Julian Assange doesn’t like America. So what?

The WikiLeaks founder is not the reason why the secret US documents were leaked.

That WikiLeaks itself would come under attack is no surprise. It's happened before, and if the website survives it will happen again. Those who speak truth to power will eventually find power telling them to shut up.

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks's figurehead, Julian Assange – now apparently being hunted by British police – has become the target of an extraordinary hate campaign from the right.

"Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders?" wonders Sarah Palin, adding that he should be hunted down with "cyber-tools" (if you don't know what these are, think Doctor Who's sonic screwdriver).

"I think Assange should be assassinated actually," declares the political science professor Tom Flanagan. " I think Obama should put out a contract and maybe use a drone, or something."

Jonah Goldberg of the National Review asks: "Why wasn't Assange garroted in his hotel room years ago?"

For a discussion of what these comments prove about the attitude towards democracy of Palin, Goldberg et al, read Dan Gardner's lacerating column in the Ottawa Citizen. But, in their eagerness to find a scapegoat, these commentators also make the error of mistaking the man for the ball.

Writing in the Telegraph this morning, George Grant of the Henry Jackson Society accuses Assange of releasing US diplomatic files because he hates America, and thinks the world's greatest power is run by a corrupt regime in need of cleaning up. The idea that Assange is motivated by "anti-Americanism" is the main ingredient in much of the bile aimed at him. But Grant, unlike some of Assange's other critics, isn't foaming at the mouth – so it's worth looking at his article closely.

He quotes Assange:

"The United States," he said, "once had a proud tradition of freedom of the press . . . [but] when we see the path that [it is now] going down, we have to question whether it is really holding those values any more."

OK, we get it: Assange is critical of the United States. Anybody who has read anything about him knows this. But where Grant goes wrong is in the next paragraph:

By making the west, and in particular the United States, the focus of his efforts, Assange betrays an agenda every bit as sinister as the one of which he accuses his enemies.

Now we've jumped from the reasonable position that Assange doesn't think much of the United States to the idea that he is personally responsible for leaking all these documents, or even that he could have chosen to publish the secret documents of any other country had he been minded to.

If Assange is genuinely committed to shining light into the darkness, and exposing real corruption and human rights abuse, we must ask ourselves, where are the "Chinese Embassy Cables"? What has become of the "Iran Files"? Whither the "Chechnya War Logs"?

According to this reasoning, WikiLeaks should refuse to publish any secret documents until it is able to do so even-handedly. For every sarky cable sent from London to Washington by a US ambassador, we should also be able to read what China's diplomats are saying about Pyongyang. Every exposé of coalition war crimes in Baghdad must be balanced by the details of Russian atrocities in Chechnya.

Does Grant really think that Julian Assange would suppress a similar cache of secret documents if they came from China? Of course he wouldn't. The reason the "Chinese Embassy Cables" aren't on WikiLeaks is that nobody has leaked them.

Maybe Assange is biased, and likes publishing incriminating information about the west most of all. It doesn't change the fact that anybody can – or could, at least – upload data to WikiLeaks.

So why have we got the dirt on the States but not on other, nastier, non-western regimes?

Dissidents in the kinds of countries where Assange should be focusing his efforts could never be so certain. A bullet in the head for themselves and their families – no trial – would be the almost inevitable consequence. Small wonder there aren't many leaks coming out of the Russian embassy or the Chinese mission.

Leaving aside the error that every leak comes about because of Assange's personal efforts, this is a reasonable conclusion. Whistle-blowers in authoritarian countries have to be much braver than those with recourse to the rule of law. And then there's the fact that two million Americans had access to all of the data in the diplomatic files, and any one of them was free to leak the lot if they could face the consequences.

But Grant isn't satisfied with these explanations.

The second answer to this question could just as easily be, however, that Assange is not really all that interested in exposing corruption and human rights abuse at all, rather his objective is to embarrass and weaken the US and its western allies because he hates them for what they are and what they stand for.

Grant goes on to make some reasonable objections to the leaks, and makes the interesting claim that the cause of Korean reintegration may have been set back by the public revelation that China was apparently considering withdrawing support from Pyongyang.

But you can't lay the whole raft of questions raised by WikiLeaks at Assange's door. He is a self-publicist (when he's not in hiding, that is) and he is certainly no cheerleader for western governments, but he's not WikiLeaks embodied.

These huge leaks have happened because lots of people have access to lots of data and it has become relatively easy to share it. Because we have unpoliced access to the internet and a free press that can sift through a huge cache of information and make it intelligible for a wide readership, we are able to get at that data.

These developments wouldn't go into reverse if Julian Assange were suddenly to realise the error of his ways. Arresting Assange will not make future leaks impossible. The question of his politics is a sideshow.

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Jeremy Corbyn has transformed Labour from resisting social movements to supporting them

The opposition's new leadership has brought about a historic shift in its relationship with social movements.

