General AR Philosophy
Animal Liberation Front Manifesto
The New Abolitionist Movement: Animal Slavery, Moral Progress, and
Learning from the 19th Century
by Dr. Steven Best
As black Americans and anti-racists continue to struggle
for justice and equality, the moral and political spotlight is shifting to a far
more ancient, pervasive, intensive, and violent form of slavery that confines,
tortures, and kills animals by the billions in an ongoing global holocaust.
We speak of animal liberation no differently than human liberation. One cannot
'enslave,' 'dominate,' or 'exploit' physical objects, nor can they be 'freed,'
'liberated,' or 'emancipated.'
These terms apply only to organic life forms that are sentient--to beings who can
experience pleasure and pain, happiness or suffering.
Quite apart from species differences and arbitrary attempts to privilege human
powers of reason and language over the unique qualities of animal life, human
and nonhuman animals share the same evolutionary capacities for joy or
suffering, and in this respect they are essentially the same or equal.
Fundamentally, ethics demands that one not cause suffering to another being or
impede another's freedom and quality of life, unless there is some valid,
compelling reason to do so (e.g., self-defense).
For all the voluminous scientific literature on the complexity of animal
emotions, intelligence, and social life, a being's capacity for sentience is a
necessary and sufficient condition for having basic rights.
Thus, just as animals can be enslaved, so too can they be liberated; indeed,
where animals are enslaved, humans arguably have a duty to liberate them.
Answering this call of conscience and duty, animal liberation groups have
sprouted throughout the world with the objectives of freeing captive animals
from systems of exploitation, attacking and dismantling the economic and
material basis of oppression, and challenging the ancient mentality that animals
exist as human resources, property, or and chattel.
Stealing blacks from their native environment and homeland, wrapping chains
around their bodies, shipping them in cramped quarters across continents for
weeks or months with no regard for their suffering, branding their skin with a
hot iron to mark them as property.
Auctioning them as servants, separating family members who scream in anguish,
breeding them for service and labor, exploiting them for profit, beating them in
rages of hatred and anger, and killing them in huge numbers--all these horrors
and countless others inflicted on black slaves began with the exploitation of
Advanced by technology and propelled by capitalist profit imperatives, the
unspeakably violent violation of animals' emotions, minds, and bodies continues
today with the torture and killing of billions of individuals in fur farms,
factory farms, slaughterhouses, research laboratories, and other nightmarish
It is time no longer just to question the crime of treating a black person, Jew,
or any other human victim of violence 'like an animal'; rather, we must also
scrutinize the unquestioned assumption that it is acceptable to exploit and
Whereas the racist mindset creates a hierarchy of superior/inferior on the basis
of skin color, the speciesist mindset demeans and objectifies animals by
dichotomizing the evolutionary continuum into human and nonhuman life.
As racism stems from a hateful white supremacism, so speciesism draws from a
violent human supremacism, namely, the arrogant belief that humans have a
natural or God-given right to use animals for any purpose they devise.
Both racism and speciesism serve as legitimating ideologies for slavery
economies. After the civil war, the Cotton Economy became the Cattle Economy as
the nation moved westward, slaughtered millions of Indians and sixty million
buffalo, and began intensive operations to raise and slaughter cattle for food.
Throughout the twentieth century, as the US shifted from a plant-based to a
meat-based diet, meat and dairy industries became giant economic forces. In the
last few decades, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have become major
components of global capitalist networks, and their research and testing
operations are rooted in the breeding, exploitation, and killing of millions of
laboratory animals each year.
Of course, as soon as Homo erectus began making tools nearly three million years
ago, hominids have killed and appropriated animals for labor power, food,
clothing, and innumerable other resources, and animal exploitation has been
crucial to human economies.
But whatever legitimate reasons humans had for using animals to survive in past
hunting and gathering societies, subsistence economies, and other low-tech
cultures, these rationales are now obsolete in a modern world rife with
alternatives to using animals for food, clothing, and medical research.
Furthermore, however important the exploitation of animals might be to modern
economies, utilitarian apologies for enslaving animals are as invalid as
arguments used to justify human slavery or experimentation on human beings at
Auschwitz or Tuskegee.
Rights trump utilitarian appeals; their very function is to protect individuals
from being appropriated for someone else's or a 'greater good.'
In Defense of Direct Action
Although abolitionism is rooted in the logic of rights, not welfarism, there are
problems with some animal rights positions that also must be overcome.
First, as emphasized by Gary Francione, many individuals and organizations that
champion animal rights in fact are 'new welfarists' who speak in terms of rights
but in practice seek welfare reforms and thereby seek to ameliorate, not
While Francione underplays the complex relationship between welfare and rights,
reform and abolition, he illuminates the problem of obscuring fundamental
differences between welfare and rights approaches and he correctly insists on
the need for uncompromising abolitionist campaigns.
Francione, however, is symptomatic of a second problem with animal rights
'legalists' who buy into the status quo's self-serving argument that the only
viable and ethically acceptable tactics for a moral or political cause are those
the state pre-approves and sanctions.
