A controversy over animal rights and tradition has been sparked over the recent public slaughter of a pig by two local butchers in Switzerland. The act was met with swift and dramatic outcry from animal rights activists who opposed the slaughter, decrying such acts of public cruelty.. More absurdly, some had taken to comparing the two men to Islamic State members, an ironic comparison to anyone who knows anything about Islam and the Islamic State. Nevertheless, it is important for those of us on the environmentalist and anti-imperialist left to unpack this recent demonstration, and to analyze the response in order to sharpen our own worldview and inform more consistent practice. This of course includes criticizing that rhetoric used by the opponents, as well as an analysis of the overall situation as it fits into the political geography as it exists today.
The Butchers: Production and Tradition
First of all, we must look at the butchers and their objectives. What we currently know of them is that they were two native Swiss men who justified their action with the desire to revive tradition and to send a message against the “inhumane” factory-organized slaughter facilities that now dominate the country. In this regard we can see both the class and national elements: they are acting on the nationalist impulse of Swiss people, attempting to grab hold of some kind of endangered spiritual element which they believe to be under attack; additionally, we see a petty bourgeois element, wherein their small-producer status has put them in contradiction with the interests of the large producers that practice “inhumane” slaughter in a factory setting (forgetting, for the moment, the absurdity of categorizations of “humane” and “inhumane” slaughter). Both of these elements are important, and both of them are necessary to understand the real political importance of the action.
On one hand, we could even sympathize to a degree with the contradiction between the middling classes and the big bourgeois who own the factory slaughterhouses. We are highly aware that, given the qualitative scale of operations, the actions of two butchers can never amount to the harm caused by the big bourgeois, who—in all sectors—are responsible for a much greater harm to the environment and the world through their actions. On the other hand, we understand that only a temporal contradiction exists between the big bourgeois and the middling classes, who at once benefit from class society while suffering the inadequacy and insecurity of being pressed between the proletariat and bourgeoisie. In the age of imperialism, and especially now with the refugee crisis, this takes an increasingly national character, and thus we see an overlap between the national and class elements.
The national element would be rather obscure to someone who isn’t as familiar with Islam and the refugee crisis, which is quite common here in the united $tates. In europe, however, people are generally aware of the cultural differences existing between christian and Islamic traditions, particularly around the question of food. While europe has a shrinking religious population, the cultural roots of christianity are easily repurposed as the handholds of reaction. One of the key differences experienced between them and predominantly Muslim refugees is the consumption of pork, which is prohibited in both the Islamic and Jewish faiths. There are other restrictions, however this is the one that commonly comes to the fore in any discussion of “cultural assimilation”, as we have discussed prior concerning the proposed halal and kosher slaughter bans. This is why the comparison to the Islamic State is so ironic, and so telling when we take a wider look at the situation regarding these two butchers.
We should ask ourselves why it is that this is a newsworthy demonstration of cultural reclamation in Switzerland. It is not a stretch to believe that this act could have had the semi-conscious intention of targeting Muslims as the source of a class-national anxiety. This is, after all, the nation that banned the building of minarets and will vote in the coming months on whether or not to ban religious dress that includes a face veil. First of all, we have the explicitly stated class anxiety that has motivated the action, stating that it is against the domination of industrial slaughter practices that jeopardize the petty bourgeois producers such as themselves, this is clear. That is all well and good, but it is not the only reason for their action, as they have also made explicit their intention of helping to provoke a cultural revival in Switzerland. This is important because such a proposed cultural revival must necessarily arise out of a sense of cultural loss, one that has been politically linked to the perceived demographic war between white europeans and majority Muslim refugees.
The Capitalist-Imperialist World-System
Just as the halal and kosher slaughter bans were enacted to intimidate the national minorities in places like Denmark, so too could this action be perceived as an explicit move to underscore the supremacy of cultural christianity in europe. Yet, it is not only a cultural threat that is represented by the refugee crisis, which helps to reinforce the class-national boundaries between the white europeans and Third World refugees during this era of great tumult. As stated previously, while a temporal contradiction certainly exists between the middling classes and the big bourgeois, there is similarly one that exists between the those same classes and the proletariat. In the era of imperialism, and with the expanding financial monopolies in the First World, this division has become increasingly global.
