The following text is a reply to the rebuttal by Otwarte Klatki (“Open Cages”) of my original critique (“Hot Dogs of Dissent”) of this Polish organization’s recent campaign and solidifying ideological orientation. It responds directly to the particular sub-sections of their rebuttal. Photos used without permission, for non-commercial purposes. I’m not translating their rebuttal into English. It’s written in admirably simple language of which google translate can grasp the gist.
Let’s Start Taking Animal Seriously. Yes, if Klatki started taking other animals seriously, they wouldn’t cling to superficial interpretations of social movements and organizations’ historical victories and defeats. However you want to estimate the “measure of changes of particular elements of the system,” their broader repercussions are not grasped in statistical tables. And the tables that fascinate governments, corporations, and the non-profit sector (wholly dependent on showing that it is no threat to the system) conceal more than they reveal.
In the 1960 there were attempts to cleanse history of the drudgery of interpretation altogether, and to give its study a “scientific” character. This was called “cliometrics” (or econometric history). Newly armed researchers in lab coats posed as the new priests. But serious historians quickly crushed its nonsensical results, pointing to the central role interpretation had in reading the masses of data arbitrarily lumped by researchers searching for objectivity in statistical tables. It suffices to look carefully at cliometry’s groundbreaking work, Economics of Slavery in the Antebellum South, and especially at the reviews that rightly hammered it.
Klatki are obsessed with tables, professional public opinion polls, and anything else that might help make the organization grow without stepping on the toes of potential donors. As I wrote in my preceding essay, this is typical of neoreformists collaborating with the system instead of criticizing and putting pressure on it.
The organization browses the past to justify its actions. It speaks of suffragette victories. But the electoral vote, filtered through precise sociotechnical manipulation, and sprinkled with billions squandered on the campaigns accompanying elections, is made meaningless relative to the hopes the suffragetters seemed to have for it.
As soon as the vote became universalized, media theoreticians like Walter Lippmann set out to work systematically on bypassing the threat it seemed to pose. As Mark Twain used to say, “If voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it.” Voting changes the system’s surface appearance while concealing its deep roots sunk in and dependent on exploitation.
A simple example: The fact that the gender of the Polish prime minister recently changed with the replacement of Donald Tusk by Ewa Kopacz, will not significantly change either Platforma Obywatelska, their party, or the Polish regime. The neoliberal line of the party and one cabinet after another will be sustained. Without antisystemic dissent, popular economic safeguards going back to the welfare state (and actually existing socialism in case of Poland) will still be systematically dismantled.
Klatki refer also to working class successes. But here things don’t add up either, and their interpretation is superficial. Statistical tables can showcase an increase in the purchasing power of the working class and the improvements in workers’ quality of life.
But Ivan Illich was right to argue in Useful Unemployment and its Professional Enemies that centralized systems of work organization and social services have deepened worker dependence on bosses and top-down directives. They have made workers’ lives not more autonomous and free, but further dissected their ability to fend for themselves, making them dependent on mass structures into which capital had thrust them.
Another thing: since the 1950s and ‘60s this alleged improvement in worker’s quality of life has acted as a stabilizer for capitalism and a nullifier of anticapitalist dissent. It is in this light that the calls for overturning the system—calls once lively and popular—fade altogether. As Herbert Marcuse argued, workers no longer have only their chains to lose, but much, much more. They come to care above all about maintaining their own privilege, just like the wealthier women (so called “power women”) care about increasing their own numbers and improving own their position in the European Parliament and global corporate boards.
A narrow view of changes of this sort precludes a thorough analysis of subjection and exploitation in a system that, thanks to help from collaborationist elements within social movements, is able to maintain its existence. Some privileged sectors of workers get their living standards raised, and so they lose interest in fundamentally changing the system upon which their careers and welfare depend. Some women fare better than they used to and make careers in structures that should not exist in the first place. And misery is pushed further and further down, to the global South and to factories in which other animals die as they used to—by the billions.
What’s important for this discussion, however, is that massive trade unions and other representatives of the workers would never have grown to their immense 1960s sizes, nor would they have gotten concessions from the political and economic powers that be, if it hadn’t been for the revolutionary background of the time.
It’s in the face of radical demands to bring down a system in which the boss reigns unabashedly that system representatives began to relent. They would give in only when put under threat by radical dissent.
Without Malcolm X, of whom the white-dominated US was afraid, Martin Luther King would not have gain his admirable influence. And when King himself became radicalized and included socialist demands in his speeches and platform, he was murdered. Public concessions combined with unceasing threat of violence from the system were supposed to effectively eliminate expectations of fundamental change by discrediting the radical elements within the opposition. Black deaths in American cities at the hands of the police are accompanied not by real justice but by the rise of a black bourgeoisie.
It’s a tried-and-true tactic. And now it is being revived in the actions of Otwarte Klatki open to co-optation by the system. Just as PETA has become part of the system in the US by saying everyone what they wanted to hear, Klatki want to become part of it here in Poland.
