Derek Pashupa Goodwin

The Vegan Bus

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Discourse on Exclusive Non-Violent Action

This is the first in a series of articles that will be featured in our upcoming Vegan Bus Zine...GandhiMohandas K. Gandhi with textile workers at Darwen, Lancashire (UK), September 26, 1931. Discourse on Exclusive Non-Violent Action: A Reply to Peyser (Abridged) by Jeff Perz

In “Exclusive Non-Violent Action: Its Absolute Necessity for Building a Genuine Animal Rights Movement”, I argue that the only ethical and effective tactics open to non-human (and human) animal rights activists are non-violent. In his essay “Response to Perz’s ‘Exclusive Non-Violent Action,” Daniel Peyser objects to the arguments and historical evidence I present. For example, Peyser asserts:

Perz … fails to address a core question related to the use of nonviolent resistance: it only works when there is a power structure open to moral persuasion. Capitalism is not such a structure and it never will be. As long as we are serious about the fight for animal liberation, we can talk about its effectiveness, when the time will come to use it, and its ramifications, but we cannot exclusively forbid the use of tactical violence.

Although I agree with Peyser that capitalism (as an economic and political system) is amoral, the human beings who (knowingly or unknowingly) give their consent to allow this system to operate are not amoral. For this reason, capitalism can be dismantled through non-violent resistance.

In recent years, one major example of non-violent resistance successfully persuading morally responsive people who are enmeshed in the amoral system of capitalism is Argentina’s recovered factories movement. Argentine workers have seized capital – entire factories – from their legal owners and started worker controlled cooperatives. There are no owners, bosses or managers and the workers make all decisions collectively. There have been repressive police responses to this anti-capitalist resistance, and the most violence that resisters have offered is slingshots against the firearms, clubs and riot gear of the police. Most of the factory takeovers in Argentina, however, have been completely non-violent.

In capitalism, private property is ultimately protected by the threat of police and military violence. The capitalist machine – that individual police officers, soldiers, government officials, corporation management, stockholders, World Bank and IMF directors and architects and maintainers of the global economic system find themselves enmeshed within – strongly encourages them all to act in accordance with the amoral values of the machine. This, however, need not be the case; the individuals who make choices every day that allow capitalism to exist can be non-violently resisted. For example, after a police officer has severely clubbed his umpteenth non-violent resister, who perhaps is a worker attempting to regain access to a reclaimed factory, the police officer may think to himself “no, this is wrong. I’m going to stop now.” This response is only likely to occur if the resister is not responding with violence of any sort, and is supported by very many other resisters who are doing the same thing. If a non-violent resistance movement is extremely widespread amongst the populace, then those at the top of the capitalist hierarchy will be affected, and morally persuaded, as well. This is what happened during the Indian independence movement. In my original article, I provided a hypothetical example of non-violent animal rights resistance against a capitalist institution:

At this point in history, sacrificing one’s life in the service of non-violent animal rights activism is neither necessary nor effective. In the future, however, when the percentage of vegan animal rights supporters is much higher, non-violent animal rights activists sacrificing their lives will be appropriate. For example, if 50 percent of the population were vegan and believed that non-human animals have basic rights and that their exploitation ought to be completely abolished, a large and committed group of activists could blockade a slaughterhouse. They would attempt to stop living non-human animals from entering and dead ones from leaving. They would attempt to give all the living non-human animals on-site emergency veterinary care and transport them to sanctuaries.

In a social climate where 50 percent of the population is vegan and believes in animal rights, the government and the animal exploitation industry would feel very threatened by the above action. Thus, when faced with the prospect of the demise of their industry, the likelihood of a violent response to non-violent action is greatly increased. Employees, security guards, police or military might assault or kill activists as they persist with every last bit of strength they have in continuing the blockade, without fighting back and instead simply taking the fists, clubs, teargas and bullets. This would have a profound affect on those actually committing the violence, as well as on the public that sees the images in the media. All support for the animal exploitation industry and the consumption of animal products would dwindle and the 50 percent would soon become 99. If, instead of responding with beatings and killings, the government or animal exploiters responded with arrests and imprisonment, the 50 percent population base of vegan animal rights supporters would allow many similar actions to take place until all the jails were filled to capacity. Then more actions could continue unencumbered. If the exploiters did not respond at all, this is a great outcome because the blockades will have saved all the animals destined for the slaughterhouse. The job of the active non-violent resister is to provoke a response.

Peyser refers to the above hypothetical example as “a series of strange speculations about the future.” Indeed, the example is speculative, but the general idea behind it is realistic. This is because scenarios similar to the above have already occurred in struggles for human rights. In the future, a similar scenario could also take place within a genuine animal rights movement, provided enough social support existed to allow it. Our job as animal rights activists is to build that social support through abolitionist vegan education.

The unabridged version of this article is available as a PDF