The proletariat exists predominantly in the Third World, which has been rapidly industrialized over the last quarter of the 20th century until now, while the economic situation in the First World has been increasingly defined by its petty bourgeois and monopoly bourgeois character. The deindustrialization of the First World has had politically devastating results in some regards, exciting a great tension between the labor aristocracy that had previously shown a great capacity for lethargy, given the impressively inflated wages won in the post-WWII era, sparking a qualitatively new phase in labor-aristocratic struggle. The deindustrialization of the core economies has not been particularly peaceful, but neither have the core working classes struggle violently against it. The classical outlets of class struggle—the union, the social-democratic party, and the welfare state—have all atrophied in the era of neoliberalism. The very system that propelled european and amerikan workers to the top of the pile in part weakened the institutions that ensured their unquestioning consent. Awaiting the core workers was an unmitigated access to, and expansion of, objects of consumption; however this access came at the price of fiscal and political vulnerability for consumers and their governments.
The inflated incomes and new “world marketplace” that has been constructed in the First World, having been in its embryonic stage for decades through the latter half of the 20th century, has also demanded that this great industrial change be forced upon the formerly rural economies of the Third World. Such change invites extreme tumult, as we have seen quite dramatically in the past quarter-century. The rush to redesign the world-economic system, along with the emergence of new political tendencies to oppose this project, have produced some of the most hostile situations we have seen in decades. Where there is political strife and economic anguish, we see that there are also those seeking to escape these conditions manufactured by the imperialist world-system. As the global proletariat moves to escape their economically emptied regions, now assailed by violent political forces, they move in great numbers to the areas where this stolen wealth is concentrated: the First World.
We may appear to have departed fully from the discussion of butchers, the petty bourgeoisie and environmentalism, but it is incredibly important that we understand this political situation before we move to grapple with the situation as a whole. The free movement of people jeopardizes europe not only culturally, but economically, as the free movement of labor threatens the exclusive wages and benefits offered to First Worlders by their governments and by their adjacency to accumulation. And so we see that the political response of the middling classes has been increasingly pushed toward a unity of class and national interests as a way of organizing their political opposition to the new system. Their political response to the jeopardy of their economic interests has been in the consolidation of class-national interests, rather than internationalist ones that propose an ultimate departure from capitalism-imperialism. They wage a dual struggle against the big bourgeois and the global proletariat, now illustrated to them through the images of refugees driven to europe and amerika by economic and political necessity.
The Opposition: Ignorance and Liberalism
The opposition to this action has been eclectic, and unfortunately very near-sighted, with very little analysis beyond the obvious visual morbidity in an act of public slaughter. Much of the opposition has been contained to an outrage over the action’s public nature, stating that such cruelty should not be laid bare for all to see. Fair enough. Such activities are psychologically harmful for those made to watch, and it is certainly not something many who are not familiar with the practice would find entertaining or appropriate. Further, as explained previously, such a public display sends a very clear and uncomfortable message to those Jewish and Muslim onlookers who already feel a heightened contradiction existing between them and their supposedly fellow Swiss. Such activities carried out in the dark, or behind closed doors bear no less public a result. Those activities carried out in the industrial slaughterhouses are just as socially impactful as those carried out by the two butchers. So the publicity around this action should not be confused as social impact in itself, this happens on a systemic level regardless of where it is carried out.
Additionally, it does not help that the greater social situation is being isolated from this event in the eyes of the opposition, who prefer to think of these things as occurring without a systemic root. However, most of the opposition has come from liberal environmental organizations, and without the participation of communists and anti-imperialists, we can expect that the broader political situation will not be touched upon. This is why it is so important that we enter the discussion wherever and whenever possible. In the ongoing “cultural war” that is erupting all throughout the First World, as the struggle to reaffirm the political and economic position of the powerful imperial north is underway, we must be highly aware of these class-national ruptures that move in favor of the far-right. In this case that element has gone unnoticed in the mainstream media, yet have certainly been noticed by the right-opposition that sees the underlying cultural struggle, the “dog-whistle”, so to speak.
