Let them eat meat
While substantially agreeing with Adam Buick’s analysis of the question of animal rights in the April Socialist Standard
and in particular with the view that in a non-profit socialist society of production for use cruelty to animals can be expected to stop, I cannot agree that in such a society most human beings are necessarily going to continue to eat meat, as the article states. They may of course, but then they may not. And it is not a good argument to say, as the article does, that they will because they always have done. History shows perpetual change in human ideas and practices and one of the main points about socialism is that it will allow people to transform many aspects of the societies they have lived in.
Furthermore, it is not part of the Socialist Party’s agreed case that in socialism people will eat meat. This is a detail one can only speculate and express a personal opinion on. It should not therefore appear as other than a personal opinion in a journal whose articles express the agreed view of the organisation.
And how different in the end is what Adam Buick says from a recent anti-vegetarian letter in the Western Mail which stated: “In truth, it [an end to the farming of animals] will never happen because you want your chicken and chips, your lamb cawl and your Sunday roast.”?
The article wasn’t “anti-vegetarian”. It didn’t criticise people for being vegetarians. Quite the contrary. It said that vegetarianism was a perfectly legitimate personal choice (which had been made by some Socialists) and that the debate would continue into socialism where individuals would make their own choice as to whether or not to abstain from eating meat.
As you correctly point out, the Socialist Party as an organisation has no policy on vegetarianism; we are neither for it nor against it. We don’t presume to tell people what they should eat and what they should not eat; that’s a purely personal decision, it’s entirely up to individuals as individuals. This implies, however, that some will choose to abstain from meat while others won’t. We equally respect both decisions.
Will this diversity of decision continue into socialism? You say that to answer “yes” is merely to give a personal opinion, but it can also be seen as—and was meant to be so taken—a reasonable assumption that can be made equally by a vegetarian as by a non-vegetarian.
But if some people are going to eat meat in socialism then animals are going to have to continue to be raised to be eaten in socialism. Not to have faced this, in an article on animals rights, and to have replied “the problem probably won’t arise because by then we could all be vegetarians” would have been a cop-out. Besides, it would have infringed the neutrality we as an organisation maintain between vegetarians and non-vegetarians.
Hunting and killing at Tescos
As a Socialist Party member and a vegan, I’m afraid that I am forced to take issue with some of the points raised by Adam Buick in his article “Do Animals Have Rights?”
(April Socialist Standard
Firstly, it is highly debatable whether humans “have always eaten meat”. There is a good body of evidence to suggest that early humans lived primarily, if not solely, on nuts, fruits and berries—a reasonable assumption, given that we are descended from herbivorous primates. The length of the human intestine, as compared with the much shorter bowels of obligate carnivores in, say the cat family, suggest that it is designed to deal with slowly digested vegetable matter rather than fibre-free meat.
Secondly, it is disingenuous to compare a human being eating meat to a fox eating a rabbit—as I have already stated, certain animals are obligate carnivores who cannot derive sufficient protein from plant sources. Human beings are not—and we are capable of making moral choices regarding our diet. In any case, visiting the meat counter at Tesco scarcely equates to hunting and killing one’s own food!
Adam Buick is, of course, quite correct to state that animals are cruelly treated largely because of the need for farmers to produce profitably. However, does he seriously believe that sufficient meat can be produced to satisfy the world’s population even under socialism without the need for some kind of factory farming? Readers are doubtless familiar with the arguments that land can be used far more efficiently to produce plant proteins than to raise animals—that’s even allowing for the intensive farming of animals which we all know takes place under capitalism. How much more inefficient in terms of land use would it be to attempt to farm only free-range animals?
Further, I would suggest that, just as farmers are compelled under capitalism to try and make a profit, so most of those who work in the meat industry do so in order to survive rather than because they enjoy it. With the need to work for a wage being removed by socialism, how many people will be prepared to continue killing animals when other essential and more rewarding work needs to be done? Those who wish to eat meat will of course be free to do so—however. They may well find that’s this necessitates killing it themselves as few other people will be willing to do it for them.
Finally, Adam Buick is doubtless aware that vegetarianism is already growing at a rapid rate— particularly among young women. This means that’s more and more children are being brought up as vegetarians, which will almost certainly accelerate the trend. I feel that’s Adam Buick’s comment that’s “most humans are obviously going to continue to eat some meat” will be proved wrong quite soon— possibly even within his lifetime.
Have humans “always eaten meat”? That depends on what you mean by “humans”. Members of the existing—and only surviving—human species. Homo sapiens, have always eaten meat. We evolved not more than 100,000 years ago. but preceding species of Homo had been eating meat for many hundreds of thousands of years before that.
