In support of Wikileaks

Last month I posted a piece about the Twitter-related travails of Paul Chambers, and commenter LarryE rightly pulled me up for my apparently unsympathetic tone. The point I was trying (and failing) to make wasn’t that I was unsupportive of Chambers, but rather that his case was small beer compared to things like the latest developments in the Wikileaks story.

My position is one of complete support for what Wikileaks are doing. I don’t have any sympathy with the notion that governments and diplomats need to operate in secrecy; it just buys into the idea that the business of running society should be reserved for the ruling elite, with the rest of us left in the dark. A lack of transparency favours the status quo; anybody who claims to be interested in progressive change has to believe in maximum openness. As Trotsky said, apropos of the Bolsheviks’ decision to publish secret Tsarist diplomatic papers, “Secret diplomacy is a necessary tool for a propertied minority which is compelled to deceive the majority in order to subject it to its interests … The abolition of secret diplomacy is the primary condition for an honest, popular, truly democratic foreign policy.”

The issue of government secrecy shouldn’t be confused with that of personal privacy; it’s perfectly consistent to believe that we should know what they are doing while maintaining the confidentiality of our own activities. Our rulers certainly see the distinction; while they scramble to keep their own secrets intact they are building up the infrastructure needed for a surveillance state.

Now Julian Assange finds himself in prison, and on charges that leftist types like myself will feel uncomfortable about dismissing as trumped-up, no matter how much we feel the timing of the case is very convenient for the authorities. It is of course possible to approve of what Assange has done with Wikileaks without endorsing every aspect of his character, and the allegations against him shouldn’t distract us from the substance of the issues that have been exposed.

It’s heartening to see the Anonymous response to the attacks on Wikileaks, though, as we’ve noted before, it seems unlikely to be sustained enough to really damage ruling-class interests.

Still, this feels like an early battle in what is going to be a protracted war. Even if Wikileaks doesn’t survive this skirmish in its present form, there is now an established community of radicalised internet activists ready to keep the fight going. With a bit more organisation the virtual class struggle might yet get the bourgeoisie on the run.

2 Responses to In support of Wikileaks

  1. LarryE says:

    I think the previous case was a classic one of something being obvious to the author but not to the reader, a failing of which I have been guilty often enough myself.

    On the present matter, I strongly agree. I can see the argument for there being some secrets, but seeing as how secrecy is more often used as a tool of control than a tool of diplomacy, if my choice is between government-determined secrecy and transparency, I’ll take the latter.

    I’m more doubtful about the attacks on PayPal, et. al., largely because, as you say, it’s unlikely to be any kind of sustained attack. My concern is that they will appear to be a threat to power – and thus justify more control and a less-free internet – without actually being one. Still, it was an effective short-term protest, so I’m sort of at sixes and sevens: For different reasons, I can’t disapprove of them but I can’t really approve of them, either.

    • johnny says:

      It’s a question of democratic accountability. As long as diplomacy, or government business in general, is conducted in secret, politicians are free to promise one thing at election time and do the exact opposite once they are in office, without us being any the wiser about which special interests they are really looking after.

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