“A wider vision”: Coercion, Solidarity and Animal Liberation


In “‘A wider vision’: Coercion, Solidarity and Animal Liberation,” Will Boisseau considers the relationship between animal rights groups and the contemporary anarchist movement in Britain, concentrating in particular on tensions around coercive or violent tactics. As such, this essay begins by mapping the range of ways in which anarchist and animal liberation tactics might coincide, for instance discussing how both forms of radical politics may be organized as affinity groups or under wider “banners.” Drawing on primary interview data with animal advocates, including former political prisoners, and activist publications, Boisseau proceeds with a more detailed examination of the use of allegedly coercive or violent tactics by some animal rights groups and considers how this may or may not coincide with contemporary anarchist conceptions of legitimate tactics. The focus on tactics in this essay is important because it acknowledges that animal liberation has often acted as the site of interchanges (both co-operative and conflictual) between anarchist groups and the wider British left. Illustrating this is a discussion of relations between the class struggle anarchist group Class War (perhaps the most recognizable anarchist presence in Britain after their formation in 1983), and the Animal Liberation Front. The essay concludes with some examples of ways in which anarchist animal liberationists have either succeeded or failed to combine their efforts for animals with other social justice issues.

Will Boisseau is a Ph.D. student at Loughborough University. His research focuses on the place of animal advocacy within the British left, particularly within anarchism and parliamentary socialism. Through his research he addresses a wide range of questions including the marginalization of animal rights in mainstream labor politics and the class and gender issues which influence these relationships.


“A wider vision”
Coercion, Solidarity and Animal Liberation

Will Boisseau

This essay considers the relationship between animal rights groups who pursue allegedly coercive or violent tactics and the contemporary anarchist movement in Britain. The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) was founded in Britain in 1976, and at the time was seen as a peculiarly British phenomenon. Even in 2008 the North American anarchist journal Rolling Thunder felt able to praise the distinctly British character of animal rights militancy following the internationalization of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC). The essay begins by considering the broad ways that anarchist and animal liberation tactics might coincide, for instance both may be organized as affinity groups or under “banners.” In an affinity group a small, tightly-knit set of activists are able to plan and carry out actions, these actions are often claimed under a “banner,” which is the larger context in which an affinity group works and allows numerous autonomous groups to work towards the same goal.

Following this, the essay concentrates on the use of allegedly coercive or violent tactics by some animal rights groups, and how this may or may not coincide with contemporary anarchist conceptions of legitimate tactics. Animal liberationists have been mislabeled as “terrorists” by politically motivated opponents, even though ALF guidelines ensure that no human or nonhuman animals are harmed by their actions (Potter, 2011). While ensuring that labels such as “terrorist” are rejected, one must acknowledge that there have been groups, such as the Justice Department, who act outside of the ALF’s non-violent guidelines and use tactics including “razor blade letters, bomb threats or bomb attacks, arson, harassment, death threats, and physical assaults” (Best & Nocella II, 2004, p. 36). It is actions such as these that are referred to when discussing violent or coercive tactics in this chapter. Property damage is not understood to constitute violence unless it implies or is experienced as a psychological threat or deliberate endangerment (Nocella II, 2011, p. 156).

The focus on tactics in this essay acknowledges that animal liberation has often acted as the site of discourse between anarchist groups and the wider British left without concern for animal liberation (or even animal welfare) being of principle importance. This is arguably the case for the class struggle anarchist group Class War who became perhaps the most recognizable anarchist presence in Britain after their formation in 1983. Some Class War supporters actively embraced animal liberation, while others admitted that they cynically harnessed the idea that animal rights was a stepping stone towards anarchism. As Class War founder Ian Bone (2006) later wrote, the group “weren’t particularly committed to animal liberation at the time but we knew that … future recruits were going to come from activists in that broad movement” (p. 143). By the end of the 1980s a tactical dispute occurred between the ALF and Class War. It is fitting that this split was caused by a tactical divergence rather than a debate directly relating to nonhuman animals, because Class War were not principally motivated by animal concern. After considering this disagreement the chapter concludes by looking at examples in which anarchist animal liberationists have either succeeded or failed to successfully combine with other social justice issues involving class, race and gender.

This essay is underpinned by the demonstration of Critical Animal Studies scholar-activists that different forms of oppression are connected and must be simultaneously opposed (Nocella II, Sorenson, Socha & Matsuoka, 2014). The chapter relies on new primary information collected from interviews by the author between April 2013 and April 2014 with animal advocates, including former political prisoners. Magazines such as Class War and Arkangel are also utilized. Arkangel, which was founded in 1989 by Ronnie Lee and Vivian Smith, is a particularly valuable source because of its non-censorship policy. This means that the magazine carried a series of lively debates about controversial topics, including the use of violence and the legitimacy of far right activists joining the animal rights movement. Two former Arkangel editors are interviewed, which enables one to consider the development of the views of key figures within the movement over a number of decades.


