Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism
Veteran animal liberationist Ronnie Lee looks back at an article he wrote 35 years ago.
In 1975 I wrote a review, entitled ‘How Long Shall These Things Be?’, of Richard D. Ryder’s book Victims of Science for Peace News magazine. I’ve been asked to write a follow-up article/overview for Critical Society, which I’m very pleased to do.
The original article can be read/downloaded at http://tinyurl.com/hlsttb and the headings in this piece are based on those to be found there.
Victims of science (and of so many other things, too)
I had been involved in the animal protection movement for just four years and Richard’s book was the first I had read that spoke in philosophical terms against the persecution of other animals by human beings and I was hugely impressed with it. Somebody was putting in words what I already felt in my heart.
More than 35 years later, most of what I wrote then still coincides with what I feel today and I continue to be impressed by Richard’s statement about cruelty to animals being ‘the morality of the coward and the bully’. I do, of course, feel deeply compassionate towards the myriad animal victims of Homo ‘sapiens’, but what continues to drive me, as it did all those years ago, is not compassion, but a raging anger against the cowardice, arrogance and tyranny of the human species in its appalling treatment of other creatures.
Torture for toiletries (etc. etc. etc.)
Victims of Science deals to a very large extent with animal experimentation and my review was written
while I was on bail, awaiting what was to be a three-year prison sentence for direct action, mainly against the vivisection industry. I had been a founder member of a group called the Band of Mercy, later to become the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), which was dedicated to causing damage to property used for animal persecution.
The book did, quite understandably, lack ‘a chapter on the art of burglary and sabotage’, but such
actions had already started to form part of the animal liberation struggle and were set to increase
throughout the forthcoming years, with much of their focus being on animal research laboratories and suppliers of animals for vivisection.
At the time, the official figure for the number of painful experiments on animals in the UK had
been on the increase and running at about 6.5 million a year. Coinciding with the rise in direct action, this figure began to fall until it reached half of this amount. With no legislation having been passed to control the number of animal experiments, it has been suggested that this decline was attributable to researchers putting more effort into using humane alternatives, owing to their fear of ALF actions.
The ALF eventually went into decline and the militant anti-vivisection torch was taken up by hard-hitting, high-profile protest campaigns, which succeeded in closing a number of establishments connected with animal experimentation, and caused the vivisection industry to put pressure on the government to crack down hard on the campaigners, meaning that several are now serving long prison sentences, through the use of new laws or old ones twisted to suit the authorities’ purpose.
The annual figure for painful experiments has remained steady at about 3.5 million for a number of years and is unlikely to fall until we have a government in power committed to reducing or totally ending vivisection.
At war with animal creation (more so than most of us realise)
All these years later, I continue to feel some degree of frustration that many in the animal protection
movement still fail to grasp the depth and extent of human tyranny over other animals, as was expressed in the opening paragraph of this section of my review.
It isn’t just specific areas of cruelty, such as vivisection, factory farming, the fur trade, which are the problem, but the whole underlying attitude of human beings towards the other creatures that share this Earth and who have every bit as much right to be here as we do.
For instance, one of the things that animal protectionists often have difficulty in accepting is that there needs to be a massive reduction in the human population before anything approximating to animal liberation can be achieved. The excessive numerousness of our species in itself constitutes a huge oppression of other animals, in that it denies them the very space they need for a proper existence.
True animal liberation demands wholesale changes in the way that humans interact with the environment in order that the impact on other animals can be made as small as is reasonably possible. That’s why I advocate such things as an end to the private car and to air travel and for agriculture to be largely done by hand, in order to prevent the slaughter of animals and the destruction of their habitats by harmful machinery.
Such ideas appear to be way outside of the comfort zone for many animal protection campaigners and I have often used the phrase ‘animal liberation, but not too much …’ to describe their resistance to them.
Priorities are what you are good at (and what actually works)
Sadly, it certainly isn’t going to be anarchists who will free animals from their enslavement, as I once
believed when I was a rather naive anarchist myself, all those years ago.
My experience of life has taught me that the urge to follow leaders is so deeply ingrained within
the human psyche that I don’t think it can ever be changed. Therefore, the best we can do is to try to
make sure we have good leaders rather than bad ones, and anarchism is actually harmful to this process, because by refusing to support good leaders, anarchists are actually making it easier for bad leaders to come to power. My main grumble about the police and state these days is not that they exist, but that I am not in charge of them!
