Academic journal article Capital & Class

Non-Human Animals within Contemporary Capitalism: A Marxist Account of Non-Human Animal Liberation

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Non-Human Animals within Contemporary Capitalism: A Marxist Account of Non-Human Animal Liberation

Article excerpt

Animal liberation and capitalism are in sum not merely in tension with one another, they are mutually incompatible modes of civilizational development (Sabonmatsu 2011: 26).

Introduction

To be sure, many intellectuals, various social movements, as well as all manner of individuals from around the globe who are critical of the ills of global, expansionist capitalism have written, spoken out about, and called for everything from minor changes to radical changes to the existing social, political and economic order. Moreover, many of these groups and individuals have used the tools of Marx's critique of capitalism in order to advance their positions and calls for change. For, despite the fact that capitalism has played a major role in bringing about many material, practical, technological and other kinds of advancements that most people assess positively, at the same time, it is undisputable that these advancements have come at a significant cost. It is also indisputable that this cost comes at the expense of the impoverished populations of the world, which, ironically, though entirely consistent with Marx's critical analysis of capitalism, comprise the majority--and not the minority--of the worlds' population, who are marginalized, exploited and rendered unable to realize themselves in any genuinely meaningful way because of the logic of capitalism. Indeed, one cannot (with a straight face) deny that contemporary capitalism has given rise to unprecedented levels of inequity, dispossession and suffering (to name just a few ills), which, in turn, have severely threatened our autonomy in various ways, including through public and private processes of confinement, expulsion and displacement. While most critics of the existing social, political and economic order advance their critical examination of these capitalist-spawned injustices with the hope of providing a foundation for us to explore ways to resist, disrupt and replace these practices, with few exceptions, usually this exploration is confined to (or at least focused on) human communities.

Notwithstanding the importance and necessity of this critique, this essay shifts the critical focus away from how capitalism conceives of, treats and affects human populations by examining how the global expansion of capitalism and the increase in structures of power, domination, control and efficiency that characterize it affect non-human animals. (1) Drawing upon relevant texts of Karl Marx, I argue that contemporary capitalism conceives of and uses animals in ways that alienate, exploit and displace animals in a manner that is similar, even if not identical, to ways in which humans are alienated within capitalism, and that we have a moral obligation to ensure that this no longer occurs. Importantly, however, although there are also other scholars who employ Marx's account of alienation in this manner, in extending Marx's account of alienation across the species barrier as I do, I argue that many of the injustices that critics of capitalism find unacceptable regarding humans are not simply equally unacceptable with respect to animals, as others have advanced, but that they are even more unacceptable from a moral perspective. For my examination is framed by the recognition that despite the fact that moral, political and economic considerations are not identical, given that our moral sensibilities provide an important foundation for the political and economic systems that we endorse, they provide the thread that binds our social reality and thus they should not be short-changed by focusing on other concerns, if we are to erect social, political and economic structures that are truly just.

Consequently, by emphasizing the intimate relation between the moral and the political and the foundational role that the former plays with respect to the latter, including in (the early) Marx's thought, (2) my examination is set apart from most of the (still) few Marxist scholars who engage his thought for the sake of fighting for animal liberation. …

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