“The politicos are ashamed”: Connections Between Animal Liberation and Anarchist Tactics

As the present volume illustrates, there is a historical and contemporary connection between anarchism and animal liberation. The concern for nonhuman animals among some early anarchists did not necessarily guarantee that self-identified anarchists in the twenty first century would embrace animal liberation; nonetheless there is a clear lineage in the development of anarchistic concern for nonhuman animals. This ancestry starts with Peter Kropotkin (1998/1901) and his work Mutual Aid, which many subsequent libertarians took as their starting point when considering the relationship of humans to nonhuman animals and the natural world. Élisée Reclus, the French geographer and anarchist, framed his conception of equality with non-human animals in terms of his understanding of Mutual Aid. Reclus (1901) believed that the animal world was “our tutor in the art of existence,” and therefore humans could join the species who “work in common.” Writing almost a hundred years after Reclus, Brian Dominick argued that animal liberation and social revolution were inseparable. Dominick (1995) framed his argument around Kropotkin’s theory; arguing against vivisection he wrote that “the only thing we can learn from animals is how to live in a sane and sound relationship with our environment” (p. 8). Continuing this tradition, Bob Torres expanded on Dominick’s idea that animal oppression is linked to that of race, class and gender. Therefore, according to Torres (2007), one needs “to fight the heart of the economic order that drives these oppressions … capitalism” (p. 11). As well as these thinkers, there has also been an international history of practical activism with regards to the protection of nonhuman animals. Such activism includes anarchistic communes that embraced vegetarianism, such as the Brotherhood Workshop which formed in 1897 in Britain and the anarchist intentional community in Stelton, New Jersey (Bevir, 2011, pp. 275–276). Since the mid–1970s animal liberation groups have shared tactics and ideals with certain sections of the anarchist movement in Britain and America.

Present day activist movements such as the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), Earth First!, the ALF and SHAC all share ideals and personnel with anarchist groups. The ALF and ELF engage in direct action tactics whereby they confront “oppressors on their own high-pressure terms through actions ranging from blockades to sabotage” (Best & Nocella II, 2006, p. 16). The ALF emerged from the Hunt Saboteurs’ Association in 1976 after a group of determined activists had broken off to form the Band of Mercy. The ALF have been described as “anarchistic in both aims and means” (jones, 2004, p. 143). The ALF represent an emergence of radicalism within the animal rights movement and beyond since the 1970s. Kim Stallwood (2004), former campaigns officer of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), characterized this new group of activists as “younger, unemployed, and anarchist” (p. 83). David Henshaw (1989), in his sensationalized and often factually inaccurate depiction of the ALF, describes the group as operating as an anarchistic military squadron: “there was to be no central high command or ‘army council,’ or in fact any precisely defined hierarchy” to select which site of abuse to target next (p. 50). Certainly, activist Keith Mann’s (2007) description of the ALF’s structure seems entirely anarchistic:

The Animal Liberation Front in reality isn’t so much an organisation, more like a banner—a title … or a state of mind if you like—under which individuals and groups of people claim responsibility for illegal actions, which are designed to either directly or indirectly help the cause of animals. Anyone can be an ALF activist: there is no membership form to fill in [p. 55].

However, a decentralized structure is not enough to label a group as anarchistic. Instead, a group’s structure must reflect their ideological commitment to decentralization and autonomy as linked to a rejection of social hierarchies. Certainly, direct action can be considered more than just a tactic, it is a process “whereby activists develop decentralized and egalitarian politics based on cells, affinity groups, and consensus decision-making models” (Best & Nocella II, 2006, p. 16). Nonetheless, ALF founder Ronnie Lee believes that although “there were certainly people in the ALF who were anarchists as well as being animal liberationists” most were “primarily concerned with protecting animals” (interview, April 2013). If this is the case, the non-hierarchical structure can be regarded merely as an organizational tool. As Ronnie Lee explains, many activists

recognised that that way of operating was the most effective in terms of doing the most action and also avoiding [arrest] … I think that people understood that it meant that the authorities couldn’t destroy what was going on just by arresting one or two people, so people realised what the thinking behind that way of doing things was, even if they might not have been anarchists or had a wider vision of anything apart from wanting to protect animals [interview, April 2013].

