Workers Vanguard No. 971

7 January 2011


Free Private Manning! Hands Off Julian Assange!

WikiLeaks, Imperialist Lies and Retribution

The release by WikiLeaks of some 250,000 State Department cables has provoked a vicious campaign of retaliation by the rulers of U.S. imperialism against Julian Assange, the Web site’s founder, and Army Private Bradley Manning, who is accused of leaking secret material. Attorney General Eric Holder is reportedly preparing criminal charges against Assange, an Australian citizen, possibly under the Espionage Act of 1917. Manning faces a court martial and up to 52 years in prison if convicted. He incurred Washington’s wrath when a video of a U.S. war crime in Baghdad was posted last April by WikiLeaks. It showed an Apache helicopter gunning down and killing at least 12 people, including two Reuters journalists, while the pilots gloated over the carnage.

Manning—if he was, indeed, the source of the leaks—and Assange are courageous individuals who have performed a laudable service by lifting, however slightly, the veil of secrecy and lies that enshrouds the imperialists’ machinations. They richly deserve to be defended by workers and the oppressed throughout the world. Protests in defense of Assange have been held in a number of countries, and the Australian Council of Trade Unions has spoken out for him. It is crucial for the international working class to defend WikiLeaks and Assange and also to demand freedom for Private Manning, who is being held under torturous conditions of solitary confinement at the U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia.

Though one would hardly guess it from the Obama administration’s frenzied reaction to the latest leaks, they actually contain little in the way of dramatic revelations. The imperialists are, simply, enraged at the slightest light being shed on their workings. A number of the cables are, to be sure, somewhat embarrassing for the U.S. and its client regimes. Thus, the leaked cables reveal that NATO has developed a secret military plan for defense of Poland and the Baltic states against Russia. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other Arab countries are revealed to be pressing the U.S. to stage a military attack targeting Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, showing yet again that Iran needs nukes to deter attack by the U.S. or its Israeli proxy. And the Palestinian Authority and Lebanese government are shown to be working with Israel to target, respectively, Hamas and Hezbollah.

The cables also provide an insider’s view of U.S. imperialism’s high-handed operations within the borders of its client states. They show U.S. participation in the operational command of the “drug war” in Mexico, from developing overall strategy to selecting individuals to be targeted. American officials in Yemen negotiated a scheme with that country’s president to disguise U.S. air strikes on suspected Al Qaeda camps as being carried out by the Yemeni government, including when civilians get blown away. Such exposures are not, to say the least, to the benefit of the imperialists or their lackeys. The cables also include a report from the U.S. ambassador to Honduras on the June 2009 overthrow of populist president Manuel Zelaya characterizing the actions of “the military and/or whoever ordered the coup” as “illegal.” Whatever the case, the Obama administration has backed the government brought to power by the coup.

A particularly noteworthy subject covered by a number of the leaked cables is the case of torture victim Khaled el-Masri. A German citizen of Lebanese descent, el-Masri was seized in late 2003 while on vacation in Macedonia and shipped off to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan where he was held in solitary confinement, interrogated and beaten. Even after the CIA established that el-Masri was not the man they thought he was (his name is similar to that of a suspect in the 9/11 attacks), they continued to hold him incommunicado because “he knew too much.” Finally, after nearly five months’ detainment, el-Masri was dumped in a remote part of Albania, never having been charged with a crime.

The cables about el-Masri, which were sent from the U.S. embassies in Germany, Spain and Macedonia in 2006 and 2007, confirm what was long suspected: Berlin did not enforce arrest warrants against 13 CIA operatives accused of involvement in the kidnapping of this German citizen because Washington exerted intense pressure, warning of “potential negative implications for our bilateral relationship” if the case was pursued.

Obama White House: Vicious and Vindictive

Following the release of the video of the helicopter attack in Baghdad, WikiLeaks made public some 76,000 classified military field reports from the Afghanistan occupation that document the brutality inflicted by imperialist forces upon civilians, including by CIA-led forces operating out of bases along the border with Pakistan. Then in October, WikiLeaks published nearly 400,000 field reports on the Iraq war and occupation detailing more than 109,000 deaths, mostly of civilians.

The Obama administration has lashed out in fury against Private Manning by subjecting him to inhuman prison conditions that are clearly intended to break his will. Since his arrest last May, Manning has been held in solitary confinement. He is prohibited from exercising or watching television news programs; guards check on him every five minutes; a light is kept on in his cell, including when he tries to sleep. According to journalist David House, the only person to visit Manning in prison other than his lawyer: “He is being kept in a kind of punitive fashion before his trial and it is definitely weakening his mental state” (BBC News, 24 December 2010).

Manning is, as Assange correctly noted, a political prisoner. Assange, meanwhile, is under house arrest in Britain as he fights a Swedish extradition order citing allegations of “rape” and “sexual molestation.” Those accusations—which boil down to charges of unprotected sex in what were by all accounts consensual relations—are patently trumped-up. Prosecutors in Sweden initially opened, then dropped, then reopened an investigation into the accusations, which were made by a couple of WikiLeaks groupies. In fact, Assange has not been charged with any crime.

