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WikiLeaks’ ideology problem

It seems like the progressive love affair with WikiLeaks may be coming to an end. On Sunday it was revealed that WikiLeaks had preferenced the fascist Australia First and the Shooters and Fishers parties ahead of the Greens in the NSW Senate, as well as the National Party ahead of Greens Senator Scott Ludlam in WA. WikiLeaks has claimed the NSW preferences were an admin error, but many are finding that hard to believe. The deals could see the Shooters get elected in three weeks time, and may cost Ludlam – one of WikiLeaks’ most vocal supporters – his seat. (This just a day after their WA Senate candidate Gerry Georgatos took to the Twittersphere to rant and rave about the evils of preference deals!)

The preference exchanges are certainly a betrayal of progressive voters and one that could potentially have long-term impacts. Although many are surprised by WikiLeak’s betrayal, it highlights for me the extremely problematic nature of the ideology that underpins the party, and much of the growing movement around notions of ‘open government’.

Look, for instance, at where else WikiLeaks appeared in the news over the weekend. On Saturday WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange came out in support of US libertarians Ron and Rand Paul. Assange said:

[I] am a big admirer of Ron Paul and Rand Paul for their very principled positions in the US Congress on a number of issues. […] They have been the strongest supporters of the fight against the US attack on WikiLeaks and on me in the US Congress. Similarly, they have been the strongest opponents of drone warfare and extrajudicial executions.

Assange concluded by saying:

The only hope, as far as electoral politics presently, is the Libertarian section of the Republican Party.

Therein lies the fundamental problem with WikiLeaks, a problem that brings into the question the ideological basis behind the Party.

The Party’s website slogan is ‘Transparency, Accountability, Justice’. And whilst they’ve spoken out around issues such as asylum seekers, it is this tenet that makes up their core – they are a Senate Party designed to increase ‘transparency and accountability’ in our government. For example, WikiLeaks Victoria Senate candidate Leslie Cannold explained her nomination this way:

I have chosen to stand for the WikiLeaks party because I want to bring the WikiLeaks disinfectant of transparency and accountability to the Australian Senate.

It is increasing transparency of government actions that have been the basis of the ‘movement’, as they like to call themselves, ever since WikiLeaks (the website) was established. You can see this play out in Assange’s writing, in which he argues that the US is essentially authoritarian conspiracy, and that the best way to break down said conspiracy is to hinder its ability to conspire. It is unsurprising, then, that he would admire people like Ron and Rand Paul. In fact, many parts of the Left have similar illusions about pro-market libertarians – a growing love for the Pauls as an answer to the authoritarian state.

When expressed in this way, however, the ideology is in no way progressive.

Open government is an idea I strongly believe in. But, despite its progressive overtones, that concept cannot form an ideology, one that is essential for the basis of a political party. The US progressive website Daily Kos made this argument best in their response to Assange’s claims about the Pauls:

Yup. An anti-government, anti-Social Security, anti-Medicare and Medicaid, anti-civil rights, anti-choice, anti-LGBT, pro-business, anti-minimum wage, anti-40 hour work week, anti-union, basically anti-every piece of Democratic and progressive legislation that has ever been passed in this country Political Party and its nihilistic leaders are the only hope for America.

It’s a fundamental problem: transparency doesn’t make a government progressive or good, and it also doesn’t make it anti-authoritarian. Governments that are open and accountable – the sorts of government that Ron and Rand Paul would like to see – can still be extremely conservative. People can still be anti-women, anti-queer, anti-union etc etc, even as they’re open and transparent about it.

More importantly, accountability and transparency do not automatically equal anti-authoritarianism – no matter how many times somebody claims they (or their organisation) were the catalyst for the Arab Spring. I’m pretty sure a Ron/Rand Paul government would have rather authoritarian approaches to social issues – those that stop people from having control over their own bodies, for example – even if they are open about it.

Looking at the last couple of months in Australia, we could easily argue that the major parties have gone out of their way to be public about their cruelty to refugees, yet this hasn’t created a national uproar. In fact their ‘transparency’, according to most political analysts, has been ‘political genius’. Being open about an authoritarian refugee system hasn’t created the social change many would like to see.

Whilst information is necessary to social change, it certainly isn’t sufficient. Information does not lead to political engagement. But strong campaigning based on clear values and ideology does.

If WikiLeaks did do a deal with Australia First, the Nationals and the Shooters and Fishers, it would be interesting to know why. Maybe they offered to be open and accountable fascists? Hell, Hitler was extremely diligent in keeping records of his atrocities so we could all see them in the light of day after the war.

That is the dilemma facing WikiLeaks. As long as their whole ideology revolves around accountability and transparency, they can end up in situations like this – supporting extreme social conservatives in the US and preferencing fascists in Australia. Accountability and transparency should be an essential part of any political party’s ideology, but it certainly cannot be the central, guiding tenet.

