What about the rural workers?

Danny Hammill goes into paroxysms of outrage over fox-hunting in his article ostensibly arguing for the humanisation of our environment (Weekly Worker July 17). Unfortunately, while giving a reasonable assessment of the large demonstration by country-dwellers the previous Thursday, he loses sight of one key element of life in the countryside: the role and situation of rural proletarians.

Now, while agricultural and other workers in the countryside may be a small part of the working class, which lives largely in an urban environment in Britain, it is nonetheless one component part. This is no mere sociological or demographic fact either, since workers in the countryside have taken industrial action in the past and have become class conscious partisans.

Whatever the motivations of the majority at the pro-foxhunting demonstration, the majority of those living in the countryside have different priorities. Lack of public transport, high house prices because of petty-bourgeois incomers (the bourgeoisie has always had country residences), poor health service provision, and low-paid jobs are among the prime concerns of rural workers. The “misty, mysterious world of hay wains and thatched cottages” is indeed a city-dwellers’ wet dream, not the reality of the countryside’s majority.

Cruelty is not implicit in country life, despite the implications in Danny’s article. Those workers who tend beasts – stockmen, dairymen, shepherds, and all the others – are not in the main brutal in their treatment of them, and not just for economic reasons. Indeed, even that small minority of rural workers engaged in raising and preservation of game also have a duty toward the animals in their care which precludes maltreatment. What whippers-in and hunt masters do when culling their hounds (the “beagle holocaust”) is hardly reason to condemn rural workers en masse.

Why is a state ban on fox-hunting necessary? Of course, like all pursuits and sports, including football and cricket, this too is a minority interest; but whereas most do not involve harming other creatures, angling, shooting, and hunting do. “Humanising our environment” must indeed, if we consider such practices to have a deleterious effect on humans engaged in them, include their eventual cessation. However, the moot point is whether these activities should be legally prohibited or socially disapproved in order to achieve this purpose. There is no comparison, as Danny suggests, with the prohibition of the vile practice of female circumcision or the historical employment of child labour, since there are physical and irreversible effects directly on human beings in these cases. In the case of physical effects on animals in field sports, and the suffering premissed by opponents, this is an altogether different matter, since the only acceptable basis for opposition by communists must be the effect of this supposed brutalisation on those taking part, as well as any environmental adversity that can be adduced.

It is at least arguable that the course of action which communists should favour is that of the withering away of the desire for ‘blood sports’ – which may well parallel the withering away of the state we struggle toward. This approach suggests an altogether different policy toward fox-hunting on our part, one which does not require legislation, but on the contrary a change in attitude of those participating in it. Just because the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill is flavour of the New Labour month is no reason to jump on its bandwagon.

It is not a question of a ‘ban nothing’ stance. It is a question of not caving in to unthinking ‘animal rights’ populism. Let us not forget that, as Searchlight readers will know, British fascist groups and parties have some involvement in ‘animal rights’ organisations, so perhaps it was not surprising that at the Hyde Park pro-hunting demonstration there was, according to Danny, “not a BNP type in sight either”. Bizarre ideas about ‘animal rights’ and misapprehensions about how humans should behave toward other creatures have infected political life for some years, comprising an element filling the vacuum left by the collapse of class politics.

Whilst Danny is perfectly correct to state that, “We need to have answers for all the questions facing society, not brush aside the ‘inconvenient’ ones …” he then proceeds to fall into the same trap himself. In his sweeping discourse on the wrongs wrought in the countryside there is a complete misapprehension of its class make-up, which ignores the presence of a section of the working class. Is this because he discounts completely the rural worker in terms of consciousness or her/his role in preparing for the revolution? Or that rural workers per se will overwhelmingly and inevitably fall in with the class enemy come the crunch? If so, his view of its role is not unlike that taken toward the lumpen proletariat and is an idea totally petty bourgeois in its r-r-revolutionism. I think we should be told more of this ideological development.

Tom Ball