Sunday, April 27, 2008

A party for the animals

Danny was taken ill on Friday night so I had to stand in for him at the hustings meeting organised by the Animals Count party in Kennington Park yesterday. It was held in the garden of the cafe as a vegetarian (probably vegan) picnic.

As, to be able to hire the venue from the council, they had to sign that they would be liable for anyone injured by a squirrel, the meeting commenced with the chair asking the audience to say in unison "squirrels, we mean you no harm". We thought "OMG, what have we come to", but the party which is standing a candidate in Lambeth and Southwark isn't the joke it might at first seem to be.

Animals Count is the UK equivalent of the Dutch Partij voor de Dieren ("Party for the Animals") which has 2 MPs and a Senator (see here). Its candidate here, Jasmijn De Broo, is in fact from Holland and stood for the Dutch party in the last European Parliament elections. Incidentally, this is a reminder that any EU national can stand for local elections in any other EU country. They can also vote. (UKIP must be tearing their hair out over this, but as far as we're concerned the more workers have the vote the better).

The candidate introduced the party and its policies, which are basically to defend on the political field the welfare of animals. She called for an NHS for animals "including subsidised veterinary treatment and emergency care". Other speakers seemed to be arguing for compulsory vegetarianism in "schools, hospitals, care homes, council premises, etc". At least that's how I understood the mention in the candidate's election leaflet of "banning products from intensively farmed animals" in these places, though I agree that this could be interpreted as saying that (more expensive) "organic" meat and cheese could still be served but I don't think they'd really like that either. In fact, the general impression given that this was a party for vegetarians and vegans as much as for animals.

Of the other candidates only us and the English Democrats turned up. Invited to speak, I explained that our party included vegetarians and even vegans as well as meat-eaters and that we regarded this as a private matter. We didn't want people to vote for our candidate just because he was a bit of a vegetarian. (I explained that, as another member, I was a meat-eater and enjoyed eating meat). We were standing on the single issue of socialism. I had of course to first explain what socialism was not (not ex-USSR, not China, not Cuba, not Labour Party, not nationalisation, not equal sharing, not communes) before saying what it was (a world wide society based on the resources of the Earth, natural and industrial, being the common heritage of all humanity, so there could be production to satisfy people's needs instead of as at present to try to make a profit).

On animal issues, I expressed scepticism about them being able to do much to achieve their aims within the profit system as this was a system governed by economic laws which meant that making a profit had to be given priority over any other consideration; intensive animal farming took place because it was profitable. I suggested that only socialism would provide the framework within which this could be ended and a rational food policy adopted. I added that animal welfare was not the only issue. There were also other problems like world poverty, wars and the threat of wars, bad housing and bad social conditions generally, which also needed addressing, some more urgently.

The English Democrat candidate (Janus Polenceus) spoke next. He said England should have its own parliament just like Scotland did. On animals, he made a fool of himself by saying that he loved them because he had 3 dogs, a cat, a budgie and a goldfish.

Afterwards Jasmijn explained to me that before joining the Party for the Animals she had been a supporter of the Dutch "Socialist Party". This is not the mainstream Labour or Social Democratic party there, but a reconverted one-time Maoist party (see here). She appeared to be unaware of its Maoist past, but this was an excuse for the witty comrade who was also present to say (sorry about this) that she had moved from Maoism to Meeowism.

We handed out our manifesto to the thirty of so people present (from all over the country) and partook of the vegetarian feast before setting off to distribute more election leaflets in the Simon Hughes part of Southwark.


Darren said...

"She appeared to be unaware of its Maoist past, but this was an excuse for the witty comrade who was also present to say (sorry about this) that she had moved from Maoism to Meeowism."

That joke should be put down.

richard deboo said...

I'd like to add my thanks to the Socialist Party for being present at the Party (I was one of the speakers there); it was great to see other groups present (none of the so-called "main parties" of course!) and we're more than happy to welcome everyone to join us in debating these issues and finding a common perspective on the important issues of the day.

For those whose politics are very much on the left I would strongly recommend Bob Torres' "Making A Killing: the political economy of human rights" which is an excellent analysis of how animal exploitation is linked to capitalism and its attendant "use" of animals as "property" and "commodities". A very, very good read...

best regards

Richard J Deboo

Londonsocialist said...

That book is actually reviewed in the current Socialist Standard. See
We should have brought some along but we didn't think of that.

Richard J Deboo said...

Many thanks for the review link, much appreciated. I would only say that the comment "it does not follow that mistreatment is a hallmark of all use of animals for food" is a touch misleading because, er, yes it does follow: it always involves the deliberate, violent, premature killing (and "humane killing" is an oxymoron of course) of a sentient, pain-sensitive being and if we are opposed to oppression at all, we must surely be consistent and be opposed to all oppression... and we must get away from the idea that human interests must ALWAYS over-ride the interests of non-humans, irrespective of the pain and suffering involved, because that way lies the way that allows for so many forms of oppression (slavery, the capitalist system, domination of women by men etc etc etc!). It's only when we say that NO oppression is justified (and species oppression is just as arbitrary as gender or race or class oppression) that we can truly reach a point where a society can genuinely be said to be based on freedom!

very best regards


Stephen Gash said...

