For what seems like forever, the Julian Assange saga has been everywhere. On TV, in the papers, on Facebook and Twitter, it's been impossible to avoid it and all the horrific misogyny and rape apologism that comes with it. Underlying all of which is a cliché - at that a fallacious one - which defines pretty much all of the worst in leftist politics: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
This blog is not about the finer points of the Assange case itself. If you're interested in that, there's a pretty decent round up of posts about it over at The F Word. However, since everyone and their mate has blogged about that, I won't be going there. Rather, I'll be using Assange as a jumping off point.
Notable in the arguments surrounding the events - aforementioned misogyny and rape apologism aside - is the assertion by many that Assange is in the right because he is an opponent of the United States. Some supporters have tried to be more nuanced about it, careful to talk about evidence and motives, distancing themselves from the lunatic fringes whilst still claiming that to label their view as a "conspiracy theory" is to dismiss them too lightly. Others wear their tinfoil hats with pride, even going so far as to label anyone who disagrees with them as a state asset.
In all cases, we're brought back to a simple binary - Assange versus US imperialism. The implication being that we have to choose a side. The idea that he might still have to answer serious allegations, regardless of American motives towards him being unthinkable. And, of course, when you remove those pesky grey areas it becomes so much easier to label those who disagree with you as agents of the CIA/whoever pushing a global conspiracy.
But this kind of "us and them" politics isn't limited to the case of Julian Assange. It's long been a staple of the left1 , and even as the Assange case has taken up most of our airtime lately there have been other recent examples.
George Galloway - who continues to put himself out as the most vile commentator on Assange - has often been an example of such two dimensional politics. Earlier this month, he rehashed his views that Tibet was not a country and he endorsed its repression by China, accusing those who disagreed of "Dalai Lama obscurantism." Alongside which, he has defended Iran's practice of executing homosexuals, supported the Palestinian Islamist organisation Hamas and condemned Syrian revolutionaries as “serving the Crusaders” by fighting against the authoritarian regime of Bashar Al-Assad.
Nor is Galloway alone in these views. They echo across a spectrum from Stalinists and orthodox Trotskyists to the oddballs who witter about fluoride in the water and 9/11 being an inside job. All things are defined in relation to America or to imperialism (or the New World Order), and nobody has agency except to be for or against such.
I even remember seeing people on Twitter demanding to know, "If Pussy Riot protesters were men and the venue was a Mosque, your views would be?" The implication (mirrored on the right) being that since we jail racists for vandalising a mosque it was just fine for Putin to lock up a band for playing music inside a church. Or, if you want to take it to even more absurd lengths, solidarity with the band is "fueled by inter-imperialist rivalry and residual anti-communist ideology." Really.
The problem with all of this - beyond that the politics involved are utterly batshit - is that the people spouting these views have far more influence than they should in left circles. Not to mention that this simplistic black-and-white version of left wing politics is not confined to the odd moronic outburst in the media or on the internet.
As well as undermining solidarity with those who deserve it - the global working class, whoever they're in struggle against - such views can also lead to behaviour which threatens us all. After all, if those who are not with you are against you, how easy is it to reach the view that dissent must be suppressed? Nor am I talking about specifically revolutionary situations such as Krondstadt. In the here and now, we see examples of this - from Greek Stalinists stading with the police against anarchists to innumerable instances of Unite Against Fascism collaborating with the police to unmask and foil militant anti-fascists.
That's why this kind of politics galls me, and why I think those of us with genuine class politics should always be on guard against it. If it was just the occasional moron on Twitter, I could ignore it. But these people are in our trade unions, on the stalls in the town centres and stewarding our marches, as well as being far beyond the fringes of rational thought. In history, they shot us against walls, now they pull our masks down on demos whilst Nazis are taking photos or call us CIA moles for not supporting rapists.
The enemy of your enemy isn't always your friend. The person who thinks that this saying is true never is.
- 1With a mirror on the right, of course, but that's not what I'm here to discuss.