What is Total Liberation?

The inspiration for the formation of the Total Liberation Club (TLC) came from two pamphlets published by Active Distribution; Beasts of Burden: Capital, Animals and Communism and, of course, Total Liberation. These two tracts give a solid understanding of the need for — and practice of… — Total Liberation.

Beasts of Burden and Total Liberation, both available from Active Distribution

As activists, it is all too easy to get caught up chasing bandwagons. Politics, like anything else, has ever-changing trends, influenced by current affairs, new ideas and the dominant norms and values of the wider society. In politics it is hard to ignore these trends for fear that other ‘factions’ might judge us for our actions… or, indeed, inactions.

As anarchists this if further complicated by the antagonisms within our own movement, with each ‘adjective’ arguing over the relevance of a given issue to the wider struggle. The postscript to Beasts of Burden documents how animal rights, once of central importance to the UK anarchist movement, was ditched in an attempt (largely by white, middle class people) to appear more authentically ‘working class’, even though working class punks had already openly embraced animal activism as part of the wider anarchist cause. Early editions of the Class War newspaper were full of hunt sab related articles and there was even a dedicated class conscious anarchist animal rights magazine named Animal.

The frankly classist attitude that working class people are not interested in animal and/or ecological rights is one thing (ask any Year 3 child in any community and they’ll tell you something different), but the chasing of trends means that ideas which were previously central to a movement are buried in the rush to climb aboard the latest bandwagon. The focus on class-struggle anarchism was itself largely abandoned in the 1990s as, thanks largely to the road protest movement and the development of a radical ecological resistance movement, ‘the environment’ took centre stage. Many of us who were involved in 1990s eco-activism were working class, but this didn’t stop the creation of a false divide between issues which, at their core, were actually closely related.

As both Beasts of Burden and Total Liberation show, the mechanisms of animal and ecological exploitation are the same (often committed by the same people using the same techniques…) as those used to exploit human beings. Capitalism is a death cult which holds all living things in bondage. Constantly shifting our attention to follow the latest political trends helps only the oppressor. Total Liberation offers a framework for activists, tacticians and theorists to keep up a consistent and ongoing attack on the issue which lies at the heart of all our suffering: exploitation.

As Steven Best says in The Politics of Total Liberation: Revolution for the 21st Century:

The global capitalist world system is inherently destructive to people, animals and nature […] It cannot be humanized, civilized or made green-friendly, but rather must be transcended through revolution at all levels – social, economic, political, legal, cultural, technological, moral, and conceptual. We must replace single-issue approaches and fragmentary struggles with systemic battles and political alliances […] We need to build a revolutionary movement strong enough to vanquish capitalist hegemony and to remake society without crushing loadstones of anthropocentrism, speciesism, patriarchy, racism, classism, statism, heterosexism, ableism, and every other pernicious form of hierarchal domination.

Steven Best The Politics of Total Liberation (Palgrave Mcmillan, 2014)

In short, Total Liberation seeks to combat all forms of inequality and oppression on a political, economic, social and interpersonal level. This may sound as if we have given ourselves more work, but in fact we have greatly simplified the task in hand. Total Liberation can be summarised as a commitment to live a life of resistance to hierarchical oppression. Anarchy has always been a lived ideology. We take greater control over our own lives; we refuse to take control over the lives of others; and we resist, in any way we can, those who seek to control the lives of others. In his book Total Liberation: the Power and the Promise of Animal Rights and the Radical Earth Movement David Naguib Pellow sets out the four pillars of Total Liberation as:

  1. an ethic of justice and anti-oppression inclusive of humans, nonhuman animals, and ecosystems
  2. anarchism
  3. anti-capitalism
  4. an embrace of direct-action tactics

I don’t know many scientific and ecologically literate anarchist activists who do not already recognise the necessity of the four pillars outlined by Pellow. Total Liberation simply provides a philosophical framework and some much-needed focus for the activities we already pursue, allowing us to stay on track and not be distracted by fleeting political fads and trends. It also unites the spectrum of so-called ‘single issues’ with its focus on intersectionality, as opposed to ‘identity politics’ which seems to seek a hierarchy of victimhood rather than fight for true and lasting change in the way we live and treat our fellow beings.

In practical terms it encourages us to build networks of autonomy and solidarity which are capable of resisting oppression in all forms, but also of creating practical alternatives to the status quo. As the authors of Total Liberation point out, modern insurrections rarely evolve into full revolutions because, despite the fact that we already grow/build/make/create everything of value, as a people we lack the confidence in our ability to look after ourselves. This will only change as we build demonstrable alternatives. Or, as Total Liberation puts it:

Pushing the boundaries of struggle means establishing viable routes of desertion from the system, both accessible and secure. In short, anarchy expands by making it liveable.

Total Liberation (Active Distribution & Signal Fire, 2019)

The authors of Total Liberation are keen to point out that these alternatives to the status quo should be multiform. The age of one-size-fits-all solutions is over. Total Liberation requires neither vanguards or dogma. It embraces diversity and celebrates autonomous, grassroots activity. So the Total Liberation Club (TLC) does not seek ‘members’, it simply acts as a flag of convenience for allies and affinity groups to work under whilst they fight exploitation in all forms and build real-world alternatives to the system of the oppressor. We believe that a brighter, braver, happier, healthier world is possible for all, it just takes a little TLC.

Published by Total Liberation Club

Fuck power – and let’s just take care of each other.

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