Interview about animal liberation with Marco Maurizi
We had an interview about animal liberation with italian marxist philosopher Marco Maurizi special to 1th November World Vegan Day.
1. Can you tell us about yourself? We know that you are a writer, musician and marxist philosopher. How does being versatile feed you?
One could say it’s a weird way to apply dialectics to my own life! Being split is not a bad thing if you think that conflicts and contradictions are the very stuff reality is made of. For instance, I’ve been a musician before becoming a philosopher and a political activist: there’s something that has always fascinated me in the hidden logic of music, in the way music speaks without using concepts. Music, for me, has more to do with truth than feelings. From the other side, a huge part of my philosophical activity deals with the limits of abstract reason, the way in which our sensibility, our being living bodies, affects or should affect the way we reason about the world. There is a sort of coherence in the things I do, although I’m not always sure where to look at to find it, I just keep running into interesting relations between them: music, animal liberation and socialism are all fields in which I try to explore the limits of socially constructed reality.
2. There were certain points where we shared a similarity with your perspective on animal liberation. Your ideas, especially on animal liberation and marxism, are very eye-opening. What would you say about your perspective on animal liberation?
This is a good example of a productive contradiction: since I’ve been a Marxist before being and animal liberationist, I’ve always founded the sociological and historical side of Singer’s and Regan’s theories incomplete, if not dangerously flawed. The way in which Animal Rights Activists tried to apply these theories in their everyday praxis – as if moral philosophy could show in itself the way to change the world – shocked me from the very first time. Ethics is a good, although partial and limited, way to understand some aspect of injustice but it cannot disclose the phenomenon of social oppression. Thus, since the oppression of animals is in some way related to human oppression, it was clear to me, since the beginning, that any transformative praxis had to deal with such hidden relation.
This appeared to me apparent, even when I didn’t yet have a theory that could try and explain such relation: it was evident, from the bad political consequences of animal liberation, that something wasn’t right. Even the more “political” side of the animal liberation movement – the Anarchist groups – had very weak and lame ideas about society and history, everything revolved abstractly around liberal discourses on rights and discrimination: those who tried to question the frame of such discourse – the primitivists – went in an even worse direction, attacking the ideas of civilisation, reason, universalism and Enlightenment, to replace them with a romantic regression to undifferentiated “nature”.
The point is that in order to change society, you need to have an objective representation of how society actually works, it doesn’t help to have philosophically grounded “values” and hope to change other people’s mind through “rational” arguments. Preaching how it should be is useless if you can’t figure out how it is: its inner laws and dynamics. Society is an opaque and layered structure that determines the hopes and scopes of reason itself, thus, in order to change it you have to get rid of all moralist interpretations of the human world and find a way to intervene in its tensions and contradictions. At the same time, if you push your critique of social reason too far, you end up sawing the very branch you’re sitting on: unless you believe in outdated concepts of “natural harmony”, there’s no way to organise a global movement of social emancipation and justice by considering civilisation and universalism just mistakes we should have never committed in the first place.
Luckily, having read Marx and Adorno, helped me to deal with these two problems simultaneously, i.e., to criticise the socially determined limits of reason without slipping back into irrationalism and naturalism: but it took me 15 years to come up with a viable hypothesis to solve such aporia.
3. What are the intersections and differences between socialism and the struggle for animal liberation?
The most important intersection is that class society is grounded on the exploitation of nature and human labour: these two things go together, you can’t have one without the other. Furthermore, whenever we talk of “labour”, no matter if material or intellectual labour, we always talk about some kind of energy, or activity which is attached to a natural body. Capitalism has changed the form, not the fundamental rules of class oppression: i.e. someone is exploited when the full social product of nature exploitation is unequally shared. More concretely, one cannot hope to build a free society for animals if humans are not free to determine their own lives. Socialism is thus a necessary but not sufficient precondition of animal liberation.
The difference is that some Socialists believe that to apply the concept of “exploitation” to nature is merely a metaphor, thus, as Horkheimer suggested, one can surely imagine a free, unified world which acts as a sort of joint stock company for the exploitation of nature. This happens because a long tradition of spiritualism and anthropocentrism has influenced the history of socialism itself. This is why I think it’s important to introduce a dialectical concept of subjectivity here, one derived from Adorno’s and Horkheimer’s Dialectics of Enlightenment.
