Steve Freeman gave a talk on Julian Assange Case at an RCN Zoom meeting on 8.11.20. He has now written this up and we have posted it below. This is followed by two comments, one by Seamus McGuigan, the other by Connor Beaton of the Republican Socialist Platform.
DEFEND OUR DEMOCRATIC RIGHT TO KNOW – FREE JULIAN ASSANGE NOW
I will start with three questions:
- Will the defeat of Donald Trump and election of Joe Biden make any difference to the cruel and unjust treatment of Julian Assange
- Why or how does the treatment of Julian Assange make the case for a Scottish Republic?
- What can be done in Scotland to raise this case?
The Republican Socialist e-list provided some reading materials and through our zoom meetings we have our Youtube talk given by Deepa Driver, a UCU National Executive Member, chair of Camden Momentum and active supporter of Julian Assange. I listened to it today and would strongly recommend you watch this:
I am not going to give a blow-by-blow timeline. Instead, I want to concentrate on how we approach and understand this. Deepa identified four important points to be taken away.
- The need to combat the smear campaign against Assange.
- Reminding people he is the world’s most important political prisoner
- Exposing Tories’ attack on civil liberties and changing law making torture legal
- The importance of the role of the United States in the world as highlighted in this case.
I want to begin with the ideology, which dominates the left in England – Economism – which assumes or asserts that the class struggle is the economic or trade union struggle in the workplace. Other issues are not basically class struggle issues. They are outside the primary sphere of class struggle – as liberal or even civil rights issues. They may be important but are not primarily about the working class. Julian Assange is a middle class journalist and not identified with the working class movement.
Once we accept the economist thesis then we are going down the liberal, libertarian or individualist rabbit hole and away from class politics. Then we start to focus on Assange as an individual – Is he a good guy or a bad guy? Is he the enemy of Donald Trump or an ally of Putin? Is he a rapist or falsely accused? This is the road to moral confusion where we try to weigh the scales of justice with some things on one side or the other. None of us are in a position to know much about his personal behaviour or put it on a scale of 1-10.
We know the state and media use personal attacks, smears and character assassination to divert people from the democratic issues and democratic rights we all have to fight for. Both Jeremy Corbyn and Julian Assange are being abused and slandered because one represents the socialist working class and the other the democratic right of a sovereign people to know what the state is doing. They are not the only people to represent this but the ones currently in the firing line today.
Lenin attacked ‘Economism’ as a theory, which weakens democratic consciousness of the working class, undermines democratic struggles and denies the role of the working class as leader of the democratic movement. This is what distinguishes social democracy from trade union politics. Social democracy is the democratic politics of the working class. He says, “A most characteristic feature of Economism is its failure to understand this connection, more, this identity of the most pressing needs of the proletariat with the needs of the general democratic movement.” (What is to be done? Lenin Selected Works 1 p161)
Many of today’s socialists jettison the term ‘social democracy’ because they think democracy is not relevant to the working class since we are already living in a democratic society. Left Reformism, Stalinism and Trotskyism feel indifferent to democracy seen as the property of the bourgeoisie. Lenin opposed this theory arguing the party of social democrats must be the ‘Tribune of the People’ – a republican concept – rather than limiting politics to the narrower concerns of a trade union branch secretary. This is not a ‘put down’ of trade unions but of the need for workers to become militant (or revolutionary) democrats.
The ‘Tribune of the People’ he says “is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it applies, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalise all the manifestation and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and democratic demands in order to clarify for all and everyone the world historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat” (What is to be done? Lenin Selected Works 1 p154).
Social democrats react to the unjust and oppressive treatment of Julian Assange. We oppose it and use it to show the real nature of Crown power. The working class is the only class that has an interest in defending the democratic rights and freedoms of all, regardless of what class the victim comes from. Defending the individual is inseparable from educating the working class in its historic role as leader of the struggle for democracy against bureaucratic Crown power. The pretence of liberal democracy is exposed by the victimisation of this political prisoner.
Wikileaks is about the democratic right of all citizens to know the truth about the crimes and corrupt practices being carried out against the people by the state. It is about our democratic interests and not the alleged personality flaws or smears against the leader of the organisation, which exposed war crimes of US imperialism. The more widely the facts are known the more people recognise the state serves the special interests of the ruling class and not the people. Extradition to America has nothing to do with the interests of working people and everything to do with protecting the profits guaranteed by the ‘special relationship’ with US imperialism.
This is a social democratic (i.e. political) class question not a trade union (i.e. economic) matter. By taking this case to the trade union movement the connection can be made between the struggle in the workplace, the right to know what employers are concealing, the smearing and victimisation of those who fight back and the pressing social need for democratic rights. The victimisation of Julian Assange is well understood by trade union activists who defend an individual worker as the embodiment of the collective rights of all workers to be treated fairly and with justice.
