Pushing the button
The Julian Assange furore is about war, not sex, argues Paul Demarty
The Julian Assange-related silliness juggernaut rolls ever onward.
George Galloway, whose clumsy and half-cocked defence of the embattled Australian led to an establishment onslaught of vituperation - spreading from the front page of The Sun to editorials in The Guardian and The Independent, not to say the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, which would criticise Galloway for helping little old ladies across the street1 - now faces political backlash in his own organisation.
First, Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, sometime member of the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain and then high-profile defector to the Respect camp, withdrew her candidacy for the upcoming Manchester Central by-election. “I cannot in all conscience,” she wrote, “stand as candidate for a party whose only MP has made unacceptable and unretracted statements about the nature of rape. To continue as Respect Party candidate in this situation, no matter how much I object to and oppose his statements personally, would be in effect to condone what he has said. That is something I am not prepared to do.”2
Second, and perhaps worse for Galloway, Respect’s so-called leader, Salma Yaqoob, quit the organisation, citing a “breakdown in trust”. Apparently she too was upset by his “deeply disappointing and wrong” comments on Assange. However, she preferred to confine herself to a few utterly anodyne formulations in her resignation statement: the last few weeks had been “extremely difficult” for the party and for her, she had taken her decision with “deep regret” ... yudder, yudder. Nonetheless, The BBC, Channel 4, The Guardian, The Independent, the Evening Standard all used her to stoke the anti-Galloway fire.
Of course, Galloway is not the only figure to have been targeted. The American feminist, Naomi Wolf (an odd sort of feminist, it is true, but at least identifiably leftwing in sympathies), has been merciless in her criticism of this whole circus from the very beginning, penning a sarcastic letter of thanks to Interpol back when the allegations first arose, proclaiming herself “overjoyed to discover your new commitment to engaging in global manhunts to arrest and prosecute men who behave like narcissistic jerks to women they are dating”.3
Like elephants, the establishment, and its leftist patsies, will never forget such a sin. And so it has been truly remarkable to note the almost universal slamming that Wolf’s new book on vaginas has received (for all this writer knows, well-deserved; but remember, these are the same journalists who said nice things about Caitlin Moran’s How to be a woman); and how frequently her dismissal of the accusations against Assange has factored in as subsidiary evidence against her in these reviews - a tic which unites the Evening Standard, The Guardian, New Statesman and, alas, Socialist Worker.4
While the sour grapes directed at Wolf have a certain absurdity - coming from the quarters they do - the wooden spoon, surely, goes to comrade Hudson. There are those of us, this paper included, who have been vociferously critical of Galloway’s record on women’s rights for many, many years now. He is a Catholic, and he is of one mind with Benedict XVI on the question of a woman’s right to choose. Abortion, for him, is murder. This is a thoroughly worked out and thoroughly reactionary position, which, however, Galloway is most unlikely to retract any time soon - if anything his rhetoric gets more religious as the years draw on.
Was this not a problem for you, comrade Hudson? Was it not a more serious problem than a single dodgy formulation on the accusations against Julian Assange?
Martin Thomas of the AWL rather takes the cake by asking “… why do activists like Hudson and Yaqoob, self-respecting and independent-minded, serve such a party [as Respect]?” What part of Hudson’s statement can have given Thomas the bizarre impression that she has a mind of her own? Let’s have another look: “To continue as Respect Party candidate in this situation, no matter how much I object to and oppose his statements personally, would be in effect to condone what he has said. That is something I am not prepared to do.”
This is the most classically Stalinist way of doing politics imaginable. On one face of the coin: to be part of a common movement with somebody implies agreement; and so one cannot criticise whatever dubious allies one has at the given moment. The other side: when some arbitrarily decided line is crossed, one has no option but to resign. It is the argument of someone who has long made peace with the lack of a mind of her own.
