, a resurgent right wing, a polarized social landscape and increasingly violent states. Unions and social movements have been in retreat for decades. Whatever radicalism that once may have been envisioned by an animal rights movement is nowhere to be found.
The crisis, it is true, has a great many forms. But for media such as ours, taking our first steps in the context of an animal liberation movement still struggling with the most elementary questions of strategic political orientation, it is necessarily a profound crisis of the imagination.
We are all too familiar with the scale of atrocities: worldwide some 56 billion land animals slaughtered each and every year – alongside perhaps twice that of sea creatures – in the “food” system. Add to this the millions suffering and tortured in research laboratories, zoos and aquariums, in circuses and sport racing, fur farms, the pet industry, the trophy hunted – and all of the other myriad ways through which the system of domination reaches. We are in the midst of an environmental crisis whose very origins are in significant part the by-product of industrial scale killing. The demands for agricultural land, along with the extraction of natural resources and rampant urban development, have us well into a “6th extinction”- a rapid, unprecedented and dangerous acceleration of global biodiversity loss. That the climate catastrophe itself can significantly accrue form the material effects of such a scale of animal destruction can only conjure astonishment and disbelief. Who can envision billions of lives lost to industrial slaughter? Of what are we to observe in mass species extinction? Such notions are beyond simple or readily actable comprehension.
The full totality of animal subjugation, too, confounds the rational observer. Such totality is of a nature that puts paid to the notion that language is never far from hand to intelligibly articulate the meaning behind unlimited violence, the structures of institutional barbarism, or the true nature of domination in the absolute.
How do we understand the nature of oppression when it is so normalized, so ubiquitous? When it is written so deeply into the very fabric of everyday life? When the intimacy of its perpetration would ordinarily incite horror, yet is quelled by ordinary indifference? When even the most thoughtful and far-reaching of our contemporary radical intellectuals only reify its ideologies? From where, precisely, do we locate the spaces within which we can open up new and truly emancipatory struggles?
These kinds of questions are neither vague nor academic, neither “theory-heavy” nor somehow marginal to the realities of struggle. They allow us to fully understand both what it is that we struggle against and what we struggle for. And most fundamentally: how it is, exactly, that we must also structure our politics. Such questions carve the landscapes on which we tread, act as guides on paths that must be taken, suggest even the kinds of tools we must employ. They demand the kinds of sacrifices that must be made.
All of this, in a uniquely historical sense, has been the utter failure of animal liberation politics. Such questions have been asked before. Political movements have given answers.
It should be the cause for solemn reflection that the animal liberation movement has never been able to articulate and put forward meaningful political demands, or to build activist constituencies with capacities that can materially address the realities of animal subjugation. It should give us great pause that the movement has not been able to situate itself within a broader Left, in being able to organize the kind of political power that arises from solidarity and collective action.
“All politics is class politics” Marx observed, rightly. The insight and the “dialectics” that emerge from it are elementary. Radical politics has always placed these questions at the forefront of struggle. Echoed by every generation of radicals– for whom organizers and intellectuals have been one and the same- – it is the very basis on which mass democratic achievement has been realized.
For animals, we must then ask, where is such radical imagination?
The origins of the modern subjection of animals lie not so much in their status as mere property, but in their fundamental condition as a basic commodity form. It is within late twentieth century capitalism that the subjection of animals has reached the apex of total domination. For animals, there are simply no political, moral or technological limits from the reach of capital. It is only in relation to capital that animals are so thoroughly emptied of political being. As a movement, we must judge ourselves against the way we have failed, in the most basic ways, in understanding animals themselves as political classes. That we need to still come to terms with such political comprehension and acknowledgment is scandalous.
The struggle to build an independent political liberation movement – one that is vibrant, theoretically coherent, cohesive and internally disciplined; which can develop cadre, can build genuine social capacity; the kind of movement that can put political demands forward and organize around them with confidence – will require an unprecedented, radical rethink. There will be difficult and often bitter conversations, but the dialogue is nothing if not essential. One thing is clear: as a movement we cannot continue to be agents of our own pacification.
The traditional role of radical media is both necessary and urgent as never before. But animal liberation media, in particular, bears additional, burdens. Ambiguous and uncertain in practice, they are nonetheless felt deeply and clearly in our hearts. They are responsibilities in helping foment and ignite the very turn to the emancipation for animals. Given this historic context, is this even possible? Given the tasks, is this not merely a contradiction? Can these be overcome?
We are stepping forward with conviction, but have no illusions about the enormity of the process that lies ahead for animal liberation politics. With Gramsci’s indispensable counsel of “Pessimism of the Mind, Optimism of the Will”, we must be simply relentless in insisting on liberation first. On immediate, urgent and complete system change.
The potential of media to serve their roles in informing, analyzing, theorizing and organizing depends on a great many things. Above all, they must be both autonomous and fiercely independent. But they must also be genuinely grounded in the realities of struggle. They must be committed to working through nuance, contradiction and conflict – and must do so with respect and solidarity. It means adhering to principle. It means demonstrating courage.
Others will judge how well we meet these challenges and abide by such lofty commitments. It has been more than a generation since a major new movement media emerged. We are well aware of the contradictions of our initial isolation and the space we have for contributing to new ideas about what might be possible.
Our aim here is nothing less than to foster a community of renewed strength in radical leadership. To engage with new constituencies and to inspire passions that for many, perhaps, lie just below the surface. For those insistent that the struggle can and must take a more radical turn, to address more fundamental questions, we must provide a lens. A lens that is objective in its focus, sympathetic in its gaze, and unyielding in envisioning a better future.
We can be at the margins no longer.