Children and Animals: Socialism’s Forgotten Comrades
by Spencer Rocchi
(Parti Rhinocéros Party)
A paper submitted for the Society for Socialist Studies Annual Conference
Socialist Solidarities in Times of Crisis
on May 30, 2021-June 4, 2021
at the Congress for Humanities and Social Sciences
Submitted on May 9th, 2021
The aim of this essay is to inform the political left about the vegan antinatalist position concerning the ongoing subjugation and oppression of animals and children. Vegan antinatalists seek to liberate both children and animals by refusing to breed either into existence. As concepts that are founded in the desire to reduce suffering for others, both veganism and antinatalism converge to address the problems of animal and child exploitation. The bulk of socialist movements are morally inconsistent in their general lack of support for the animal liberation movement. On top of this, the existence and influence of capitalism presents a moral dilemma for leftists planning to have children, as they are practically guaranteed to be both wage slaves and consumers for the wealthy class. The left is challenged with overcoming speciesism and adultism if there is any chance of a socialist revolution. Significant measures need to be taken in order to protect the best interests of children and animals within socialist circles in order to achieve social equality.
Introduction to the vegan antinatalist position
In order to address the animal and youth liberation movements specifically, it is necessary to define the terms and the vegan antinatalist response in a socialist context. “Animal liberation” can be defined as the protection of animals from cruelty through requirements of humane treatment. Laws protecting animal rights prescribe certain forms of brutal and merciless treatment of animals in medical and scientific research and in the handling and slaughter of animals for human consumption (Farlex Inc., 2021). The vegan position is that, within the limits of safety and reason, human beings should seek to exclude all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty for food, clothing, or any other purpose (The Vegan Society, 2021). “Youth liberation” is described by Fletcher (2016) as a movement that seeks to free the youth from the bondage of juvenile ageism, which is manifested by compulsory, forced obligations with the focus of molding them into adults (known as “adultism”) as opposed to nurturing and embracing their natural learning abilities. This movement asserts that the struggle to connect with and educate the youth is a direct result of adults’ collective failure to provide relevant, engaging, meaningful learning opportunities (Fletcher, 2016). Antinatalism is a philosophical position that assigns a negative value to birth (Definitions.net, 2021), basically asserting that all children are exploited by being born into an existence where they are guaranteed to suffer and die, making it an immoral decision to procreate (Griffin, 2019). Griffin (2019) explains that the crux of this position is the lack of consent on the part of the child to be born in the first place and that antinatalism is a non-violent, voluntary philosophy. Following these definitions, the position of “vegan antinatalism” seeks to eliminate the exploitation of animals and children by ending the non-consensual breeding practices of both demographics.
The convergence of antinatalism and veganism as a concept
As philosophies, both veganism and antinatalism concern themselves with the exploitation of the “voiceless,” or more specifically protecting those who cannot speak for themselves. As Flynn (2018) notes, vegan antinatalists reject humanity’s claim to superiority over animals and children. Pelley (2018) describes this overlap under the broad umbrella of “harm reduction” and notes the double standard that many vegans have when they decide to procreate, in that they are exploiting their own children with no guarantee that these children will grow up to support animal liberation themselves. Scu (2015) elaborates on the interconnectedness of veganism and antinatalism, specifically the universal agreement that ceasing the procreative process is the best way to prevent exploitation in both cases. Abolitionism for both animals and children starts at reforming the capitalistic manner in which we breed both animals and children (Scu, 2015). Just as the philosophies of anarchy and communism naturally converge to combat the devastating impact of capitalism, do the philosophies of veganism and antinatalism naturally converge to combat the devastating impacts of procreation.
Youth liberation and how it relates to socialism
Despite recent improvements surrounding child labour laws, children are still being shortchanged within our society. Lawrence (2020) points out a contemporary example of child trafficking in Western Africa for the chocolate trade, with an estimated two million active child labourers. On top of being exploited for their labour, the youth are also being oppressed in terms of their education. The late, great George Bernard Shaw (1937) denotes the malleability of children and that the Government perpetuates greed and competition as a societal norm. Children are not being nurtured to think critically and follow their own paths of learning in favour of cultivating a tolerance for undesired conditions which, in turn, hinders the possibility of a socialist revolution (Shaw, 1937). Shaw’s sentiment could be considered a preamble to Fletcher’s (2016) interpretation of how adultism oppresses contemporary youth. Perhaps the most important piece of literature ever produced on the subject is an anonymous contribution to The Anarchist Library entitled “Antinatalism as revolution” (2009). The anarcho-communist viewpoint reads as follows:
The proletarian has an ethical responsibility to avoid procreation, for two reasons: firstly, because by procreating the children will be tortured in capitalism, and secondly because in that way new workers are created for the capitalists as well as and new soldiers for the militarists…
…Since our society today is not anarchocommunist, the proletarian lives a life full of negative experiences: debt, hunger, imprisonment, and fighting the wars of the elite.