As Assange has pointed out, the real threat he faces is the possibility of extradition to the U.S., where both Democratic and Republican politicians are screaming for his head on a pike. Vice President Joe Biden was joined by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell in branding Assange a “high-tech terrorist.” The implied threat behind this smear was made explicit by Tom Flanagan, former adviser to Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, who declared that Assange “should be assassinated.”

Assange is, basically, an ardent liberal critic of imperialist policy. In the late 1990s, he co-authored an encryption program called Rubberhose that activists in places like East Timor, Russia, Kosovo, Guatemala, Iraq, Sudan and Congo could use to protect sensitive data. In 2009, Amnesty International gave Assange its media award for a WikiLeaks investigation of the killing of hundreds of young men in Kenya by government forces. The fact that U.S. government spokesmen are discussing hitting Assange with the 1917 Espionage Act is a crystal-clear demonstration of how “national interests” are invoked by the capitalist rulers to clamp down on their critics. Meanwhile, Bank of America, MasterCard, PayPal and Visa Europe have done what they can to help shut down Assange’s Web site by blocking payments to WikiLeaks.

The Espionage Act was one of an array of repressive measures adopted after U.S. imperialism’s entry into the First World War to criminalize antiwar activity. It mandated imprisonment for any act deemed to interfere with the recruitment of troops. Haunted by the spectre of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, which ripped Russia from the capitalist market and ended its participation in the war, in 1918 Congress passed the Sedition Act that made criticizing the “U.S. form of government” a felony.

Among the first and most prominent targets of the Espionage Act was Socialist Party spokesman Eugene Debs, who was jailed for a June 1918 speech at a workers rally in Canton, Ohio, where he denounced the war as capitalist slaughter and paid tribute to the Bolshevik leaders of the October Revolution. The same law was used in 1953, at the height of the Cold War, to execute Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were accused of spying for the Soviets during World War II, when the U.S. and the USSR were allies. As their son Robert Meeropol declared in a December 29 statement in defense of Assange, the Espionage Act “transformed dissent into treason.” In the early 1970s, the Nixon government tried, unsuccessfully, to use the law to go after Daniel Ellsberg, whose release of the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times shed light on the history of U.S. imperialism’s war against the Vietnamese workers and peasants.

While no one knows exactly what the Obama administration is cooking up against Assange, there is no question that the vendetta against him threatens an ominous further attack on free speech, press freedoms and other democratic rights. Commenting on the case of an intelligence consultant hit with the Espionage Act for exposing what he considered wasteful expenditures on eavesdropping programs, the New York Times (11 June 2010) noted that “the Obama administration is proving more aggressive than the Bush administration in seeking to punish unauthorized leaks.” As we have repeatedly stressed, Barack Obama, who came into office with broad support from liberals and the left, is simply carrying out his duties as U.S. imperialism’s Commander-in-Chief—from expanding the murderous occupation of Afghanistan to stepping up attacks on democratic rights in the name of the “war on terror.”

The Bolsheviks vs. Secret Diplomacy

The furious reaction of the Obama administration to the WikiLeaks exposures points to the importance the rulers of capitalist imperialism place on secret diplomacy, which, as revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky explained in November 1917, “is a necessary tool for a propertied minority which is compelled to deceive the majority in order to subject it to its interests.” Trotsky made this point in a statement he issued as Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet workers state that had just issued out of the October Revolution. Trotsky was announcing the publication and abrogation of secret treaties hatched by the prior tsarist regime and the bourgeois Provisional Government with their imperialist allies.

Prior to the proletariat’s seizure of power, the Bolshevik Party had demanded the abolition of secret diplomacy and the publication of secret treaties as part of its revolutionary proletarian opposition to World War I, a conflict between competing imperialists for redivision of the world. This demand was raised against the Provisional Government, which, coming to power after the overthrow of the tsar in the February Revolution of 1917, continued Russia’s participation in the war.

Immediately following the October Revolution, the workers state issued a decree on peace removing Russia from the war and demanding of the belligerents a “just, democratic” peace without annexations or indemnities. Two weeks later, the Soviet newspaper Izvestia began publication of treaties concluded during the war. Historian E.H. Carr noted in Volume Three of The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1923 that publication of the treaties in English in the Manchester Guardian galvanized British radicals and “created a sensation in the United States.” In his Canton speech, Debs declared, “When the Bolsheviki came into power and went through the archives they found and exposed the secret treaties—the treaties that were made between the Czar and the French government, the British government and the Italian government, proposing, after the victory was achieved, to dismember the German Empire and destroy the Central Powers. These treaties have never been denied nor repudiated.”

The October Revolution was a beacon of liberation for the exploited and the oppressed in the advanced capitalist countries and in the colonial and semicolonial world. Along with the Soviet government’s renunciation of predatory agreements reached by prior regimes, publication of the treaties helped spark waves of struggle by those under the boot heel of the imperialists, whose dirty deals were now laid bare.

