I understand despair driving ALF By Jon Hochschartner

In June 2015, according to the Mississauga News, the Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the firebombing of two trucks in Canada owned by Harlan Laboratories, a company which provides research animals to vivisectionists. Police said the blaze caused no injuries.

For a while now, I’ve counseled animalists against this sort of illegality, advocated by groups like the ALF. Not because I have a moral opposition to torching the vehicles of vivisectionists. But because I’m convinced such actions are ineffective. Individual acts of sabotage cannot address systemic problems. They do, however, invite government repression against the animalist movement as a whole and send dedicated activists to prison for decades at a time. And yet, frequently, I wonder whether the alternative — building a mass movement against animal exploitation — is possible in this moment in history.

Take Jacobin Magazine, the current voice of the far left in the United States, which should be a proponent of animalism. So far as I’m aware, the publication has addressed our movement twice. Both times, it has done so with hostility and condescension. In an article from August 2015, called “Peter Singer’s Race Problem,” Sarah Grey and Joe Cleffie pushed back against the idea animal suffering and human suffering were in any way comparable, and argued making analogies between them was inherently reactionary. In an article from October 2015, called “Welfare for All,” Adam Fisher argued workers were the real victims of factory farming, as opposed to animals being literally dismembered. As the saying goes, with friends like these, who needs enemies?

This is at a time in which animalists are bending over backwards in their attempts to court leftist allies. In our movement, blogs are proliferating everywhere, trying to examine non-human exploitation from a socialist lense, from a feminist lense, or from an anti-racist lense. And yet it seems no matter how much we concede, ideologically or tactically, we have gotten nothing in return from the broader left. Further, this is at a time, in which — animalists should not need to be reminded — over 65 billion land animals are slaughtered every year, according to Farm Animal Rights Movement. To put that in a bit of perspective, the Population Reference Bureau estimates only 107 billion humans have ever lived. So in this respect, we can agree with Grey and Cleffie. There can be no real comparison between animal and human suffering. The former is infinitely worse.

So I understand the despair that drives groups like the ALF. While, ultimately, I know only a mass movement can liberate animals, I understand the despair which led animalists to place incendiary devices in vehicles owned by a company profiting from non-human exploitation. I understand the despair that makes animalists give up on humanity’s capacity to change, and take matters into their own hands. After all, if we can’t sway the left, those who should be most sympathetic to our arguments, perhaps systemic change — even mild reform — is not possible in the here and now.