If it were not for this element class-national contradiction, the question would be rather unimportant in itself aside the economic implications, having as well been seriously misunderstood by the liberal opposition. We should always strive to remember that the petty butcher cannot do the harm that the industrial bourgeois does to the environment and to animals, while maintaining that it is their sincere wish to join with the big bourgeois through the expansion of their own interests. Under normal circumstances, such a contradiction could be utilized as a seed to poison the small producers against the big bourgeois, and to bring about a temporary unity of interests with the proletariat in their struggle against them. However, with the intensifying cultural conflict, we must approach this with a new dynamic, and chase out the predominant nationalist rhetoric that encapsulates a virulent anti-proletarian message.
Without knowledge of our overall direction, opposition to petty cruelties against animals will unfortunately atomize, leaving little to no visible effect on the existing state of affairs. The confused response to the two butchers in their nationalist, petty bourgeois display has ultimately changed nothing on the systemic level. Rather, ignorance to its far-right, imperial context itself has a detrimental effect. Our response should be clear: oppose the ongoing anti-proletarian, imperial cultural conflict that promotes “tradition” as a method of political intimidation aimed at refugees and national minorities; promote the integration of all struggles aimed at the big bourgeois with a truly proletarian movement containing an explicitly internationalist character.
Constructing Our Own Response
We must point out firstly that any bourgeois attempts to capitalize on this controversy, promoting their own practices in contradiction with these “barbaric” public displays is both hypocritical and far more damaging. It is the imperialist bourgeoisie who is playing a far greater, proactive role in perpetuating and expanding the worldwide ecological war than petty bourgeois butchers. Secondly, we must ruthlessly criticize the disgusting, reactionary nationalist element that puts those like these butchers in a de facto unity with far-right revanchists and ultranationalists. These legal campaigns of intimidation, in many cases spontaneously reflecting the growing intensity of the cultural conflict, should be opposed as the root of a mass-movement that has the potential to spawn (or, in some cases simply to mature) a growing fascist bloc ready to assume state power. By now everyone is aware of this growing threat, and even the mainstream media frets over the possibilities of political transformation and crisis in the future.
Of course, the bourgeois media lacks the political framework and interests to expose these fractures in a complete way, which draws the necessary connections that allow us to confront the social war we are currently faced with. It would be a mistake to allow the neoliberals to speak for us, even when they speak against the far-right. We must learn to speak for ourselves, and to dissect these situations with our own framework, exposed to the biases of our own interests, and promoting our own goals. But what goals should those be? In this particular situation we are faced with what is, on its face, an ecological issue, yet we must inject a communist and anti-imperialist worldview. In order to do this, we must observe a series of theses regarding this struggle:
(1) Capitalism-imperialism represents the primary contradiction that shapes all other contradictions, including the sphere of ecology. To this end, we recognize that the bourgeoisie, particularly the imperialist monopolies, represent the biggest threat, and that we must understand the contradictions that exist between them and the middling classes, synthesizing a pathway that leads to the eventual resolution of all ecological problems.
(2) In recognizing that capitalism-imperialism is the primary contradiction, responsible for reinforcing the incurable contradiction that exists between class society and the environment, we must resolve to overthrow that system and to seize state power, rather than pushing state power to act for us and the environment. We must replace capitalism-imperialism through the seizure of state power, not through negotiation with it.
(3) Capitalism-imperialism has created a new international division of labor, wherein the proletariat is primarily composed of super-exploited workers in the Third World, and small enclaves existing in the First World, populated mostly by refugees and national minorities. This is our social base, and any nationalist antagonism which targets them is anti-proletarian and must be struggled against.
(4) The current crisis in capitalism-imperialism has produced a unity of class-national interests in the petty bourgeoisie and labor aristocracy that is inherently anti-proletarian, pro-imperialist and wretchedly conservative. These interests, superficially resembling opposition to the bourgeoisie, cannot be allowed to replace genuine proletarian consciousness. Internationalism and anti-imperialism cannot be jettisoned for the sake of cheap victories against industrial ecocide and neoliberalism.