Simon Copland is a freelance writer, climate and Greens campaigner and masters student from Brisbane. He has an interest in all things politics, but with a particular focus on the direction of left-wing movements. In his spare time he plays rugby union and is a David Bowie fanatic. He is a regular columnist for the Sydney Star Observer, blogs at The Moonbat and tweets at @SimonCopland.

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Comments

  1. I think what should be emphasised is that Assange supports Ron and Rand Paul only to the extent of their agreement on “a number of issues” and that these issues pertain to the “form” of democracy rather than its “content.” So the question, which is more complicated I think than is suggested by this article, is: do you support a party that upholds democratic freedom as a principle even if you disagree with certain of their socially conservative policies? Or, conversely, do you support a party that ruthlessly attacks democratic freedom while appeasing liberals with gay marriage, arts grants for indigenous people and multicultural festivals? To me, a gay Marxist second-generation migrant, I think this is a tough question.

    And then, inevitably, the real question: Is there a true third option that questions the whole liberal-democratic, capitalist framework?

    • My point is that I would prefer a party that both upholds democratic freedoms and has socially progressive policies. I certainly think that is possible and we have a few in Australia as well.

      And also note that Assange said that the Libertarian wing of the Republican Party was the ‘only hope’ for American politics – seems like quite an endorsement to me.

  2. I think you miss the point, but as you are a Greens campaigner, perhaps that is intentional.

    WikiLeaks does not pretend to be a party of the Left or the Right. It does not pretend to champion a fixed system of government such as Socialism or Capitalism. And that is a large part of the reason for its success – people from all sides of politics can agree that Transparency is vitally important to a functioning Democracy.

    Assange has said he wants the WikiLeaks Party to be able to function independently of WikiLeaks the publishing organisation, and clearly he has given candidates some latitude to make their own decisions. And clearly there are a range of political orientations within the party. This is a good thing!

    The aim of the WikiLeaks Party is to bring some sunshine to the cockroaches in Canberra. This really is “the central, guiding tenet” of the Party and there is no reason it cannot work.

    Perhaps the divisions between Left and Right might be less than they seem if we all have access to the facts, and are able to make decisions for ourselves based on these facts, rather than just blindly following ideologies.

    • Hi Gary,

      Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you – been a hectic week. Can imagine it’s been the same for you.

      I personally think you really underplay the important role of ideology in our politics – in fact I think ideology has gotten a bad name. You talk about ‘blinding following ideologies’, but I think you miss the point that ideologies are fundamental to our political system. Ideologies represent our values – whether we define ourselves as socially conservative or economically liberal etc etc etc. Values are essential to everything humans do – they define how we live our lives and interact with other people. And in politics they are expressed through ideology – and it is therefore essential in my mind that we actively discuss them.

      So therefore, whilst it is nice to talk about ‘bring(ing) some sunshine to the cockroaches in Canberra’ it means nothing if I don’t know what your ideology is. Yes, you can talk about transparency, but how is the party going to vote on same-sex marriage, or the carbon price, or on a range of tax and spending issues that will come up in the next Parliament. Wikileaks (or any other) politicians can’t just avoid these issues, and will be doing a disservice to their voters if they do.

      And this is where the problem lies – an ideology or platform based solely on transparency does not provide me any base knowledge of how your party will vote on these issues. You could swing left or right, progressive or conservative – I simply don’t know. Talking solely about transparency just doesn’t do it for me.

  3. “It’s a fundamental problem: transparency doesn’t make a government progressive or good, and it also doesn’t make it anti-authoritarian. Governments that are open and accountable – the sorts of government that Ron and Rand Paul would like to see – can still be extremely conservative.”

    Sure—but does the fact that “open” doesn’t equal “progressive” mean that parties shouldn’t have an processual, rather than traditionally ideological platform? According to what overriding principle exactly?

    If anything issues of process seem to be a bigger hurdle to many progressive causes than ideology itself—just look at the wedge on asylum seekers. Offshore processing is not core ideology for either major party, their emphasis on it exists for tactical reasons brought about by quirks of the electoral system.

    The Coalition has used asylum seeker politics successfully as a wedge at every election since 2001, and the ALP has followed suit to attempt to neutralise the issue.

    For a number of reasons (not least the erasure of the rape allegations against Assange by many of its supporters) WikiLeaks seems like a douchebag magnet. But I’m not convinced that a party targeting electoral and government reform and aiming at a broad base of support from across the political spectrum would inevitably be a bad thing.

    A political party is a bloc that tries to get things done on whatever terms are available. Progressives should be more concerned about the processual issues facing democracy in Australia than they appear to be in the face of this federal election.