Anarchist ALF activists do aim to challenge social hierarchy. In America the ALF’s Western Wildlife Unit (n.d) believed that their actions “reflect the frustration and oppression felt by various members of America’s citizens who like the animals were victimized by big business” (p. 11). As a result of this, the ALF moved away from being “simply just an ‘animal’ group” and became an organization that also opposed “the entire [capitalist] system” including “institutions that thrived on human abuse” (Western Wildlife Unit, p. 11). Indeed, all ALF actions challenge “the systemic violence which structures the modern capitalist society” by challenging the system that turns living creatures into property and makes them commodities (Colling & Nocella II, 2012, pp. 25–27). Ryan Gunderson (2011) argues that it is the willingness of animal liberationists to contest the property status of nonhuman animals and to challenge the means of production that makes animal advocacy a radical antisystemic movement, because they challenge the prevailing productive forces and are able to connect with other social justice movements. Similarly, Lawrence Wilde (2000) states that “the furious response of corporations and the state” to pressure from animal liberation groups indicates the “extent to which the economic and political elites recognize that what is being questioned here are the rights of the owners of the means of production” (p. 50). Moreover, challenging the property status of nonhuman animals may help animal liberationists develop connections with other social justice movements, because other oppressed groups have been labeled as property “for the purpose of economic exploitation or simply domination” (Nocella II, 2011, p. 157).

Even if the non-hierarchical structure was only an organizational tool, it is still relevant to consider the tactical significance of the ALF’s actions, and particularly the conflicts between the ALF and class struggle anarchist groups. Part of this significance is that ALF tactics had an effect on both animal rights advocates and the wider anarchist movement. Larry Law (1982), writing for Spectacular Times, argued that a supposed split between animal advocates and the left was not due to a genuine theoretical disagreement, but was because “the politicos are ashamed” that “the animal liberation activists have undertaken more direct action and caused more physical and financial damage than the entire British revolutionary left put together” (p. 23). In this context it would be understandable if the anarchist movement looked to animal liberationists for tactical guidance. In fact, animal liberation and anarchist organizational practices often evolved simultaneously.

The ALF’s successful use of the affinity group structure was influenced by anarchist practice, and also influenced the organizational approach of subsequent anarchistic groups. For instance, the ELF, which emerged in the early 1990s, “wanted to become an eco–ALF that will do whatever is necessary to save the planet and it’s inhabitants” (Molland, 2006, p. 50). The affinity group has become one established anarchist approach, through which activists can “avoid the necessity of coordinating action, relying instead on a small, tightly-knit group in which consensus is most readily available” (Cohn, 2006, p. 205). The affinity group is regarded by many as “better suited to carrying off daring and decisive actions” which it would not be possible for “the masses” to “accomplish spontaneously” (Skirda, 2001, p. 83). More recently there has been an increased use in operation under “banners,” which are often the wider context in which an affinity group works. Uri Gordon (2008) describes these banners as “even more fluid than networks” with different activists able to operate “a free vegan street-kitchen today under the Food Not Bombs banner, [and] meet to design a leaflet against the G8 under the Dissent! banner tomorrow” (p. 15).

Although ALF tactics may have emerged from a process of trial and error while individuals and groups built up confidence and trust, Ronnie Lee and the ALF founders also possessed “a good knowledge of the tactics of other revolutionary groups,” Lee was particularly inspired by the Angry Brigade (Mann, 2007, p. 51). The Angry Brigade were an urban guerrilla group responsible for a series of politically motivated bombings between 1970 and 1972. Lee describes his interest in Angry Brigade activity which was

outside of the normal left wing parameters that you had at the time … most left wing stuff was to do with the workplace … but they did things outside of that…. And that made me think that … direct action against property could be extended to the animal liberation struggle [interview, April 2013].

The Angry Brigade “held a mish-mash of libertarian and militant beliefs strongly influenced by anarchism and the situationists” (Mansfield & Vanson, 2009, p. 32). Like the Situationists, the Angry Brigade hoped that provocation would draw repression from the state, which in turn would rally mass support. Lee may have been particularly drawn to this “youthful, vaguely anarchistic circle” because they refused to “accept the confines of legality set by the state.” The ALF, like the Situationists before them, wanted to offer young people “brought up in the affluence of Western societies an attractive cause and an opportunity to get out and do something about it” (Carr, 1975, pp. 17–27). Animal liberationists were also influenced by Guy Debord’s theory of the spectacle. As Larry Law (1982) writes: “in the Society of the Spectacle the world we see is not the real world—it is the world we have been conditioned to see” (p. 4). This “conditioning,” underpinned by mass media, allows “well-conditioned people” to engage in practices as consumers that are harmful to their fellow beings (Law, 1982, pp. 6–7). Ronnie Lee and the ALF believed in disrupting the Spectacle, which incorporated “speciesism,” by “taking action to wake people up” and making people question their relationship to nonhuman animals (interview, April 2013).


