Bradley Manning, not gay marriage, is the issue

Sydney anti-war rally, 2005.

In the week Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, he ordered bombing attacks on Yemen, killing a reported 63 people, 28 of them children. When Obama recently announced he supported same-sex marriage, American planes had not long blown 14 Afghan civilians to bits.

In both cases, the mass murder was barely news. What mattered were the cynical vacuities of a political celebrity, the product of a zeitgeist driven by the forces of consumerism and the media with the aim of diverting the struggle for social and economic justice.

The award of the Nobel Prize to the first black president because he “offered hope” was both absurd and an authentic expression of the lifestyle liberalism that controls much of political debate in the West. Same-sex marriage is one such distraction.

No “issue” diverts attention as successfully as this: not the free vote in Parliament on lowering the age of gay consent promoted by the noted libertarian and war criminal Tony Blair: not the cracks in “glass ceilings” that contribute nothing to women’s liberation and merely amplify the demands of bourgeois privilege.

Legal obstacles should not prevent people marrying each other, regardless of gender. But this is a civil and private matter; bourgeois acceptability is not yet a human right. The rights historically associated with marriage are those of property: capitalism itself. Elevating the “right” of marriage above the right to life and real justice is as profane as seeking allies among those who deny life and justice to so many, from Afghanistan to Palestine.

On May 9, hours before his Damascene declaration on same-sex marriage, Obama sent out messages to campaign donors making his new position clear. He asked for money.

In response, according to the Washington Post, his campaign received a “massive surge of contributions”. The following evening, with the news now dominated by his “conversion”, he attended a fundraising party at the Los Angeles home of the actor George Clooney.

“Hollywood,” reported the Associated Press, “is home to some of the most high-profile backers of gay marriage, and the 150 donors who are paying $40,000 to attend Clooney’s dinner will no doubt feel invigorated by Obama’s watershed announcement the day before.” The Clooney party is expected to raise a record $15 million for Obama’s re-election and will be followed by “yet another fundraiser in New York sponsored by gay and Latino Obama supporters”.

The width of a cigarette paper separates the Democratic and Republican parties on economic and foreign policies. Both represent the super rich and the impoverishment of a nation from which trillions of tax dollars have been transferred to a permanent war industry and banks that are little more than criminal enterprises.

Obama is as reactionary and violent as George W Bush, and in some ways he is worse. His personal speciality is the use of Hellfire missile-armed drones against defenceless people.

Under cover of a partial withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, he has sent US special forces to 120 countries where death squads are trained. He has revived the old cold war on two fronts: against China in Asia and with a “shield” of missiles aimed at Russia.

The first black president has presided over the incarceration and surveillance of greater numbers of black people than were enslaved in 1850. He has prosecuted more whistleblowers — truth tellers — than any of his predecessors. His vice-president, Joe Biden, a zealous warmonger, has called WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange a “hi-tech terrorist”. Biden has also converted to the cause of gay marriage.

One of the US’s true heroes is the gay soldier Bradley Manning, the whistleblower alleged to have provided WikiLeaks with the epic evidence of American carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was the Obama administration that smeared his homosexuality as weird, and it was Obama himself who declared a man convicted of no crime to be guilty.

Who among the fawners and luvvies at Clooney’s Hollywood moneyfest shouted, “Remember Bradley Manning”? To my knowledge, no prominent spokesperson for gay rights has spoken against Obama’s and Biden’s hypocrisy in claiming to support same-sex marriage while terrorising a gay man whose courage should be an inspiration to all, regardless of sexual preference.

Obama’s historic achievement as president of the United States has been to silence the anti-war and social justice movement associated with the Democratic Party. Such deference to an extremism disguised by and embodied in a clever, amoral operator, betrays the rich tradition of popular protest in the US. Perhaps the Occupy movement is said to be in this tradition; perhaps not.

The truth is that what matters to those who aspire to control our lives is not skin pigment or gender, or whether or not we are gay, but the class we serve. The goals are to ensure that we look inward on ourselves, not outward to others and never comprehend the sheer scale of undemocratic power, and to that we collaborate in isolating those who resist. This attrition of criminalising, brutalising and banning protest can too easily turn western democracies into states of fear.

On May 12, in Sydney, Australia, home of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, a protest parade in support of gay marriage filled the city centre. The police looked on benignly. It was a showcase of liberalism.

Three days later, there was to be a march to commemorate the Nakba (“The Catastrophe”), the day of mourning when Israel expelled Palestinians from their land. A police ban had to be overturned by the Supreme Court.

That is why the people of Greece ought to be our inspiration. By their own painful experience they know their freedom can only be regained by standing up to the German Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and their own quislings in Athens. People across Latin America have achieved this: the indignados of Bolivia who saw off the water privateers and the Argentinians who told the IMF what to do with their debt. The courage of disobedience was their weapon. Remember Bradley Manning.

[Republished from Green Left Weekly will publish responses to this article in future issues.]


