By Jon Hochschartner
I recently had the opportunity to interview a 31-year-old Marxist animalist who goes by the pen name Christopher Harrison due to concerns about hiring and job security. Among other things, we spoke about how he came to socialism and animalism and the connections he sees between the two.
In 2000, Harrison began practicing prefigurative vegetarianism, the prioritization of which, along with that of prefigurative veganism, is arguably a defining element of bourgeois animalism. He did this after being exposed to the horrific realities for non-humans subjected to industrial farming and capitalist-inspired ideas regarding the origins of human hunger.
“I was introduced to the argument that resources are devoted to meat production for the developed world that would be more efficiently used to feed the underdeveloped world,” Harrison said. “I felt I had heard enough arguments to convince me that vegetarianism was the way to go. Of course the truth is that, even with the inefficient use of resources for meat production, there is still currently plenty of enough food production to feed the world. The profit system overproduces food while people go hungry. So my choice to become vegetarian had no real impact on the logic of capitalism, the real source of hunger.”
Harrison said he began his activist career identifying as an anarchist, without a clear sense of what the ideology meant. “I’d like to tell you that I came to socialism by reading Marx and Che and Lenin, but the truth is that I first became attracted to socialism when I saw that the most dedicated movement activists I met were all socialists,” Harrison said. “It may sound a bit too sentimental, but socialism and Marxism really helped me make sense of the world: where we had come from, and where we should be going. I only had vague utopian visions beforehand, but afterward I had a compass.”
Harrison said that within the socialist left he knows many activists who share a deep concern for animals but are not vocal about this because they believe such sentiment might alienate the speciesist human masses. “There’s an interesting parallel here with the environmental movement,” he said. “For years there was all this research saying that white and middle-class people cared more about the environment than poor people and people of color, and that maybe it was a novelty movement.”
But Harrison said once you start asking the right questions, it’s clear that’s untrue. “Middle-class people tended to care about issues like preservation of national parks, but communities of color were worried about dumps and pollution in their backyards,” he said. “That’s clearly an environmental issue, and very important. So rather than focus on getting people to buy expensive vegan products, we should be looking for ways in which animal rights is an issue with relevance to our lived experiences as working people.”
Harrison said he believes an animalist society is only possible under socialism, but democratic control of the means of production does not imply an end to the exploitation of animals. “Suppose we had a revolution tomorrow, and suppressed the capitalist class around the world, and set up a system designed for human need rather than personal profit,” he said. “If we had this revolution tomorrow, we would still inherit a system based on a lot of cruelty to animals. So cruelty to animals would not end just because socialism came about.”