Examining Marx’s Theory of Estranged Labor and Factory Farms: Animals as Human vs. Animals as Nature

In Karl Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Marx details his conception of workers’ alienation from the products of their labor, their own labor activity, themselves and others (2000). Several theorists have argued that Marx’s concept of estranged labor applies not only to human workers but to animals on factory farms. On factory farms animals live confined to small cages, unable to enjoy the full range of their possible movements and among their own waste. Animals undergo painful physical modifications designed to enhance their productivity and to combat the stress reactions they develop due to their living conditions. Animals are deprived of being able to live their lives as they naturally would either as individuals or as members of social groups.

This paper examines several different approaches that have been used to apply Marx’s theory of estranged labor to animals on factory farms. It is demonstrated that all of the approaches conceive of animals as holding some quality akin to humans that gives them moral consideration under Marx’s theory. However, it is shown that the relevant moral quality for Marx is humans’ ability to transform and create their world through their labor in a way that goes beyond satisfying basic survival needs. For the sake of argument, it is assumed that this quality is solely possessed by humans. Nonetheless, it is argued that animals would still be granted moral consideration under Marx’s theory because animals are an extension of nature and Marx makes it clear that humans’ alienation from nature is damaging to humans. Humans’ alienation from nature is damaging to humans because humans and nature are holistically interconnected according to Marx. In other words, even if it is assumed that animals have no relevant quality individually that grants them moral consideration under Marx’s theory, per Marx’s theory conditions at factory farms are still intolerable because humans are holistically interconnected with animals.

It is necessary to begin this examination with some facts about factory farms, or Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO). In “An Animal’s Place,” Michael Pollan researches CAFO and animal rights arguments (2002). Pollan details the conditions for animals at CAFO as being “designed according to Cartesian principles: animals are machines incapable of feeling pain” (2002). According to Pollan, beef cattle live outdoors but “standing ankle deep in their own waste eating a diet that makes them sick” (2002). Chickens produced as food have their beaks seared off with a hot knife “to keep them from cannibalizing one another under the stress of their confinement” (Pollan 2002). Laying hens are confined to 8×11 inch cages for the entirety of their eight-week lives (Pollan 2002). Many hens are confined together which causes them immense stress (Pollan 2002). Pollan states “Every natural instinct of this animal is thwarted, leading to a range of behavioral ‘vices’ that can include cannibalizing her cagemates and rubbing her body against the wire mesh until it is featherless and bleeding” (2002). At the end of their lives, laying hens are “force-molted,” a procedure where they are “starved of food and water and light for several days in order to stimulate a final bout of egg laying before their life’s work is done” (Pollan 2002).

In nature piglets are weaned from their mothers after 13 weeks, but in hog production CAFO piglets are forced weaned from their mothers after 10 days “because they gain weight faster on their hormone – and antibiotic – fortified feed” (Pollan 2002). Pollan states “This premature weaning leaves the pigs with a lifelong craving to suck and chew, a desire they gratify in confinement by biting the tail of the animal in front of them” (2002). Pollan states “tens of thousands of hogs spend their entire lives ignorant of sunshine or earth or straw, crowded together beneath a metal roof upon metal slats suspended over a manure pit” (2002). Pigs are known to be intelligent and sensitive and as such they become demoralized by their living conditions (Pollan 2002). They exhibit a psychological trait called “learned helplessness” which makes them submissive to the tail-chewing (Pollan 2002). Pigs who become sick with infection from the tail-chewing are clubbed to death (Pollan 2002). A procedure called “tail docking” is used to make the pig’s tail into a hyper-sensitive stump so that when another pig chews on it, the extreme amount of pain provokes even a demoralized pig to fight back (Pollan 2002). The procedure entails removing most of the tail “using a pair of pliers (and no anesthetic)” (Pollan 2002).

Pollan, citing Dominion by Matthew Scully, asserts this “moral blindness” to the suffering of animals “is one of ‘the cultural contradictions of capitalism’ – the tendency of the economic impulse to erode the moral underpinnings of society” (2002). In Capital Volume One, Marx details how under capitalism the social relations that bind producers together through their labor become distorted (1995). Marx’s concept of “commodity fetishism” asserts that humans become blind to the social relations that bind individual producers to each other when humans fail to see the products of a producer’s labor as entailing a very real part of the producer’s life (1995). Marx states humans become blind to this fact when humans see products of a producer’s labor as simply commodities to be bought and sold. In other words, instead of seeing the lives and social relations between producers of products, humans see nothing but the products engaged in social relations and material relations between producers (Marx 1995). In the case of animals at CAFO, humans see only the products of the animals’ labor as commodities and humans fail to see the animals’ lives and the social relations between animals and humans.