It does not lead to animal liberation, and instead extinguishes the potential of real, radical dissent. If there had been no reactionary, collaborationist elements within working class and feminist movements, perhaps today’s European neo-colonialism in Africa, patronized by the oh-so-democratic European Parliament, wouldn’t exist either. Is it good that women sit among the other parliamentarians? No difference! It is terrible this system is still in place! If it hadn’t been for easily tameable oppositional elements, perhaps many past revolutions could have actually seized the historical opportunities they had.
To take the other animals seriously is to look for ways of acting that do not cast doubt on the fundamental moral rejection of the existence of systems of exploitation. Not action for action’s sake—or calls like “then tell us what you would do”—but precisely this is the responsibility of anyone who considers herself an activist.
In my original critique I named some examples of organizations and informal actions from which this spirit, this ethos, has not yet vanished. And all I want from a reader who thinks critically and isn’t afraid of the radicalism of her own message is for her to look for that kind of examples, find more and more of them, draw on them, and foster them herself. But the truth is that many of us are frightened by what we ourselves have to say, and hide behind not so much pragmatism, but opportunism. That makes things easier, that way you make no enemies and you don’t risk your own neck.
Otwarte Klatki’s boss’ impressions are wrong. Without fundamentally gashing through the system of domination concealed in the state, capital, and other structures that reduce us to recipients of directives and orders while equipping us with an illusion of choice and influence, the world will burn. We know today that the Pentagon is already preparing contingency plans protecting the powerful from any conceivable case of expected disasters—economic, ecological, and political—that would destabilize the system worldwide.
In this context demands to have one’s soy hot dogs heated up in a separate oven untainted by animal fat are both ridiculous and pathetic. As I wrote in “Fragments of an Animalist Politics,” the struggle for animal liberation has little to do with wining about the luxuty on one’s plate. It is not on vegans that the struggle should be focused. Of course we all want to eat healthy—though the hot dog campaign makes me think twice about that, too. Whatever the case, I say no to making veganism a fetish.
Veganism should be “normal,” but this requires that the system of exploitation collapse. Today’s normalcy is pathological and nothing to be aspired to. This is known to anyone with enough strength to admit it to themselves.
We Are Not a Religious Movement. A careful reading of the “Hot Dogs of Dissent” will show that my use of the term “soul” there is a matter of shorthand. But atheists underestimating the power associated with ethos, whether secular or not, are ready to shoot themselves in the foot by discarding the valuable lessons their opponents offer up for learning.
Locked away in Mussolini’s fascist prison, Antonio Gramsci appreciated the culture-making and political might of the Catholic church. He pointed out in his Prison Notebooks that the overthrow of the system of capitalist hegemony (in which the other animals are equated not only with things but with commodities, reduced to their exchange value) is connected with the building of counter-hegemony—a global alternative based on a new ethos, new values, all of which build toward a new common sense to replace its capitalist counterpart.
No facile atheist calls to have the power of reason fill the void vacated by God will change the basics of reality: as animals ourselves, we rely on habits for our comportment, and the vast majority of our actions we perform prereflectively and without thinking. That is who we are.
None of us are either a soul or a mind. Each and every one of us is a living, animal body. And we are struggling for a new ethos, in which to massacre the bodies and lives of other animals would be unthinkable.
In this broad and secular sense, religiosity—a new religiosity based on compassion, respect, ludic and frugal culture, vegan practice, and wide-ranging, bold abolitionist activity—is central. It has nothing to do with dogma or fossilized Catholic structures.
But it constitutes, as per Gramsci, a “new reformation.” And in this sense, as someone who steers clear of orthodox notions of spirituality and other catechetical categories, I think that struggle for “souls”—not consumer votes—is indispensible.
Who is it Good For? Who is Otwarte Klatki’s hot dog campaign good for? Good question. I reiterate—it certainly is good for an organization geared towards increases in its own popularity among vegans who do no more than exchange cooking recipes as part of their activism. It helps raise funds to sustain the organization for which its own survival, and not animal liberation, seems to be the priority.
There can be no doubt that someone who writes what I write has nothing to do with the fur industry. The Wójcik brothers (noted Polish “fur farmers”) criticize Klatki to protect their shitty business. I have no business and no personal interest to defend here.
I am not interested assuming leadership of any organization. I don’t want money in my account from other activists or any public. All I’m interested in is a broad view of animal liberation and the considerate members of the movement that strives for it. It is their attention and good sense I care about.
It is obvious enough that every organization and campaign relies on financing. I don’t need a marketing coursebook to tell me that people need to eat and buy the necessary equipment, pay office rent etc. Thing is where the money goes after that’s done. It should not be spent fighting for hot dogs. Hot dogs do not lead to real change, and certainly not in a world on fire.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty was right to note that revolutions succeed as movements but fail as regimes. Otwarte Klatki are gradually turning into a mini-regime. We ought to see to it that they avoid that fate.
–kf (radically real), Jan 12, 2015