As the drama surrounding Julian Assange escalates, it is worth momentarily distinguishing WikiLeaks from its mercurial founder, and instead asking what WikiLeaks itself means today. Thus far, the story has been cast as a struggle between WikiLeaks and the United States empire. The central issue, then, is whether the publishing of confidential state documents is an act in support of the freedom of information, of the people’s right to know, or an act of terrorism that poses a threat to stable international relations.
But what if this isn’t the real issue? What if the crucial ideological and political battle is going on within WikiLeaks itself – that is, between the radical act of publishing secret state documents and the way this act has been reinscribed into the hegemonic ideologico-political field by, among others, WikiLeaks itself?
This reinscription does not primarily concern “corporate collusion” – i.e., the deal WikiLeaks made with five big newspapers, giving them the exclusive right selectively to publish the documents. Much more important is the conspiratorial mode of WikiLeaks: a “good” secret group attacking a “bad” one in the form of the United States State Department.
From this perspective, the real enemy are those American diplomats who conceal the truth, manipulate the public and humiliate their allies in the ruthless pursuit of their own interests. “Power” is held by the bad guys at the top, and is not regarded as something that permeates the entire social body, determining how we work, think and consume.
WikiLeaks got a taste of this dispersion of power when Mastercard, Visa, PayPal and the Bank of America joined forces with the state to sabotage it. The price one pays for engaging in the conspiratorial mode is to be treated according to its logic. (No wonder theories abound about who is really behind WikiLeaks – the CIA?)
But this conspiratorial mode is supplemented by its apparent opposite, the liberal appropriation of WikiLeaks as another chapter in the glorious history of the struggle for the “free flow of information” and the “citizens’ right to know.” This view reduces WikiLeaks to a radical case of “investigative journalism.”
[Extract. Appeared in ABC on February 25th 2011.]