Major alliances of social tendencies and their associated intellectual currents are not unprecedented. In a 1978 interview for a popular British television program, Men of Ideas, Herbert Marcuse was questioned about his attempts at a reconciliation of Freudian and Marxist thought. Issuing a challenge to Marcuse, interviewer Brian Magee proposed that “these are two entirely different kinds of explanation of the same set of phenomena. How can you possibly marry the two into a single theory?” Marcuse replied immediately, “I think they can easily be married and it may well be a very happy marriage.” My hope in writing this essay is that the same will one day soon be said and repeated frequently about the nascent relationship between Marxist/socialist and animalist theory.
Despite growing joint presence in specialist literature, the coming together of species and class is a fresh affair. The space where animalism meets the socialist tradition promises to explode with a range of insights heretofore all but impossible. This space is, however, still difficult to define. If we attempt to effect a mechanical juxtaposition of animalist perspectives with socialist ones, we are going to inflame antagonism between the two traditions, and the conflicts between them will freeze in unproductive tension. Rather, perhaps the task of those of us interested in issues of species and class ought to be to illuminate how the two have long been interpenetrated in social practice, and not only economically and politically, but philosophically as well. In other words, we ought to demonstrate how, like Marcuse’s Freud and Marx, they are “two extremely different interpretations of two different levels of the same whole, the same totality.” The difficult relationship of species and class deserves sustained attention.
Some poignant radical critiques have been issued of animal protectionism as a liberal phenomenon—for instance, that it fails to appreciate the resilience of capitalism in profiting from ever new, purportedly milder (and really more lucrative) forms of animal exploitation; that consumerist, demand-based responses have no power to effectively oppose oppression, and instead may actually help capitalists reorient their activity onto more profitable lines; that veganism, a major weapon of animal protectionism in the last couple of decades, does not in itself constitute or lead to serious political practice, and instead becomes the go-to answer to the movement’s current tactical impasse; and finally, that serious, organized, collective activism is a prerequisite for liberation.
But the problem vis-à-vis liberal protectionism is above all that we are scarcely aware of what is supposed to take its place. “Animalism” is still up for grabs, having yet to settle into an established meaning. Now that it has arisen, we may well ask what animalism should stand for unless we are again to settle for something mediocre. Nobody except the profiteers of the status quo really needs new names for the same things. But since animalism is not simply a surface makeover of protectionism in its known versions, what is it supposed to denote and what could it become as one of the spouses in the socialist-animalist marriage? If there is radical potential to what now emerges as animalism, what does it consist in? The answers to these questions might be clarified in attempting to show not only what is wrong with mainstream liberal protectionism, but also what has been lacking—and painfully so—in the historico-philosophical distortions of animality in the broad socialist tradition. As has already begun to happen, socialism needs to be carefully critiqued from an animalist perspective. This may be more easily achievable now than before.
Socialism isn’t what it used to be. With minor exceptions of Cuba or Venezuela, it has been practically disincarnated from the state forms which it assumed in the twentieth century, and reverted from being a full-blown practical experiment to the status of doctrine and ethos, present merely in disjointed fragments in the struggles against exploitation currently scattered across the globe. Pushed back into the defensive, socialism has all but imploded. This is not all for the worst, though, for it has facilitated renewed reflection on the fundamentals of socialist theory, including investigations into the ground of its metaphysical assumptions. A retreat from radical practice to radical philosophy is a clear sign of weakness, but it can equally well be said that prior socialist practice has been lacking as well, and that its deficiencies are not wholly conjectural (pressure from the capitalist world) but also deep-rooted.
Animalism is nothing if not a radical critique of the oppression of animality in sentient creatures as such, regardless of species, ranging from bodily manipulation, confinement, and torture, to the instillment of stupefying habits that serve structures of domination at the expense of all-around creaturely well-being. As such, animalism would seem compatible with the socialist ethos of justice, equality, and solidarity. In fact, socialist theory and practice, based in historical materialism and the naturalism it entails, may significantly reinforce the emerging animalist discourse with a sense of faithfulness to the material-somatic dimensions of life under capitalism. With socialism, unlike with liberal-idealist contortions, we get fairly close to what is real, ontologically, and become equipped with a better sense of how to go about changing/accommodating to things in practice. In other words, we advance towards both what things are and what is to be done. Animalism and socialism are both revolutionary: in a divided world, they would so remake the present as to make freedom finally practicable beyond the narrow confines of privilege. Perhaps this is why the mainstream is so terrified of both.
