Best co-founded the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, whose
representatives speak on behalf of the militant animal rights movement.
His activism has earned him a lifetime ban from the United Kingdom and nearly
cost him his teaching job. I spoke with him on April 29.
Why do you think there’s so much hostility between
the anti-capitalist Left and the animal rights movement?
The Left has disdain for the animal rights movement because the Left is
humanist and speciesist. The Left politics are always about human rights
above all else. The highest ethic that the Left has been able to reach in
terms of animal rights is animal welfarism, which is the ethic of the industry
and which is a euphemism for animal torture…it’s like their
peddling ‘Clean Coal’ or something….Now, the Left also
sees animal rights people as elitist. Some people of color, rightly so,
see (them) as, maybe not racist, but certainly not anti-racist. There is
a problem of white elitism in the animal rights and vegan movement; there
is no doubt about it. The composition of the movement is overwhelmingly
white, middle class. It promotes all these expensive cruelty free products.
It doesn’t take its message into the inner city. It never targets
people of color. There’s a huge gulf between black vegans and white
vegans. It really is a very isolated movement.
So to a degree, do you sympathize with that criticism of the animal rights
Yeah. What you’ve got to understand about me is that I started out
from the Left…I started off looking at imperialism, and juntas, and
neoliberalism and the structures of capital…Marx and the whole Left
internalized the Darwinian tradition. They certainly understood natural
evolution and social evolution. They understood how we evolve as animals
and how societies evolve throughout history…Remember, Marx is very
influenced by Darwin. He wanted to dedicate ‘Das Kapital: Volume One”
to Darwin. But what (he) failed to pick up from Darwin was Darwin’s
emphasis on the continuity of species, on the continuum of animal existence…all
animals have rich subjective lives, complex emotions and intriguing minds.
Yet the Left just reduced animals to a machine…
How, if at all, do you think the two struggles are intertwined?
(Animal rights activists are) not making the connections
between the oppression of humans and the oppression of animals. They’re
not making the connections, for instance, between patriarchy and speciesism,
between racism and speciesism. They don’t see how speciesism and capitalism
work together to create a holocaust, a global holocaust, where 50 billion
animals are being killed each year just for food consumption. This is devastating
the environment. Poor people are being pushed off their land so that large
agricultural industries can move in….There are all these connections
here that need to be made, but neither side is making (them).
But by exploiting animals, aren’t capitalists simply fulfilling a
consumer demand? You don’t think that demand will just disappear in
a socialist society, do you?
people are speciesist…now if you want to look how all these things
work together, lets look at the case of factory farming…it becomes
an industry under capitalism which produces demand. The advertising of all
these meat and dairy products stimulates the demand and seeks to satisfy
the demand through profit and by using the most efficient technological
conditions possible. So that means the concern is not the humane welfare
of animals. The concern, rather, is efficiency…(Capitalism) uses “Taylorization”
and industrialization to mass-mechanize the production of animals as food…what
are the consequences of this? Well, people’s health is absolutely
destroyed by this: cancer, strokes, obesity….Tens of thousands of
people die every day around the world. One of the reasons is certainly political.
It has to do with authoritarian regimes keeping food from people, stealing
food from people, making profits off the food that’s supposed to go
to people. But it also has to do with scarcity of resources. You can look
up some of the statistics about how inefficient it is to eat food by first
mediating it through the blood and body system of an animal, and therefore
eating the animal. Just eat directly from the earth; take the animal out
of the equation. Eighty-nine percent of our oats and corn in the United
States is fed to cattle–not to humans…now, they’re saying
it’s the agribusiness industry, not the transportation industry, that
is the largest cause of greenhouse gas emissions…
What do you think the two movements can learn from each
What the Left could learn from the vegan and animal rights
movement, I suppose, (is) to really get rid of this last arbitrary form
of discrimination and bias and prejudice and hierarchical domination. They
could learn to look at their lifestyles more (and) integrate their lifestyles
into their principles…
then the vegan movement tends just to be lifestyle politics and not social
movement politics. So the vegans should look at the social movements and
move into a social movement. Make veganism more of a social movement that
is more out there, more talking about connections and justice, and less
with baking vegan cookies at home for Christ’s sake. I mean, come
out of the kitchen folks!
Steve Best is TPC’s Senior Editor of Total Liberation. Associate professor
of philosophy at UTEP, award-winning writer, noted speaker, public intellectual,
and seasoned activist, Steven Best engages the issues of the day such as
animal rights, ecological crisis, biotechnology, liberation politics, terrorism,
mass media, globalization, and capitalist domination. Best has published
10 books, over 100 articles and reviews, spoken in over a dozen countries,
interviewed with media throughout the world, appeared in numerous documentaries,
and was voted by VegNews as one of the nations “25 Most Fascinating
Vegetarians.” He has come under fire for his uncompromising advocacy
of “total liberation” (humans, animals, and the earth) and has
been banned from the UK for the power of his thoughts. From the US to Norway,
from Sweden to France, from Germany to South Africa, Best shows what philosophy
means in a world in crisis.