“Part of our tradition”: The Use of Coercive Tactics

Although the ALF guidelines state that an action can only be claimed on behalf of the ALF if it takes “all necessary precautions against harming any animal, human and non-human” there are those—operating outside these guidelines and therefore outside of the ALF—who do aim to impose psychological harm on perceived animal abusers (Best & Nocella II, 2004, pp. 7–8). Both animal and environmental liberationists have resorted to “name-calling, threats, and harassment tactics, not to mention damage to personal property,” however it is believed that “such actions are justified, even required, in order to counter the real violence which they see as the abuse and murder of nonhumans” (Laws, 2006, p. 147). A tiny group of British campaigners have gone further by engaging in violent tactics that could potentially cause injury to the general public. In December 1993 the Justice Department, an animal rights group who rejected the ALF’s non-violent stance, began a “postal device campaign” in which the group, who allegedly threatened to spread the AIDS virus, sent “poster tubes said to contain needles packed in explosive material” (Lane, 1994, p. 39). As Robin Lane, who worked for the ALF Supporters’ Group and press office, noted, “surely postal workers … and secretaries … would be most at risk” (p. 39). The Justice Department’s campaign continued throughout the mid–1990s; one device disguised as a video “detonated in a Coventry sorting office”; in 1994 rat traps “primed with razor blades” were sent to Prince Charles and then Home Secretary Michael Howard in protest against the Criminal Justice Act, and ALF press officer Robin Webb seemed delighted with the ominous warning that accompanied a device sent to the owner of Wickham Research Laboratories that the package contained “a little bit extra”—a reference to the previous contamination threats the group had made (Webb, n.d.a, p. 26, Webb, n.d.b, p. 6). Of course not all of the media scare stories regarding the animal rights movement were true, but reports such as the Daily Mirror’s claim that the ALF had “threatened to bomb libraries unless they stop stocking field sports magazines” must have had an impact on the ALF’s relationship with other anarchist groups and wider social justice movements (Arkangel, n.d.a, p. 22).

The relationship between anarchists and animal rights groups who pursue aggressive tactics is particularly complex. Firstly, anarchists could see violent actions as isolating and authoritarian, especially when the actions are combined with an absence of consensus or horizontal discussion. As will be discussed, this attitude caused the split between the ALF and Class War. A seemingly cavalier attitude towards violent actions is linked to a lack of concern for other oppressed groups, and as such distances these animal advocates from the wider anarchist movement. While anarchists have emphasized solidarity, a minority of animal advocates have focused solely on their single issue. For instance, David Olivier (n.d) wrote that he “felt only annoyance or hostility, or at best indifference towards … exploited workers, deported immigrants and raped women … I saw [them] only as part of the globally privileged category to which the human species belongs” (p. 30). In 1990 a bomb exploded under the car of a vivisector in Bristol, injuring a thirteen-month-old baby. No claim of responsibility was made, but both the national media and those writing in Arkangel accepted that the action was part of series of incendiary devices planted by an animal rights group acting outside the ALF’s guidelines. Writing after the incident, ALF activist and later hunger striker Barry Horne (n.d) believed that he would have “to rack my brains to think of any [action by animal rights groups] that could reasonably be called violent.” More problematically for anarchists, Horne also believed that “condemning alleged Animal Liberation violence is speciesist” because “if an action is carried out with the intention of helping the animals, then that action should always be above criticism” (p. 35). To anarchists who have placed emphasis on freedom, autonomy and non-coercion, such a ban on criticism is troubling—although, of course, debates did continue within the pages of the animal liberation magazine Arkangel, and, as Uri Gordon (2008) explores, anarchist attitudes to coercion are not so simplistic (chapter 4). Some anarchists might also place emphasis on prefigurative politics, believing that a society free of hierarchical domination and oppression will never be achieved if the means by which such a society is brought about involve coercion and intimidation. This is particularly the case for animal advocates whose position already states that one cannot cause suffering to end more suffering in the long term—for instance by causing suffering to animals to bring about benefits to human health—and as such animal advocates should not cause short term suffering through coercive tactics even if this would mean long term benefits for nonhuman animals (Ryder, 2000, p. 241). Although some anarchists would argue that the morality of causing “suffering” will depend on whether it was perpetrated by those in power, or with the intention of removing power. For instance, violent resistance against a despotic dictator would not be regarded as equally worthy of condemnation as the tyrant’s use of police repression (Richards, 1993).

