Who is Julian Assange? We can pick up basic facts about the man from Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, such as his date and place of birth (3 July 1971; Townsville, Queensland, Australia), and the fact that he is the editor-in-chief and spokesperson for WikiLeaks, the “media website which publishes information from whistle-blowers. The site acts as a conduit for worldwide news leaks, with a stated purpose of creating open governance. ”
We can also learn there that he is a computer programmer, political/internet activist, publisher, journalist and was a hacker-activist in his youth. That is the bare background to the man.
But what is his political outlook? What drives him to gather and release materials?
Basically, whose side is he on?
Julian Assange became known to most people for releasing, through WikiLeaks, vast amounts of data from US imperialism’s massive military machine regarding its wars of brigandage and its systematic torture of prisoners etc (WikiLeaks apparently still holds much, much more of this material, which it has yet to release). Of course, he couldn’t have done this without the truly brave US soldier, Bradley Manning, who collected and sent Assange the stuff in the first place, despite knowing full well that this action would cost him his liberty at the very least.
Although much of the information that was released regarding US imperialism didn’t really ‘break new ground’, it did amply confirm what was already known or suspected about the many crimes of the US in its worldwide terror campaign.
So much so that leading US reactionaries have publicly called for Assange to be hunted down and killed.
Indeed, the much-touted accusations against Assange of rape and indecency in Sweden, which seem suspiciously weak, only appeared after WikiLeaks started releasing the files it held on US imperialism. Assange believes that the attempt to bring him to Sweden to stand trial on those flimsy charges is only a cover, and that the Swedish government in fact plans to hand him over to the US. He claims to have evidence that the US has secret plans to force him to face trial in America:
“In the US, since at least the beginning of 2011, a US grand jury has been empanelled in Washington. It has been pulling in witnesses, forced testimony from those witnesses, subpoenaed records from Google, from Twitter. ” (‘Julian Assange rejects police request to surrender for breaking bail terms’ by Conal Urquhart, Guardian, 29 June 2012)
It was to escape this suspected attempt to have him sent on to the US that Assange recently sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. Having lost several legal challenges to his extradition order, he chose to claim political asylum rather than presenting himself at a police station to begin the process of extradition to Sweden.
It must be agreed that WikiLeaks’ exposé of the workings of imperialism and the unmasking of many of the US’s crimes, as well as showing the pathological hatred of the high priests of imperialism to those that unmask them and their doings, is good, even very good, but is it enough to warrant Assange’s elevation to virtual revolutionary sainthood by some on the left?
Assange set out the ‘philosophy’ of WikiLeaks in 2006: “To radically shift regime behaviour we must think clearly and boldly, for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not. ”
He also wrote that: “the more secretive or unjust an organisation is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie … Since unjust systems, by their nature, induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance. ”
This analysis reveals no understanding of the class nature of the various struggles around the world, instead pointing out that governments, organisations etc can be attacked and embarrassed via release of documents which they would rather the world didn’t see. Assange makes no distinction between types of governments or organisations, whether pro- or anti-imperialist, merely upholding the ‘right’ of all journalists (no matter whom they represent) to amass and release information (no matter whom it hurts).
At this moment, a popular national government in Syria is fighting against an imperialist-backed and armed conspiracy to overthrow it. In fact, British and US imperialism and their local puppet regimes have sent ‘elite’ soldiers to Syria to guide its proxy forces, since they are too weak and deficient in support from the Syrian people to achieve anything on their own.
How has WikiLeaks responded to this desperate situation, in which the small, independent nation of Syria is fighting for its life against the combined aggression of French, US and British imperialism, as well as of its rich and well-armed local proxies such as Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia? It has chosen this moment to release information that is harmful to the Syrian government, its military and, ultimately, its people.
As one comrade in an online discussion forum correctly stated recently: “this is akin to releasing the military secrets of the ANC at the height of the anti-apartheid struggle”.
Of course, most of what passes for the ‘left’ in Britain is firmly on the side of imperialism against Syria and so wouldn’t see any discrepancy in the exposure of both imperialism and its intended victim. For the rest of us, however, we can give support to Assange and WikiLeaks only insofar as they are attacking and unmasking imperialism and its puppets. They do not deserve our support when they indulge in actions that support imperialism and bring harm to those struggling against it.
However, whatever disagreements we may have with Julian Assange, and whatever the weaknesses and contradictions of his world outlook, and consequently the negativity and harmfulness of some of his actions, we, along with all progressive people, must oppose his attempted extradition to Sweden, and the far more ominous threat of his rendition to the US, and support his right to safe asylum.
Imperialism has turned Assange into a wanted man on account of his strengths not his weaknesses.