It is a relatively uncontroversial social claim to assert that the relationship between modern day humans and the animals they use for products is entirely severed. Pollen states “Except for our pets, real animals – animals living and dying – no longer figure in our everyday lives. Meat comes from the grocery store, where it is cut and packaged to look as little like parts of animals as possible” (2002). While being relatively uncontroversial, understanding and acquiescing to this claim nonetheless has certain normative implications. If one agrees that animals exist within social relations with humans and produce products of their own labor, then as a Marxist one is naturally led to question whether animals can be alienated from their labor, the products of their labor, themselves and others with whom they share the social sphere.

Marx asserts that as a worker’s labor produces commodities, “it also produces itself and the workers as a commodity” (2000). A producer’s labor becomes embodied and objectified into the object the producer produces (Marx 2000). Commodities are labor objectified in the material world and as such become alien to the producers producing them (Marx 2000). Marx states “The worker places his life in the object; but now it no longer belongs to him, but to the object” (2000). In other words, producers’ lives go into the production of commodities in that they spend a real portion of their lives in producing those commodities. The portion of their lives, whether it be minutes, hours, days, etc., that they expend in producing those commodities is no longer theirs to do what they want with. That portion of their lives is gone, irretrievably objectified into the commodity itself. The commodity objectifies the life of the producer as something outside and alien to the producer. “Therefore,” Marx states, “the greater this product, the less is he himself” (2000). The more commodities the producer produces, the less the producer’s life is their own. The producer becomes estranged from the objects of their production when those objects “confront him as an autonomous power,” a power controlling the producer’s life (Marx 2000). These commodities become controlling autonomous powers over the producer’s life when the producer is required to produce the commodities in order to survive (Marx 2000).

The first way a producer becomes estranged, therefore, is from the commodities that the producer must produce in order for the producer to survive. Being forced to produce commodities in order to survive directly relates to the second form of estrangement (Marx 2000). The producer also becomes estranged from the labor activity itself (Marx 2000). Marx states forced labor activity “is external to the worker,” it “does not belong to his essential being; that he, therefore, does not confirm himself in his work, but denies himself, feels miserable and not happy, does not develop free mental and physical energy, but mortifies his flesh and ruins his mind” (2000). The producer is not satisfied in the activity of mechanized labor, but is merely using such labor to survive, thus the labor activity becomes despised (Stuart, Schewe, Gunderson 2012). The producer’s labor does not belong to the producer, but to another to whom the producer must submit to in order to survive (Marx 2000).

A third aspect of estrangement follows from the first two (Marx 2000). The life activity of different species, such as humans and animals, is what Marx calls each species’ “species-life” or “species-character” (2000). The activity of the species is productive and life sustaining (Marx 2000). Marx states “the productive life is the life of the species. It is life-engendering life. The whole character of a species, its species-character, is contained in the character of its life activity; and free, conscious activity is man’s species character” (2000). As Drew Leder states, humans “do not simply labor under the dominion of immediate physical need but produce freely and consciously, taking the whole of nature as a potential field of endeavor, working for goals beyond private self-interest, utilizing a full range of cognitive, aesthetic, and practical powers, such that, ideally, one’s work serves as a tool of creative expression and self-expansion” (2012: 75). When humans are forced to produce commodities in order merely to survive, humans become alienated from their species-character (Marx 2000). To reduce human productive activity to mere survival is to reduce humans to a degraded state of existence (Marx 2000).

Finally, the fourth aspect of estrangement occurs when producers are estranged from each other (Marx 2000). Marx states, “When man confronts himself, he confronts the other man. What applies to a man’s relation to his work, to the product of his labor and to himself, also holds of a man’s relation to the other man, and to the other man’s labor and object of labor” (2000). It is in the social relations between producers that humans confront their own estrangement from their species-character (Marx 2000). It is in the antagonism between the human striving for a free, conscious, creative life that fulfills their species-character and the necessity of them having to produce commodities for another human or compete with other producers in order to survive that humans become estranged from each other (Stuart et al 2012). “Hence,” Marx states, “within the relationship of estranged labor each man views the other in accordance with the standard and the relationship in which he finds himself as a worker” (2000). What is crucial here is that humans are able to identify and define themselves through their social relationships (Sztybel 1997).

