At the close of 2011, for a brief period of time, the “WikiLeaks affair” was at the center of every news media outlet in the States and, presumably, the whole world over. Although by now the barrage of media coverage of WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, have become a trickle, there is still a need to make some remarks about this event that has so much shaken the bourgeois media world.
What was all this excitement about?
The facts are well known. At the end of November, following a well prepared sensationalist media campaign, Wikileaks started to release some of the hundreds of thousands of classified US government diplomatic cables that it claims to have in its possession. At the same time several commercial news media organizations throughout the world (The New York Times, France’s Le Monde, Britain’s Guardian, Spain’s El Pais, and the German magazine Der Spiegel ), to whom WikiLeaks have given these files in advance of its own release, started running stories based on these documents. If someone had really been fooled into believing that the “State secrets” of the US were on the verge of being exposed, the reality is surely disappointing. Leaving aside the entertaining value of the quasi gossip-mongering of the US diplomatic cadres in their tiresome task of advancing American imperialist interests, from what has been made public so far these documents contribute little new to what is already widely known about the US policies around the world. Embarrassing as these diplomatic cables might be for some individuals caught off guard in their expressed opinions (both American and foreigners), they are far from being the “smoking gun” exposing the top secret policies of US government that some commentators in the left wing of the bourgeois political spectrum claim them to be.
Perhaps the best assessment (besides being remarkable for its brutal honesty) of the significance of the publication of these documents for the US bourgeoisie was made by the US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who said:
“I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on… I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets. Many governments — some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. …Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.”
However, notwithstanding the opinion of this highly regarded representative of the US dominant class, there are still highly polarized opinions about WikiLeaks and its release of these and other US government classified documents. On one extreme there are some individuals that consider WikiLeaks as some sort of “cyber” terrorist organization and are calling for the “heads” of the people behind this organization. The US Justice Department itself has said that it is exploring possible charges against WikiLeaks and its main representative Julian Assange, possibly under the Espionage Act of 1917, a draconian World War I era law that calls for death penalty or long terms of prison for those that disseminate information detrimental to the US national security.
On the other side of the dispute stand those that consider WikiLeaks as some kind of 21st century exemplary champion of “democracy”, and call for its defense against the authoritarian State in the name of “freedom of the press”, “free speech”, “government openness” and other bourgeois democratic myths. Among the defenders of WikiLeaks are some self described anti-imperialist “Marxists” that, with quotations from the Marxist “classics” in hand, call on workers to rally behind the defense of Julian Assange and its organization, and for the defense of democracy itself.
But what really is WikiLeaks?
In our opinion the characterizations of WikiLeaks by both detractors and defenders are highly exaggerated. In fact this organization is neither a stateless high-tech terrorist enterprise, nor some sort of new kind of political organization championing the defense of people’s democratic rights (whatever this means). And it is certainly not a CIA creature aimed against the “free press”, although one can’t ignore the fact that WikiLeaks or any other similar organization could well be used as a means to disseminate damaging information about other imperialist rivals. In our opinion the identity of WikiLeaks is more prosaic: this organization is nothing more than a news media enterprise, with a ” working model” made possible by the internet era, and in this sense is not distinct from other internet-based companies with more successful (profitable) records.
However what makes WikiLeaks stand out is that it has been built around the clever marketing tool of “opposing” the excesses of capitalist governments by a supposedly independent media (them), not compromised by the subservient role to the capitalist system played by traditional commercial news media outlets (to further its rebellious credentials WikiLeaks has always promoted the idea that it was founded not by some smart business people, but by a mix of “dissidents” from China and computer specialists and intellectuals around the world.) And how does WikiLeaks pretend to accomplish this lofty task? Through a supposed new “model of journalism” which is based on distributing “leaks” (sources) given to it free by altruist “whistleblowers”, as opposed to the dissemination of content (analysis of facts) – a common task of the old news media. It’s worth mentioning that some investigative journalists in Russia have not been impressed by this rather lazy “journalism” and have criticized WikiLeaks for releasing documents “without checking of the facts, without putting them in context, and without analyzing them”
Sure, to be fair to the founders of WikiLeaks, there might be money to be made in the future by this capitalist venture, but their business idea is hardly “subversive”, even if it has managed to irk a few bourgeois bureaucrats around the world. The so called traditional media outlets (which by the way have contributed immensely to WikiLeaks’ rising fame) have never seen themselves threaten by WikiLeaks’ “new model of journalism”. On the contrary, they have seen it and used it for what it is: a business enterprise that provides the “leaks” from which their news making business depends. There is no reliable information, that we know of, about the amount of money that the official bourgeois commercial media has provided to WikiLeaks (legally WikiLeaks is a non-profit organization that functions through “donations”), but it is a public fact that the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and the National Newspaper Association among others have provided it with hundreds of thousands of dollars “in legal support”. Furthermore, Julian Assange himself seems eager to capitalize on WikiLeaks rising fame and had been providing scenarios through which the organization can make money: selling on auctions the “leaked” information in its possession is one of the ideas being floated around.
At the time of writing the “WikiLeaks affair” is again heating up. The New York Times (one of the media news outlets that Julian Assange calls “partners”) has restarted the publication of articles based on the “state secrets” exposed in the diplomatic cables provided by WikiLeaks (in the January 3, 2011 edition one is informed that the US government uses all political means at its disposal to further the commercial interests of the aircraft manufacturer Boeing throughout the world – anyone has the right to ask where is the state secret here? But the rub is that, according to the interpretation of Times reporters of these classified documents, the government’s motivation for its aggressive sell tactics of Boeing hardware is to keep American workers employed!) Besides, the stage is being prepared through a new media sensationalist campaign for another WikiLeaks stunt, this time centered on exposing the inner dealings of capitalism’s financial world: act two, be tuned in as Mr. Assange fulfills his promise of brining down a US major commercial bank. It is really getting boring!
We don’t have a crystal ball and can’t predict the future of WikiLeaks. It might well have seen its fifteen minutes of fame and collapsed, while its founders move on to new capitalist ventures. Already it is said that some its founders have jumped ship and are creating other similar enterprises. As for Julian Assange, his star status will likely guarantee him a comfortable living and new amorous adventures (he should be more careful with the condoms though!) and won’t see much in terms of criminal charges by the US government. The real loser so far in this scandal is the naïve US soldier, Private Bradley Manning, who “leaked” the US government files to WikiLeaks: he is being made an example to others that might be tempted to play heroes by disseminating information that the democratic State has decided to keep out of reach of its subjects.
Let’s be clear, from a working class perspective, the WikiLeaks affair is only important because the bourgeoisie is cynically using it to reinforce its ideological domination over society, pedaling the myth of bourgeois democracy and its self capacity for criticism making capitalism the best and only possible world. All this at a time when the working class all over the world is being subject to unprecedented draconian attacks to its working and living conditions by a capitalism system going through the worst economic crisis in history. The world proletariat does not need more “democracy”, “accountable governments”, “independent media”, “transparent business practices”, etc. Our task is not the impossible reform of capitalism, but the overcoming of its outdated relations of production that are sinking the whole of humanity in a growing spiral of barbarism.
Eduardo Smith 06/01/2011.
.- ‘Gates on Leaks, Wiki and Otherwise’, NY Times, November 30, 2010.
.- ‘Wikileaks Case Highlights Crisis in Journalism, Soldatov and Borogan Say’, Windowoneurasia, November 30, 2010.