Saturday, August 25, 2012

Assange, the 'Left' and the Cult of Personality (*trigger warning*)

Assange: he's not the messiah, he's a rapist
In a statement to the High Court over a year ago now, Assange lawyer Ben Emmerson did not deny the appellants' descriptions of what Assange did to them - indeed he admitted it was "disturbing" and "disrespectful" - but merely made the case that these actions fell short of the British definitions of rape. The court - and anti-rape campaigners - rejected his plea. This - in conjunction with the feminist argument for an automatic presumption of belief in those who accuse others of rape - should really have been the end of any debate on 'the left'.

As Zoe Stavri summarised in her brilliant takedown of George Galloway:
"So, the first point outlines pinning a woman down in order to force her into sexual activity. The second is tricking a woman into sexual activity to which she had not consented. The third is non-consensual - albeit non-penetrative - sexual activity. The fourth is having sex with a woman who is completely unable to consent. The fifth is exactly the same as the second. You'll notice, George, that the recurring theme throughout all of this is that the women were not consenting. There's a word for sex without consent. Rape."
But no, thirteen months down the line, Assange is hiding in the London Ecuadorian embassy, and his backers in what might very loosely be termed 'the left' are either coming out as virulent rape apologists, the most wild conspiracy theorists, or both. Galloway's disgusting description of what he called the "sex game" is the most flagrant example, while Craig Murray was reduced to making insinuations out of a corner of his mouth on Newsnight. Other 'celebrity left' Assange apologists include John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, Ken Loach and Michael Moore.

There are many facets to this 'support'. For the celebrity 'lefts', there is likely an element of back-scratching going on, with people who have boosted each other in the past returning favours. This layer is, after all, relatively well-off and extremely well-connected. There is an opportunism to this, and a very definite lack of principles. For most other Assange defenders, there is also a type of 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' anti-imperialism, combined with explicit and implicit misogyny. In some, this overlaps with a conspiracy fascination, in which cui bono rules, no evidence is ever provided, and indeed no evidence is even sought.

But in all the coverage of this case, an essential question remains unanswered: if you support the work of WikiLeaks, why defend even its figurehead from rape allegations? Is his involvement with a whistleblowing website somehow meant to give him a get out of jail free card when it comes to rape? Of course, the website as a whole should be defended from the ruling class campaign against it, because it is a genuinely progressive force. And of course, Assange is only being so vigorously pursued for rape because of his career. But that absolutely does not mean we should be in his corner as he denies his victims the justice they seek.

In an era where mass struggle is almost entirely absent - in the UK at least - a culture has clearly developed where an individual who makes any kind of political impact is labelled as a 'good' or 'bad' person, depending on what they have done politically. But in the real world, people aren't either Jesus or Satan. They take part in politics for their own ends, and they can't be condemned for that - this being replicated on a mass scale is the only way that social change will come about. When it comes to it, Assange isn't even on the radical left - he describes himself as a "market libertarian". However, the greatest working class fighter in the world could still be a rapist. What matters isn't the individuals, but the struggles they are a part of. Hero-worshipping of an individual is the antithesis of true activism, and it is poison to the urgent development of a new movement.
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