When the proletarian procreates, their children will almost certainly become proletarians themselves and will have the same negative experiences as their parents. Therefore with the act of procreation the proletarian forces their children to live a life without satisfaction and full of sorrow. This, however, based on the positions of antinatalism, is something unethical. It is not right to force others to feel sadness.
Moreover, the proletarian if they are a conscious revolutionary has an ethical obligation to not assist the current capitalist system to preserve itself. The existence of new proletarians helps the self-preservation of capitalism, since they become new consumers, new workers, and new soldiers. In short, the birth of new children by proletarians is an act that further promotes capitalism.
In accordance with the above positions, therefore, the proletarian should not create new children, because in that way they force them to live a life in sadness and at the same time they surrender the children to the capitalists who are known to have no mercy and will use them for the continuing preservation of their unjust system (capitalism could not exist without a lot of proletarians).
Therefore we provided a possible answer to the question about the revolutionary properties of antinatalism, supporting the view that antinatalism is a revolutionary philosophy because it refuses to supply new proletarians to the capitalist machine, and we see that a possible act of resistance by the proletariat against the capitalist barbarism is the refusal to bring new proletarians in life (Anonymous, 2009).
This Anonymous (2009) anarcho-communist makes the irrefutable point that the proletariat has an ethical obligation to avoid procreation with the knowledge that they are both created for and tormented by the capitalist system that will inevitably sustain them until a socialist revolution is achieved. Using the basic propositions of Kropotkin, we can assert that an antinatalistic approach to capitalism can both combat the capitalistic system by denying it the labour/consumers that it needs to sustain itself, but also protecting potential children from being exploited by the ruling class (Anonymous, 2009). In short, leftists should place the well-being of children as their top priority. Even if we want to assume the natalist position that birthing a child is ethical, it is undeniable that even if capitalism is overcome, children must be liberated from the shackles of adultism for true egalitarianism.
Animal liberation and how it relates to socialism
Delforce’s (2018) documentary entitled Dominion encapsulates the extreme need for animal liberation, as the film depicts horrendous hidden footage from various animal agriculture industries. The objective enslavement, torture, exploitation and killing of sentient life depicted in the documentary should have never been ignored by the left. Socialist movements must also adapt to include non-humans as comrades in its plan for society. Sztybel (1997) notes that although Marx and Engels themselves did reject the concept of animal rights, they did acknowledge that animals do have needs. Sztybel argues that this is discriminatory as well as contradictory to the communist principle of supporting the needs of others and that modern Marxism must “undergo a profound dialectical transformation in light of the implications of its own maxim” (Sztybel, 1997, p. 169). Eisenman (2016) concurs that there is a need for socialists to incorporate the insights and strategies of the animal liberation movement into revolutionary strategies. On top of the inhumane conditions for the animals involved, the animal agriculture industry is also responsible for exploiting its workers and privatizing its profits while socializing costs through its need for subsidies to keep afloat. Additionally, there are the environmental consequences of animal agriculture such as polluted or depleted surface and groundwater, loss of biodiversity, poor public health, and a warming planet (Eisenman, 2016). In summation, there must be what Eisenman describes as a “synthesis” between animal liberation and socialism. Like with the youth, there can never be true social equality until our non-human comrades are liberated as well.
Speciesism and adultism: The fundamental flaws of leftist movements
Although the left has made significant progress in terms of supporting oppressed demographics such as racial/religious minorities, women, LGBT+ and others, there are two specific forms of discrimination that have received comparably little attention. The first is the view that Gruen (2003) describes as only giving moral consideration to humans and can be referred to as “speciesism”. The term was coined in the 1970s by Richard Ryder to denote a human-centered societal values that can be compared to racism. The basis for this comparison is that being born into a specific race or species says nothing about morality, as it is a morally irrelevant characteristic (Gruen, 2003). Powell (2016) clarifies that the issue is specifically with people who are in a position to stop/reduce their exploitation of animals but simply continue their speciesist actions because of personal enjoyment and/or convenience. Most people are abhorred by the idea of a dog or cat being abused but will routinely place their taste buds above the value of intelligent, sensitive, pain-feeling beings. It is hypocritical to claim to “love animals” while not taking all of the necessary steps to prevent their suffering (Powell, 2016). Speciesism is one of the two most common forms of discrimination and oppression, even within socialist movements.