In rejecting the militant direct action tactics that played crucial roles
throughout the struggles to end both human and animal slavery, Francione and
others use the same rationale animal welfarists employ against them.
Mirroring welfare critiques of rights, and serving as a mouthpiece for the state
and animal exploitation industries, Francione criticizes direct activists as
radical, extreme, and damaging to the moral credibility and advancement of the
Like its predecessor, the new abolitionist movement is diverse in its philosophy
and tactics, ranging from legal to illegal approaches and pacifist to violent
orientations. A paradigmatic example of the new abolitionism is the Animal
Liberation Front (ALF).
ALF activists pursue two different types of tactics against animal exploiters.
First, they use sabotage or property destruction to strike at their economic
heart and make it less profitable or impossible to use animals.
The ALF insists that its methods are non-violent because they only attack the
property of animal exploiters, and never the exploiters themselves. They thereby
eschew the violence espoused by Walker and Garnet.
The ALF argues that the real violence is what is done to animals in the name of
research or profit. Second, in direct and immediate acts of liberation, the ALF
breaks into prison compounds to release or rescue animals from their cages.
They are not 'stealing' animals, because they are not property and anyone's to
own in the first place; rather, they are liberating them.
The ALF provides veterinary treatment and homes for many of the animals they
liberate, using an extensive underground network of care and home providers.
The new abolitionism also is evident in the work of 'open rescue' groups like
Compassion Over Killing who liberate animals from factory farms without causing
property destruction or hiding behind masks of anonymity.
Moreover, ethical vegans who boycott all animal products for the principle
reason that it is wrong to use or kill animals as food resources, however
'free-range' or 'humanely' produced or killed, abolish cruelty from their lives
and contribute toward eliminating animal exploitation altogether.
As of yet, there are no active Nat Turners and John Browns in the animal
liberation movement, but they may be forthcoming and would not be without just
cause for their actions. Nor would they be without precedent. According to the
gospel of struggle: No justice, no peace.
The Meaning of Moral Progress
Just as nineteenth century abolitionists sought to awaken people to the greatest
moral issue of the day, so the new abolitionists of the 21st century endeavor to
enlighten people about the enormity and importance of animal suffering and
As black slavery earlier raised fundamental questions about the meaning of
American 'democracy' and modern values, so current discussion regarding animal
slavery provokes critical examination into a human psyche damaged by violence,
arrogance, and alienation, and the urgent need for a new ethics and sensibility
rooted in respect for all life.
Animal liberation is not an alien concept to modern culture; rather it builds on
the most progressive ethical and political values Westerners have devised in the
last two hundred years--those of equality, democracy, and rights--as it carries
them to their logical conclusion.
Whereas ethicists such as Arthur Kaplan argue that rights are cheapened when
extended to animals, it is far more accurate to see this move as the redemption
of rights from an arbitrary and prejudicial limitation of their true meaning.
The next great step in moral evolution is to abolish the last acceptable form of
slavery that subjugates the vast majority of species on this planet to the
violent whim of one.
Moral advance today involves sending human supremacy to the same refuse bin that
society earlier discarded much male supremacy and white supremacy.
Animal liberation requires that people transcend the complacent boundaries of
humanism in order to make a qualitative leap in ethical consideration, thereby
moving the moral bar from reason and language to sentience and subjectivity.
Animal liberation is the culmination of a vast historical learning process
whereby human beings gradually realize that arguments justifying hierarchy,
inequality, and discrimination of any kind are arbitrary, baseless, and
Moral progress occurs in the process of demystifying and deconstructing all
myths--from ancient patriarchy and the divine right of kings to Social Darwinism
and speciesism--that attempt to legitimate the domination of one group over
Moral progress advances through the dynamic of replacing hierarchical visions
with egalitarian visions and developing a broader and more inclusive ethical
Having recognized the illogical and unjustifiable rationales used to oppress
blacks, women, and other disadvantaged groups, society is beginning to grasp
that speciesism is another unsubstantiated form of oppression and
Building on the momentum, consciousness, and achievements of past abolitionists
and suffragettes, the struggle of the new abolitionists might conceivably
culminate in a Bill of (Animal) Rights.
This would involve a constitutional amendment that bans exploitation of animals
and discrimination based on species, recognizes animals as 'persons in a
substantive sense, and grants them the rights relevant and necessary to their
existence--the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
In 2002, Germany took the crucial first step in this direction by adding the
words 'and animals' to a clause in its constitution obliging the state to
protect the dignity of humans.
If capitalism is a grow-or-die system based on slavery and exploitation--be it
imperialism and colonialism, exploitation of workers, unequal pay based on
gender, or the oppression of animals--then it is a system a movement for radical
democracy must transcend, not amend.
But just as black slaves condemned the hypocrisy of colonists decrying British
tyranny, and suffragettes exposed the contradiction of the US fighting for
democracy abroad during World War I while denying it to half of their citizenry
at home, so any future movement for peace, justice, democracy, and rights that
fails to militate for the liberation of animals is as inconsistent as it is
Steven Best @ Press Action