Animal Protection and Capitalism

Under capitalist class relations, animals can be worked, sold, killed, and consumed, all for profit. --Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought

Expanding on what I wrote previously, Orientalism and nationalism are not the only oppressive ideologies that rely on protectionism. Capitalism is another oppressive system that is shored up by the appeals of protectionism.

In Thinking Class (South End Press, 1996), Joanna Kadi, "an ardent supporter of animal liberation and a long-time vegetarian," writes about the classism of the protectionist anti-seal hunting campaign:

I hated what happened to the seals. Just as I hated what happened to the fishermen. I have visited Newfoundland and seen the poverty, I had no quarrel with the fishermen. Why didn't the activists challenge the people who had the power to change the situation?

Given that protectionism doesn't even challenge the structural oppression that legitimizes the exploitation of nonhuman animals, it is no surprising the activists don't challenge the structural oppression that legitimizes the exploitation of humans. Kadi continues:

This problematic politic reinforces a viewpoint traditionally fostered by the ruling class – that of stupid, unenlightened, backward workers. Now middle-class activists reinforced and strengthened this belief. In the peace movement, activists denounced workers for taking jobs at munitions plants. In the environmental movement, activists denounced selfish loggers for not caring about the spotted owl. I rarely heard owners criticized and called to account.

Not only are owners not criticized and called to account, they are lauded with heroic praise for their enlightened exploitation of both workers and other animals. While activists decried the Newfoundland fishermen as barbaric cowards, they applauded corporations for boycotting all fish and other sea animals from Canadian in favor of the same groups of animals caught by fishermen of other nationalities. Never mind that the slaughter of these other marine animals is allowed to continue. The first to join the boycott was Whole Foods Market.

Whole Foods Market's anti-labor and staunch capitalist CEO, John Mackey, is a hero to many animal protectionists. When he announced the formation of a foundation for purpose of commodifying nonhuman animals as "compassionate" products he received the praise and endorsement of several protection organizations. Rather then challenging the oppression of other animals, the foundation seeks to perpetuate that oppression. Furthermore, a foundation is a form of tax avoidance used by the privileged to hold on to wealth that should have been redistributed through social programs to help those exploited in the accumulation that wealth.

It's interesting, the first thing people kept telling me when I moved back to town was that the local natural foods store is owned by a "vegan." I went there a couple times and found the prices too high. (I don't have an income, so I'm surviving on saving. If I made a habit of shopping at this store I'd be broke and starving well before I found some paying work.) But what really bothered me was that the store sold organic milk, cage-free eggs, and locally raised meat. I kept thinking how everyone said the owner is "vegan." So how does profiting by products of other animals' bodies fit with the vegan ideal?

I think if a worker in a chicken slaughterhouse said she was a vegan I'm sure each one of these people would doubt her sincerity. But when the owner of the local natural foods store claim to be vegan it is taken for granted. Personally, like Kadi, I have no quarrel with the person working in the slaughterhouse. Workers are exploited too. As for the owners, those with the power to change the situation, they're the ones who need to be called to account. As long as these people avoid criticism the capitalist class relations that structure the oppression of workers and nonhuman animals will continue to be reinforced and strengthened.

Re: Animal Protection and Capitalism

Perhaps the natural foods store owner can hire this person next.