    Even WikiLeaks’ “preferencegate” mainly serves as a reminder of how difficult it is—too difficult—for the smaller parties to get their representatives elected and to have a voice in government.

  4. While an open and transparent government does not necessarily indicate a progressive or anti-authoritarian viewpoint does better equip the public and media to react to issues in a way that’s less tarnished by government spin. In any democratic system it is unreasonable to assume this will naturally lead to liberalisation without an additional shift of values in the voting constituent. Essentially the concept of governmental transparency is a-political but allows for those with a political agenda to react in a more useful and genuine way to the current political reality. Surely this eventually leads to the adoption progressive policies if those policies are beneficial and morally congruent to those living under them?

    • I’m certainly not saying that having an open Government is a bad thing – in fact I actively support moves for greater transparency and accountability. But it cannot be the only thing. Information doesn’t lead to action (there’s plenty of research on this), so there also has to be strong values-based campaigning to come with that information. I don’t believe Wikileaks provides that.

  5. Libertarians are fascists? Perhaps you should Google the word before wasting everyone’s time with this article. You’ll find bar the Pauls anti abortion stance (which admittedly is mind boggling for someone claiming to be a libertarian) the only thing your quote identifies is that they are against government interference. To use that to suggest they are anti-progressive is alarming. Unless you think government control is progressive, it really makes no sense.

    • Never said that Libertarians were facists. There are two different groups here – the libertarians that Assange suported in the US, and the facist Australia First party that Wikileaks preferenced in Australia.

      Also, there are plenty of things apart from their anti-abortion stance that makes the Pauls not progressive – their anti-GLBTI stances in particular. Also more than happy to defend a position of social security (which the Pauls oppose) being essential progressive policy.

  6. There is a serious logical flaw in this article.

    You claim that Wikileaks has effected a “betrayal of progressive voters”.

    You describe Julian Assange as promoting an “ideology [that] is in no way progressive”.

    And you do this without establishing in the first place whether or not Wikileaks has actually held itself out as a “progressive” party, or whether Wikileaks has actively courted progressive voters as progressive voters by reference to progressive ideology.

    I am happy to be shown otherwise, but I do not believe they have done any such things. Any “betrayal”, therefore, has only taken place in the mind of the betrayed. Although it is perfectly reasonable that progressives might naturally lean towards Wikileaks, any suggestion that Wikileaks’ support for non-progressive groups is a “betrayal” of progressives or creates a “problem” for Wikileaks’ ideology is incorrect.

    You may be annoyed at such things, but being miffed at Wikileaks’ actions does not a “betrayal” make.

    As Gary Lord commented above: Wikileaks does not place itself on the Left-Right spectrum. It has no discernable Left-Right ideology. Its primary function is to advocate transparency.

    I sincerely hope we can see more political debate detach itself from slavish adherence to notions of “progressive” and “conservative”, and everything that comes attached—in other words, we need less political set menus, and more political buffets.

    Delicious.

  7. That lack of knowledge about Ron Paul is staggering.

    He holds many personal positions you might disagree with, but you need to understand the wider context of his positions.

    Take drug legalization-his position is:

    http://www.ronpaul.com/on-the-issues/war-on-drugs/

    “the federal war on drugs has proven costly and ineffective, while creating terrible violent crime. But if you question policy, you are accused of being pro-drug. That is preposterous. As a physician, father, and grandfather, I abhor drugs. I just know that there is a better way — through local laws, communities, churches, and families — to combat the very serious problem of drug abuse than a massive federal-government bureaucracy.”

    As is clear from thisquote, Paul thinks on various levels, taking in account the role of government, the role of the federal government, the constitution and his role as a former Doctor.

    Which is much more in depth than say, our Australian MP’s and leaders who constantly over ride and intrude on states rights, mostly at a whim.

    Dr Paul is not who you would like to portray him as, he puts aside his personal belief system constantly if he believes its does not fall within the constitutional control of the Federal Government or the constitution.

    Its clear Assange has done his homework and that many Australians have not.

    Here is a doco on his 08 and 12 campaign runs that might help better illuminate his positions:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GR4WYqabTxU

    • I do not deny that Ron Paul is a complex and intelligent man (and one that I know quite a bit about, but thanks for the lessons), but I disagree with him on far too many issues.

  8. the Greens have sold out and thus contributed to every erosion of our civil liberties by global capitalism and sat back passively watching from the parliamentary benches as our bureaucracies have been infiltrated by corporate gurus: not because of any malicious intent, but out of a peti-bourgeois inculcation of their original ideology.. quite simply, the have become dumb. More obsessed about looking up their backsides to see if their toilet paper is green than what the real global changes such as gene technology and a new industrial age and the need for radical “truth”.. of course they wont have a love affair with Wiki, neither do their masters, global capitalism, who have seduced them by blowing hot wind up their wind powered backsides.

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