Russell Brand, revolution and pragmatism

Russell Brand,  revolution and pragmatism

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.

Comments

wojtek
Oct 24 2013 14:45

He's a sexist creep who ought to disappear up his own arsehole, as if you dedicated this much to him. Any thoughts on the 3,000 workers up at Grangemouth who are losing their jobs?

the croydonian ...
Oct 24 2013 16:05

He may very well be sexist. But writing this blog and taking the opportunity of his raising of issues to speak up whilst its topical and people would be much more prepared to talk about it, DOES NOT MEAN I ENDORSE HIM ENTIRELY AS A HUMAN BEING WITH EVERYTHING HE HAS DONE EVER. I said this in the conclusion.

Plus, about Grangemouth and for me not talking about it, that's hardly an argument. There are so many bad things happening all over the world every second, not everyone can know or do anything about them all day every day. If I write about Grangemouth, some one could go, WELL WHAT ABOUT [insert currently happening bad thing], then some one else could go, WELL WHAT ABOUT THIS and it could go on for literally forever.

Malva
Oct 24 2013 16:13

I just watched this and while he makes a good point about the narrow limits of "political" debate to the complacent and arrogant Paxman, along with the merits of not voting (although he then does say it might one day be worth voting for someone?!?!), Brand's actual ideas are not radical at all.

He does not call for the abolition of the state or capital. He calls for a "reduction" of the profit motive, "heavily taxing" corporations and putting extra "responsibility" on them to be green. The substance of his critique of the political class is not structural but is aimed at the fact that many of them went to public school. He says nothing here that suggests he is a revolutionary in anything other than a leftist sense. I guess that is why the New Statesman let him edit their magazine. Next Verso will be giving him books deals and describing him as a "progressive figure". This is just populism.

I'm not saying that he isn't earnest or that the issues he raises aren't real ones but his understanding is really limited and his solutions are arguably dangerous. Calling for revolution in the context of resentment towards the 1% and public school boys is a recipe for violent scapegoating. Capitalism is not fundamentally a moral problem, a problem made by nasty people, it is a problem about the fundamental structure of a society based on value and the state. I do not think Brand understands that. As such, I believe his ideas, in their current form, can only be corrosive to any revolutionary movement against the real existing state of things.

futility index
Oct 24 2013 16:45

Everything you've said is accurate. Whats being argued here is that the vitriol from some corners about Brand's comments is unwarranted and pretty ridiculous. I don't see how the existence of a popular figure with some vague egalitarian positions is a negative.

Rob Ray
Oct 24 2013 17:10

Well quite. Honestly Malva that comes across as pretty unbearably pompous - it really doesn't matter if Brand's personal politics are left of centre, left of Lenin or left of the Cat in the Hat, what matters is that he has used his enormous celebrity to open the terms of the political debate ever so slightly in our favour. It's not tremendously important in the final analysis, but it's refreshing and certainly more welcome than listening to the usual unpopular leftists drone on boringly and ineffectively about how amazing it would be if Labour got in next time.

Picket
Oct 24 2013 17:13

(@ f-i, beaten to it by a minute) Actually what's being argued is that it opens the door a tiny bit for more radical debate, I tend to agree.

Someone, who's been reading my "libertarian rants" on a non-radical forum, said today (paraphrasing) he's has been persuaded of their truth, and asked me what we should be doing, so I pointed him to the libcom "Direct Action - an Introduction". It's only taken a couple of years for someone to say they now think I'm right. Maybe they're all about to fall like dominoes? I won't hold my breathe wink

wojtek
Oct 24 2013 17:14
Quote:
Don't be an arsehole.

I'm more of a dickhead, but I'd settle for a schmuck.