Free Julian Assange – the Scottish dimension
The Scottish (SNP) government should have recognised Assange as a political prisoner of the British Crown. They should have made statements in his defence and offered him political asylum in an independent Scotland. The fact they have not done so is a sign of the weakness of the national democratic movement. Comments made by SNP representatives show they supported his arrest, jailing and extradition (see Steve James, World Socialist website 20 July 2019). James says, “So hostile is the SNP to Assange that on the day he was illegally seized from the Ecuadorian Embassy – in defiance of the right to asylum and after years of incarceration – SNP chief whip in Westminster, Patrick Grady was praised by the Conservative government Home Secretary, Sajid Javid for his helpful comments.” He explained, “It is right that nobody is above the law” instead of saying the Crown should not abuse its power to violate human rights or to deny Scotland a right to self-determination.
The SNP congratulating Tories denying democratic rights and civil liberties are applauding their own hangman. If “Free Julian Assange” embarrasses Scottish liberals and constitutional nationalists, it is a call to arms for all Scotland’s democrats and republicans. The Crown wants to bury Assange forever in one of the US state’s most oppressive prisons to intimidate any leaking of state secrets. The Scottish democratic movement must demand his immediate release, recognise his position as a political prisoner, and offer to match the actions of the Ecuadorian government, which gave him political asylum.
The democratic right for the sovereign people of Scotland to know about the war crimes, corruption and misinformation being committed by the Crown is part of the case for Scottish independence. It is a warning of the danger to our liberties posed by an SNP government with a monopoly of power in an independent country. “Free Julian Assange” should be a slogan promoted by any national democratic movement, which is independent of SNP control and ready to fight for democratic rights beyond Scotland’s borders. It is essential to show the connection between defending this US political prisoner and the fight to leave NATO and end Scotland as a base for US controlled nuclear weapons.
The struggle for democracy is not about abstract principles but concrete living cases of state oppression and injustice. The difference between liberalism and social democracy is that the latter sees the education and mobilisation of the working class as the only means of preventing such abuses of power. This case should be taken up jointly and separately by the working class through the trade union movement and by the national democratic movement. The working class wing of the Scottish independence movement should be in the forefront of raising this matter and linking it to our democratic-republican right to know in opposition to the oppressive nature of Crown power, the servant of US imperialism.
The detailed story of the unjust treatment of Assange is not recounted here. We need to look at the evidence Deepa Driver provided us in her talk and in the articles she circulated. This is not about a minor or secondary liberal issue about one individual where we struggle with our liberal conscience, trying to weigh up whether he is good or bad. It is a general democratic question about our rights as citizens to a fair trial, against political prisoners, for free speech, freedom of information and our right to know about the crimes of the state. Whistle blowing should be the highest honour bestowed on citizens like Assange in a democracy, as it is a serious crime against the state in any aspiring dictatorship.
- Crown power is state power not the personal power of the Queen – the power used and abused at the behest of the ruling class. This case shows the Crown will deny our rights, mistreat and psychological torture people as serves their interests.
- This is a victimisation case – people are rarely tortured to extract information – they are tortured to frighten or indeed terrorise the democratic opposition. Assange is being treated exceptionally cruelly within the ‘limits’ of liberal democracy to punish him and teach all of us that the system is so corrupt it cannot bear the truth. We should remind ourselves of the cruel treatment of John MacLean.
- This case shows the subordinate role of the British Crown (UK) to US imperialism. The UK is in effect the 51st state of the US without any of democratic advantages and with all the disadvantages.
- A democratic republican Scotland would show their democratic credentials by demanding Assange is freed immediately and offering him political asylum in an independent country.
When Boris Johnson asks why Scotland wants to leave the ‘great’ democratic civilised Union state, the Scottish Indy movement should cite this as an example of the kind of oppressive state action that a democratic Scotland intends to leave behind.
25th November 2020
1.Comment from Seamus McGuigan
Without a shadow of a doubt, as socialists we should be condemning the clear political motivations behind Assange’s extradition and support the WikiLeaks action as one critical to maintaining freedom of speech and of the press. No one is more critical of the UK’s subservience to the whims of the US empire, and of Scotland’s coerced complicity in its attendant crimes than I –– indeed, when time allows, I plan to write an article outlining my thoughts on the matter in light of the SNP’s supine submission to the UKG’s Integrated Defence Review. However, to do so without giving due deference to (and, at times, actively minimising) the sexual offense allegations against Assange, as I believe Steve’s article does, is to do a great disservice to the many comrades who see Assange’s uncritical lionisation in certain quarters of the left as indicative of a broader problem within the gender/sexual culture of the socialist movement. I see RSP as a vital enterprise in addressing those problems, and believe that Steve’s article in its current form undermines that effort.