Most animal rights activists believe that humans should free the animals as a sort of moral duty or a supererogatory act, which implies that the subject that has to be emancipated here does not coincide with the liberating subject. I question that. I think that animal liberation is the political process by which human animals free themselves from the oppressive social structures they have built through history. In other words, a complete emancipation of humanity from its spiritualist and anthropocentric heritage implies animal liberation.
4. What impact has your handling of the intersection of animal liberation and Marxism had on anti speciesist organizations and socialist organizations?
When I published my first essay on Marxism and Animal Liberation in 2005 I have been furiously attacked by Animal Rights Activists. Now they generally show more respect for my theory, but I cannot say it became mainstream. In the end, I think that socialist groups have been hitherto more friendly than Animal Rights Activists. Some small Marxist groups affiliated with the Fourth International but even more orthodox tendencies in Italy and Germany have shown a real interest in my work. I think the greatest impact I had is due to the fantastic efforts of the German Bundnis for Marxism and Animal Liberation. While some Animal Liberationists in Italy are currently engaging with my books the effect on the movement as a whole is still far from being satisfying. Some of these “radical” groups either ground their theories on anarchism, or on some sort of liberal interesectionalism. Both groups have a tendency to read my stuff through the lens of idealism and methodological individualism. Thus, unless they reject such bias, there’s no hope they can get it right. Yet, while I doubt that anarchists can move in the right direction (it seems that Anarchism nowadays is bound to the sociological fallacy which derives social objectivity from the activity of individuals and interprets superindividual structures as form of “reification” of some sort of pure and immediate activity), I sincerely hope that mainstream intersectionalism will. It just needs to reject the metaphysical illusion of some sort of “common root” of the different forms of oppressions which is often misplaced in some sort of “will of discrimination” (i.e., again, in subjective, rather than objective processes). There is no such thing as a “common root”, from a historical and social point of view, and, hence, there is no “unity” of oppressions: as a matter of fact, I think that antispeciesism can play an important role in this, although only if it works in the opposite direction it has hitherto taken. Speciesism is not “another form of oppression” that we can add to a list of “privileges”: rather, it makes clear that such “list” is an abstract and moralist attempt to deny the complexity of society.
5. How can we most succintly clarify the reciprocal need between anti speciesism and anti capitalism?
We can’t. It’s really complicated from both a theoretical and practical point of view and I think we must be serious on this, one of the problems of the Left and of the Antispeciesist movements is that we rely on simple answers where there’s none. To start with, I think that such theoretical nexus must still be clarified, I believe I only gave some hints on how to look at the right direction. For example, one problem that should be faced is the role of capital as a social force which makes humans redundant: when we talk of Capitalocene rather than Anthropocene, we theorise a society grounded on tendencies which are not humanist but, rather, anti-humanist. Now, how is the de-humanisation of the world produced by the abstract process of self-valorisation of capital linked to our critique of humanism and anthropocentrism? With Marx I believe that such objective process is not at all only dangerous but it holds some trace of hope, it all depends on how we imagine we should take control over it. I mean, when Marx writes that capitalist modernity is the age where “everything solid melts into air” (i.e. religion, cultural traditions, family, sexual relations etc.) he accords to such idea a positive value: the main difference between fascists and socialists is how they relate to such idea. Fascism and the Alt-Right are nowadays posing as “revolutionary” because they want to stop the process of universal mediation and deconstruction driven by capitalist accumulation. Socialists should criticise its irrational core while preserving its progressist side: capitalism produces a kind of chaotic “socialisation” of production, dissolves absurd traditions, even the traditional role of humans towards animals. The point is to let this change happen in a rational and democratic way. In the Grundrisse Marx talks of such universal “Becoming” of Mankind: we should theorise such Becoming as a process of self-determination of humanity in which differences are welcomed and not negated, in which our concept of wealth spreads beyond the boundaries of our species.
6. What kind of society do we need for animal liberation? And how can we build this society?
It is not easy to determine the details of such a society. What we can say in a rigorous (and negative) way is what now, in the present historical phase, has to be overcome and made obsolete by the process of capitalist modernization: we should cast a light on its contradictions and describe the direction their overcoming should take. From a general point of view, for example, the conflictual, chaotic and destructive economy that characterizes the current phase of capitalist expansion (in the face of the apocalyptic global crises that it has already produced) must leave room for forms of solidaristic economy. I will not go into details on this type of economy, because it is clear that especially on these things the Left has always been divided between a “developmental”, industrial approach, so to speak, and a more “primitivist” one, linked to local traditions, to the “virtues” of premodern lifestyles.