“Another world is possible,” declared John McDonnell last month in his first major speech as Labour’s new shadow chancellor. These four words show how Labour’s leadership views its relationship with activists and campaigners outside the Westminster system. The slogan is the motto of the World Social Forum, an annual alternative to the ultra-elite World Economic Forum, formed by social movements across the world to struggle against, and build alternatives to, neoliberalism.

How times change. In a speech given at the George Bush Senior Presidential Library in Texas, United States, in April 2002, Labour leader and British Prime Minister Tony Blair offered his support to the administrators of the global economy, not those demonstrating against them.

He said: “It's time we took on the anti-globalisation protestors who seek to disrupt the meetings international leaders have on these issues. What the poor world needs is not less globalisation but more. Their injustice is not globalisation but being excluded from it. Free enterprise is not their enemy; but their friend.”

In 2002, Labour’s leadership wanted to take on social movements. Now, it intends to engage with and support them. “The new kind of politics” of Labour’s new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is about more than focusing on issues over personalities and (anti-) presentational changes.

It is also “a new politics which is based on returning the Labour party to its roots. And the roots of the Labour party was as a social movement, representing the vast majority of working people in this country,” as McDonnell, Corbyn’s closest political ally, explains to the New Statesman.

Campaigners outside of the Labour party are excited. John Hilary, executive director of War on Want, a campaigning anti-poverty NGO, tells the New Statesman, “there’s a really positive impulse to the Corbyn/McDonnell leadership reaching out” to social movements. For Hilary, the immediate policy changes on TTIP – the EU-US investor rights, regulation harmonisation and non-tariff barriers deal negotiated behind closed doors – and a Financial Transaction Tax have already sent “a message to a disenfranchised part of the electorate that Labour is back”.

But, for the campaigners outside of the Labour party, this moment is not without risks. Political parties have a long record of crushing the autonomy of social movements.

“It’s important they aren’t incorporated or have to work on the terms of the political system. It’s a matter of a respectful relationship,” explains Hilary Wainwright, a political activist and founder and co-editor of Red Pepper magazine. Wainwright argues for “close engagement [between Labour and outside campaigners] that isn’t a bossy dominating one. One that seeks to collaborate, not govern”.

McDonnell agrees. “The most important thing,” he says, “is that all of the campaigns and social movements that are campaigning at the moment and those that will campaign in the future, need to maintain their autonomy from government and political parties. We respect that . . . Otherwise, we’ll undermine their vitality and their independence.”

To remain “strong, independent and radical” is “the most helpful” campaigners can be to Labour’s leadership, according to Hilary. Labour’s leadership “don’t look to us to make the sort of political compromises that they might have to do in order to hold a much broader spectrum of people together. What we can do best is hold that line as we believe it be right and support the Labour leadership in taking a line as close as possible to that”, he says.

The task for social movements and campaigners outside of the party is “to show how there will be popular support for radical and principled positions”, according to Hilary.

To win in 2020, Labour will “bring together a coalition of social movements that have changed the political climate in this country and, as a result of that, changed the electoral potential of the Labour Party as well”, says McDonnell. For Labour’s shadow chancellor, the people's views on issues are complex and fluid rather than static, making the job of politicians to bump up as close to them as possible.

Movements can help shift political common sense in Labour’s direction. Just as UK Uncut placed the issue of tax avoidance and tax justice firmly on the political map, so too can other campaigners shift the political terrain.

This movement-focused perspective may, in part, explain why the Corbyn campaign chose to transform itself last week into the Momentum movement, a grassroots network open to those without Labour membership cards. This approach stands in contrast to Blair’s leadership campaign that evolved into Progress, a New Labour pressure group and think tank made up of party members.

In order to allow movements the space to change the terms of the debate and for Labour to develop policy in conjunction with them, the party needs “to engage with movements on their own terms”, according to Wainwright. This means “the party leadership need to find out where people are struggling and where people are campaigning and specifically work with them”, she continues.

McDonnell says it will. He says Labour “want to work alongside them, give them a parliamentary voice, give them a voice in government but, more importantly, assist them in the work that they do within the wide community, both in meetings, demonstrations and on picket lines”.

This position is not one you would expect from McDonnell’s five more recent predecessors: Chris Leslie, Ed Balls, Alan Johnson, Alistair Darling, Gordon Brown. So, “this may seem like a unique moment if you’re looking just within the British context. But, if you look outside Britain it’s actually much more in touch with movements in many places in the world”, says Hilary.

He adds: “Political parties are going to have to have much more honest engagements between parliamentary politics and the social movement hinterland. For us, it just means that in a wonderful way, Britain is catching up with the rest of the world.”

McDonnell too sees this shift in how Labour engages with movements as “a historic change that modernises the Labour party”.

But, perhaps for Labour, this is a recurrence rather than a transformation. The party grew out of Britain’s biggest social movement: the unions. Labour’s new leadership’s openness to campaigners “modernises it by taking it back to being a social movement again”, says McDonnell.