But animalism is also possibly the greatest challenge to the persistent anthropocentrist overtones of historical socialism, evident in its programs, pamphlets, and manifestos alike. The challenge is not only to look into the factors whereby the lives of other animals are broken and drained, and not just to emancipate labor from the chains of capitalism. It is to allow for a full-blown, disalienated animality to flourish. It is to enable us to be good animals, animals around whom other creatures can be free and feel unafraid. This is the only real socialism, the only socialism worth having.
Marxism implores us not to lose sight of the exploitative economic dynamic that tears at the fabric of everyday life in our ruptured societies and derails the noblest of our intentions. Capitalist relations, sedimented into pervasive inequalities within and between our various communities, distort not just the balance of our checking accounts, but the whole of how we relate to the world. An animalism worthy of the name will say that capitalism, like its historical predecessors in slave and feudal societies, mutilates our relation to the sensuous bases of our animal life in spontaneity, conviviality, and connection. This critique, still insufficiently developed in emerging animalist circles, has been unappreciated, even altogether unnoticed, by Marxists, who have been all too eager to frame the anthropic animal within the worker/capitalist dichotomy.
Classical Marxism has preciously stressed the centrality of bodily nature and materiality of life. Neo-Marxism, most notably in the work of the Frankfurt School, came to pay appropriate attention to how capitalism, and modernity more broadly, hijacked the living individual and made her serve the interests of the productive apparatus. Then, since about the late 1980s, ecosocialism has brought out the neglected ecological aspects of capitalist expansion and pointed out how it makes live miserable for the vast majority of human beings. The animal, however, still lies waiting. Above all, the passive/receptive aspects of our somatic constitution, including the vital needs to inhabit a place, to dwell, to tune in to the rhythms of the surrounding ecologies, to share the land with other animal beings—the basics of what philosopher Ralph Acampora has called “bodily animacy”—have all been underplayed in the Marxist emphasis on transformative human activity, i.e., labor. Inheriting a modern orientation, socialism has held human productive potential in high esteem and, more often than not, erred in wishing to free labor instead of the animals (anthropic or not) that performed it. Its deeper critical insights, like those into the necessity of disalienation, have overwhelmingly gone ignored. As predicted by Marx, the growth of capitalism stimulated the growth of the working class which however failed to ripen into the vaunted class-for-itself. Not long after, on the tidal wave of two World Wars, the proletariat dissolved into union-worker privilege and unskilled worker poverty in the global North, soon to be resuscitated wholesale in the South. The alleged sole bearer of revolution is still in tatters. Meanwhile, the cult of labor has gone unchallenged throughout, except by minor opposition on the periphery of the far left.
Gaining momentum in the mid-20th century, imperatives of consumption were configured as an extension of toil, turning the right to the satisfaction of needs into a quasi-religious obligation. Those who could afford to consume at levels indicated by advertising were made to feel compelled to do so. The rest was made to look and envy them, and labor to one day reach the same “standard of life.” Ridiculous, is it? It is happening. These trends, clearly visible to the Marxist eye, made for an unceasing flurry of activity. The Marxist, however, could criticize the structure of society only from the standpoint of the unrealized potential of its labor power. Meanwhile, it is becoming clear that the overthrow of capitalism would entail a restitution of the aspects of our being that have nothing to do with toil, and yet do not require a world in which scarcity is altogether eliminated: the playful, free, and yet undervalued aspects of anthropic animality. If the prospects of their recuperation are not vouchsafed, the whole rationale of revolution is put into question; the world-system to follow in the wake of capitalism may well then emerge as another monstrosity. The transition to a post-capitalist form of life presupposes a sensuous revitalization of the anthropos, now pushed and prodded and instrumentalized in countless scores alongside the other animal victims of capitalism.