I'm a vegetarian and an English Democrat.
So what was the general view at the meeting about animals?
Humans should have no contact with animals? Animals should only be pets? No animals in any kind of sport?

hallblithe said...

You might be interested to know that I have been in contact with the reviewer in question.
His position is "..hens kept for egg-laying purposes can be
treated far better than they are now, and even animals killed for their
meat can be kept in much better conditions than happens nowadays.."
This is undoubtedly true, but as a Vegan I must admit that I, for once, find myself in agreement with Ingrid Newkirk of PETA:
"no one who considers what's in a meat hot dog could genuinely express revulsion at eating a clean cloned meat product."

Torres is no fan of PETA either. You are probably aware that she is on record as stating “mankind is the biggest blight on the face of the earth”, “there will always be cruelty and war..”, and that “..Ned Ludd had the right idea and we should have stopped all the machinery way back when and learned to live simple lives.” Remarkably, too, she envisages, if PETA’s aim of putting all “..animal exploiters out of business..” is achieved, she “..would go into prison reform..”! Do you also agree that such misanthropy, Luddism and myopia are not, alas, uncommon among animal ‘rights’ activists?. I know Griswold of Howard University has remarked that “the animal rights position is essentially, that nature is good, man and technology are evil.” and that many such activists would never support giving poultry workers, for example, a few more crumbs or better conditions. Do not you like me wonder how such misanthropes reacted to the news that in March 1992 twenty-five people, mostly female immigrants, died when a North Carolina chicken “processing plant” burned?(The owners of the plant had blocked the fire exits to ensure that the workers did not try to steal any chickens.) But, worse still, twenty-five deaths are nowhere near enough for Ronnie Lee, founder of the Animal Liberation Front: “True animal liberation would mean massive changes in society. You would have to have deindustrialisation. The problem is the extent of the human population together with industrialisation. The impact of those two things together means that other animal species are oppressed. The human population needs to be drastically reduced” (Guardian Weekend, December 5 1998).

To my mind such is truly a dystopia worthy of Orwell. And that these groups are attracting the attention of fascists comes as no surprise. But as a Socialist I find myself in agreement with Thomas Munzer. Writing some three hundred years before the Red Poet and vegetarian Shelley, he observed that “..all creatures have been turned into property, the fishes in the water, the birds in the air, the plants on the earth; the creatures, too, must become free.” Karl Marx, who studied property society and its inbuilt inequalities and contradictions in great depth, acknowledged Munzer’s call, and saw the solution in a propertyless world commomwealth of production for use not profit and allocation according to (self-defined) need. He would have seen those chasing reforms in response to the myriad of ‘problems’ affecting humans and other animals as “fighting with effects…applying palliatives, not curing the malady.” Eschewing meat, for example, will not put food in the mouths of the starving as “famine exists largely because the hungry cannot afford to buy food, not because there is insufficient food produced” (New Scientist, 3 September 2004). Are we not, as the vegetarian Tolstoy states in his parable, like a heard of cattle in a fenced enclosure. Yet, “outside the fence are green pastures and plenty for the cattle to eat..” ? I think we willl remain fenced in, continue to be milked, struggle to survive (one in five on less than $1/day) in a global system which robs, slaughters and degrades until a majority of us unite for a better world. So, in the words of Shelley,
Let us hasten than glorious day
When man on man no more shall prey
When prophets priests and kings
Are numbered with forgotten things
Furthermore, although vegetarians and vegans within the Socialist Party are in a minority, they would agree with William Morris that "a man can hardly be a sound Socialist who puts forward vegetarianism as a solution of the difficulties between labour and capital, as some people do" (Commonweal, 25 September 1886) and repeat what was stated in our journal over eighty years ago:
Cruelty to animals will go the way of all forms of cruelty, when a real civilised existence becomes a possibility to everyone" (Socialist Standard, February 1926)

Yours for Socialism,

Robert Stafford

Andrew Knight said...

As the author of the squirrel joke, I should clarify that we all intoned "Squirrels, we come in peace!" This was a tongue-in-cheek jab at the risk abatement report and other excessively burdensome administration we were required to navigate to be allowed to hold this event. One of the few risks we could identify was possible attack by a hungry squirrel; hence the opening statement ... I'm unsure of the impact on the squirrels, but it did serve to break the ice. I even spied a certain socialist rep at the back break into a smile ... We do thank you for attending, and hope you appreciate that (i) our policies on animals are serious and well thought out, and (ii) we also support other socially and environmentally responsible issues. I know we learnt something about socialism that day, and hope that the exchange of complementary knowledge and ideas was mutual.
Andrew Knight BSc., BVMS, CertAW, MRCVS
President, Animal Count