Nick Cohen

Vlad the corrupter and the crisis on the left

Vlad the corrupter and the crisis on the left
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Julian Assange still has not found the courage to face the women who accuse him of sexual abuse. Rather than try to clear his name, he has sat in the basement of the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge for four years – a confinement long enough to drive most of us out of our minds.

If Assange has lost his wits, however, there is a method to his madness, as there was long before he received what paltry hospitality the Ecuadorian diplomatic corps could offer him. Nothing he leaks has ever hurt Russia. He will denounce and expose human rights abusers, as we all should. But he will never allow his followers to learn of the suppression of democracy and human rights by Putin’s forces within and without Russia’s borders. Human rights in Assange’s mind are shape shifters. Essential in the West, but dispensable in the East. When the time comes to condemn their abusers, Assange becomes the political equivalent of an estate agent. Location is all that matters to him.

Wikileaks’ double standards and blind spots, its collaborations and self-censorship, go to the root of the crisis on the left. Or rather, because there are many lefts, the crisis on the version of the left that dominates the Labour party and most of the West’s allegedly radical culture. To put it bluntly, what’s its problem with standing up to the Kremlin? What gives? And, more to the point, who is on the take?

Leftists call themselves ‘anti-imperialists’. They mean they oppose the neo-imperialism of the United States – often for good reasons, as you should never forget. But when they are confronted with actual imperialism, when they see Russia send its armies to annex territory, their angry voices fall silent. It is not as if they can sustain the beliefs of their ancestors and comfort themselves with the thought that Russia is a socialist state. Russia is an unashamed plutocracy. Its political and military leaders plunder the nation’s resources, and risk losing their loot only if they lose Putin’s favour. Political parties can escape persecution only if they play the roles the state has assigned them. Gays are hounded. Investigative journalists and opposition politicians murdered. Putin exalts most obscurantist and nationalistic elements of the Orthodox Church, who treat him as the new Tsar of all the Russias in return. Russia ought to be seen by today’s left as the liberals and socialists of the 19


century saw it: a great reactionary and oppressive power. Instead, it is indulged.

As always, the scandal is that there is no scandal. No scandal when Jeremy Corbyn appoints as his chief adviser Seumas Milne, a horribly subservient admirer of Putin. No scandal about Corbyn's appearances on Russian propaganda networks, excuses for Russia’s imperial ambitions, and hints he would give Putin the freedom to move into the Baltic states if he could.

It has become commonplace to say that the radical left is so intellectually bankrupt and morally null that it is reduced to saying that any enemy of the West is better than none. Surely, we can now go further and say it has sunk lower than that? By endorsing and condoning Putin, Western leftists are not just making the West’s enemy their friend. Western leftists are allying with the West’s own far right. In foreign policy, Seumas Milne, Jeremy Corbyn, and all those who so contemptibly go along with them, stand with Marine le Pen and Donald Trump. A hatred of the West is not enough to explain the role swapping anymore. Better to think the similarities between the far left and far right so outweigh the differences today even they do not care about them.

It is enough that a 9/11 crackpot, a Rothschild crank, an alternative therapy nut, or, in this case, one of the greatest thieves of our times is ‘anti-establishment’ for endorsement to follow. Tyranny and conspiracy theory have become ends in themselves. What causes the conspiracy theories are meant to advance and the dictatorship is meant to enforce no longer matter. No one cares if they are left-wing, right-wing, socialist, fascist, national or internationalist. Prejudice, stupidity and oppression have become self-justifying and self-sustaining.

Assange led the way. The New York Times has analysed his leaks and reported that, although Vladimir Putin hardly lived up to WikiLeaks’ ideal of transparency, ‘whether by conviction, convenience or coincidence, WikiLeaks’ document releases, along with many of Mr. Assange’s statements, have often benefited Russia, at the expense of the West’. Indeed they have. So much so that it is now reasonable to suppose that Wikileaks is working for the election of Donald Trump, the Kremlin’s preferred candidate, by publishing Clinton and Democrat emails, which Russian intelligence almost certainly hacked.

The Times did not notice that a preference for tyranny was there at the start. It is hard to believe today, but many good and idealistic journalists worked with Wikileaks when Assange launched it in 2010. They were exposing the crimes of the US military in the Middle East, and corruption and abuse everywhere. Creating an open and accountable world seemed a noble cause. Most resigned in disgust when they learned Assange was working with an anti-Semite who was reportedly handing sensitive US cables that could identify dissidents to the dictator of Belarus.

In six years, Assange has moved from aiding a grim post-Soviet dictatorship on Russia’s western borders to Moscow itself. Naturally, everyone assumes money has changed hands. Russia is the great corrupter of western politics, after all. It funds the French National Front and far right nationalist movements in Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria. But sometimes the cry of ‘follow the money’ is the worst of slogans. Julian Assange, Jeremy Corbyn and Seumas Milne would sympathise with Putin whether he paid them or not. Humboldt Woolf’s lines about the press apply as well to them.

You cannot hope to bribe or twist

(thank God!) the British journalist.

But, seeing what the man will do

unbribed, there's no occasion to.

Corruption is an ordinary human vice. It is deplorable but understandable. The first sin we suspect. But Putin is not the rapist Assange’s accusers allege him to be. He has not forced Western leftists into his bed. And in the case of the left, Putin is almost certainly not a punter who has paid for its favours either.

In all likelihood, the radical left is in bed with a reactionary Russia of its own free will. Its corruption is moral and political rather than financial. The left has voluntarily given itself away for nothing, and proved in the process that it has nothing left to give.