The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 77/No. 26      July 8, 2013

Whistleblowers neither heroes
nor traitors for working class

The Barack Obama administration’s prosecution of Pfc. Bradley Manning on charges of “aiding the enemy” and leaks by Edward Snowden, a contractor who worked at the National Security Agency, revealing the agency’s wide-ranging data-mining programs, have sparked debate in bourgeois politics over whether these individuals are whistleblower heroes or traitors.

The vast majority of the propertied rulers and their Democratic and Republican politicians say Manning and Snowden are traitors giving aid to Islamist enemies of the U.S. They are hard after them because the leaks exposed some of their secrets, caused them diplomatic difficulties and exacerbated distrust in their government. They want to set a strong precedent to deter others from doing likewise.

On June 21 federal prosecutors unsealed charges against Snowden filed in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., including violation of the Espionage Act of 1917 for “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person.” The charges carry a total of 30 years in prison. U.S. officials are seeking to extradite Snowden, who had fled to Hong Kong before releasing his leaks and flew to Moscow June 23.

The liberal New York Times and rightist Patrick Buchanan agree the leakers should face jail time for their actions, but also say they are concerned about a growing Big Brother in Washington. Manning and Snowden are touted as heroes by some self-styled revolutionaries on the left, a layer of libertarians and some rightists.

Sen. Rand Paul, a libertarian from Kentucky, said Snowden is “practicing civil disobedience” in what he calls “a noble gesture.”

“He is a hero!” Michael Savage, a well-known conservative talk-show host, said. “He should be winning a Nobel Prize for what he did.”

“Manning should be renowned as a hero,” Nicole Colson wrote in the International Socialist Organization’s paper Socialist Worker.

Manning’s leaks are “one of the most heroic and courageous actions in recent memory,” the Revolutionary Communist Party’s paper Revolution wrote in December 2012.

Government efforts to punish whistleblowers are against the interests of the working class and should be opposed. But for working people, Manning and Snowden are neither heroes nor traitors.

Those who think that secret revelations from whistleblowers are the way workers find out about how capitalism and its war machine operates, or inspire mass action in defense of political rights, sow naïve and dangerous illusions about the source of the problem and the road to its solution.

Manning and Snowden act on the premise that revelations will make some capitalist politicians come to their senses and do the right thing. “Obama’s campaign promises and election gave me faith that he would lead us toward fixing the problems,” Snowden said in an online forum on the London-based Guardian newspaper website June 17. “Unfortunately, shortly after assuming power, he closed the door.”

But the Democrats and Republicans act in the class interests of the propertied rulers in both their domestic and foreign policy. They won’t “wake up.”

There has never been a time in modern class society where the ruling class doesn’t target its enemies, competitors and ultimately the working class, which in times of mass class battles the capitalists recognize as the main threat to their exploitative and oppressive rule.

Under bourgeois democracy, exposure of their methods may cause them to pause, but after a bit they just start up again. And they only pause under pressure of mass working-class action.

In 1973 the Socialist Workers Party launched a political campaign and lawsuit that exposed decades of FBI spying and disruption against the labor movement, Black rights fighters and the party, and pushed the snoops back. It succeeded because it built on the mass proletarian mobilizations that overthrew Jim Crow segregation and millions-strong demonstrations opposing the U.S. imperialist war against Vietnamese workers and farmers fighting for independence.

The Obama administration’s drive to prosecute whistleblowers and journalists who publish leaks aims to strengthen the rulers’ increasing use of executive power shielded from public view.

At the same time, they push for “transparency” about the activities of the working class — such as campaign disclosure laws aimed at parties like the SWP and more broadly against workers taking the road to independent political action.

No ‘big brother’

Media coverage on the bourgeois left as well as in the libertarian rightist press has been conjuring up conspiracy theories about a looming “Big Brother” or “1984” — a book by George Orwell that paints a picture of a world with an all-powerful state and no rights.

But there is no push for Big Brother repression. Spying by the propertied rulers isn’t currently directed against the entire population, nor is it primarily aimed today at working-class militants. The data-mining programs Snowden leaked details on are aimed at Islamist-jihadist terrorists.

Down the road, the rulers will use all the power of its spies and cops, night riders, Pinkerton-style thugs, National Guard and other violent means in an effort to smash workers’ struggles — this is what class battles teach.

Today the bosses are dealing blows to workers without having to resort to overt state violence. They are using lockouts, bankruptcies, government cutbacks and union-busting efforts to deal bitter blows to our wages, job conditions and social rights.

Revelations like those of Manning and Snowden do not point a road forward for the working class. They foster conspiracy theories and paranoia that divert and demobilize us.

What workers need is to fight against the bosses and their government, see the need to do so independent of their political parties, whether it be for jobs, an end to imperialist wars or in defense of our political rights. These experiences will give us the confidence, political clarity and feeling of self-worth needed to overthrow the capitalists and build a workers and farmers government.
Related articles:
Court martial opens for leaker Pfc. Bradley Manning
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home