Mutatis mutandis, if to be a member of Respect is to implicitly condone all of Galloway’s politics, then comrade Hudson was quite happy to condone Galloway’s reactionary views on abortion, which have been a matter of record for some years, and about which she cannot plausibly have been ignorant. A less principled or more absurd split would be hard to design.
When a pro-imperialist Stalinophobe like Thomas has nice things to say about a Stalinist peace-movement hack like Hudson, there has to be something fishy going on. The screamingly obvious matter is this: the AWL and the likes of Hudson are in agreement not only with each other, but with the entire bourgeois establishment, on the matter that the accusations against Assange are sufficiently serious as accusations to overrule any other concern (the AWL explicitly calls for Assange to go to Sweden and face the music5).
Rape is one of a few matters to have that kind of overriding significance (that the number is increasing is testament to the political decrepitude of the left). An obvious comparison can be made with anti-Semitism - to face serious accusations of Jew-hatred in the post-1945 world is the road to lightning-fast anathematisation.
In both cases, there is a partly healthy impulse at work. Rape and anti-Semitism are both reflections of the most barbaric and irrational potentialities in human society; it is a positive feature of today’s society that at least even the people who defend the class society that gives rise to each are ashamed by their persistence. No communist should be stupid enough to treat either as some kind of irrelevant non-issue.
Yet there is a very serious danger in the way these issues, and others, are treated. That danger stems from the broader social grounding the hatred of rape and anti-Semitism now have - both have been recuperated as a kind of bourgeois common sense. This has the most immediate effect of hypostasising the issue, abstracting it from the political into a moral register. In doing so, the historical ground for irrationality and barbarism is repressed; and so the latter are no longer subject to rationality. The hatred of irrationality becomes itself irrational.
History, however, is not so easily done away with. This is more clear in the case of anti-Semitism - it is clear that probably the vast majority of accusations of anti-Semitism to issue from the Zionist movement are utterly spurious, and in fact rest on the identification of a notionally transhistorical essence - ‘the Jew’ - with a particular historical existent: the state of Israel. Violent discussion on the matter of exactly where the line between criticism of Israel and Jew-baiting is to be drawn is unavoidable to anyone who opposes, however meekly, aspects of the Zionist project, because the moral injunction against anti-Semitism is so shamelessly exploited by the Zionists.
Digging a grave
Today, as it happens, the fate of Julian Assange and his persecutors in Washington turns in part on the matter of what rape is, and what it is not. But there is more at stake. Since the mass anti-war demonstrations of 2003, and the subsequent debacle in Iraq, the imperialists have struggled consistently to regain legitimacy. Part of that struggle, naturally, consists in delegitimising anti-imperialism; and so when an opportunity comes up to smear, besmirch or incarcerate a prominent opponent (and win hearts and minds in doing so), they will take it. The closer such accusations come to the truth, the better the opportunity - see, for a counter-example, the disastrous attempts to smear Galloway immediately after the Iraq war.
It is thus unfortunately true that the left is doing most of the work of the US state department in this affair. This problem is particularly acute with comrade Hudson - she has spent a good portion of her life trying to keep the anti-war movement alive, but on the Assange affair she takes up some of the spadework for its grave. The AWL’s support for the anti-war movement was always Janus-faced at best, and interventions such as this one are simply par for the course for an organisation deeply committed to moralisms of various kinds. The right buttons have been pushed, and so the left finds itself in utter disarray.
This impulsive irrationalism is utterly inimical to Marxism, which first began to take shape as “the ruthless criticism of all that exists”. The greatest power Marxism has is its ability to cut through the 57 varieties of bullshit that obscure the real state of things; and the more a particular issue takes on the character of a murky territory whose exploration is forbidden, the more urgent is the need to cast it in the light of reason.
1. See, for one example among many, Martin ‘Surgical Strike’ Thomas’s short piece here: www.workersliberty.org/story/2012/09/04/why-did-hudson-stand-down-and-not-galloway.
4. September 15.