It's plain wrong to say equal marriage campaigners "elevate the right to marriage above the right to life and real justice" ... as if life, justice and freedom are somehow at odds with freedom from homophobic laws. The basic mistake this article makes is to conflate the hypocrisy of the Obama administration's policies with the equal marriage campaign, which simply demands the same rights other citizens have. That people with as few moral scruples as Biden and Obama have come out in support of equal marriage is testament to the campaigners who have fought for equality and changed the political landscape. In doing so, they have followed a proud tradition of social dissent, that includes the civil rights and women's rights movements. Would John Pilger apply the same reasoning to these heroic movements? Was Rosa Parks' defiance when she refused to take her seat at the back of the bus also an example of her seeking "bourgeois respectibility?" Was Rosa Parks' stand distracting from other, more important, issues. Surely the anti-war movement should learn something from the equal marriage campaign's example of people power, not condemn it as a "liberal" deviation from campaigning against the horrors of war.
I agree that there is far too much mileage being given to equal marriage by politicians. I don't 'like' being used as a distraction, and that's what they are doing. However, that doesn't mean that human rights issues of non-discriminatory government and civil practice should be ignored. Far from it. It just needs to happen, without all the hype, and get onto the truly important issues of saving lives and ending wars.. Not that homophobia is not costing lives.. Is an apple's life more deserving than an orange's life?
John, as your friends at Green Left and many of your other friends around the world know - the issues don't need to be separated and ranked in terms of importance. Many of us campaign passionately for Bradley Manning and gay marriage, and refugees, indigenous rights and so on, giving them equal importance. Your piece has provoked people here in Australia into saying you have never supported gay rights. I think you should do more work supporting gay rights, noting their importance throughout history and into the future.
the LGBT narrative should be generated by the community, not the White House. "Same sex" marriage is not exactly gay marriage or recognition of other genders by the government. Obama's carefully articulated point-scoring comments directed at those who consider themselves to be progressive, should not detract from the fact that he is mass murderer.
Mr Pilger, I find this article just as offensive and hurtful as Joe Hockey's incoherent argument against marriage equality on Q&A. In line with Minister Penny Wong's dignified response, I'd like to simply tell you: We know what our struggle is worth! We know what our aspiration for equality before the law is worth! Your not so covertly homophobic conspiracy theory sounds so ironically evangelical. And just like those preachers of god's imminent wrath, who thrive on vilification, your article spits venom in the face of a GLBT movement that has struggled for decades (or rather centuries) to make life slightly more confortable and more worth living for millions of second class citizens around the world. Your views about Obama's policies are legitimate; they are yours. Smearing the political efforts of a whole community seeking equality is not legitimate; it's an act of violence. Joseph Sedjerari, Sydney
This article makes some perfectly valid points about Obama's pro-war, pro-austerity, pro-austerity stances and hypocrisy about gay rights and the need to look to mass struggles such as in Greece rather than winning over elites to win gains for working people. But it contains a very, very wrong-headed approach to the same sex marriage campaign, even to gay rights generally. It's true that individual capitalists, pro-capitalist politicians and even cops may be less homophobic, racist and sexist than those of past generations, due to a combination of mass struggles and changes to capitalism itself. But Pilger totally misses the points that, firstly capitalism as a system reproduces a range of oppressions and prejudices, which can get worse even after gains are made, and, secondly, that struggles for particular democratic rights can politicise people around other issues. The claim that other economic struggles are important is known as economism and it's a stance slammed by Lenin in What is To be Done, where he called for socialists to be "tribunes of the people" mobilising around all issues of oppression no matter what class or group is affected. The characterisation by Pilger of the same sex marriage campaign, which in Australia is largely lead by young members of Socialist Alternative and Socialist Alliance, as liberal, gives his screed an ultra-left character. Nick Fredman
What I previously posted should read, "The claim that only economic struggles are important is known as economism" Nick Fredman
He always looks best from a distance...but close up, do many people really believe Pilger when he says: "Obama is as reactionary and violent as George W Bush, and in some ways he is worse" Says more about extreme world Pilger lives in.
I don't think Green Left should be publishing such a confused and potentially harmful piece of writing, at least not without a rebuttal in the same issue. Green Left supports the equal marriage campaign wholeheartedly and yet could be percieved as being against by including an article such as this. Here is a reply by Rodney Croome, which I largely agree with. I also agree with simon_b above.
I agree with Pilger that the equal-marriage movement is of the type: liberal practicality. Where it is most obvious is when we ask the question: Can certain groupings of underprivileged people possibly achieve these goals without modification of the institutional framework as a whole? The equal-marriage movement presents itself as a-political and is willing to ‘progress’ forward naïvely. In being a-political, it will be used by whoever is out to gain, clearly Obama right now, but who else in the future? ‘Progress’ is left ambiguous, but since there is a dominant ideology in our society, it lends itself to the current definition of liberal stability and order. Although, this is traditionally thought of in a religious dogmatic way, because of the topic of marriage, power has shifted. It is naïve to think that the current power won’t use an a-political movement to meet its’ ends and distract you and the public away from anything systemic. Liberal practicality is naïve a-political ‘progress’. It is not a human ‘right’ to be married. It is a human right not to be discriminated based on sexual preference. The institution of marriage has historically been used to turn people into property and to exclude those of same sex relations from the widely held liberal stability and order of man and woman relation. To move from discrimination and go towards marriage fragments the real issue. Why are homosexuals oppressed? Is it because they can’t get married, and only have civil unions? Who can and cannot achieve these goals without modification of the institutional framework as a whole? What are the conditions that allow civil unions in one country and the death penalty in another? To answer these questions, the LGBTI movement requires a firm political stance against a violent structure that allows the powerful to use them at their leisure.