Factionalism in the Nonhuman Animal Rights Movement
Many advocates bemoan the heavy division within the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. In her book, Strategic Action for Animals: A Handbook on Strategic Movement Building, Organizing, and Activism for Animal Liberation, Melanie Joy specifically points to factionalism as a reason for limited movement success. In the past, the movement has been divided between factions that advocate direct action (e.g. Animal Liberation Front) and those who advocate more institutional means (e.g. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). More recently, divisions have sprung up on whether advocates should aim to reform or abolish Nonhuman Animal use. Here, abolitionism has emerged as a radical faction that rejects the tactics and compromised goals of mainstream advocacy and instead challenges the property-status of Nonhuman Animals with the promotion of veganism.
Factionalism is not unique to the Nonhuman Animal rights movement.(1) (2) In fact, factionalism and the manifestation of radical offshoots tend to be characteristic of social movements. As a social movement organization increases in size and becomes more dependent upon member contributions and thus more reliant on appealing to a larger constituency, organizational goals tend to dilute.(3) This professionalization of an organization encourages the manifestation of more radical splinter groups.(4) (5) Factionalism is also facilitated when resources are more plentiful,(6) which is generally the case when a movement professionalizes, as professionalization means a specialization in attracting contributions. This is certainly the case with welfarist organizations in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement.(7) Factionalism is also supposed to be more likely when a movement is especially hostile to authority.(8) The Nonhuman Animal rights movement might certainly be categorized as such as it challenges entrenched power and systems of oppression and exploitation. Thus, social movements of all kinds often share tendencies of growth and professionalization that facilitate radical factionalism. The Nonhuman Animal rights movement exhibits rather typical movement behavior.
While the normalcy of factionalism has been established, whether or not factionalism is a detrimental phenomenon for social movements and their goal attainment is still under debate. Many social movement theorists and advocates argue that infighting among factions damages public credibility,(9) diverts resources,(10) (11) leaves the movement vulnerable to countermovement attack,(12) or even leads to its demise.(13) Others, however, argue that factionalism can work to the benefit of the movement. This can be accomplished when factions draw attention to the cause with radical tactics and claims-making.(14) Movement infighting can work positively to penetrate across multiple class and cultural boundaries,(15) (16) (17) minimize overall failures, and increase solidarity for specific groups.(18) It can also fuel positive competition that could inspire escalated efforts and tactical innovation.(19) Factions also act as a mechanism for managing conflict and thus promote continued mobilization.(20) (21) In short, factionalism increases movement adaptability.
Factionalism forces a movement to engage in critical reflection.(22) Radical factions in particular function to create an ideal towards which the movement might aspire. Abolitionism certainly serves this purpose in imagining a critical vegan utopia where inequality and exploitation are rejected.(23) The abolitionist faction offers an alternative vision, motivates participation, and promotes a fundamental paradigm shift that is integral to reaching the goal of Nonhuman Animal liberation. Certainly, factionalism does not necessarily push a movement into decline,(24) and a movement that survives factionalism is argued to emerge stronger and more focused.(25)
Joy defends the moderate position of the dominant welfarist organizations as necessary for member recruitment: “[…] mainstreaming the movement doesn’t mean changing the movement’s values. It means framing or presenting them in a way that speaks to the people it is trying to attract.”(26) Yet, as organizations professionalize, it is actually the case that a moderate stance is taken to attract and maintain impersonal membership and external funds.(27) (28) (29) As an organization becomes mainstream, it becomes less focused on activism and more focused on organizational survival.(30) These large organizations are no longer interested so much in attracting new activists, but rather in attracting paying members with no obligation to participate beyond financial donations. When organizational framing exchanges emphasis on social change for an emphasis on advertising, the role of the radical vegan abolitionists suddenly becomes particularly important.
Advocates often plead for the various factions to overcome their differences and to work together. Yet, it is generally those who operate within the dominant, professionalized welfarist organizations who make these pleas. It is implied that the abolitionists in particular give up their radical stance and retreat back into welfarist hegemony. Yet, while it is true that factionalism can drain resources, it is also true that the dominant welfarist paradigm in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement has failed to reduce the reification and exploitation of nonhumans. As the movement professionalizes and large welfarist organizations increasingly compromise goals and tactics, the role of radical abolitionism becomes critical in offering an alternative vision, motivating activism, and advocating a necessary vegan paradigm shift.
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Joy, M. 2008. Strategic Action for Animals: A Handbook on Strategic Movement Building, Organizing, and Activism for Animal Liberation. Brooklyn, NY: Lantern Books. Pg. 7.
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