Other activists, while pointing out that “there are many autonomous and incognito groups,” who do not represent the larger campaigns such as SHAC, believe that anarchism is in no way contradicted by the use of aggressive tactics. Max Gastone, SHAC’s legal representative and adviser, argues that “if anything, the history of anarchism shows a strand that is willing to use assassination as a political tool. Direct action took many forms from violence to property damage over the 150 years or so of anarchism” (interview, conducted via e-mail, November 2013). In such an interpretation, “it is one of the stronger points of anarchism that it never elevated the tactic of (non-) violence … into a strategy or identity, refusing to be forced by hegemonic liberalism to conform to a set of norms it never chose” (interview, November 2013). Anarchists and animal advocates may share the opinion that it is the corporations engaging in industries which harm nonhuman animals, as well as the state that supports and protects them, who are the real perpetrators of violent and coercive tactics. One must distinguish between different types of tactics and definitions of violence, which could range from intimidating phone calls to planting explosives. Certainly, there were few members of the ALF who “agreed with the proposition that property can be harmed” (Roger Yates interview, conducted via e-mail, December 2013). If property cannot be harmed this could make planting a car bomb a non-violent action. Nicole Vosper, an anarchist who was jailed for three and a half years for her involvement in SHAC, believes that “people have been very naive in the movement if they thought that our tactics hadn’t involved coercion, we should be more proud of that” and rather than claiming that all ALF actions are non-violent, the movement should “own” the term (interview, January 2014). For Vosper, these tactics are linked to and supported by her anarchism, because “political violence has been a huge part of anarchist tradition.” Although community and workplace organization is a larger component of anarchism, and “the direct action end of the spectrum in terms of violence and coercion is very small,” this has still been “a part of anarchist history and tradition that people have felt proud of—that we’ve got a right to resist oppression by any means necessary.” For Vosper the right of the victim is more significant than the right of the oppressor, and therefore there is no contradiction between anarchism and coercive tactics: “we can still be committed to working for the eradication of domination but still using violence as a tactic” (interview, January 2014). It is clear from animal rights literature that this view would be shared by numerous animal liberation anarchists.

From the literature and actions of the animal advocacy movement it is clear that non-violence is accepted by a majority of activists, however this is not necessarily the case with the anarchist strand of the movement. Anarchists are more likely to agree with Derrick Jensen’s (2007) assertion that “anybody’s freedom from being exploited will always come at the expense of the oppressor’s ability to exploit” (p. 22). Jensen stipulates that the “freedom” of animals “to survive will come at the expense of those who profit” from their destruction; but he does not account for the possibility that an individual may start as an oppressor and in turn become oppressed by more powerful groups, or that someone can simultaneously exploit and be exploited. One SHAC activist suggested that reading Ward Churchill’s work would enable one to understand anarchist conceptions of violence. Churchill (2007) believes that non-violence is a privileged position because it is held by people living in a “comfort zone,” whereas he contends that the lives of most people are already “violent” because of oppressive state action (p. 77). Uri Gordon (2008), who defines a violent act as one in which a recipient “experiences [the action] as an attack or as deliberate endangerment,” highlights a number of reasons why anarchists may adopt violent tactics (p. 93). Firstly, Gordon believes that it is “simply untrue that anarchists desire a ‘non-violent society’ and nothing else,” instead anarchists are principally concerned with abolishing institutional violence or violent enforcement (p. 98). Gordon argues that anarchists seek a model of non-violence that is achieved through universal consent, and since the state is currently prepared “to resort to violence” then “the anarchist model of non-violence by mutual consent simply cannot be enacted” (p. 98). It has been argued that anarchists should not use violent or coercive tactics because of their stress on prefigurative politics; however, Gordon believes that such prefigurative methods can justify violence: in an “anarchist society” people would be expected to defend themselves against the imposition of a hierarchical social order, by violent resistance if necessary, and therefore anarchists could prefiguratively use those tactics today. Moreover, Gordon contends that in choosing legal methods activists are not ruling out the use of violent coercion, they are hoping that state legislation will be introduced and this in turn may be implemented by coercive or violent methods: “we only entrust the decision on whether this will happen to the state” (p. 101). Even if anarchists have justified violence in some circumstances, others may believe that it remains contradictory in the case of animal advocacy, which is above all about ending suffering and violence. Different stands of anarchism may be split on this issue, with anarcho-pacifists more likely to reject the use of seemingly violent tactics in favor of civil disobedience and non-violent direct action. Many eco-feminist groups have adopted an anarchistic belief in the power of non-violent civil disobedience which “for many women has come to symbolise the living enactment of feminist principles” in that it “invokes opposition to violence and exploitation and yet it does not employ the violent tactics of those that exploit” (Huffman, 1984, p. 2).


Coercive Tactics and the Far Right

Some writers and activists have suggested that the use of violence by animal rights groups is dangerous because of the potential for “disaffected and potentially violent young men to use the ALF as an excuse to vent their anger in inappropriate ways” (jones, 2004, p. 149). Val Graham reacted to news of a car bomb planted by an unidentified animal rights group, by asking, “What kind of psychos, gun-fanatics and violent misfits will now be drawn to animal liberation?” (1990, p. 37). One must consider whether far right activists will be drawn to the animal rights movement because of the use of violent tactics.