The second form is what was previously identified as “adultism” and was described as the power that adults have over children that is often used to exploit the youth. This phenomenon derives from juvenile ageism, which Westman (1991) compares to racism and sexism. It exists when social systems ignore the interests of children and their developmental needs are not being respected (Westman, 1991). Fletcher (2016) elaborates on adultism as he denotes that adultcentric belief systems are disengaging the youth from their natural love of learning and removing autonomy from the young people in terms of making their own decisions. Though the fact that children do need adults is not disputed, adultism promotes the development of “little adults” rather than a youth-centered approach. Even well intended anti-adultist initiatives often result in the manipulation and tokenizing of young people through Youth Voice activities (Fletcher, 2016). However, following Anonymous’ (2009) anarchocommunist logic concerning antinatalism as a revolutionary tactic, there is no more adultist and exploitative decision toward children than to intentionally birth them into a capitalist and/or adultist society. As Gage (2017) so eloquently explains, every (consensual) reason to have children is selfish or socially-construed and is always in the best interests of the parent over the child. O’Grady (2019) explains the ethical consideration of intentional procreation in that the child is subject to all of the horrors and pains of existence for the sake of the parents’ entertainment and/or status. Procreation is essentially a gamble on someone else’s well-being without their consent (O’Grady, 2019). Ideally, it would be the standard leftist position that at least capitalism and adultism be overcome before one considers having children, as the action of forcing a child into the current social, political, economic and environmental climate is both adultist and pro-capitalist in its creation of a new proletariat for the wealthy class to exploit. The same logic should follow for animal liberation. Although it is understood that not everyone is in the position to fully adopt veganism, those who are in a position to do so should be bound by their leftist ideals to reduce their dependence on animal exploitation.
The left’s inclusion of both vegans and antinatalists
As both the desire to procreate and consume animal products are deeply intertwined into societal norms, socialists have a lot to consider regarding the inclusion of a vegan/antinatalist position on animal and youth liberation. Major (2020) explains that one issue many leftists have is that they tend to see the animal liberation movement as liberalist in its roots, citing the mainstream success of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) as an example.
Accusations of liberalism aside, the more obvious issues are that many workers are employed in animal agriculture (meaning they rely on the industry for income) and the general cognitive dissonance that people tend to harbour when it comes to exploiting animals, as they are usually speciesist in their assessment of morality. Marxist arguments against transitioning to a plant-based product model may also be trumped by the environmental damage that is caused by animal agriculture and the fact that these industries are heavily subsidized in order to be “profitable”. This makes animal liberation a necessary objective in combating imperialism (Major, 2020).
On the antinatalist side of the argument (especially concerning the rights and liberation of children), Kenneth Novis (2020) provides a summary on how to reconcile socialism with antinatalism:
I continue to maintain that there is a way of holding these two views without simply shunning one or the other. Marxists have for a long time also been committed to varying probabilistic estimates about the likelihood that human conditions will improve (specifically through the creation of a socialist state). Marxists of the more pessimistic sort (like Franco “Bifo” Berardi, if indeed he can be called a Marxist) believe that the likelihood that a socialist state will be successfully created is vanishingly small. Then, a Marxist might assent to antinatalism as a result of a simple calculus that considers the likelihood of one’s offspring either experiencing suffering great enough to make their being brought into existence morally dubious, or of their offspring (and their possible lineage) aiding in the creation of a socialist state. The pessimist will generally believe that the likelihood of one’s offspring experiencing immense suffering is great, and that the likelihood of their or their descendants’ involvement in a successful socialist revolution is miniscule.
I believe that even if socialist revolution is successful, there may still be suffering enough in human lives to make their occurrence morally negative. Political and economic circumstances only make up some of the conditions of human existence, albeit incredibly impactful and important ones. Even if the Marxist thesis about the contingency of the conditions of human life is correct, other influences on the quality of human life may be more obstinate than economic and political ones, outlasting even capitalism. I have in mind here existential influences. Presumably even in a socialist society every individual will have to face up to the cosmic meaninglessness of their own existence. I believe that, at least in some cases, experience of this meaninglessness is enough to justify self-killing, and hence some lives even under socialism may continue to be morally negative in their occurrence, especially for the people living them. Depression won’t stop existing just because capitalism has (although a large number of cases of depression will likely be prevented by the end of neoliberal and post-Fordist models of exploitation) (Novis, 2020).
Basically, leftists are tasked with accepting the reality of the antinatalist position on exploiting children when considering the foundations of a socialist society. As the anonymous anarchist (2009) points out, potential parents can existing children is acceptable while keeping in line with an anarchocommunist worldview. Pain-free/judgement-free suicide options should be available for those who do not wish to suffer through existence, as there are a myriad of acceptable reasons to not want to exist. As morbid as this recommendation may appear, the rationale is based in the concept of consent. In the same way that it is unethical to end the life of someone without their consent, it is unethical to force someone to endure existence against their will.
Based on the arguments presented in this essay, there are reasonable grounds to assert that the possibility of a socialist revolution hinges directly on the left’s response to animal and youth liberation. If we are to assume that it is “our right” to force children into a dangerous situation or to use and abuse animals as we see fit, then we are not doing enough to differentiate ourselves from capitalists. If the left is to ignore the needs of society’s most vulnerable demographics then it renders the idea of a socialist revolution meaningless without true social equality. Furthermore, the vegan antinatalist position on non-human comrades and children should be considered the moral baseline of the leftist movement as it seeks to protect the rights of the most objectively oppressed members of our society. Socialism as a concept needs to evolve in order to incorporate the youth and animal liberation movements.
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