Does Socialist Critique of Terrorism Apply to Animal Activists?

Pic: Daniel Schwin (CC)

Pic: Daniel Schwin (CC)

Jon Hochschartner writes at CounterPunch:

The animal rights movement has long been divided between militants and pacifists, between those who support violence against property or institutional exploiters and those who do not. In one camp, we find activists like Steven Best, who argue the scope of animal exploitation is so great that preventative violence is a moral necessity. In the other, we find activists like Gary Francione, who argue all forms of violence are wrong, including those directed at institutional exploiters or their property.

I’d argue that by focusing so intently on the morality of violence, the animal rights movement often ignores whether the debated tactics are effective. Additionally, I’d like to investigate what, if anything, we can learn from other movements that have grappled with the question of terrorism. In this essay, I will be examining the revolutionary workers’ struggle specifically.

Most socialists don’t have a moral opposition to violence, but recognize it’s generally incapable of creating large-scale, permanent change when carried out by individuals or small groups. By the 1890s, according to Randall Law, even anarchists were distancing themselves from the doctrine of ‘propaganda by the deed,’ with luminaries such as Peter Kropotkin declaring a “structure based on centuries of history cannot be destroyed with a few kilos of explosives.”

In a 1911 article, “Why Marxists Oppose Individual Terrorism,” Leon Trotsky, whatever one’s interpretation of the Bolshevik Revolution might be, neatly summarized the socialist case against political violence carried out by individuals. First, it’s important to understand how Trotsky defined terrorism for the sake of his article. Terrorism was not limited to “the killing of an employer… (or) an assassination attempt, with revolver in hand, against a government minister.” Terrorism included “the damaging of machines by workers, for example.”

For Trotsky, the human masses were the fundamental agents of progressive change. Practitioners of terrorism falsely believed they could become these agents themselves and skip past the process of winning the masses to their position. “In our eyes,” Trotsky writes, “individual terror is inadmissible precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes towards a great avenger and liberator who some day will come and accomplish his mission.”

Read more here.

, , ,

  • Monkey See Monkey Do

    Word trickery. There is no such thing as violence against property.

    • https://twitter.com/anti_euclidean ÿ

      Depends on which denotation/connotation of property we’re using here.

      “Property is theft!”
      “Property is liberty!”
      “Property is impossible!”

      I’m intrigued to see where the article goes, but my connection to Counterpunch is going into a black hole.

      • Andrew

        “Property is a social agreement to grant specific individuals or groups exclusive control over specific objects, information, or non-human life forms!”

        • https://twitter.com/anti_euclidean ÿ

          Social agreement, eh?

          I must have missed the vote or something.

          • Andrew

            Tacit and coerced agreements both count.

    • https://twitter.com/anti_euclidean ÿ

      Also…

      Trotsky’s point regarding increased police repression is
      undeniable in the context of the animal rights movement to anyone who
      has read the work of writers such as Will Potter on the Green Scare.
      Further, as Trotsky says, the wheel of systemic exploitation is
      generally unaffected by terrorism. Slaughterhouses and laboratories are
      generally rebuilt. While the non-human lives saved by terrorism should
      not be ignored, animal activists frequently seem to mistake the use of
      terrorism as the symptom of a robust movement, when in fact it’s the
      opposite. Resorting to such desperate actions represents an inability to
      garner the mass support needed to create real change.

    • Damien Quinn

      In what sense?

      Violence is; “behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something” and property is “a thing or things belonging to someone”.

      You’re obviously not suggesting that “the use of physical force to damage a thing belonging to someone” is a hypothetical construct, are you?

      • Mr Willow

        That depends on one’s definition of property, and most socialists delineate between private and personal—the first being factories and large tracts of land (otherwise known as the ‘means of production’), and the second being goods produced by those factories and tracts of land.
        It’s one of the major stumbling blocks (or barricades) when property comes up in these sorts of discussions, since most people have the same definition you posted, so when confronted with statements such as “property is theft” immediately relate it to their personal affects, and become incredibly defensive concerning property, thinking that socialism means that everyone would own their home and everything contained within it, when, in fact, “property” in that phrase is meant as constructs (natural or artificial) that should be managed democratically by the individuals who actually produce the products largely for the purpose of bringing wealth (in the form of product) to the nation, rather than a few individuals largely divorced from the actual production for the purpose of fattening their wallets.

        • https://twitter.com/anti_euclidean ÿ

          “property” is a good bit of word magic

          Never fails to get the proverbial bull to charge…

          • Calypso_1

            A rather recent bit of word magic as it should have the more general and abstract association of any ‘attribute’.
            ‘Property’ – proper (as in proper name- those given toponymic or occupational names in post-serfdom europe) the Right Order of things.

        • Damien Quinn

          I’m not entirely surprised that most people use that definition of property since that’s what the word means and, since “the means of production” are almost entirely publicly owned, the distinction you’re making between personal and private is arbitrary at best. A mans pension fund is private, his savings are personal? I don’t buy it.

