Today Russell Brand has made the news as he openly calls for revolution. Many comrades have been quick to criticise his statements for vagueness, but does it really matter if his statements didn't go far enough?
Russell Brand has long been a somewhat leftist friendly celebrity who is no stranger for causing some mild controversy. From preaching for a more humane, rehabilitative, caring response to drug addiction to performing hilarious critiques of the media with his appearances on MSNBC and the GQ awards, many people have rallied behind him and perhaps been made to stop and think about certain issues they thought they were sure on.
Though it seems for many anarchists and those on the far left in general, his efforts are hypocritical, in effective and not extreme enough to be worth getting behind. It is my opinion that in light of the state of the movement, if one can be said to exist in a meaningful way at all, these points are at least moot, and mostly counterproductive.
The fact of the matter is that Russell Brand is a celebrity with a huge public following, regular appearances in the media that reaches and influences the public in its millions. He thus has an enormous opportunity to effortlessly sway opinion in a way that we will perhaps never have. And it costs us nothing. He is not in a tiny under resourced political organization that's size dictates its biggest victory to be confined to the realm of distributing agitational propaganda; propaganda which is seen by the already converted, bar a few small gains against individuals bosses in mostly non unionised workplaces.
It hence makes absolutely no sense to only be seen as negative and cynical towards an open call for revolution and a condemnation of government, representative democracy and environmental damage. Yes, in the interview with Paxman he is tactically un clear about what his notion of revolution entails specifically and materially. This is probably because he honestly doesn’t know, but that is fine. Also, as he says the onus is not on him to do so as an individual. Of course Brand is not an anarchist. Of course he is not espousing these ideas from the position of being a proletarian. He is not being radicalised by a life of precarity and fear living on zero hour contracts, or being constantly threatened by benefit sanctions in lieu of finding non-existent jobs or creating them himself. But not only is he plainly aware of this, that isn't really the most important thing at hand.
The reality of our situation as radicals at the moment is that we are isolated and often alienated from the working class, a class we are a part of and a class that we ultimately aim to liberate as members of it ourselves. Our victories are small, our presence is largely misunderstood, limited or even non-existent. This is a truth we must confront if we want the next spontaneous expression of rage towards the status quo to be class conscious, organised, targeted and ultimately politically consequential. If not, it will manifest as it did in the riots of 2011 in the mass theft of consumer goods and wrecking our own communities resulting in imprisonment, repression and being labelled as apolitical thugs; equally condemned by the state and fellow working class people blindly succumbing to calls for draconian and reactionary measures, frenzied by a moral panic engineered by our oppressors.
To put it simply, we need to take what we can get when we are not winning the fight against capitalism in anyway at the moment. I am not calling to strive to become celebrities and to sway public opinion by means of trying to gain access to a platform that will always be against us, no matter how much it tries to simulate a debate and the illusion of alternative available via the ballot box. I don’t want anarchists to try and spread our message by getting spots on political TV shows like Question Time or Newsnight or by writing for publications like The New Statesmen.
We cannot compete with the media and we can’t hope to operate for our own interests using its apparatus which is designed by, and is a tool of those we wish to overthrow. We will never make anarchism a popular ideology by going on the news and whining about the great injustice of words like ‘anarchy’ and ‘communism’ being falsely re associated with notions of chaos and horrific totalitarianism. We can’t hope to become famous and influence public opinion in the way Brand can, or at least aspires to.
But we can influence public opinion by communicating with people on a level, fight by fight, struggle by struggle, conversation by conversation, not closed meeting by closed meeting, not TUC march by TUC march or bookfair by bookfair. And specifically with regards to Russell Brand and others like him, we can do this alongside by using this topical event as an opportunity to talk about our views, an action which does not imply we 100% endorse everything he has ever done or will do.