Several months ago, there was an image going around social networking sites of Julian Assange and Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire owner of Facebook.
The caption next to the image of Assange was: “I give private information on corporations to you for free, and I’m the villain”. The caption next to Zuckerberg was: “I give your private information to corporations for money, and I’m man of the year.”
While Zuckerberg is obviously a class enemy, Assange is a suspected rapist.
Yet many comrades – some who describe themselves as feminists — were still posting this image.
In recent weeks many leading figures on the left, including Tony Benn, have lent their support to Assange, asking Ecuador to uphold his plea of political asylum. Benn even provided his own disturbing definition of rape which included the phrase “a man’s need”.
It is possible to argue both against extradition to the US and at the same time for a fair trial in Sweden on the rape charges.
The best thing I’ve read on the subject of the left and Assange is a blog by Zoe Stavri. She cuts straight to the point; the title of the post is “I think Julian Assange is a rapist. I still like Wikileaks.” She goes on to say: “There should be a distance between Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Wikileaks is not Assange. Assange is not Wikileaks.”
Further, she points out that Assange’s own lawyers admit sexual wrongdoing on his part, although they shy away from calling it rape. (If you want to read the quotes from his appeal in July 2011, it’s on the Guardian website. The acts that are described are morally, if not legally, rape.)
In socialist circles generally, there is a tendency of trying to make people into heroes who really aren’t worthy of it. The glorification of misogynistic men does working-class women a huge disservice. Let’s not forget that some leftists in France sided with Dominique Strauss-Kahn over a poor black hotel maid. Or that child rapist Roman Polanski is held in such high regard. “Offering” something — such as being an artist, anti-establishment or to the left of the status quo — seems to absolve men of crimes.
Those of us who were living in Scotland cannot forget the gang rape of a homeless pregnant woman at Occupy Glasgow, the way that spokespeople called it an “alleged rape”, or the subsequent failures of the group to deal with it. In the last eighteen months there have also been numerous cases in Britain of women activists being sexually harassed and assaulted by those who were previously considered trusted comrades.
The rest of the left needs to do everything it can to distance itself from rape apologism and misogyny. Working-class women are the victims of a violent rape culture, and we deserve better.