The deepening crisis of capitalism and the welcome rise in support for Julian Assange.

by Davey Heller 22nd December, 2019

The capitalist world is riven by increasing geopolitical tension as the ruling classes of each country compete for profits and resources amidst a continuing economic downturn. One man and one campaign seems to intersect with the heart of these class driven tensions—Julian Assange and the campaign to free him.

In recent weeks there has been a welcome upturn in support for Julian. The international working class is increasingly supporting Assange as they learn more about his dire conditions in Belmarsh, the threat to his health, and the end of the bogus Swedish investigation. However, there has been increased support amongst layers of the ruling class, including social democratic forces who had previously abandoned Assange. This has taken the form of  statements of support by prominent politicians in Australia, the UK and Germany. However when factions of the ruling class start talking in defence of human rights, they cannot be taken on face value and their motivations must be examined.  

In Australia, the deafening Parliamentary silence maintained since 2011 has broken down. In late October a cross Parliamentary grouping of eleven MP’s formed. Labor Party Bob Carr, former Foreign Minister spoke out on November 14th at the EU Parliament calling on the Australian Government to intervene to free Julian Assange. In a letter made public on November 26th, Kevin Rudd former Labor Party PM also spoke out against the extradition of Assange to the US in November. 

When in power both Rudd and Carr actively participated in the conspiracy against Julian Assange. Why would they be speaking out now?  Rudd and Carr represent a section of the Social Democratic (eg Labor Party aligned) faction of the ruling class that wants Australia to still be in the US camp but also pursue its own imperialist and profit interests with some independence from the US.

Rudd and Carr have demonstrated this by articulating policies and concerns that too openly aligning with the U.S. war drive against China threatens the massive profits to be made out of trade. Carr has spoken out prominently in defence of Australia-Sino relations and was the Director of the Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI) at the University of Technology Sydney from 2014-2019. Kevin Rudd was removed by the machinations of several “protected assets” of the US (as revealed by Wikileaks) in a Parliamentary coup in 2010 and replaced by Gillard in 2010. Rudd at the time was pushing for Australia to play an intermediary role between the rising power of China and the US in the Pacific and was not seen as sufficiently supportive of the Obama Administration’s “Pivot to Asia” aimed at containing China. 

The push by these two prominent Labor politicians in support of Assange must be seen in this context. I believe that opposing Assange’s extradition by the Trump Administration is part of pushing back against aligning one hundred percent with US imperialism’s war drive against China and the Trump Administration. 

An additional motivation is that this wing of the social democrats pragmatically perceives that the sight of Julian Assange dying in jail or being shipped to a CIA blacksite in an orange jumpsuit will risk provoking mass hostility to the US/Australia alliance. Carr has stated that many Australian’s would be“deeply uneasy” at a fellow citizen being handed over to the “living hell of a lifetime sentence in an American penitentiary”. This adds weight to the conception that their support for Assange is predicated on the belief that his extradition to the US will be “bad for business”. 

The social democratic Labor Party is not united on this issue. The Labor Party overall is still an unquestioningly loyal servant of US imperialist interests. This was graphically illustrated by Tony Burke, the Manager of Opposition Business moving  a motion to shut down a speech in favor of defending Assange being given by conservative National MP Barnaby Joyce in Parliament on November 26th. Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has stayed virtually silent on the issue as well. 

The speech by Barnaby Joyce that the ALP moved to shut down is part of a push by a section of the right of the ruling class to use Assange. Along with the prominent right wing populist Joyce, the Parliamentary group for Assange is co-chaired by far right conservative Liberal MP George Christensen. Far right populists in Australia are seeking to harness the mass support that exists for Assange to burnish their own phoney “anti-establishment” credentials and to push legitimate hostility to the mainstream press down a right wing “fake-news” path. The phenomenon of the far right and right-wing populists attempting to co-opt Julian Assange has been seen both in the UK and the US. In addition the right can use Assange to whip up a nationalistic “hands off an aussie” sentiment.

Although Joyce appears to have some genuine sentiment based on the fact he was the first Australian politician to speak out in defence of David Hicks, Christensen who is co-chair of the twelve member Parliamentary “Friends of Bring Julian Assange Home Group, recently showed his “commitment” to free speech and anti-war sentiment by working to have anti-war artwork removed from display in his home state of Queensland.  .

