The significance of the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks can be measured by the hysterical and panicked response of the powerful to it.
Wikileaks’ ongoing release of thousands of secret US government cables and other secret documents is being met with outrage, assassination threats, censorship, a corporate boycott and legal action.
Much of this has centred on Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange. The allegations of sex crimes (for which no charges have yet been laid) have been used to hound him through the courts.
But no government has found any basis to charge him for his role with Wikileaks.
Wikileaks’ “crime” is to rip the mask off the “official” system of hypocrisy and lies behind which governments and corporations hide.
It is revealing the truth behind the propaganda and endless spin — and exposing serious crimes being committed behind closed doors.
And Wikileaks is proving correct many of the arguments that Green Left Weekly has made for years — often alone among the Australian media.
When the truth is made clear, it’s no surprise our rulers want it hidden.
In the US, house prices have now dropped for 53 months in a row — a longer period than the housing crash of the Great Depression, a January 14 Socialist Project article said.
In response to the crisis, state governments are slashing jobs and public spending.
Given this, how could it be in the interests of the US people to spend trillions of dollars on failed military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan?
It is, however, in the interests of the US corporate elite, which wants to strengthen its control over the region and its resources.
No wonder they want to hide as much of the truth about these wars as possible. They want to hide the extreme corruption of the US puppet regime in Afghanistan, the massacres by occupying forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the hatred locals feel for the occupying forces.
The fact our governments lie shows they don’t govern in our interest.
Instead, they govern on behalf of the corporate elite — and if that conflicts with human rights, environmental concerns or social justice (as it regularly does), then so be it.
But more than that, the fact our governments lie shows that ordinary people actually have real power. Otherwise, why would they bother lying?
The only reason they have to lie is because they fear the consequences of telling the truth. If we had no power, they wouldn’t waste their time: they could afford to be perfectly open.
It is because the corporate elite is a small minority that can only govern if ordinary people let them. Even when our power is not exercised, it remains a threat. This is the threat the truth poses to our rulers, and why they despise Wikileaks.
It shows the fundamentally undemocratic nature of this system. The demand for open government, for an end to secret diplomacy and for the operations of big corporations to be made public is a key democratic demand.
The decisions made behind closed doors in the halls of power or the corporate boardrooms are decisions that affect all of us. Therefore, we have a right to know.
Individuals have a right to secrecy, but not institutions whose decisions have consequences for the public. We have no right to know what they get up to in their bedrooms, but we do need to know what happens in their boardrooms.
This is an important socialist demand. It is no coincidence that the governments most supportive of Wikileaks are governments such as Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia that are challenging Western corporate domination.
There is an example from history. After the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Bolshevik government published all of the secret treaties of the old government — to the horror of other capitalist governments.
Millions had been slaughtered during World War I, and the Bolsheviks insisted the people had a right to know the real reasons why.
The Stalinist bureaucracy, which also had its own reasons to fear ordinary people knowing the truth, later reversed this approach.
Wikileaks is important, but it is not enough by itself. Wikileaks provides information that exposes our governments. But Assange has explained his goal is to let people know the truth — then it is up to people everywhere to decide what to do with it.
Our task is to use the information to strengthen the struggle for change.
Wikileaks gives us the invaluable weapon of truth in this struggle. We must defend Wikileaks against those trying to silence it, and use the information it gives us to change this rotten system and replace it with genuine democracy that is truly of the people, by the people and for the people.
[Stuart Munckton is co-editor of Green Left Weekly and a Socialist Alliance activist. Abridged from a talk given at a December 14 Socialist Alliance forum in Sydney.]