Originally published in the Overland Journal 19 August 2013
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.