WikiLeaks heralds the birth of Fellow Travellers 2.0
If you are sympathetic to work of Julian Assange, stop and think: am I at risk of becoming a Fellow Traveller?
Many participants in a 21st Century, web-based community such as The Punch are likely to be too young to know what a Fellow Traveller is.
I’ll get to the political concept in a minute, but the key point is that Julian Assange is one, as are the multitude of “hactivists” fighting his battle at the moment.
Let’s start with the basic disposition: the Fellow Traveller thinks capitalism and the United States are the major problems we face as a global community.
The original Fellow Travellers were an assortment of naïve idealists distressed by the shortcomings of their democracies and persuaded by the moral rhetoric of communism that the alternative to their shabby and tardy system of government and economics lay on the other side of the iron or bamboo curtains.
Fellow Travellers did not become members of Communist parties. The point was, however, that Communist states and parties could rely on them to support their political work.
Much of that work was done through organisations that on the face of it deserved support from men and women of good will – peace organisations working to prevent nuclear war.
At the heart of the phenomenon of the Fellow Traveller was this tragic reality: it mattered not what their intention was, but that the effect of their campaigning was one sided, weakening the US and its democratic allies.
The harsher, cynical term allegedly used of Fellow Travellers on the other side of the iron curtain was “useful idiot”.
WikiLeaks sees the birth of the Fellow Traveller 2.0. The enemy is once again the US, its allies, and their systems of democracy and economics.
Once again, intentions matter naught. What matters is that it is the US and its international leadership and diplomacy that is the lone target of the idealists, and that it is a coterie of undemocratic states who benefit.
Now some may object that WikiLeaks has started with the US, but is committed to transparency and challenging the State across political and ideological boundaries.
But the problem will be the same as during the Cold War – who will risk leaking the kind of material that can be leaked in the West, in countries like China, Russia, North Korea or Iran, or in non-government organisations like Al-Qaeda or Hezbollah, when the result is not the loss of your job, some bad publicity, or at worst, a jail term for breaching State secrets, but the loss of your life?
The issue with WikiLeaks is not whether or not Assange has the personal morals of an alley cat. As someone who hacked under the nom-de-hack of Mendax – “nobly untruthful” – it’s not even his confused ethics.
The issue with WikiLeaks and the Fellow Travellers being invited onto his information superhighway is the harm they will do to the political good guys in our world and the benefit they will provide to the bad guys.
As early 20th Century Marxist Trotsky wrote of the Fellow Traveller, the question is sometimes asked “how far will he go”. But as Trotsky observed, the real issue is less his personality than the objective impact and trend of his actions.
If you have a quixotic view of the world and are thinking of coming alongside Assange in his fight against the US and what you see as its corporate proxies, think again – there are countries and malevolent causes looking for useful idiots.
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