The touchy subject of socialist productivism can be approached from various angles. Most importantly, in light of the Marxist focus on formal economic categories (labor, profit, capital, surplus, etc.), it must be stressed that productivism pertains far beyond charts and graphs, to the very marrow of our animal everyday lives. As more and more of our simplest and most basic activities are embraced and fenced in by the market, animalism becomes indispensable not only for those literally caged, killed, and exterminated, but to all of us, even children of privilege; without exception, we’re all being turned into automatons. Market-concocted norms of efficiency spill over beyond profit-oriented activities to infuse every moment between sleep and waking life, extending across entire lifespans of unsuspecting individuals. Capitalism exploits not only our ability to labor but our very animal nature in its entirety and with all of its limitations, orienting us towards narrow fields of interest in what immediately surrounds us.
In a sane society, to be a true animal would be a blessing. Now, to the extent in which is possible, it puts one at risk, making one a clueless, superficially cheerful participant in a deadly game in which tomorrow is unhesitatingly wagered for quick and easy excitement. We are entitled, by virtue of our frail natures and the corresponding harshness of the world, to simple pleasures and joys. We deserve to be able to live in and for the moment. It is only with the maturation of capitalism that these primal entitlements are turned against us and sucked dry for all their monetary (exchange) value. Only with late capitalism do we become crippled this way.
Self-determination is a major theme in the metaphysics of Marxist thought. This in itself cannot be condemned given the origins of modern socialist experiments in currents of the French Revolution and in subsequent historical moments of political emancipation. But the Marxist drive towards self-determination errs in that it posits a freedom that is unbridled by constraints and in practice frequently understood as the severance of the human from all its painful contexts, the contexts which it shares with the other bodies of the earth and which alone infuse its life with meaning. Marxism is not the originator of this trend. But it has been an avid follower and promoter of abolishing limits on behalf of a humanity of the future, a communist association of free producers. Because in a world of perfect clarity and no limits we disintegrate into meaninglessness, our freedom devoid of content, our lives emptied of relationship, this trend is nothing if not rotten. And yet it has characterized the modern project as such, and socialists have been its last conscious advocates.
Luckily, we don’t have to build alliances from scratch. They are already there, inchoate. Our task, no less difficult for that, is to bring out and articulate the tendencies and contradictions that animate the life of society, and to simultaneously follow and guide them to a desirable maturation. How to do that without asserting a self-determination of an orthodox-Marxist sort is the million dollar question. Marcuse was right to point out the need for a major overhaul of Marxist thought at a time when capitalism was getting more entrenched in our social tissues than Marx could have predicted. In hindsight, Marcuse’s injection of Freudian insights concerning the instinctual basis of social life and its repression by civilization, and capitalist civilization in particular, was a welcome step.
But it is precisely because it was insufficient that animalism must retrace the history of Marx and Freud’s theoretical marriage and pick up where Marcuse left off. For our present purposes, the insufficiency of the Freudian corrective was at least threefold: first, despite Marcuse’s early ecological insights, it failed to help him take into account the ubiquitous, relentless suffering of countless scores of nonhuman animals exploited unto death as part of the normal functioning of 20th-century capitalism. In this department, in spite of growing opposition from animalists and other animal advocates, little has changed, except for the worse; second, according to an old criticism from John Dewey, Freud’s emphasis on the psychological, despite helpful biological overtones, may have the effect of propping up a Cartesian tradition of psychic phenomena (imagination etc.) at the expense of their bodily basis—definitely no favor to an animalism that would have “man” brought down back to the earth and the body; finally, Freudianism, pessimistic though it was, failed to effectively curtail Marcuse’s faith in progress, epitomized in his rationalist orientation and compromise with productivism. The latter, Marcuse believed, would finally allow us the freedom from the so-called realm of necessity, which he thought was worth even the price of having ourselves “plugged into the automated production system.” The productivist dream has plagued socialism in most of its modern developments. Even if what Marcuse had in mind had little to do with its actual Soviet or Western variations, like Marx, he fastened on to “the technological chances of modern industrial age,” a faith that to this day can’t help but be disappointed when the real costs of technological rampage are considered. But there would exist no vast technoscientific infrastructures, stretched as they are across both the world and our manufactured desires, were it not for modern rationalism which has stubbornly infused culture despite its constant disillusionment with the backlash of managerial approaches to life. Members of the Frankfurt School, Marcuse among them, fought tooth and nail to save reason from instrumentalization. But they effectively subscribed to some of the same assumptions that have animated the “dialectic of enlightenment” for aeons, perhaps ever since Plato’s early evacuation of the Real from the body and the earth: they sought “salvation in the path of knowledge” which could be universalized into standards of needs and desires and so on. Marcuse himself has been described as “a neorationalist and even a gnostic.”