Again, like the Social Democratic wing of the ruling class, the right is split on Assange. Scott Morrison, Australia’s evangelical hard right, Trump loving PM, has repeatedly  publicly supported the show trial of Assange occurring in the UK. On radio and in a written response to a letter from Pamela Anderson, he has repeated the lie that Australia can do nothing that would “intervene” in the legal processes of the UK and Julian Assange should “face the music” in the UK. Morrison who was recently feted in Washington by Trump has fully aligned his government with the Trump Administration and its aggressive moves against China and Iran. 

Scott Morrison and Trump in Japan in June 2019

It is worth noting that the factions of both the social democrats and the right that have spoken out in support of Assange are both relatively marginalised from the leadership of their respective major parties. This reflects the ongoing purge within the Parliamentary Labour and Liberal Parties of any forces which are not completely aligned with the aims of US imperialism. A similar process has been underway in many countries around the world. 

In the UK, the campaign for Assange is also being shaped by an acute class crisis. The campaign for Assange has recently seen a more prominent role being played by the Stop the War Convenor, John Rees. On October 29th, John Rees tweeted about visiting Assange in Belmarsh. The visits of prominent people to Belmarsh is an ongoing P.R. tactic being utilised to raise the profile of Assange’s cause. Then in November John Rees MC’d the concert outside the Home Office with MIA in support of Assange organised by the official PR campaign of Wikileaks “Don’t Extradite Assange”. He also gave interviews outside court on Dec 19th. 

John Rees giving an interview at the Wesminister Magistrates Court Dec 19th

John Rees involvement is significant. As well as his long involvement with the Socialist Workers Party, he is closely connected to Jeremy Corbyn. As well as campaigning for Corbyn he has just published a book entitled “The Corbyn Project: dreams and dangers”. Rees and his partner, Lindsey German, also a long time former leader of the SWP convened the Stop the War Coalition, of which Corbyn was also the Chair. The Stop the War Coalition led the massive anti-war march in London in 2003 against the Iraq War and its reformist  perspective led the anti-war movement down the dead end of fruitlessly attempting to appeal to the UK and US imperialists to avert war rather than down a revolutionary socialist path. 

The social democratic and petty-bourgeois forces who run the campaign behind the scenes for Assange in London such as his lawyers and the Courage Foundation, by placing John Rees in this PR position are continuing their strategy of appealing to different factions of the ruling class to save Julian Assange. In this case they were hoping for a Corbyn Labour Party victory in the December 12th General Election, an election that was itself a product of the deep crisis of UK capitalism caused by the Brexit referendum. 

This perspective was best encapsulated by Tariq Ali, former student leader of the Inter. Marxist Group and supporter of the Labour Party who stated in an interview on December 3rd on Democracy Now, that Julian had told him “The only hope is a Corbyn government”. No details of when or how Ali received this statement from Assange were given. However, by promoting it a week out from the election, Ali was opportunistically trying to channel support for Assange behind Corbyn’s failed election bid. This was especially cynical in light of Corbyn’s complete silence on Assange’s plight except for a single tweet the day after Julian’s arrest. Likewise his Shadow Home Secretary did not responded to the open letter directed at her and Pritti Pattel, now signed by over 85 doctors demanding that Julian Assange be immediately transferred to a hospital as his life is endangered by being kept under torturous conditions at Belmarsh Prison.

In Germany on November 29th, a high profile and well attended meeting occured at the Bundestag. On December 19th, in a significant political signal, the German Ambassador to the UK attended Assange’s Case Management hearing along with a Left Party representative. For sections of the German ruling class, the defence of Assange has become part of a push back against US hegemony, and a way to acclaim the defence of Assange to defend the “democratic EU” against the depredations of US Imperialism. Whilst reflecting genuine support for Assange amongst the German working class it is also a way to furnish German imperialism with a progressive gloss. It must be remembered that the interests of the capitalist behemoth Germany do not always align with US Imperialism as can be seen with differences over Iran for example. 