At any rate, it is clear that without a less violent and destructive economy, without a “democracy of work”, it is not possible to achieve that self-determination of humanity which is the basis of animal liberation: we cannot free the other animals, if we cannot free ourselves.
However, this general goal presupposes a series of intermediate or parallel goals, such as a real democratization of the media, academia and culture. Even if the techno-scientific complex cannot be truly democratized if not starting from the collectivization of the means of production, it is clear that removing this distorting relationship with capital is a regulative ideal, an essential drive of our theory and practice. There is a lot to do, from a tactical or strategic point of view, to establish a society in which animal liberation is possible. This has a direct impact on animal liberation even if doesn’t seem so. Most animal liberationists talking about “convergence of struggles” think that their goal is to convert individual socialists to veganism: quite the opposite is true. Vegan should collectively turn to socialism if they really intend to transcend the status quo. Reducing the power of capital over our lives has a structural significance that goes in the direction of a reduction of domination in all its forms.
We must try to produce the objective conditions for a freer society for humans and non-humans. Anything that opposes the self-determination of species from a social, economic, political and cultural point of view goes in the wrong direction. Only a society of free and equal has the possibility of recognizing this freedom and equality to other species. The rest is just liberal talk.
7. There are many tendencies in the anti-speciesist struggle line in Turkey. We also come across LGBTI+ phobic, racist, nationalist, liberal, anarchist or apolitical approaches. In your book “beyond nature”, we see your criticisms of such misguided approaches. What are your suggestions for vegans from Turkey regarding such approaches?
I understand that the political situation in Turkey may be such that a re-establishment of formal democracy requires a large convergence of political forces. Yet, the events of recent years lead me to believe that your country represents not a “step-back” from liberal-democracy, but an anticipation of what awaits us all. Post-democracy is the scenario of tomorrow, a world in which bourgeois ideals have definitively thrown the mask and oppression appears in its brutal pre-modern form, while maintaining an underlying capitalist-type economic structure. If this is true, I fear that the only possible approach to the tendencies you’ve named is a clear refusal. We must define a strong dividing line between capitalists and anti-capitalists: there can be no possible mediation. We must fight for material democracy, lay the material ground for actual emancipation from autocracy and exploitation. This does not mean that one must refuse tactical alliances or electoral convergence for instrumental purposes: but the final goal must be clear from the start, no confusion on this should be possible. As antispeciesist we fight for a real alternative to the present society.
This is the first thing to define: if someone imagines that it is possible to free animals independently of human emancipation or, indeed, without posing the problem of capital or imagining that one can overcome capitalism without facing the contradiction between capital and labour, etc., we are dealing with confused people, who have no precise idea of the goals of their struggle. No matter how much these activists portray themselves as “radicals,” their “radicality” is entirely imaginary.
I want to be clear on this because it is a point that is rarely grasped in its full consequences: it is usually said that one cannot be antispeciesist if one does not fight against all other forms of discrimination. But this objection is weak, because it is entirely formal. I hate repeating myself but when one poses questions in this way, blatant absurdities appear: the CEO of a company has no need to “despise” his workers in order to exploit them; at the same time, animals do not gain an ounce of liberation if we call them “non-human animals”, rather than “beasts”; if we take the point of view that we are all in some privileged relationship (cis vs. trans, male vs. female, white vs. black, able-bodied vs. disabled, human vs. animal, etc.) we could only define the oppression in a “gradual” way, it will not be possible to define any clear dividing line. The political struggle becomes confused. Discrimination alone is not enough to define the political struggle if we do not identify the organizing principle of contemporary society: the process of self-valorisation of capital in the productive sphere. It is crucial to differentiate and not homogenize social relations: for example, from the capitalist point of view, it is clear that both animality and disability mark absolute breaking points with respect to the system of capitalist efficiency, and they do so in a way that has no equal compared to other discriminated subjectivities. Not all discriminations stand on the same level, because such level is defined by the objective structure of society.
The real difference between a right-wing/apolitical antispeciesist and a leftist lies not in the symbolic coherence of his/her struggle against privilege, but in the tactical and strategic objectives that concretely define such struggle. The question that should unite all those who fight for freedom and equality is not “what” privileges we fight but “how”, that is, what kind of society we place at the basis of our political action. It is only when we leave behind the general discourse on “discrimination” and talk about the different forms of “exploitation” that we are forced to talk about the structures that define our societies. Even the term “systemic”, which is very fashionable today, is not enough, although it represents a step in the right direction, beyond the moralistic and individualistic approach of the traditional liberal left. In fact, what makes such processes “systemic”? Only when we are forced to face the problem of production the social “system” appears in its basic structure, that is, in what “socializes” us from outside our consciences, our individual wills. Focus on consumption and lifestyles, on the goods that define our “status”, is narrow: we need to go back to asking the question of which mode of production we think is the basis of a solidaristic society. Leaving abstraction behind and forcing ourselves to formulate our vision of individual struggles from the point of view of the society that underlies them, we find an effective convergence of struggles and “flush out” those who hide their radicalism behind an insufficient theoretical vision that does not affect objective social forces.