Fleur
Oct 24 2013 17:58

Firstly, I make it an obstinate point of principle to go the extra mile to avoid finding out about what celebrities get up to and I know it's a bit petty but I'm so fed up with celeb culture that I actively avoid it. So, whatever Russell Brand has done which has pissed people off in his past, I'm functionally clueless about it.
Secondly - and this is the one which is likely to have me taken behind the chemical sheds and shot (where does that even come from? I would have thought chemicals and firearms were a health and safety disaster begging to happen,) I actually really enjoyed that interview.
Sure Brand isn't an anarchist or even a particularly well-thought out lefty. He doesn't have much of an analysis going on, I don't remember him mentioning the word capitalism once and he's appealing to the 99% ideas which were around Occupy but from what I've seen last night and today he seems to have struck a chord with a lot of people, including in the US where Newsnight isn't a regular feature in peoples' lives. It's so rare that on mainstream news that politics is talked about as anything outside the usual paradigm of being something that only politicians do. And when occasionally an unorthodox view comes up, it's usually to give a platform to someone like Alex Jones or whoever the libertarian (in the US sense) of the week is.
What I did take from the Brand interview is that he said that representative democracy does not represent us, and that resonated with a lot of people. One of the greatest obstacles to discussing politics, I find, is the perception that there is no acceptable alternative to what we already have, that you might be able to tinker with it or reform it, but ultimately the only alternative is totalitarianism. Give Brand his due, when asked what he was proposing as an alternative he said he didn't know, but it was a potential conversation opener. That conversation just doesn't happen, except in rarified environments.
Most people I know are vaguely liberal and generally go out and vote. I don't know anyone who is massively energized or enthusiastic about this, it's more of a case of picking the least worst and making the best of a bad job. I don't think Brand is actually revolutionary nor do I expect his interview or stint on the NS to turn any vast swathes of the population. However I can't see that it hurts to have an opening to a conversation that there is an alternative to what we've got.
However if Brand is right, and I suspect that he is not here, and there is indeed a revolution just around the corner, I would like to volunteer to deal with Paxman. He's been on my list for years.

Edit: and as per usual, I started that, my computer crashed, went for a strop, retyped it and crossposted with people who summed it up in a much less rambling way than me.

Malva
Oct 24 2013 18:29
Quote:
Honestly Malva that comes across as pretty unbearably pompous - it really doesn't matter if Brand's personal politics are left of centre, left of Lenin or left of the Cat in the Hat, what matters is that he has used his enormous celebrity to open the terms of the political debate ever so slightly in our favour.

Except it's not in "our favour" if he is feeding a fetishistic pseudo-anti-capitalism that leads to violent scapegoating. This was my point. Moreover, I did also say that it was a good thing that he suggested voting was pointless (but then he contradicted himself!).

Yet, the other, far more numerous, ideas he mentioned might just as easily push people towards the far right and any left based on it I have no interest in personally. This 1 per cent concept has, as lots of people have pointed out, structural similarities with anti-antisemitism. Even the Nazis talked about "how democracy had failed", spoke of revolution and caring for the environment. Obviously, I'm not saying he is a Nazi(!) but I don't think the sum total of what he has said is in "our favour". I think it shapes discourse about our society in a bad way.

No doubt it is fun and exciting to see a celebrity take up a discourse outside the norm, for those that care about celebrity culture in anyway, but that doesn't mean ultimately it is any more than a bit of televisual transgressive titillation.

kosmogrrrl
Oct 24 2013 18:43

Feminists are the real enemy, divisive, blah blah blah got you, off to kill myself now, cheers comrade for your acute analysis

the croydonian ...
Oct 24 2013 19:11
kosmogrrrl wrote:
Feminists are the real enemy, divisive, blah blah blah got you, off to kill myself now, cheers comrade for your acute analysis

Who has said this ?

Reginald J. Tro...
Oct 24 2013 19:29
Quote:
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

Awesome. I look forward to the time when instead of looting shops, people stand outside demanding they pay more taxes.

Malva
Oct 24 2013 19:36

Just to be clear. I am not condemning him for not expressing my personal opinions about what is and is not radical. I could not care less what he expresses on TV or what is represented on the box in general. I just think that the opinions he is expressing do not necessarily free up critical discourse in the way that is being suggested.

hellfrozeover
Oct 24 2013 19:39

WE NEED A REAGAN OF THE LEFT.

I nominate Russell Brand.

