Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights: By Bob Torres, 185 pgs.

In this unique book, Bob Torres dismantles the animal agriculture industry and activism and analyzes it from an anarchist’s perspective. Starting with a brief summary of Marxist and anarchist principles, he applies these ideas to the highly capitalized animal industry and arrives at what he thinks is the gut of the problem in both the industry and the activism fighting it: that regardless of how we treat these animals, we must not forget that we are still enslaving them and exploiting them for our benefit; and we should refocus our attention to abolishing that enslavement first and foremost.
This book is a lot of things: a rehash of the atrocities we expect in current animal agriculture; a brief summary of capitalism and its tendencies according to Marxist and anarchist doctrine; and an attack on PETA and other such organizations. But what this book is, most importantly, is a call for us to rethink our stance on animal rights. It does this from a purely Marxist point of view by claiming that, instead of aiming at lowering the suffering of animals for our benefit, we should be fighting the hierarchy of human dominance over animals. Any anarchist or Marxist who truly stands for liberty and against tyranny should see this human tendency to “dominate” as a serious form of exploitation: we corral animals, feed them to the point of bursting, and generally give them miserable living conditions for our benefit. Animals can’t fight for better conditions, they can’t strike for better wages; they don’t make a wage! In a way, they are the most abused kind of laborer.
As an omnivore, this book has been incredibly successful at making me rethink my position regarding animal consumption in my daily life. If I care about the oppression of less fortunate people by the capitalist system that does nothing but abuse them, and want to fight it (yes, I most certainly do!), can I be indifferent to the fact that animals have been caught up in this same system? This is all Torres is trying to do, and he does it with humility. Instead of the self-righteous, better-than-thou activists out there, Torres admits from the very beginning that his views are extreme, and simply asks for us to be patient with him. This makes the book feel more like a conversation than a lecture, and helps the reader absorb the ideas much more easily.
With all that said, I do have a few problems with some of the arguments made in this book. One of them is the author’s claim that, for example, sometimes animal research has led to results that could not be applied to humans in any way, making the animal suffering in the process useless. The author asks: if this is the case, why are we using animals as models at all? We should do away with it. As a scientist, I find this argument slightly short-sighted. There are countless examples of animal research in the past that has had significant implications for human beings: the use of insulin for treatment of diabetics; cures and vaccines for diseases such as polio, mumps, and rubella; the development of new drugs for better treatment of cancers; and the countless advances in heart diseases such as transplants and blood transfusions. All of these advancements relied strictly on animal research for their development. Animals are not identical to us, but they are very similar, and we have reaped amazing benefits from using them as research models.
The second problem I find with this book is the slight hint of hypocrisy I detect in Torres. His entire argument is based on the abolition of human dominance over animals; any anarchist, activist, and vegan should understand that. Yet, the author himself owns four pets. If human dominance and propriety of animals is indeed the core issue, then pet ownership should be abolished as well, in my eyes. How do we know our pets are happy being domesticated; stripped of their reproductive organs, forced to live indoors and dependent on us for their food? After all, we keep animals to force them to keep us company. How do we know they like us as companions?
Regardless of this, we can still learn lessons from hypocrites and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Al Gore, for example, has raised awareness of global warming on a massive scale even though his home is one of the highest energy guzzlers in the country. Making a Killing is a short and effective analysis of animal treatment in a capitalist system and a rethinking of our approach to fight it. Whatever the case may be, it’s made me look at even the cream in my coffee from a completely different perspective. That’s saying a lot. –Ollie Mikse (AK Press, 674-A 23rd Street, Oakland, CA94612)