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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 animals.

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 settings.

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 terrorize animals.

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 abolish, oppression.

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 cause.

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 oppression.

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 fallacious.

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 another.

Moral progress advances through the dynamic of replacing hierarchical visions with egalitarian visions and developing a broader and more inclusive ethical community.

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 discrimination.

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 incomplete.

Steven Best @ Press Action

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