Russelpass
Oct 24 2013 20:14

Kinda struck home, from his piece in NS "Just before the kettling and boredom, while things were still buzzing, bongos, bubbles and whistles, I was hurt when a fellow protester piously said to me: “What you doing here? I’ve seen you, you work for MTV.” I felt pretty embarrassed that my involvement was being questioned, in a manner that is all too common on the left. It’s been said that: “The right seeks converts and the left seeks traitors.” This moral superiority that is peculiar to the left is a great impediment to momentum. It is also a right drag when you’re trying to enjoy a riot.

Perhaps this is why there is currently no genuinely popular left-wing movement to counter Ukip, the EDL and the Tea Party; for an ideology that is defined by inclusiveness, socialism has become in practice quite exclusive. Plus a bit too serious, too much up its own fundament and not enough fun"

Mark.
Oct 24 2013 20:23

Paul Mason's take on Brand vs Paxman

http://bit.ly/1gIkwQA ‬

Tyrion
Oct 24 2013 20:29
Russelpass wrote:
Kinda struck home, from his piece in NS "Just before the kettling and boredom, while things were still buzzing, bongos, bubbles and whistles, I was hurt when a fellow protester piously said to me: “What you doing here? I’ve seen you, you work for MTV.” I felt pretty embarrassed that my involvement was being questioned, in a manner that is all too common on the left. It’s been said that: “The right seeks converts and the left seeks traitors.” This moral superiority that is peculiar to the left is a great impediment to momentum. It is also a right drag when you’re trying to enjoy a riot.

Perhaps this is why there is currently no genuinely popular left-wing movement to counter Ukip, the EDL and the Tea Party; for an ideology that is defined by inclusiveness, socialism has become in practice quite exclusive. Plus a bit too serious, too much up its own fundament and not enough fun"

The current weakness of the socialist movement is a result of unfriendly demonstrators? Brand sounds totally clueless.

flaneur
Oct 24 2013 20:53

It's probably more that sort of dismissive attitude. No one is born a communist. People are going to be interested in radical politics without a firm understanding, and they'll just fuck off if they're treated with dismission. I wonder if some anarchists actually want their ideas spread amongst others. Now you might hold someone in the public eye to a higher standard, but people you'd run into will have the same wooly ideas as Russell Brand. Are you going to call them clueless as well?

888
Oct 24 2013 21:38
Malva wrote:

Except it's not in "our favour" if he is feeding a fetishistic pseudo-anti-capitalism that leads to violent scapegoating. This was my point. Moreover, I did also say that it was a good thing that he suggested voting was pointless (but then he contradicted himself!).

What's wrong with a little populist class hatred? It's preferable to complacency or admiration of the rich. It's not incompatible with a deeper analysis of society. Sure, it's very limited on its own but it can lead to a more fundamental understanding. Comparisons with anti-semitism are stupid, unlike Jews the richest 1% deserve hatred, hating the rich has always been prominent in anarchism, is a perfectly fine motivator and long predates anti-semitism.

abysmalmusings
Oct 24 2013 22:02

Russell Brand is woolly. This article is woolly. The leftist movement does not need turds muddying the waters. The positive aspects of the democratising of the internet, giving everyone an equal voice, also enables idiots to make every important debate a morass of festering cowshit. I am an elitist, when it comes to "who would you ask to do the job", I will always pick the best, and there is no class bias in that judgement. 95% of people are not 'fit for purpose', in terms of revolution. Articles like this make me want to put my head in the oven.

If we are ever to have a revolution, be it in thought, culture, or even economics, it is going to take more than this sub-gcse rubbish. If you have no clear thought to promulgate, then be quiet.

the croydonian ...
Oct 24 2013 22:16
abysmalmusings wrote:
The positive aspects of the democratising of the internet

What democratising of the internet? The internet is controlled by, provided by, and owned by private companies and our usage of it is far from free or universal. It is also not in consequential, we are constantly under surveillance using it.

Chilli Sauce
Oct 24 2013 22:19

Abysmal, your username is surprisingly honest.

Anyway, I watched the interview this morning. I thought it was enjoyable. I like seeing Paxman lose a debate (even if he didn't seem to realize it).

