Animal 'rights' and human wrongs

Direct action by animal rights protesters is in the news, and awareness of their activities is increasing. Some schools have even abandoned dissections in biology classes as a precaution against being targeted by the activists.

On January 5, 11 days before the House of Commons voted to ban hunting with dogs, 46 beagles were stolen from hunt kennels in Kent by Animal Liberation Front members. This stunt did not actually protect any hares, as hounds from other hunts were lent to Wye Beagles for their Wednesday and Saturday meetings. The stolen dogs suffered: one was found on Monday February 5 after having been castrated. The fate of the rest is unknown.

Militant campaigners have targeted laboratories which perform tests on animals for pharmaceutical companies. The activist group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (Shac) is determined to close down Hunt-ingdon Life Sciences, which carries out experiments for most of Britain's pharmaceutical companies. Shac denies responsibility for recent acid-spraying attacks on and letter bombs sent to HLS workers, but publicises the names and addresses of employees and shareholders on the internet for the benefit of those prepared to use violence.

HLS almost went out of business last month when the Royal Bank of Scotland refused to extend a £22 million loan which was due for repayment on January 19. The bank was influenced by demonstrations at 25 of its branches by Shac sympathisers.

However, with the aid of the British government financial backers from the US were found to rescue HLS. Contrary to normal financial rules they were allowed to keep their identities secret. Frustrated, Shac switched its attention to pharmaceutical companies which use HLS to test new drugs, and threatened a national demonstration against HLS customers. They have also leafleted outside supermarkets in an attempt to persuade consumers to boycott food produced by companies connected with HLS, falsely claiming that products such as Lucozade are also tested on animals.

Naturally the state perceives the activities of animal rights protesters as a minor nuisance, and had moved to counter it on several fronts. Government ministers - chiefly science minister Lord Sainsbury - were personally involved in securing the new loan to HLS and, although wary of antagonising animal lovers among the voters in election year, Tony Blair declared his personal support for HLS, describing himself as "very pro-science in relation to a legitimate industry upon which depend thousands of UK jobs" (The Guardian January 17).

But more sinisterly, the activities of animal rights protestors have been used as a convenient excuse for another ratcheting up of planned legislation to outlaw 'secondary demonstrations', which would restrict protests to the target company itself. This would make the Shac supermarket leafleting illegal. The new clauses broaden the definition of terrorism to include "the use or threat, for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause, of action which involves serious violence against any person or property". MI5 is to have an increased role in the surveillance of animal rights activists. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the ongoing peace process in Northern Ireland they are looking for new ways to justify their existence and salaries.

Communists defend the rights of protesters to hold demonstrations, and we oppose any extension of the powers of MI5 and other special organs of the state. But we are absolutely opposed to terroristic attacks on vivisectionists and other workers. We are against acts of individual terrorism, even those intended to further causes we support.

But 'animal rights' is no such cause. We have no time for those who are willing to injure and even kill human beings to protect animals from harm, because in their view a human life is no more important than an animal one and animal suffering is as bad as human suffering. Animal rights fanatics believe themselves justified in carrying out violence against humans to end and prevent violence against animals. They harass employees of animal-testing laboratories, plant incendiary devices under their cars and send them parcels packed with home-made explosives, nails and ball bearings. They are wrong and undoubtedly as irrational as they are reactionary.

Their attempt to drive companies such as HLS out of business is equally wrong and anti-human, as the tests such laboratories perform on animals is vital to the safe development of new life-saving medicines. Pharmaceutical companies are quite rightly legally required to test new drugs on animals before they are tested on human beings. Testing of cosmetics on animals was banned in Britain in 1999, a change which in my opinion was supportable, as we are certainly opposed to the infliction of needless pain.

The philosophy underpinning the beliefs and aims of animal rights activists can be found in the writings of Peter Singer of Monash University in Australia, who in his seminal book Animal Liberation attacks what he calls "speciesism". He defines this as "a prejudice or attitude of bias in favour of the interests of members of one's own species and against those of members of other species" (quoted in A dictionary of philosophical quotations Oxford 1992, p424). What anti-human garbage - equating human beings with, for example, ants.

In Animal Liberation Singer helpfully lists the arguments of his opponents: "They have claimed that to have rights a being must be autonomous, or must be a member of a community, or must have the ability to respect the rights of others, or must possess a sense of justice" (ibid p425). All very correct. But we would add that rights go hand in hand with duties, and animals can have no understanding of either concept. To apply the norms of morality equally to animals and humans leads, on the one hand, to the horror of fanatics letter bombing research scientists and, on the other, to the absurdity of the Mammal Society's moral censure of Britain's domestic cat population for the "slaughter" of millions of mice and sparrows (The Times January 31).

Communist morality involves treating animals with respect, just as it involves using and husbanding natural resources carefully and taking into account future generations. Cruelty not only causes suffering in its object, but, more importantly, harms the subject's humanity. That is why, for example, we support the banning of bear-baiting, cock-fighting and the hunting of foxes with dogs.

But none of this precludes using animals for food or the good of human society, including the development of new drugs. For us human beings come first and last. Animal rights nonsense is a mixture of sentimentalism and inhumanity brought about by the alienation of humanity from humanity.

Mary Godwin