The Save the Newchurch Guinea Pigs campaign was a six year operation by British animal rights advocates that began in 1999 and was partly orchestrated by a self-identified anarchist, Jonny Ablewhite. Ablewhite (2009) was influenced by Murray Bookchin’s “readings on hierarchy and oppression” and believed

it is so important to gain an understanding of what Bookchin called “social ecology.” Loosely speaking, it is “anarchy”; but you must ditch immediately any stereotypical preconceptions and notions about that word—they are negative and deliberate connotations that have been purposefully bound in the propaganda of capitalist dialogue [p. 8].

Despite this, the strategies allegedly used by the group more accurately resemble what one might presume to be fascist tactics rather than those that would be associated with anarchists. Alongside the peaceful vigils, the campaign against Christopher and John Hill’s “farm”:

[S]pread out against the whole village, and involved abusive graffiti, bricks thrown through windows, cars paint-stripped, phone lines cut off, and explosives let off at night. Effigies were burned. May Hudson, a cleaner, was warned that her dead husband would be disinterred unless she stopped working [Hall, 2006, p. 116].

One worker had “his name spelled out with shotgun cartridges on his lawn” and eventually quit when death threats were made against his grandmother, another business associate was publically accused of pedophilia, and most famously the bones of Gladys Hammond, Christopher Hill’s mother-in-law, were stolen in October 2004 (Hall, p. 116).

With such tactics of coercion and intimidation in operation, perhaps it is unsurprising that fascist elements would be attracted to the animal rights movement. The Hunt Saboteurs’ Association (HSA), for instance, has suffered persistent attempts at right wing infiltration and has recently “affiliated to the Anti-Fascist Network because there has been moves from nationalist organisations to move into animal rights through hunt sabbing” (interview, April 2014; Gee, 1994, p. 46). This is not to say that the HSA have engaged in any activity which could be regarded as coercive, but that right wing elements see hunt sabbing as a convenient entry point and “an easy way to get involved and get support” (interview, April 2014). Simon Russell (1990), a correspondent to Arkangel asked, “Why is it OK to march against Fascists alongside speciesists but [we] shouldn’t march against speciesists alongside Fascists? It’s inconsistent, illogical, bizarre and speciesist?” (p. 39). Another correspondent was “saddened” and “disturbed” that “fascists are not welcome in the animal rights movement” given that “animals do not care whether someone is a fascist or a communist, only that someone is friendly towards them” (Paul, 1990, p. 40). The fact that these correspondents were complaining about the exclusion of fascists shows that far right politics were rejected by the majority of those in the animal rights movement. Writing in the summer 1990 issue of Arkangel, Sonja Morris argued that “if we ultimately seek the breakdown of speciesism … then fascism, through its attempt to create barriers within a single species, must be a contradiction to our aims” (p. 46). The sporadic accusation of racism or cooperation with far right groups by certain animal rights activists weakens the ability of animal liberationists to attract support from potentially fraternal social justice movements. As Nicole Vosper argues, animal rights groups are “full of people with white privilege” and as such many activists feel isolated (interview, January 2014). Robin Lane explains that this isolation was exacerbated by the willingness of some animal rights groups to work alongside far right organizations if they are opposing speciesism, something Lane consistently challenged (interview, March 2014).

Moreover, coercive tactics, whether supported by self-identified anarchists or fascists could also be regarded as a contradiction to the aims of the animal rights movement—especially if it diminishes opportunities to build links with other social justice movements. Anarchistic animal advocates discuss creating a society free of oppression and hierarchy, indeed it is the current hierarchical society which allows for animal abuse; and as such surely it is illogical to use might-makes-right tactics which mirror current social hierarchies and power relations. If the real coercive tactics come from the State which has a monopoly on violence, then animal advocates eventually seeking a non-hierarchical society must not resort to these tactics.


The Tactical Divergence of the ALF and Class War

It was not just this alleged use of coercive tactics, particularly the posting of incendiary devices, which led to the disagreement between Class War and the ALF, it was also linked to the condescending attitude of some animal advocates towards the general public. Although Ronnie Lee now focuses on vegan outreach, encouraging the public to adopt a meat-free diet, he could once seem dismissive of “ordinary” people; in one Arkangel article Lee asked, “What reason for living do ordinary unenlightened people have, dragging out their meaningless lives, changing nothing, achieving nothing, merely taking up space in an already grossly overcrowded world?” (1991, p. 40). Indeed, it was this perceived “arrogance of terrorist vanguard groups” with their “thinly veiled contempt for the working class” that caused a divergence between Class War (1989) and the ALF (p. 2). This was not mere name calling, some ALF activists genuinely did wish to “represent the vanguard of the revolution” (Mann, 2007, p. 60).