          Ignoring that, there is no particular advantage to having “the state” manage the means of production, the inefficiencies remain because bureaucracies are so utterly wasteful that you still lose the same volume of resources off the top.

          I’m all for socialism, I’m totally there, but I see no reason to rock the boat in the absence of a practical bureaucratic model and I’d hazard a guess that mine is the majority position.

          Semantic arguments are great and all but they’re irrelevant to the point.

          • Mr Willow

            I’m not entirely surprised that most people use that definition of property since that’s what the word means and, since “the means of production” are almost entirely publicly owned

            Really? I was unaware I was partial owner of Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Halliburton, GE, Ford, Yum!, McDonald’s, Massey Energy, Exxon Mobile, et al. I better call up the corporate offices of all these places to tell them how very disappointed I am in their poor treatment of their workers, the unhealthy nature of some of their foodstuffs, the restrictive nature of their operating systems, and their wanton disregard for the ecosystems present in the Gulf of Mexico and Amazon rainforest, and demand their business practices change drastically to provide higher wages, better working conditions, open source software, and restructure to solar panel and hydrogen fuel cell production. Do you expect such a thing to be taken seriously, or would it be more likely that I would be laughed at or promptly hung up on?

            Ownership implies and requires some manner of input in the operation of a construct. A construct that requires multiple individuals to operate should have the managerial input of all those individuals. If one has no input on the management of a business, but is forced, by way of economic necessity, to work at a business, then they do not own the business, the business owns them.

            It’s very simple.
            Business/Corporation/Factory/Land = Private
            Products of Business/Corporation/Factory/Land = Personal

            You could substitute Property/Possession, Production/Product, or Workplace/Goods if it would make it easier.

            There’s very little arbitration in the distinction.

            there is no particular advantage to having “the state” manage the means of production, the inefficiencies remain because bureaucracies are so utterly wasteful that you still lose the same volume of resources off the top.

            Never said anything about “the state” unless that would mean a completely democratic institution where every member of society would collectively own all production (note how I use ownership above), but again, how do you define “the state”?

            I suspect you mean an unaccountable subset of society that is set apart from society with the sole occupation of managing society. If so, then yes, certainly that would be detrimental to the inner workings of society not only from inefficiency, but because that subset would largely work for their own interest, providing things to society in a gesture of appeasement to the masses dependent on them for survival, for fear of revolt; but that describes corporate middle-management just as well as any iron-fisted king or tyrant.

            If by “the state” you mean a pooling of resources by the citizens of a region/nation/world for public works like healthcare, education and infrastructure, managed by representatives elected by the citizens to act in accordance with the interests and well-being of the citizens and their environment, serving society instead of managing it, then the only inefficiency or bureaucracy present would exist out of practical necessity, or would otherwise be allowed by the citizens, for whatever reason.

            Of course, you could attempt a complete removal of bureaucracy through a reduction of scale for managerial reach of any one group of people (keeping it extremely local), operate on a participist model (where said extremely local citizens’ councils vote for whatever measure or report some grievance from it’s citizens to county council, which report to regional councils, which report to national councils, then [were it desired] to a world council, which addresses the needs of whatever relevant group), or through a ballot or petition system for anything, processed through the internet. But all of that is tangential and is an open debate.

            Terrorism is counterproductive, in all cases. It is wasteful and inevitably has the opposite effect to the one the terrorists desire. There are far more effective ways to institute change which are almost entirely nondestructive.

            Agreed, for my part. Strikes, boycotts, sit-ins, marches, rallies; all more effective in the long run as it could foster awareness and support for whatever cause, while mitigating the potential for severe blowback, but where violence against property (as I defined it) is concerned, attacking it is seen as an act of liberation— ripping off shackles, breaking bars, pulling down statues of dictators—and I can’t really bring myself to condemn such action.

          • Damien Quinn

            Right……
            Anyhow, to respond….

            “Do you expect such a thing to be taken seriously, or would it be more likely that I would be laughed at or promptly hung up on?”

            Do you own shares? If so, you can attend a shareholders meeting and have exactly the level of input to which your shares entitle you, like everyone else with an interest in the company. I said public ownership, not state ownership.

            “But all of that is tangential and is an open debate.”

            It’s not really open to debate. You’re describing Soviets. They tend to not work as you imagine because, in order to work, each level should be subordinate to the level below it but, through administrative necessity, the higher level will always be more powerful. The Russians did a 65 year longitudinal study on it in the middle of the last century, total disaster. Any other bureaucratic models you want to suggest?

            And by “the state” I mean the management apparatus that’s going to administer all the production you’re soviets have siezed. When you’re prattling on about “democratic selection” remember, we’re not going to be able to elect every arsehole middle manager with a clipboard. The people with actual power in most people’s lives will be a self important prick who has spent 20 years as a civil servant and not managed to climb more than two pay grades. That’s why life was shit under communism, mostly.

            “where violence against property (as I defined it) is concerned, attacking it is seen as an act of liberation”

            You see it that way, that’s fine, everybody’s entitled to their opinion.