In “Extending Social Theory to Farm Animals: Addressing Alienation in the Diary Sector,” Diana Stuart, Rebecca L. Schewe and Ryan Gunderson apply each of Marx’s four concepts of estranged labor to dairy cows (2012). Stuart et al define Marx’s concept of alienation as “the labour process in capitalist societies inhibits the unfolding of latent potentialities and turns the powers and capacities of the labourer against himself or herself” (2012: 203). Stuart et al state that, firstly, dairy cows are alienated from the product of their labor because “the cow puts her whole life and existence into the product” and the “milk does not belong to the cow or to her young” (2012: 210). Dairy cows are subject to continual artificial impregnation and pharmaceuticals and newborn calves are taken away from the mothers (Stuart et al 2012). The dairy cow secondly is also alienated from the production activity in that “the cow’s only purpose in existence is to produce milk and create offspring to take her place in the production system” (Stuart et al 2012: 210). All of the cow’s activities are solely geared toward the production of milk (Stuart et al 2012). Thirdly, the dairy cow is alienated from their species-character in that she is “estranged from her natural habitat, suitable food, and basic life activities including grazing, mating, and rearing young” (Stuart et al 2012: 211). Dairy cows are confined to barns with concrete floors most of their lives, artificially inseminated, separated from their calves, given an artificial diet of grains to promote lactation, and unable to forage for food (Stuart et al 2012). Finally, dairy cows are alienated from social relationships with members of their own species in that they are not allowed to mate or rear their young (Stuart et al 2012). They are also alienated from relationships with humans in that CAFO are increasingly becoming mechanically run in order to manage large scale production (Stuart et al 2012).

In “Old McDonald’s Had a Farm: The Metaphysics of Factory Farming”, Drew Leder applies Marx’s concept of alienation to CAFO in a similar way as Stuart et al. CAFO alienate animals from the products of their labor firstly in that oftentimes the product is literally the life taken from the producer and secondly because the conditions are “harsh and unnatural, designed to maximize production, not quality of life” (Leder 2012: 76). Leder asserts that while Marx affords humans a “species-being” that entails free and conscious activity, he nonetheless recognizes that animals have distinct species-characters (2012). Leder states “Creatures have their natural habitats; their instincts for predation, aggression, seeking, playing, mating, and child-rearing; their social rituals and pecking orders; and even their capabilities of high-level cognition, skill development, and emotional response that we are just beginning to appreciate. All these can be systematically frustrated in the unnatural world of the factory farm” (2012: 76). Animals in CAFO also become alienated from humans and other animals because the symbiosis traditionally observed between humans and animals on traditional farms is severed and the “instincts, rituals, hierarchies, and affective ties that organize animal families and societies” are completely abolished (Leder 2012: 76).

Leder acknowledges the tension in Marx’s writings about the distinction between humans and animals as it applies to trying to extend Marx’s theory to CAFO. He states “We can become alienated la­borers only insofar as we are both like other creatures—caught up in a perilous struggle for corporeal survival—and not like other creatures and therefore bound to suffer when reduced to an animalistic existence” (2012: 77). Estranged labor reduces humans to a degraded, i.e. animalistic, existence because humans share the quality of struggling for survival with animals and because humans have a higher cognitive existence. Freeing human producers from the alienation of capitalism, for Marx, meant freeing humans only because only humans possess a higher cognitive existence. Marx’s concern with humanity’s appropriation of nature for expanding and improving human existence was entirely anthropocentric (Leder 2012). Leder makes a crucial and significant point when he states, “Extending Marx’s analysis to the factory farm depends on making a connection between humans and animals” (2012: 79). The connection to be made between humans and animals is that “Insofar as animals are treated like human workers, they fall prey to similar modes of alienation. However, the role of anthropocentrism implies the opposite. It is precisely because animals are treated as unlike human beings that we are seen to have no ‘direct duties’ to their welfare; they can be abused without ethical restraint” (2012: 79) Leder asserts that the combination of capitalism, anthropocentricism and Cartesian mechanism (i.e. animals are machines without subjective experiences) is what links the alienation of humans and animals while at the same time allows for humans to treat animals with unrestricted cruelty (2012).