One of the first treaties to be exposed was the May 1916 agreement between Britain’s Mark Sykes and France’s François Georges-Picot, which plotted the carving up of the Ottoman Empire in anticipation of its defeat, along with Germany in WWI. Tsarist Russia approved this pact on condition that it receive part of eastern Anatolia and Constantinople (Istanbul) with its Straits of Dardanelles, a critically strategic passage between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The exposure of this deal, which was revised at the end of the war in favor of Britain, had an electrifying effect in the Near East, whose peoples expected that the Ottomans’ defeat would result in their self-determination. Strikes and demonstrations swept Egypt in 1919, and the following year in Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq) the masses stood up to the more than 130,000 British troops deployed to occupy the territory. The Soviet government also disowned plans by the tsarist regime and the imperialists to divide up Persia (Iran).

A similar impact was seen in China, whole chunks of which had been carved up by the Western and Japanese imperialists. The Soviets published a secret treaty signed by Japan and Russia in 1916 that upheld a series of prior secret agreements dividing Manchuria in northeast China into Japanese and Russian spheres of influence. Other areas, such as Inner Mongolia, were similarly demarcated. The Bolsheviks’ renunciation of tsarist annexations and machinations in China made a deep impression on key radical intellectuals and among students returning to China after the war. Many of the students had illusions in U.S. president Woodrow Wilson’s promises of “self-determination” and social justice for all peoples. However, with the 1919 Versailles Treaty, the U.S. and other imperialists awarded all of defeated Germany’s territory in China to the Japanese Empire, sparking a wave of mass protest known as the May 4th Movement, some of whose leaders went on to help found the Chinese Communist Party.

A Revolutionary Perspective

A number of reformist “socialist” organizations around the world have referred positively to the Soviets’ publication of secret treaties in light of the WikiLeaks exposures, only to draw a continuum between the two. While performing a valuable service to the exploited and the oppressed, Julian Assange is what he is: a bourgeois liberal who vainly seeks to rid the imperialist system of its worst excesses through exposure of its crimes. The Bolsheviks had a different purpose. By exposing the deeds of the previous Russian rulers and their imperialist patrons and allies, they helped educate the working class in Russia and internationally. Their program was to extend the October Revolution internationally, which they knew was the only road to achieving a socialist society. However, the revolutionary wave that accompanied and followed the end of World War I in Germany and elsewhere in Europe failed to overthrow the rule of capital, centrally due to the lack of the kind of steeled vanguard party that V.I. Lenin had built in Russia.

While maintaining its revolutionary internationalist perspective and program, the early Soviet workers state itself needed to engage in diplomatic dealings with the capitalist world. Thus it signed the Rapallo Pact, which arranged for the German military and its industrial suppliers to set up operations on Soviet territory. While this gave the German militarists a chance to rearm, it also provided the means to begin the mechanization and modernization of the Red Army and related branches of Soviet industry. This part of the Rapallo Pact had to be kept secret from the victorious Entente powers. As Trotsky wrote of the revolutionary Bolshevik regime: “Wherever it could, it, of course, deceived the class enemies; on the other hand it told the toilers the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Only thanks to this did it succeed in winning their trust to a degree never before achieved by any other party in the world” (Their Morals and Ours, 1938).

With the defeat of the 1923 German Revolution, the Soviet workers state, which had suffered greatly from the effects of the interimperialist war and the Civil War that followed the revolution, found itself isolated. Under conditions of scarcity, a new conservative and bureaucratized layer in the party and state apparatus led by Joseph Stalin came to the fore, usurping political power beginning in 1923-24. In place of the banner of world socialist revolution, Stalin in 1924 put forward the false dogma of “socialism in one country,” out of which the corollary of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism inevitably developed. Over time, and against the opposition of Trotsky and his followers who fought to maintain the program of the October Revolution, the Communist Parties were transformed from instruments of revolution into instruments of class collaboration.

Trotsky observed in The Revolution Betrayed (1937), his classic analysis of the Stalinist bureaucracy, that “foreign policy is everywhere and always a continuation of domestic policy, for it is conducted by the same ruling class and pursues the same historic goals. The degeneration of the governing stratum in the Soviet Union could not but be accompanied by a corresponding change of aims and methods in Soviet diplomacy.” While unconditionally defending the degenerated Soviet workers state against imperialism and domestic capitalist counterrevolution, Trotskyists fought for proletarian political revolution to oust the bureaucracy and return to the road of the October Revolution.

The bureaucracy’s betrayals led to the ultimate undoing of the October Revolution through capitalist counterrevolution in 1991-92. In the aftermath, the imperialists who crow about the “death of communism” are ever more brazen in their rampages from Iraq to Afghanistan and in their assault on democratic rights and the livelihood of workers “at home.” Liberals and the reformist left seize upon revelations of the (everyday) workings of the capitalist rulers—disinformation, secret political police, assassination, etc.—to pressure the imperialists to adopt more “humane” policies. Our aim is to build a workers party of the Bolshevik type. Imperialism and its savage wars and occupations, sold through systematic lying and duplicity, will be defeated only through victorious proletarian revolution which, extended internationally, will lay the basis for the liberation of all humanity in a future communist world.