Russell Brand has helped to put the idea of revolution back into the public arena - and his critics hate him for it.
Russell Brand (Simon & Shuster)
CAPITALISM LIKES revolution. It is often talking about it. A new brand of vacuum cleaner is 'revolutionary' . New hair products are 'revolutionary'. The CEO of a corporation is described as a 'revolutionary entrepreneur'. While sitting in a waiting room recently I read an article in an old copy of Time magazine about 'Apples' revolutionary product'.
Revolution is apparently everywhere, but also nowhere.
We are certainly a long way from Marx's description of revolution in The German Ideology. He writes that revolution is about getting rid 'of all the muck of ages':
“..the alteration of men on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution: the revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew.”
But I do not imagine they will be discussing Karl's definition on the television anytime soon. It will not be a topic for discussion on the Q+A couch in the near future. Sue Wood will not be asking Corin Dann about his views on The German Ideology. The revolution will not be televised.
So, yes, it is noteworthy that someone like the charismatic Russell Brand would not only want to talk about revolution but would also want to write a book about it.
Brand is unequivocal and to the point: : 'Like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics. Like most people I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites.’
Brand's criticism of the circus that is representative democracy can also be found in Marx. He wrote that bourgeois democracy was nothing more than 'deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class is to misrepresent the people in parliament”.
While Revolution is not The German Ideology, (Karl does not have Russell's sense of humour for a start) it too wishes to rid the world of 'all the muck of ages'. Brand rages against the parliamentary politicians, the corporations , the media, the banks, the entire jetsam and flotsam of a failed economic and political system.
He accepts none of the assumptions of neoliberalism. He dislikes the Labour Party as much as the Conservative Party. He is, as The Guardian has observed. 'a voice that cuts through the stifling media consensus, highlighting the powerlessness of most voters in the face of rigged markets and inequality.'
Russell Brand will not accept politics as usual. Revolution says that you should not either.
Brand though is criticised as being rebel without a cause. His critics says his idea of revolution is vague to the point of being non-existent. But this is not true.
In his now famous interview with the BBC's Jeremy Paxman Brand said that he supported:
‘A socialist egalitarian system based on the massive redistribution of wealth,with a heavy taxation of corporations...I think the very concept of profit should be hugely reduced...I say profit is a filthy word, because wherever there is a profit there is also a deficit.’
He also wrote in a New Statesman article that he was not going to spell out a 'blueprint' for the perfect society and added that ‘the only systems we can afford to employ are those that rationally serve the planet first, then all humanity. We cannot afford...old-fashioned notions like nation, capitalism and consumerism simply because it’s convenient for the tiny, greedy, myopic sliver of the population that those outmoded ideas serve.’
He also told Jeremy Paxman not to expect him to ‘sit here and devise a global utopian system...I am calling for change’.
Although Brand probably did not recognise it, he was echoing something that the great revolutionary socialist Rosa Luxemburg said over a century ago:
"..the socialist order is not some sort of poetic ideal society, thought out in advance, which may be reached by various paths in various more or less imaginative ways. Rather, socialism is simply the historical tendency of the class struggle of the proletariat in the capitalist society against the rule of the bourgeoisie."
It all becomes clear when we examine who Brand's critics are. They are defenders of the status quo, who assert the primacy of parliamentary politics and the rule of the markets, the smug and complacent defenders of the Establishment in the mainstream media. Brand has been variously described as 'extremist', 'adolescent', 'self obsessed', 'an idiot' and a 'enemy of the Labour Party' (gosh). And let's not forget that Brand's call for revolution is merely a stunt to boost his career. Apparently he's keen to make more movies like the remake of Arthur .
What the criticisms all share in common, of course, is an attempt to kill the messenger rather than debate the issues that Brand raises in his book. They have tried to reduce Russell Brand to a caricature but he is way too clever and way too popular to be defeated by such a crude ploy. And now he has a new book to prove it. And he has helped to put the idea of revolution back into the public arena much to the dismay of those who would rather just talk about revolution in the context of new vacuum cleaners.