Leder provides an ethical solution to challenging CAFO that is grounded in Marx’s concept of species-character (2012). He states “The animal is not viewed as pursuing his or her own ends, inhabiting his or her own world, and exhibiting the unique powers and propensities characteristic of his or her species and individual personality. Instead, the animal is reduced to something other than him or herself” (2012: 83-84). Leder’s solution asks for humans to engage with and allow animals to be animals on animals’ own species-character terms by recognizing “the moral and existential claims imposed by their subjectivity” and that animals and humans have coevolutionary symbiotic relationships (2012: 84). Stuart et al’s analysis of dairy cows also focused on the animal’s capacity for subjective experience and the social ties between animals and humans as well as the social ties between animals in their own species communities. Therefore, Leder and Stuart et al offer three specific moral challenges to CAFO. First, individual animals have subjective experiences that are intrinsic to their species and that can be harmed. Second, animals collectively belong to a species by which they form families and communities and these relationships are necessary for their well-being. Third, both animals and humans collectively belong to the nature and have developed symbiotic relationships.

The first of these challenges appeals to the subjective experiences of animals. Tom Regan is a proponent of this view. In “The Case for Animal Rights,” Regan offers the concept of a “subject of a life” (1986). Regan states the similarity between humans of various abilities that gives them inherent value is that they are all subjects of a life and this quality is also shared by animals (1986). He states “the really crucial, the basic similarity is simply this: we are each of us the experiencing subject of a life, a conscious creature having an individual welfare that has importance to us whatever our usefulness to others” (1986: 186). More specifically, subjects of a life “prefer things, believe and feel things, recall and expect things […] these dimensions of our life, including our pleasure and pain, our enjoyment and suffering, our satisfaction and frustration, our continued existence or our untimely death – all make a difference to the quality of our life as lived, as experienced, by us as individuals” (Regan 1986: 186). Following this line of reasoning with a Marxist twist, what matters under this view is that the producer has the ability to have a unified subjective experience that can be made better or worse by others. Whatever other abilities the producer may have or lack does not matter.

The second challenge posed to CAFO by Leder and Stuart et al is that animals collectively belong to a species by which they form families and communities and these relationships are necessary for their well-being. In “Persons and Non-Persons,” Mary Midgley questions the moral relevancy of individual rationality (1985). Instead, Midgley argues that “if we ask what powers can justify a higher claim, bringing some creatures nearer to the degree of consideration which is due to humans, those that seem to be most relevant are sensibility, social and emotional complexity of the kind which is expressed by the formation of deep, subtle and lasting relationships” (1985: 61). Midgley’s central claim is that emotionally complex animals who have the ability to develop deep and lasting familial and communal relationships ought to be granted moral consideration. To add to Midgley, if a being has the ability to develop deep and lasting relationships, it seems prima facie that the being would in some way identify and define themselves through those relationships. Again, following this line of reasoning with a Marxist twist, what matters under this view is the ability of the producer to identify and define themselves through their relationships, relationships that can be harmed by estrangement. As J. Baird Callicott points out when praising Midgely’s view, individuals who exist in many different social relationships, would have varying degrees of responsibilities to those relationships based on the closeness of the different relationships (1988).

A strict Marxist reading however could very well deny that the ability to have a unified subjective experience or the ability to identify and define one’s identity through social relationships is relevant or a sufficient condition for moral consideration under Marx’s theory. David Sztybel, in “Marxism and Animal Rights,” offers a challenge to CAFO that seeks to deflate strict Marxist readings of Marx’s work. He does so by relying on the Marxist concept of “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” (1997). Sztybel grants for the sake of argument several anthropocentric Marxist claims, namely the species-character of humans as hierarchically superior to that of animals and that nature has only instrumental value for humans (1997). Regarding species-character, Sztybel argues that it seems entirely possible that whatever is used to define humanity’s species-character could also be applied to animals, but even if not this would not be a relevant reason to deny animals moral consideration (1997). Under the maxim “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” the lack of the ability to have a subjective experience or to define one’s identity through social relationships does not detract from the fact that the producer still has needs (Sztybel 1997). The producer can still be harmed by the failure to respect and fulfill their needs. Even more, even if the producer does not have the ability to produce (e.g. paralytics or house pets), it does not detract from the fact that they still have needs (Sztybel 1997). Sztybel states “owing to its central communist principle, Marxism cannot consistently rank moral standing based on powers or abilities,” whether that ability is production, self-awareness, knowledge of one’s own needs or identification through social relationships (1997: 176-177). The principle applies to animals even if they have absolutely no comparable human abilities because “if one has the ability to contribute, then one should do so, and if one has needs to be satisfied, they should be” and animals as sentient beings have a need to live free of harm (Sztybel 1997: 179).

