Forty years ago, a book entitled The Greening of America caused a sensation. On the cover were these words: “There is a revolution coming. It will not be like revolutions of the past. It will originate with the individual.” I was a correspondent in the United States at the time and recall the overnight elevation to guru status of the author, a young Yale academic, Charles Reich. His message was that political action had failed and only “culture” and introspection could change the world. This merged with an insidious corporate public relations campaign aimed at reclaiming western capitalism from the sense of freedom inspired by the civil rights and anti-war movements. The new propaganda’s euphemisms were postmodernism, consumerism and “me-ism”.
The self was now the zeitgeist. Driven by the forces of profit and the media, the search for individual consciousness all but overwhelmed the spirit of social justice and internationalism. A new deity was proclaimed; the personal was the political.
In 1995, Reich published Opposing the System, in which he recanted almost everything in The Greening of America. “There will be no relief from either economic insecurity or human breakdown,” he now wrote, “until we recognize that uncontrolled economic forces create conflict, not well-being . . .” There were no queues in the bookstores this time. In the age of economic neoliberalism, Reich was out of step with the rampant individualism of the west’s new political and cultural elite.
The revival of militarism in the west and the search for a new “threat” following the end of the cold war depended on the political disorientation of those who, 20 years earlier, would have formed a vehement opposition. On 11 September 2001, they were silenced finally, and many were co-opted into the “war on terror”. The invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 was supported by leading feminists, especially in the US, where Hillary Clinton and other false tribunes of feminism made the Taliban’s treatment of Afghan women the rationale for attacking a stricken country and causing the deaths of at least 20,000 people while giving the Taliban new life. That the warlords backed by America were as medievalist as the Taliban was not allowed to interrupt such a right-on cause. The zeitgeist, the years of “personal” depoliticizing and distracting true radicalism, had worked. Nine years later, the disaster that is Afghanistan is the consequence.
It seems the lesson must be learned all over again as a group of media feminists joins the assault on Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, or the “Wikiblokesphere”, as Libby Brooks abuses it in the Guardian. From the Times to the New Statesman, apparent feminist credence is given to the chaotic, incompetent and contradictory accusations against Assange in Sweden.
On 9 December, the Guardian published a long, supine interview by Amelia Gentleman with Claes Borgström, the “highly respected Swedish lawyer”. In fact, Borgström is foremost a politician, a powerful member of the Social Democratic Party. He intervened in the Assange case only when the senior prosecutor in Stockholm dismissed the “rape” allegation as based on “no evidence”. In Gentleman’s Guardian article, an anonymous source whispers to us that Assange’s “behaviour towards women . . . was going to get him into trouble”. This smear was taken up by Brooks in the paper that same day. Ken Loach and I and others on “the left” are “shoulder to shoulder” with the misogynists and “conspiracy theorists”. To hell with journalistic inquiry. Ignorance and prejudice rule.
The Australian barrister James Catlin, who acted for Assange in October, says that both women in the case told prosecutors that they consented to have sex with Assange. Following the “crime”, one of the women threw a party in honour of Assange. When Borgström was asked why he was representing the women, as both denied rape, he said: “Yes, but they are not lawyers.” Catlin describes the Swedish justice system as “a laughing stock”. For three months, Assange and his lawyers have pleaded with the Swedish authorities to let them see the prosecution case. This was denied until 18 November, when the first official document arrived – in the Swedish language, contrary to European law.
Assange still has not been charged with anything. He has never been a “fugitive”. He sought and got permission to leave Sweden, and the British police have known his whereabouts since his arrival in this country. This did not stop a London magistrate on 7 December ignoring seven sureties and sending him to solitary confinement in Wandsworth Prison.
At every turn, Assange’s basic human rights have been breached. The cowardly Australian government, which is legally obliged to support its citizen, has made a veiled threat to take away his passport. In her public remarks, the prime minister, Julia Gillard, has shamefully torn up the presumption of innocence that underpins Australian law. The Australian minister for foreign affairs ought to have called in both the Swedish and the US ambassadors to warn them against any abuse of human rights against Assange, such as the crime of incitement to murder.
In contrast, vast numbers of decent people all over the world have rallied to Assange’s support: people who are neither misogynists nor “internet attack dogs”, to quote Libby Brooks, and who support a very different set of values from those espoused by Charles Reich. They include many distinguished feminists, such as Naomi Klein, who wrote: “Rape is being used in the Assange prosecution in the same way that women’s freedom was used to invade Afghanistan. Wake up!”