Perhaps Class War were never genuinely interested in animal rights, but used the cause as a cynical attempt to recruit new followers. Certainly, Class War regarded the fact that “you can often find yourself face to face with a bunch of human vermin” to be the “major advantage of being on a hunt sab” (Class War, n.d.a, p. 3). The paper, in its typical hyper-violent manner, threatened to “screw up” the gentry’s “silly games,” “just as you’ve screwed up our lives … watch out! … we will be hunting you” (Class War, n.d.b, p. 7). The fact that animal protection is not of principle concern is made clear with the warning that “you’ll be bricked off your horses,” a threat that, if carried out, would be traumatic and distressing for the animals involved (p. 7).

Bone (2006) again writes that Class War supported the ALF because they wanted “to establish a common base of direct action militancy with them,” however there does not seem to be an underlying commitment to the issue (p. 146). Moreover, the class struggle group intimidated and disrupted BUAV meetings, not to make a statement about animal welfare, but because BUAV “were a reformist Labour Party–like group and we thought it might be possible to deepen the divide between them and the ALF” (Bone, p. 146). BUAV campaigner Kim Stallwood has even come to believe that certain anarchist groups were infiltrated by agent provocateurs with the intention of disrupting the animal rights movement (interview, October 2013). Whether BUAV really were the stagnant group that Class War seemed to think is debatable, but it is interesting here that animal issues act as a site of discourse between anarchists and the wider left, even when the actual status of nonhuman animals are not of primary concern. Although the connection between animal liberation and these class struggle groups never disappeared, Class War (1989) came to believe that the ALF regarded the working class as too “stupid and ‘wicked’ to care about animal rights so the ALF … has decided to abandon ‘public opinion’ and do the job for us” (p. 2). If the connection between the two groups was more about the shared use of militant tactics than the underlying moral issue then it is fitting that the fracture should be framed in terms of tactics, for Class War: “there’s a vital difference between a fight that’s based in our communities and workplaces and the hare-brained schemes of the balaclava brigade” (p. 2).


Learning from This Criticism

Anarchist animal liberationists must learn from this criticism if they desire to build alliances and solidarity across social justice movements, not simply to gain additional support but because from an intersectional perspective it is impossible to challenge one form of hierarchical oppression while leaving others intact. This form of alliance politics will “come from a place of respect that carries out listening projects and healing and transformative actions” (Nocella II, 2010, p. 183). Animal liberationists must combine with other social justice issues involving class, race and gender; if coercive tactics are likely to alienate other social justice campaigners rather than advancing solidarity then they must be avoided. As Steven Best explains, the “human/animal liberation movements have much to learn from one another. Just as those in the Left and social justice movements have much to teach many in the animal advocacy movement … so they have much to learn” (Best, 2009, p. 199).

In terms of class, animal liberationists can acknowledge Class War’s criticism by highlighting the health benefits and better use of resources that veganism would bring. Anarchist animal liberationists can also campaign against the animal industrial complex that exploits both workers and nonhuman animals. As Catharine Grant (2006) highlights, there are numerous reasons to regard workers in fur, leather and meat industries as an exploited group. Slaughterhouse workers are habitually paid minimum wages, they are exposed to dangerous chemicals and high levels of ammonia from livestock manure, in America the injury rate in the meat packing industry is three times the national average (Grant, 2006, pp. 104–105). A recent study reported that 70 percent of chicken farm workers suffered from chronic sore eyes, 30 percent suffered from regular coughing and 15 percent have chronic bronchitis and asthma (Grant, 2006, pp. 104–105).

One of the most significant actions by an anarchist group against animal industries was the McLibel trial, in which two activists from London Greenpeace were taken to court by McDonald’s for distributing an allegedly libelous pamphlet. London Greenpeace—an anarchist environmentalist collective with no affiliation to the larger Greenpeace organization—ran an anti–McDonald’s campaign between 1987 and 1990 in which the leaflet “What’s Wrong With McDonald’s?” was distributed at selected London stores. Following the trial—in which Helen Steel and Dave Morris defended themselves against the corporate giants—the pamphlet was read by thousands of activists across the globe (Morris & Steel, 2003). What is significant here is that the pamphlet did not solely focus on the “murder of millions of animals,” but gave equal consideration to the devastating environmental impact of McDonald’s, the dispossession of land “for cash crops or for cattle ranching” and the exploitation of fast food workers. The pamphlet stated that

workers in the fast food industry are paid low wages. McDonald’s do not pay overtime rates even when employees work very long hours. Pressure to keep profits high and wage costs low results in understaffing … accidents (particularly burns) are common. The majority of employees are people who have few job options and so are forced to accept this exploitation, and they’re compelled to “smile” too! Not surprisingly staff turnover at McDonald’s is high, making it virtually impossible to unionise and fight for a better deal, which suits McDonald’s who have always been opposed to Unions [“What’s wrong with McDonald’s?”].