Sztybel’s contribution to the challenge of CAFO is that he attempts to deflate strict Marxist readings that would segregate and degrade animals to a lower sphere of social existence which would justify using them instrumentally to fulfill human needs. However, it is unclear how Sztybel’s approach is significantly different from Leder and Stuart et al’s. As noted by Leder earlier applying Marxist concepts to CAFO “depends on making a connection between humans and animals” (2012: 79). Sztybel is still doing this by saying that just as humans have needs, animals have needs and any being’s needs must be respected and fulfilled. While one may fully agree with Stuart et al, Leder and Sztybel, if the ultimate goal is to convince strict Marxists that Marxism does not support CAFO, then it is difficult to see how their arguments will do so. A strict Marxist could simply respond that the relevant quality that grants human’s moral consideration is not subjective experience, identifying and defining oneself through social relationships, nor needs. A strict Marxist reading could perhaps even grant that animals have all of these qualities but still assert that humans have the right to use animals in CAFO.

Firstly, a strict Marxist could argue animals have these qualities at a bare minimum compared to humans. Second, the strict Marxist could add that the relevant quality possessed by only humans gives humans the right to use animals to fulfill human needs. Third, the strict Marxist, taking a lead from Callicott, could add that humans exist in closer relationships with other humans, which gives humans a higher responsibility to promote human needs over animal needs. Thus, if humans do have any responsibility to respect and fulfill these qualities in animals it is only at a bare minimum to fulfill human needs. The problem here is that, as indicated by Leder earlier, a strict Marxist reading relies on anthropocentricism. The problem is that an anthropocentric strict Marxist is starting from the position that humans are superior and unless the quality that makes humans superior is addressed then the strict Marxist is not going to be convinced. One is not putting pressure on the notion of human superiority by simply showing how humans and animals are the same. One has to get at the core of the notion of human superiority by putting pressure on what exactly is different about humans that makes the strict Marxist see humans as superior. Once one can identify what makes humans different but show that the difference is irrelevant to granting humans more moral consideration, then one can fully challenge the anthropocentric strict Marxist position.

The relevant quality that grants only humans moral consideration under a strict Marxist reading is the ability of humans to freely, consciously and aesthetically create their world. It is the notion that humans “do not simply labor under the dominion of immediate physical need but produce freely and consciously, taking the whole of nature as a potential field of endeavor, working for goals beyond private self-interest, utilizing a full range of cognitive, aesthetic, and practical powers, such that, ideally, one’s work serves as a tool of creative expression and self-expansion” (Leder 2012: 75). Marx’s clearest proclamation of this was in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts:

The animal is immediately one with its life activity. It does not distinguish itself from it. It is its life activity. Man makes his life activity itself the object of his will and of his consciousness. He has conscious life activity. It is not a determination with which he directly merges. Conscious life activity distinguishes man immediately from animal life activity. It is just because of this that he is a species-being. Or it is only because he is a species-being that he is a conscious being, i.e., that his own life is an object for him. Only because of that is his activity free activity. […] In creating a world of objects by his personal activity, in his work upon inorganic nature, man proves himself a conscious species-being, i.e., as a being that treats the species as his own essential being, or that treats itself as a species-being. Admittedly animals also produce. They build themselves nests, dwellings, like the bees, beavers, ants, etc. But an animal only produces what it immediately needs for itself or its young. It produces one-sidedly, whilst man produces universally. It produces only under the dominion of immediate physical need, whilst man produces even when he is free from physical need and only truly produces in freedom therefrom. (2000)

It could absolutely be argued that the more information we find out about animals the more we find that animals do create their worlds with conscious, free and aesthetic purpose that goes beyond mere instinctual survival. However, the strict Marxist could just as easily respond that the attribution of conscious, free and aesthetic activity to animals is a mere illusionary projection of human abilities onto animals. Really, the strict Marxist may say, animal activities that appear as conscious, free and aesthetic are just evolutionary drives toward survival and propagation of the species. Perhaps the strict Marxist may agree that animals show some crude ability to create their worlds through conscious, free, aesthetic activity but humans do so at a far greater degree and with more sophistication than animals. In either case, humans are superior. Thus, human moral responsibilities to animals are either nonexistent or a bare minimum, with human needs outweighing animal needs. The strict Marxist could assert that humans need efficient food production that only CAFO can provide and CAFO are fine as long as humans are not alienated in the process, which is becoming more of a possibility as CAFO become more hands-off mechanically automated.

