In recent months there has been a welcome upturn in support for Julian Assange.
The working class is increasingly supporting Assange as they learn more about his dire conditions in Belmarsh Prison, the threat to his health and the end of the bogus Swedish investigation into him. However, there has also 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 Australian politicians. Though when any faction 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 stalwart 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.
On Jan 4th, Carr published an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, supporting Assange. In a letter made public on November 26th, Kevin Rudd, a former Labor Party Prime Minister, also spoke out against the extradition of Assange to the U.S. 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 (the Labor Party-aligned element) faction of the ruling class that wants Australia to still be in the U.S. camp but also pursue its own imperialist and profit interests with some independence from the U.S.
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 perhaps removed by the machinations of several “protected assets” of the U.S. (as revealed by Wikileaks) in a parliamentary coup in 2010 and replaced by Julia Gillard in 2010. Rudd, at the time, was pushing for Australia to play an intermediary role between the rising power of China and the U.S. 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 per cent with U.S. 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 black site in an orange jumpsuit will risk provoking mass hostility to the U.S./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 life sentence in an American penitentiary'. This adds weight to the idea that their support for Assange is predicated on the belief that his extradition to the U.S. 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 U.S. imperialist interests. This was graphically illustrated by Tony Burke, the Manager of Opposition Business moving a motion to shut down a speech in favour 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 U.S. 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, of Australia’s evangelical hard right, Trump-loving Prime Minister, has 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 to “intervene” in the legal processes of the UK and that 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.
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 Labor and Liberal Parties of any forces which are not completely aligned with the aims of U.S. imperialism. A similar process has been underway in many countries around the world.
A letter now signed by over eighty-five doctors, calling for Assange to be immediately moved out of Belmarsh prison to a hospital setting 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 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.
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 sections of the ALP, 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 fight to defend Julian can and must become the rallying cry for the working class to protect its own interests.
Davey Heller is a writer and campaigner. You can follow him on @socialist_davey.
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