I also don’t believe there will be a revolution, at least not in terms of people rising up and overthrowing the existing system. After all, that might mean they’d have to miss a Jeremy Kyle or X Factor show? Although the wisdom of years has rather brought me down to Earth, and made me realise and accept the limitations of other human beings, it hasn’t made me any less confident that we can create a much better world for animals. I have just somewhat changed my opinion as to how this can be brought about.
Action is needed (but of a different kind)
And it won’t be direct action, at least not to any significant extent.
There was a time, in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when direct action by movements like the Animal Liberation Front could have played a major role in freeing animals from persecution.
In those days, young people were much more willing than they are today to take up radical causes and there was a large number of new animal protectionists extremely keen to get involved with the ALF. All that was needed was for them to be shown what to do by existing ALF activists and given the confidence to go off and form their own groups.
That was where the problem lay, however, because most existing groups failed to see the bigger picture (i.e. the need for ALF actions to spread and increase) and were more interested in carrying out successful actions with their existing members than in recruiting and training others.
Thus the ALF eventually withered and died (well, almost), not because of any action by the state, but due to the lack of foresight of its own members. Happily, not without leaving an important legacy, however, as in addition to the already mentioned reduction in vivisection, it is undoubtedly the case that ALF actions led to the massive decline in the UK fur trade in the early to mid ’80s, from which it has never recovered.
Animal rebellion (or maybe something not quite so exciting)
The heyday of militant action has long gone and, realistically, can only now play a minor part in the overall struggle for animal liberation. Something different is needed to bring about the necessary changes. Two things, in fact.
Firstly, public education to teach people how animals are persecuted, why this is wrong and what they can do about it, by becoming vegan, boycotting zoos and circuses, not betting on horse or greyhound racing, etc. To a large extent this is happening already, but I think it can be greatly improved, through such things as better use of the media and a concerted effort to set up an extensive network of local animal protection groups, who are best placed to take the message to the public.
Secondly, political campaigning to bring a party into power that will pass strong and effective animal protection legislation. To my mind, this has to be the Greens. There are existing parties that concentrate solely on animal protection, but because they are concerned with single issues, they will never be able to form a government. At present the Green Party has only one seat in Parliament, but it’s important to remember that from very small beginnings in the late 19th century, it took the Labour Party just 30 years to come to power, so with enough support from animal protection campaigners, environmentalists and all those who desire social justice, there’s no reason why that can’t happen with the Greens.
In my young days I treated political campaigning for animals with disdain, mainly because it was
focused on gaining support for Labour, which I considered to be a party rooted in materialistic and human supremacist values and therefore fundamentally antagonistic to the cause of animal liberation, no matter what small-scale welfare measures it might promise to introduce. The shift of Labour to the right in recent years has made them even more at odds with my socialist values.
I feel the basic value system espoused by the Greens is so much better and far more in line with my own fundamental beliefs, especially if some of their animal protection policies can be toughened up through the involvement in the party of people with animal liberationist philosophies.
How long shall these things be?
Still a long time, I fear, but not nearly as long as on that day in 1975 when I last wrote those words. Animals are still everywhere subjected to human tyranny, but in the intervening 35 years there has been considerable progress in the right direction.
In the UK, the number of vegetarians and vegans has massively increased, the annual figure for cruel experiments on animals has almost halved, fur farming has been banned and the fur trade massively reduced, hunting with dogs has been largely made illegal, there has been a big reduction in the number of circuses that have performing animals, attendances at horse and greyhound racing have fallen and many dog tracks have closed, support for the Green Party has increased considerably and concern for the protection of the environment is greater than ever. Throughout the world, animal protection movements have sprung up and gathered strength, with many countries making similar progress to our own in the struggle for animal liberation.
What we need to do now is to keep up the fight and to take strength from the victories we have already achieved. As the Chinese proverb has it: ‘The longest journey begins with the first step.’ That step was taken long ago, and we are now very much on our way.
Ronnie Lee has been active in the animal protection movement for almost 40 years. He is best known for being one of the founders of the Animal Liberation Front and in his younger days spent a total of nine years in prison for direct action against the industries of animal persecution. Since being released from his last prison sentence in 1992, he has focused on educational work and gives help and advice to various animal protection campaigns with the emphasis on persuading the public to become vegan and to boycott various forms of animal abuse.
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