So, now we are led to the third of Leder and Stuart et al’s challenges to CAFO, namely that humans and animals have coevolved symbiotic relationships. A modified version of this insight is the key to really challenging the strict Marxist anthropocentric view. It will allow for the strict Marxist view of the anthropocentric superiority of human creative capacity, but it will show how this difference is irrelevant for granting moral consideration to animals because humans are interconnected with animals and nature through this very capacity. The strict Marxist views humans as superior because humans can create their world with free, conscious and aesthetic purpose. However, humans do not do this out of nothing. Humans are of and within nature. Humans create their worlds from within nature because they are of nature.

Unlike Cartesian mechanistic anthropocentricism, Marx does not separate humans from nature. Marx thoroughly embeds human nature and well-being within nature, and animals are in and of nature. In Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Marx states:

The life of the species, both in man and in animals, consists physically in the fact that man (like the animal) lives on organic nature; and the more universal man (or the animal) is, the more universal is the sphere of inorganic nature on which he lives. Just as plants, animals, stones, air, light, etc., constitute theoretically a part of human consciousness, partly as objects of natural science, partly as objects of art – his spiritual inorganic nature, spiritual nourishment which he must first prepare to make palatable and digestible – so also in the realm of practice they constitute a part of human life and human activity. (2000)

Humans have a relationship with nature and with animals because humans are a part of nature. Humanity’s welfare depends on this relationship. Marx states “Physically man lives only on these products of nature, whether they appear in the form of food, heating, clothes, a dwelling, etc. The universality of man appears in practice precisely in the universality which makes all nature his inorganic body – both inasmuch as nature is (1) his direct means of life, and (2) the material, the object, and the instrument of his life activity” (2000). The first point noted here is that humans need nature to survive. The second point is that humans need nature in order to fulfill their species-character. Nature and animals are the sources of humanity’s ability to create their worlds consciously, freely and aesthetically. Humanity’s deep and necessary dependence on nature, which includes animals, clearly demonstrates how Marx conceived of humans as being thoroughly interconnected with nature.

One more significant quote from Marx from the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts in order to round out the fuller picture of the problem with CAFO:

Nature is man’s inorganic body – nature, that is, insofar as it is not itself human body. Man lives on nature – means that nature is his body, with which he must remain in continuous interchange if he is not to die. That man’s physical and spiritual life is linked to nature means simply that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature. In estranging from man (1) nature, and (2) himself, his own active functions, his life activity, estranged labor estranges the species from man. It changes for him the life of the species into a means of individual life. First it estranges the life of the species and individual life, and secondly it makes individual life in its abstract form the purpose of the life of the species, likewise in its abstract and estranged form. (2000)

Here Marx is not only clearly stating that humans are interconnected with nature when he states humans as nature are linked to nature, but he is also clearly stating that human estrangement from nature due to capitalism is harmful for humanity. Humans become estranged from nature by labor that isolates them in individual drives for survival. What this means is that humans become estranged from nature when they are unable to fulfill their species-character. Humanity’s species-character is deeply dependent on and interconnected with other humans, and every human is in and of nature. Marx equates animals with nature and humans with nature, all are linked in nature. Therefore, the estranged labor of humans and animals estranges humans from their own species-character.

In other words, CAFO are intolerable under even a strict Marxist reading because the relevant moral quality that strict Marxists apply to humans requires humans to be interconnected with nature and animals and CAFO physically and psychologically severe humans from nature and animals. When humans become physically and psychologically separated from and indifferent to the lives of animals, humans have become estranged from their very own species-character. The estranged labor or animals at CAFO estranges humans from their own species-character. Recall Stuart et al’s definition of Marx’s concept of alienation as: “the labour process in capitalist societies inhibits the unfolding of latent potentialities and turns the powers and capacities of the labourer against himself or herself” (2012: 203). The labor processes at CAFO whereby animals are treated merely as machines inhibits humans’ species-character and turns humans’ powers and capacities to create the world against humans themselves. Even if CAFO were hands-off automated, CAFO would still be wrong because humans have completely severed the interconnection between themselves, animals and nature.

In conclusion, this paper has examined the living conditions of animals on factory farms (CAFO) and attempts by several theorists to apply Marx’s theory of estranged labor to these operations. Several theorists were examined who attempted to apply Marx’s theory to CAFO in order to derive a normative claim against the use of these operations. This examination has found that the attempts by these theorists to apply Marx’s theory to these operations based on either subjective experience, identifying and defining oneself through social relationships, or needs fails to have the normative force that the theorists would like. Instead, this paper argued that in order to effectively refute strict Marxist anthropocentric readings that favor CAFO, one must focus on Marx’s concept of humanity’s species-character being necessarily interconnected with nature and animals.


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