At the trial Morris and Steel called as witnesses up to 30 ex-employees of McDonald’s, including employees who had promoted trade unionism within the workplace. Among the evidence considered was the case of a McDonald’s manager from France who was arrested in July 1994 for “trying to rig union elections,” and the case of Hassen Lamit who was “harassed for union activity”: “an attempt was made to frame him for armed robbery, and McDonald’s offered him a bribe if he renounced the union” (Arkangel, n.d.b, n.d.c). The “McLibel Two” proved that an anarchist campaign could gain mass support if it focused on interlocking oppressions rather than concentrating on single issue politics.

The animal rights movement has been charged with racism on numerous occasions (Nocella II, 2012, p. 119). Delicia Dunham (2010) believes that “the world can be even lonelier for a vegan when you’re Black” as not only can activists feel isolated from the animal rights movement—“injecting myself into a subculture where Black women are rare”—but, as many of the authors in Sistah Vegan argue, “our culture, if not cultures, are typically unsupportive of the life we have been called to lead” (p. 42). This is significant for animal advocates who aim to link animal abuse to other forms of oppression, as potentially supportive social justice campaigners could be alienated due to the lack of inclusion and perhaps the dogmatic image of some animal advocates. To confront this, anarchist animal advocates must never engage in campaigns which alienate other groups who may be the victims of an interrelated form of hierarchical oppression, such as the Makah nation (Nocella II & Kahn, 2004). Animal advocates must listen to and learn from other groups, responding to calls for solidarity and engaging in activities that challenge multiple forms of oppression, such as opposing the prison industrial complex (Nocella II, 2012, p. 124).

The case of gender may be different because the majority of animal advocates are female. Nonetheless, the animal rights movement have been guilty of orchestrating sexist campaigns which do nothing to highlight the intersectionality of oppression uncovered by Critical Animal Studies. The spring 1990 issue of Arkangel rounded up recent acts of “Direct Action,” including

in Surrey a woman had her £3,000 silver fox fur coat ripped from her in Guildford when she stopped to ask for directions. The attackers ordered her back into her car without it and told her to leave town immediately [Lee & Smith, 1990, p. 28].

One could take issue with all intimidation tactics, but it is particularly disturbing that the report of violence against a woman by unknown attackers is included in the list of praiseworthy actions without comment. The mention of a prosperous home counties town, and the presumed price tag, is seemingly enough to elevate this incident to a positive action with a legitimate upper-class target. This unusual example of intimidation should be set in the context of the everyday sexism promoted by strands of the animal rights movement, particularly by the largest animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) which uses sexualized images of women for titillation, and as such contributes to the oppression of women and leaves hierarchical structures unchallenged. As “discourses supporting injustices against women are intimately connected … to injustices against animals,” and PETA’s campaign forgets “other oppressions and hierarchies,” then the group’s campaign does nothing to challenge the system of society that allows animal abuse to continue (Deckha, 2008, p. 59). To challenge this, anarcha-feminist animal rights groups should promote the solidarity between women and other oppressed groups; such a campaign would: “gesture towards the subversive potential of cross-species identification” (Deckha, p. 59) while challenging all forms of patriarchal and hierarchical oppression, perhaps by embracing a feminist ethic of care.



Anarchist animal liberationists, supported by Critical Animal Studies scholar-activists, must listen to and learn from participants in other social justice movements, building bonds with other campaigns against oppression and—as Class War’s criticism suggested—working within communities and workplaces to develop solidarity and mutual support. In this way, and by challenging interrelated forms of oppression and social hierarchies under capitalism, animal liberationists can demonstrate that they are “for the freedom of prisoners, immigrants, children, people with disabilities, feminists, LGBTQ, and all oppressed groups across the globe” (Colling & Nocella II, 2012, p. 24). Animal liberationists must be aware that focusing on single issue politics or using coercive tactics can be detrimental towards this task, particularly because coercive tactics have been directed towards groups who are themselves resisting interrelated forms of oppression. Just as in the 1970s animal advocates were inspired by Ronnie Lee and the ALF, today we can once again learn from Lee (2014), whose experience has caused him to amend his views towards the wider public, and make sure that animal advocates unite with other groups seeking to end all forms of oppression:

My early years in the struggle for animal liberation were spent with a movement that did not engage with the public, but sought to bypass them in its direct war against animal abusers. I now recognize … engagement with ordinary people counts for everything if we are to radically change their attitudes towards other animals. And engagement with ordinary people also means engagement in the struggle for a fair and just society for human beings, as well as for other animals [p. xiv].




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