Going back even further, it is indeed true the now extinct species of upright-walking apes from which we are descended would have been mainly, but not exclusively (since even today chimpanzees eat meat, when they can get it), eaters of nuts, fruits, roots, etc. But at some point our ancestors began to add more and more meat to their diet. Most anthropologists see this changed diet as a key factor in the evolution of pre-humans into humans. Richard Leakey, for instance, writes in his book with Roger Lewin, Origins Reconsidered:
“Although some anthropologists argue that regular meat eating was a late development in human history. I believe they are wrong. I see evidence for the expansion of the basic omnivorous hominid diet in the fossil record, in the archaeological record, and. incidentally, in theoretical biology . . .
“The initial expansion of brain size in hominids. which established the genus Homo, was more mundane. It concerned an adaptation that required more complex behaviour: the hunting-and- gathering way of life in embryo. But it also fueled itself, in a kind of positive feedback. Part of Bob Martin’s thesis about a species’ ability to afford a large brain is that it must have a stable environment. stable in terms of food supply. Stable and nutritionally rich. The robust australopithecines managed to stabilise their food supply in the new prevailing environment 2.5 million years ago but their tough plant foods were not rich nutritionally. By broadening the diet to include meat, early Homo achieved both stability and rich nutrition. Meat represents high concentrations of calories, fat and protein. This dietary shift in Homo drove the change in pattern of tooth development and facial shape. The links in the chain join up yet more closely.
“Our ancestors achieved this dietary shift through technology, and thus opened the road to the potential—but. remember, not inevitable—development of yet bigger brains.”
In other words, modern anthropological research and theory confirms the 19th century view, as summarised by Engels in The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man, that “with all due respect to the vegetarians, man did not come into existence without a meat diet”.
This is not a reason, we hasten to add. why people should not be vegetarians. One of the features of human behaviour is flexibility and we could all become vegetarians if we chose to. even though our distant ancestors had to eat meat for this flexibility to evolve. If this happens. as you seem confident it will, then Engels would no doubt see this as a neat example of the negation of the negation.
Socialist cops & prisons?
Having read Adam Buick’s “Do Animals Have Rights?”
, I now know why so many animal rights activists so deeply distrust socialists. Of course neither human workers nor animals are born with natural rights. Such rights as they enjoy are the results of centuries of bitter struggle; by virtue of its power the capitalist class has the right to do anything it can get away with including exploiting animals and workers on a massive scale. Just as socialists want an end to the exploitation of workers so the animal rights movement wants an end to the exploitation of animals. Many want both as is evidenced by the slogan “Animal Liberation. Human Rights—One Struggle. One Fight!”
Adam Buick appears to oppose suffering and cruelty, but what can be more cruel and involve more suffering than raising an animal with the utmost care and kindness and then killing and eating it? If a socialist world is to be one without suffering and cruelty then the imposition of suffering and cruelty on animals by humans must end! And the debate isn’t just about the higher land mammals—it’s about sea mammals, insects, fish, reptiles and amphibians all of which appear on somebody’s dinner table. And “eccentrics” is a term of abuse not a scientific Marxist category, many people regard socialists as eccentrics but that does not invalidate socialism anymore then the alleged eccentricity of the animal rights movement rules out its argument.
On what evidence does Adam Buick base his claim that humans have always eaten meat and will continue to do so? The shape of our teeth, our lack of claws, the length of our get. the tiny genetic difference between ourselves and the vegetarian great apes, indicates the diet of the first humans was vegetable and that meat eating was a fairly late development caused possibly by food shortages resulting from climatic changes. Furthermore. many people do not associate the burger on their plate with the animal from which it comes. Many become vegetarian when they discover the shocking truth. And when was Adam Buick last on a farm? Farm animals aren’t fed on vegetation and scraps unacceptable to humans—they’re fed on grains and beans which could be used far more efficiently by being eaten by humans. And it makes better economic sense to rear goats and sheep on marginal land for their milk rather than their meat.
It’s nice to know vegetarians will be free to put their case in a socialist society. But what if we employ civil disobedience? Will socialist cops kick and baton us and throw us into socialist prisons? And what of blood sports, vivisection and the trade in fur, skins and shells? Will such horrors continue in a socialist society?
Adam Buick is right when he says the problem is capitalism and socialism is the answer. But if he is to convince animal rights activists of this his critique needs to be far more informed and sympathetic.
What are you talking about? There won’t be any cops or prisons in a socialist society. Nor will there be any trade in furs or anything else.
Calling an old comrade
I admired Paddy Small
(Letters. March Socialist Standard
) for his craftsmanship, his steadfastness to his principles, his support of his union and of the Socialist Party. I owe him a personal debt for guiding me to the Socialist Party and for helping me to acquire a Socialist library and helping me to understand it.
I would like to contact him again, so would it be possible to insert the following appeal in the Standard:
Your recent letter to the Standard has really opened the floodgates of my memory. I would dearly like to write to you and share our experiences since last we met. Please write to me at: 26 Fig Street. Dromana. Victoria 3936. Australia.
Yours Aye. Joe Richmond.”