8. What are the achievements in the struggle for animal liberation in Italy? Has the socialist line had an effect on achieving these gains?
The Italian movement is very divided and contradictory, as I believe almost everywhere. We have an old guard of militants who went through many phases and slowly built a more or less political consciousness: the old distinction between grassroots groups and welfarist organizations seems to me to be outdated now. At the same time, a new wave of influencers and “opinion groups” have grown dramatically, above all thanks to social networks, and they
are currently redefining the concept of militancy. The situation is still confused. On the one hand, I notice that the “political” approach has taken hold and has partly changed the slogans and tactics of our struggle. On the other hand, many of the old vices have remained standing and disorganization still reigns supreme. In general, I believe that the retreat of the left in the country does not help, because there is no credible support for a global liberation movement. One plays with the pieces he finds on the table. As I said at the beginning, the real novelty seems to me to be the still marginal but growing interest that some sectors of the Marxist left have shown in the animal question. If some change is gonna come, it will come from there or, in any case, it will find there the necessary help for a definitive reorientation of perspective.
9. How do animal liberation and class struggle politically concrete all together?
At the beginning I too, like many, was the victim of the illusion that it was possible to create a unified movement that would carry out the two struggles on the basis of a unified theory of oppression. While my book advocates such theory, that’s not how I think it can be practiced politically. Animal liberation and class struggle are two distinct struggles that cannot be confused. It is true that the former finds its condition of possibility in the latter and that the latter becomes more coherent and broadens its underlying subject in a materialistic sense thanks to animal liberation, but the fact remains that they can never become the same thing. What I imagine, rather, is that each of the two movements discovers from within their own perspective the need to open up to the other and find in the other a completion of their struggle. This completion is necessary in the case of animal liberation (which is impossible without class struggle), but it is only possible in the case of class struggle (which, as we have already seen, does not in itself imply animal liberation). The activism of the antispeciesist must therefore attempt to show how much animal liberation fits in the socio-historical scheme of socialism, while politicized vegans should work to provide the necessary tools for analysing society inside animal liberation groups. Only in parallel and independent way can these two movements hope to unite effectively and without confusion.
10. What would you like to say about the place and importance of the vegan struggle among the struggles for democratic rights? Do you have a message for vegans from Turkey?
I think vegans can play a fundamental role in a democratization process, from at least two points of view. First of all, clearly, a true democratic society must do everything possible to help those who make a life choice that does not hurt and offend anyone, but rather helps to grow a culture of empathy and solidarity. In this sense, I consider everything that contributes to widening the possibilities of this choice to be positive, including technological and market developments that make a cruelty-free lifestyle ever easier. But precisely for this reason it is also understood that these are processes that fall within the limits set by capitalism and that cannot structurally go beyond. If veganism remains within the sphere of consumption, the most it can ask for is an expansion of formal, not material, democracy. Vegans are representatives of a denied right, not so much “their” right to live a lifestyle, but what they embody in their choice. Denying or limiting this possibility of choice means for our society not only and not so much “discriminating” vegans as silencing the voice of oppressed animals that speaks through them. The most important thing vegans can do from this point of view is to broaden the very notion of democracy to include those who are structurally excluded from it, i.e. the non-human animals constantly reduced to objects. Vegans, with their choice, express the need to recognize such denied subjectivity of the object of consumption. But it is clear that to achieve this goal they must not limit themselves to acting as a “vegans”, that is, as a consumers: they must rather act politically for a transformation of society, that is, of the sphere of production. We fight for an organisation of production which recognizes that subjectivity from the beginning. Antispeciesism is the political theory that, by expanding the concept of the subject beyond the boundary of species, aspires to erect a society structurally founded on solidarity and respect for the Other in all its forms.
I have enormous respect for vegans in Turkey because I think their struggle right now is more difficult than that of their comrades in the so-called Western democracies. But, as I have already suggested above, it is likely that they are at the forefront of an epochal change and can show us the way: their relentless fight against injustice can become an example for us all.