On all these counts, the animalism I would like to see take hold among us could bring to the table a significant corrective. First, the ongoing global holocausts that devour animals of all species day in and day out assume for it a central importance. Chances are screams will no longer go unheard. Second, animalism is open and candid about the bodily nature of even the most rarefied of our dreams, not to mention the psychological phenomena which Freud effectively evacuated into a mental realm. It remains faithful to the body as a nexus of subjectivity, and not just a biological entity, that is, without reducing it to a collection of parts and bundle of reflexes. Third, animalism can and ought to illuminate the rationalist-productivist tendencies in socialist thought that keep it aligned with modernity’s devaluation of the earth and its many inhabitants.
Productivism wears many masks, and while it is easy to oppose the Soviet experiments of turning back major rivers away from the sea, or the current fossil fuel craze, it is much more difficult to pinpoint its increasingly more elusive incarnations. We live in an age where terms like “eco-friendly,” “green,” and “cruelty-free” are bandied about without end. And yet our cities grow ever larger, jungles of the Amazon keep being logged, polar ice caps keep melting, deserts keep expanding, innovation in energy use produces savings which free up capital to circulate ever faster across the globe in search of new sites of exploitation, the Antarctic is being devoured as a new resource base, the remaining pristine oases are commodified and access to them is packaged and sold to those who can afford it, previous inhabitants getting pushed off the land, and so on. So-called “green capitalism” is now peddled worldwide, though it changes essentially nothing either in how the earth is pillaged or in how our own lives—even those of the privileged—are being impoverished with each passing generation. Without restorative animalist input, socialism—green or not—won’t be much meaningfully different.
It does not help us to keep playing to the rationalist tune. Animalism has what it takes to deepen the existentialist critique of Marxist/socialist rationalism and remind us that we much more than thinkers—that thinking ought to serve the non-rational basis of our being instead of supplanting it in favor of neater calculation. To critique reason need not mean advocating for irrationality its place to, nor rejecting lucidity and carefully weighed judgement. It ought to mean, rather, striving to reground them in a context of sound common sense that would take stock of every ounce of our living flesh, and away from self-referential systems of arbitrary signs. Building on the work of its incisive predecessors in critical theory, the animalist critique of rationalism is to get us to see that there are limits to control that reason itself, no matter how far extended through institutionalization in language, method, and measurement, cannot grasp.
We’re partaking in a desperate affair. And as usual, we’re already late. If a livable world awaits us around one of future’s corners, it is a world in which animality flourishes through diverse modes of expression and actualization; a world in which socialism and animalism have played off of one another in a practical dialectic, opening avenues of possible freedom and empathy; a world in which these two poles of the dialectic are happily married. To get there is hard work, but at least we are on our way.
 See, for instance, Bob Black, The Abolition of Work and Other Essays. Port Townsend, WA: Loompanics Unlimited, 1986.
 Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and Ambivalence. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1991, 262-268.
 See Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955 ) and One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (London and New York, Routledge, 1964 ) for reference.
 See Bruce Wilshire, The Primal Roots of American Philosophy: Pragmatism, Phenomenology, and Native American Thought. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000, 123.
 Jacob Klapwijk, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Critical Theory and the Messianic Light. Translated by C.L. and P.M. Yallop. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010 , 31.
 Ibid., 29.
 Ibid., 36, n. 3.
 Zuidema cited in J. Klapwijk, Dialectic…, 36, n. 3.
 For an analysis and critique of rationalism in Marxist thought see James Miller, History and Human Existence—From Marx to Merleau-Ponty. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982.