I have been delving into the debate about strategies and tactics of late — with a focus on animal activists. Rather than focussing on what can be considered the traditional, in the sense of the last ~20 years, welfarist v abolitionist, I have taken to task exploring the debate between abolitionists specifically. What exactly I have been looking at is the debate around tactics, utilising the context of HLS/SHAC/SHAC-7, the AETA and the ALF. I have long supported the rescue of animals, and have openly supported property destruction in the past (though I am reflecting on the effectiveness of the latter). My initial basis for delving into this was to highlight what had I noted as exceptionalisms which I saw as impacting on effectiveness. I have also noted conflations by participants on the debate on both sides.
The depth of my research and engagement is growing, and I hope to have enough material to come up with some grounded results soon. For now, this divide, which I think is a fair term, has indicated that it can be as damaging as the (ongoing) new welfarist v abolitionist debates that emerged in the 1980s. I am an abolitionist and clearly see many aspects of new welfarism that undermine the end goal of abolition. I won’t go into these here as discussions are widespread and quite readily available. What I want to (very) briefly) mention are two examples of how exceptianlisms/conflations made by those with different positions in the debate about tactics are undermining our effectiveness.
I am all for open discussion and debate about tactics — along the lines that we need to get our house in order. It is here that one exceptionalism is located. There are a number of people who have called for not criticising the actions of the SHAC-7. This was more common/profound at the time of their prosecution. I must preface my comments with stating that the AETA is a corporate driven, reactionary attempt to maintain the status quo and re-entrench existing power structures and relations — to the (further) detriment of a fair and just society. That said, I do not agree with or support some of the actions promoted/supported/taken by members of SHAC (notwithstanding, these were not really the basis of the prosecution of the SHAC-7). Some of the calls for not critically commenting on the SHAC tactics echo the your with us or against us Bushism rhetoric and the rampant patriotism that is far too widespread in the USA. Here lies the exceptionalism: many who are critical of the war mongering of the Bush (and Obama) administration and the call to support the President in a ‘time of war’ made the call to support the SHAC-7. What’s good for the goose…
This exceptionalism is related to conflations about tactics. In defending, or at least calling for them not to be criticised, the actions of activists, non-supporting comments are often thrown in the same basket — clearly embodying the same your with us or against us mentality. The flip side of this is the conflation of any tactics different to those promoted as militant. This is the position that Lee Hall takes in Capers in the Churchyard. While there is merit in her reflective criticisms of what she (broadly) labels as militant activists, the most visible conflation is seemingly too simple — yet it speaks volumes that can be seen throughout her engagement. If you look in the index of Capers, there is an entry for terrorism. This entry has no page numbers, rather it redirects you to look the entry for militancy. The entry for militancy included, in brackets, see also Animal Liberation Front. Whilst there are some actions by animal activists that can be labelled terrorist (lets see how this can be misquoted/taken out of context), to make such a generalisation is more than just damaging to the movement.
Internal discussion and debate is inherently valuable. We need to be responsible in how we proceed. I think conflations by both sides, as I have labelled them, are both problematic and damaging.