Brand is pretty damn confused. On the one hand, he's expressing an honest rejection of electoral politics that I prefer to the normal leftist twaddle that we usually here. On the other, he's bascially arguing for revolutionary social democracy - which is probably more astute than it seems given that it took the threat of a revolutionary working class to force social democracy in the first place.

But, yeah, Fleur and Flaneur have already covered this better than I have, so I'll end it there.

EDIT: Cross-posted with Croydonian.

Serge Forward
Oct 24 2013 22:33

I have no interest in celebrities, or what they do or don't do and I know bugger all about Russell Brand though, to be honest, find him a bit annoying.

But for fuck sake, what is wrong with some of you lot? The guy's been on national telly promoting vaguely anarcho-socialist views and loads of you are acting like a load of smacked arses about it because he's not got his theory totally worked out 100% perfect. Some of you need to get your snouts out of your post grad studies and fucking wise up. True, what he says is not perfect, theoretically sharp and not exactly clear as crystal, hard as steel but if it gets the message across to a few more people then that'll do for now.

At times, anarcho-whingers really get on my tits.

Reginald J. Tro...
Oct 24 2013 22:54

What part of the centralised administrative bodies over-seeing the heavy taxation on corporations, as well as putting a reduced emphasis on the profit motive seemed vaguely anarcho-socialist? I couldn't care less about him not having his theory worked out 100%, there are a load of celebs who have shitty politics. Posting what essentially amounts to an uncritical statement of support on the front page of a Communist website however seems somewhat odd, especially with the kind of problematic content I quoted earlier on.

Jacques Roux
Oct 24 2013 22:58
Reginald J. Trotsfield wrote:
Posting what essentially amounts to an uncritical statement of support on the front page of a Communist website however seems somewhat odd, especially with the kind of problematic content I quoted earlier on.

Content is posted on the front page for lots of different reasons, in this case because its encouraging debate about an interesting and relevant cultural debate. There is nothing to say that it is uncritical support for what Russell Brand gets up to.

Serge Forward
Oct 24 2013 23:05

Reginald, did I say that one particular point you've singled out from an interview over 10 minutes long was anarcho-socialist? The point is, many of his comments are vaguely heading in our direction. But, sure, go ahead and piss on his chips if it'll make you feel more revolutionary.

Picket
Oct 24 2013 23:05

It doesn't amount to an uncritical statement of support. It's clearly not a statement of support. The wording might be a bit dodgy in places ("not extreme enough" as if we're "extreme"); it's obviously a blog, though, and not a statement of "official anarchist position". Maybe it shouldn't be front page, I wouldn't worry though, it's much more likely to get hits from people searching for "russell brand" than people visiting the libcom front page!

futility index
Oct 24 2013 23:10

There is no problematic content. There is only your opinion that the London riots were awesome and that anyone who has a more measured reading of their significance is a liberal.

mikail firtinaci
Oct 24 2013 23:16

What is positive in the video is not the coherence or theoretical value of the RB's views. It is his emotional conviction, honestly expressed desire for revolution. This affective aspect of defending communism is very essential, but it can not be put forward in a defensive mood, accepting the moral superiority of the enemy; the radical spirit dies with a defensive posture. I think that is why RB's interview is so impressive. Not for its academic complexity but for its spirit. There is no melancholic guilt, no apology for "past mistakes done", no emotional uncertainty about the filthiness of the enemy. Prevailing pomo cynicism, liberal petty-bourgeois nihilism tried to kill this spirit in the previous decades, and maybe to a certain extent succeeded temporally.

Reginald J. Tro...
Oct 24 2013 23:18
Quote:
it's much more likely to get hits from people searching for "russell brand" than people visiting the libcom front page!

Well that's sort of the problem. There probably will be a bunch of people who did identify with what Brand had to say who google search and find their way here, and the main blog offers no form of critique or presentation of Anarchist ideas, while at the same time people making criticisms in the comments section are being told they're whinging.

Quote:
There is no problematic content. There is only your opinion that the London riots were awesome and that anyone who has a more measured reading of their significance is a liberal.

Yep. Because that is my position. I just find language, such as identifying taking goods from chain stores as "theft", and talking about "our own communities", to be problematic.