No such splits have been seen so far in the US where a stubborn bipartisan commitment continues in regards to the persecution of Assange. This reflects of course the broader bipartisan commitment of both the Republican and Democrats to US militarism and imperialism. Both parties know that under conditions of capitalist crisis and a decline in the relative economic power of American imperialism that any concession in the matter of Julian Assange won’t be tolerated by the US ruling class. The only significant break has been a single Democrat Presidential candidate, Tulsi Gabbard, who has spoken in defence of Assange. Other “progressive” social Democrats such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez give approval to his persecution by their silence.

Likewise, US social democrats have remained largely silent on the plight of Chelsea Manning who has now served nine months of an effective indefinite sentence in a prison in Virginia for refusing to testify in a secret grand jury against Assange. She has also been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for her principled stance. The fact that Chelsea is a US citizen already imprisoned in the US means that her case has not triggered the same kind of geopolitical and class tensions in other countries that Assange’s attempted extradition has and therefore we have not seen the boost in support for her that we have witnessed for Julian recently. 

It is worth noting that Assange’s legal team appear to have not completely given up on their hope of appealing to the right wing of the ruling class in the US. The Sparrow Project, an independent media outlet in the US who has campaigned for Chelsea Manning’s freedom, tweeted that Assange’s lawyer Gareth Pierce had met with the far right Trump aligned Senator, Rand Paul. This claim has not been confirmed or denied by Gareth Peirce. If this claim is true it shows his lawyers have no real understanding of the fundamentally fascist nature of the Trump Administration and that it is completely committed to not only destroying Assange but freedom of the press in general. Such confusion arises from the fact that some of the key petty-bourgeois players in this campaign continue to invest in the strategy of appealing to one or another faction of the ruling class at the expense of appealing to the only social force that free Assange, the international working class. 

Just as the acute class crisis is driving cracks in the ruling class over the persecution of Assange, it creates a tinderbox atmosphere within this campaign and the working class more generally. The plight of Assange, facing death in prison in the UK due to his torturous conditions, or death in the US before or after his show trial on espionage, is both a reflection and rallying point against the move towards war, dictatorship and fascism. Assange is a political prisoner because he exposed the crimes of imperialism: he is a class war prisoner. Wikileaks and Assange in its mission of undermining the “right” of the capitalist class to keep its crimes hidden from public view has placed themselves at the forefront of the class struggle. We cannot forget this. 

Julian Assange arrives in court to testify in Spanish investigation into CIA spying in Ecuadorean Embassy Dec 20tj

A letter now signed by over eighty five doctors, calling for Assange to be immediately moved out of Belmarsh prison to a hospital setting where he can be given the care he needs finally broke through much of the silence in the mainstream press about Assange’s dire condition. It shows how this campaign, suppressed artificially for so long by dirty tricks such as the Swedish investigation, can and will quickly grow in the build up to the scheduled February extradition hearing in London. An open letter has also now been signed by over 900 journalists. Julian Assange wrote a letter from Belmarsh encouraging people to form Free Assange “blocks” in their workplaces. The doctors and journalists initiatives must be built on in other workplaces and professions. 

Letter from Julian Assange from Belmarsh Prison to supporter

It should be obvious that the far right are not to be relied on in this struggle for democratic rights. Nor can we place our hopes in social democrats like Corbyn or middle class radicals like John Rees, let alone follow their lead. Even as we welcome growing support for Assange from these forces we cannot forget their silence for much of the last ten years of Assange’s persecution. We cannot forget that they represent in some form or another, the same class that is persecuting Assange. Instead, the movement to Free Assange must remain focused on the only social force with the power to free him: the working class. The “Johnny-come-lately” middle class influentials who are coming to his defense now will be further emboldened only to the extent that the mass sentiment in the working class for Julian can be actively mobilized. That depends largely on us. The fight to defend Julian can and must become the rallying cry for the working class to protect its own interests as the ruling class as a whole pushes the world towards disaster in its attempts to resolve its deepening crisis. 

Davey Heller

Davey Heller is a Trotskyist from Melbourne and long-time campaigner for Left-wing causes including anti-war, refugee rights, environmental protests and workers' struggles. He is a former secondary teacher who studied history at Monash University and currently works in the environmental field. You can follow him on Twitter at @socialist_davey

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