          • Mr Willow

            Do you own shares?

            Management by people (potentially) even further removed from production is worse.

            The only “shareholders” of a company should be the people actually designing and assembling the goods being produced.

            They tend to not work as you imagine because, in order to work, each level should be subordinate to the level below it but, through administrative necessity, the higher level will always be more powerful. The Russians did a 65 year longitudinal study on it in the middle of the last century, total disaster.

            The workers’ councils established directly following the February Revolution functioned in a democratic way for a few months, and then Lenin went full right-wing, consolidated all power to be under the Bolshevik Party (by then renamed the Russian Communist Party), which he controlled, and suppressed everything outside of it, calling dissenting opinions anti-socialist or counterrevolutionary—it’s the same thing politicians in the US do when they refer to anything as anti-American or socialist, common scare words to force concession from objectors, or otherwise demonise them in the eyes of the populace.

            The participist model I described is how Soviets (and a Union of them) were meant to function, but instead of a bottom-up structure—where local councils would be autonomous, and serve as a microcosm to inform the higher councils, or serve as models for other areas to follow—the Russian structure was top-down—where the local councils would enforce laws dictated by the Kremlin.

            And by “the state” I mean the management apparatus that’s going to administer all the production you’re soviets have siezed. When you’re prattling on about “democratic selection” remember, we’re not going to be able to elect every arsehole middle manager with a clipboard. That’s why life was shit under communism, mostly.

            You’re describing corporate structure and calling it communism.

            The people in Soviet mines didn’t own the mines, Lenin (and later Stalin) did, and he managed them in the same way a modern corporation is managed: dictatorially and with little concern for the people who were digging coal and ore out of the ground. The same is true of every factory, farm, school, hospital, etc in the nation.

            The only difference between that and Corporate America is they were all under the umbrella of USSR inc.

          • Damien Quinn

            So you’re point here is basically that the exact model you’re promoting went to shit in the USSR but it shouldn’t have, in an ideal world.

            Totally agree, but this isn’t an ideal world.

            My point is that it won’t work now any more than it did then because the things that went wrong in Russia haven’t been solved. It’s even worse now, if you think about the tiny proportion of the population involved in manufacture or farming, what’ll be the other 80%’s buy in to the bright red future?

            You can retype the communist manifesto and post it here if you like but it won’t matter a jot unless you actually think through the model your championing. “Things should be” might make you feel fired up but it won’t get the trains to run on time.

          • Mr Willow

            No, my point was that the model I suggested as an option (nothing more) worked for a few months, and then Lenin sabotaged the entire thing, and essentially forced all the councils he was supposed to be listening to to submit to his will, under the guise of unification through discipline and regimentation (all managed by the Kremlin) instead of through mutual respect for the needs of society (managed by the citizens), thus turning the entire power structure (to say nothing of motivation) to the exact opposite of communism.

            It has nothing to do with “things should be” and everything to do with “wasn’t allowed to be.”

          • Damien Quinn

            Yes, I understand that, what I’m trying to get across to you is that Lenin could seize power because the system was flawed. All it will ever take to scupper the soviet type model is one guy with a thirst for power, and there’s always at least one. Every political system has this flaw, so they’re all totally meaningless to me and you.

            Communism, Socialism, Fascism, Centrist Democracy or Enlightened Monarchy, whatever you call the system, they are all Plutocracies in practice.

            As long as the rules which govern the system are written top down, power will always be top down. So far, it’s been impossible to come up with a way to have them written bottom up because disputes and divergent interests have to be taken into account to make society work. Jim and John can’t be relied to make the rules fair for Paul and Peter.

            Every single political model to date has relied on either a benevolent leader or holding leaders to account to solve this issue. Neither works. All the complicated political theory can be boiled down to that single issue.

      • Jin The Ninja

        it’s a longstanding anarchist proposition that ‘property’ is indeed without feelings, lacking the social-spiritual connection as that between two people. proudhoun? bakunin? malatesta? the anarchist movement in spain? much has already been written about it. extensively. simply spouting the most facile definition gleaned from the web of ‘violence’ does not in fact make ‘property’ suffer at the hands of man, nor does it make acts of political insurgence ‘violence.’ if anything, a more violent act is the inhumane treatment of animals and the environment under our current system.

        • Damien Quinn

          Yeah…….the violence in “violence against property” isn’t directed toward the inanimate object, it’s directed towards the owner of the property. That’s why the word “property” is used, it’s a particular class of inanimate object. By destroying it you do social and spiritual damage to a person.

    • emperorreagan

      I agree. Conflating property crime with violent crime and subsequently with terrorism is convenient for government agencies. Redefining something in such a way is useful for government propaganda, for courts in levying harsher punishments, and for police agencies in lowering the scrutiny/standards for their actions.

      I don’t see what value conceding to and reinforcing that definition has for anyone.

      • https://twitter.com/anti_euclidean ÿ

        I take your point and that of the article to be relatively in agreement.

        Perhaps it’s just a bad title and some semantic differences.

21