Personally, I find the left’s uncritical fixation on Assange specifically –– often to the detriment of other less problematic figures suffering at the hands of the US empire for similar “crimes”, such as Ed Snowden, Chelsea Manning, or Reality Winner –– to be a serious unforced error. If I may be permitted an Americanism, we should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time; condemning both the actions of the state with respect to Assange and others and demanding he face a fair trial, whilst not minimising the very serious crimes he has been accused of. I don’t believe that this is an example of “economism” or an argument that falls under the weight of its contradictions. Let us not practice our own kind of economism –– we have no need to make Assange our Bauman.
2. Comment from Connor Beaton
Steve’s article makes some important and correct points about economism and the importance of journalism, but would benefit greatly from also reflecting on the culture within the left around allegations of sexual assault and what impact this necessarily has on our discussions about the Assange case.
One of the things that motivated many of us to support the establishment of the Republican Socialist Platform, of which both Steve and I are members, was our unhappiness with the culture within other left-wing organisations; this is not only a culture which tends towards the closing down of democratic debate in deference to bureaucracies and cliques, but also a culture which often upholds the worst features of capitalism and patriarchy in minimising the concerns of women, BME people and LGBT people, both within and outwith the organisations in question. This culture has underpinned a remarkably poor record on the left (at least in Britain) in respect of allegations of violence and abuse directed at women.
The implosion of the Socialist Workers Party in 2013 over its central committee’s attempt to cover up the “Comrade Delta” rape allegations echoed the implosion of the Workers Revolutionary Party over the conduct of Gerry Healy in respect of 26 women victims nearly three decades earlier. The split in the Scottish Socialist Party in 2006 was dominated by misogyny as Tommy Sheridan used the media and the courts to accuse women he had slept with of lying for their own selfish benefit. There have also been similar episodes within the wider labour trade union movement, as seen in the Morning Star’s disciplining of its own journalist Rory MacKinnon for asking questions of the RMT about allegations of domestic abuse against Steve Hedley.
I have no doubt that all of us in the RSP share a desire to develop a very different culture, one which centres and champions the liberation of oppressed groups in our society and the need to dismantle patriarchy and racism, as it has been a consistent theme of our previous meetings. However, I worry that Steve’s article undermines this effort in certain respects.
Where Steve does address the sexual offence allegations against Julian Assange, he urges us not to focus on “Assange as an individual” or the question of whether he is “a rapist or falsely accused”, instead calling for solidarity on a principled basis in respect of the repugnant US extradition attempt. This is, on the face of it, a defensible position. However, Steve also links to a recording of a discussion led by Dr Deepa Driver of UCU and Momentum, in which she describes the allegations as “smears”, gives a one-sided account of the criminal investigation and disparages the “so-called left” for indulging them. Steve appeals for us to “look at the evidence Deepa Driver provided us in her talk”. He goes on to argue that the Scottish government should have recognised Assange as a political prisoner at a time when he had not been indicted in the US and was not the subject of a US extradition request; in other words, he argues that the Scottish government should have protected Assange from a criminal investigation in Sweden on charges of rape and sexual assault. In doing so, whether you agree with him or not, Steve does take a clear position on “Assange as an individual” and whether he is “a rapist or falsely accused”.
My union, the National Union of Journalists, is perhaps the foremost critic across these islands of the US extradition proceedings. This reflects the very serious concern in the profession about the chilling effect on investigative journalism if the UK courts conclude that the US Espionage Act of 1917 can be applied to publications made in the public interest. However, there are very different views within the union about how it should campaign around the trial; women members in particular have raised concerns about the lifting up of Assange as a martyr figure and the intense personalisation of the campaign, which is strengthened by the dismissing of serious allegations against him and hyperbolic descriptions of Assange as “the most important political prisoner in the world”. I think there is a parallel here with the anti-war movement, where elements which claim that the likes of Bashar al-Assad are anti-imperialist heroes victimised by western smear campaigns do more to harm the movement than help it; it is not necessary, for example, to convince someone that the Douma chemical attack was a hoax in order to convince them that UK military intervention would be a mistake.
If the RSP and its members are to fulfil our ambition of changing the culture on the left, we must at the very least clearly distance ourselves from those elements of the left which have taken a disgracefully hostile or dismissive attitude towards the sexual offence allegations, such as George Galloway, who diminished the serious allegations as “poor sexual etiquette”, or the World Socialist Web Site, whose reporting on the Assange case is consistent with its other editorial positions, e.g. supporting Roman Polanski against what it calls the “fascistic forces” of the #MeToo movement and French feminists.
7th December 2020
JULIAN ASSANGE – TRIAL OF THE CENTURY
The cases of Steve Hedley, Comrade Delta in the SWP and Tommy Sheridan are mentioned in the two responses. Below are links on this blog to the RCN response to these cases~:-
The SWP and the ‘Comrade Delta’ case
A Critique and Exposure of Tommy Sheridan