Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Russell Brand: An idle revolutionary?

In the grand scheme of things I know there are more important issues to write about than Russell Brand, but to use some Internet terminology, the man is 'clickbait' so I'll certainly attract more traffic to my site by presenting discussion of important issues in the context of Russell Brand's revolutionary musings, than presenting it plainly and simply on its own. I feel justified in doing this because if Russell is now dabbling in my special field of interest (politics), then I feel entitled to dabble in Russel's special field of interest (Russell Brand).

I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of Russell's celebrity dandy act, although it is impossible to claim that he hasn't managed to capture the zeitgeist with his revolutionary musings. If he's managed to attract more than 3 million Youtube views of his interview with Jeremy Paxman and even had my Dad talking about him in a non-critical manner for a moment as a consequence of what he said to Paxman, he really has struck a chord with a large and unlikely cross-section of society. The sickening behavior of the political establishment (expenses scamming, inflation busting pay raises for MPs, countless broken manifesto pledges, corporate greed, lobbying, vested interests and dodgy political donations, all against a backdrop of harsh self-defeating austerity and wage repression for the masses) and our archaic and unrepresentative voting system have created a huge mass of angry and marginalised people. 

The problem with Russel's naive political musings is that he presents nothing as a viable alternative to the cesspool of corruption and inequality that the United Kingdom is becoming. The two main threads to his stance (as outlined in his interview with Jeremy Paxman) were voter apathy and a loosely defined call for some kind of revolution.

Even if there is an element of sincerity behind his words, it seems to me that by calling for some kind of undefined revolution and telling people not to vote, Russell is making a move to establish himself a leading player in the largely untapped and potentially lucrative "pissed off and politically marginalised" market.

The ludicrous open letter riposte to his "revolutionary" comments from the ever irritating Robert Webb* provoked Russell into further defining his call for revolution in order to defend himself against Webb's idle conjecture that all revolutions result in totalitarianism ("we know that it ends in death camps, gulags, repression and murder"). Here's Brand's retort:
"Why didn't he just write me a normal letter? He don't know where I live, I suppose. And no, no death camps. Just for the record, in case anyone else from Peep Show is worried, I'm definitely against death camps ... Definitely no killing. I'm against that; I'm a vegetarian, I think we're all equal. I'm not saying smash people's stuff up, and definitely no killing."
If this is all he is capable of offering in defence of his calls for revolution, a harsher critic than myself would probably say that he should keep his lazy political cogitations to himself and leave politics to the grown-ups. I'm not as inclined to be so dismissive for one simple reason, his childlike dabbling in important issues like apathy and revolution have resulted in countless thousands of people thinking and talking about these important subjects.

The worst thing about the quote I've selected is the absurd non sequiter that being a vegetarian somehow makes him a kind hearted egalitarian that opposes killing, which is about as far from a debate winning argument as it is possible to make. A vastly superior strategy would have been to point out some of the countless revolutions that led to positive social outcomes (the labour rights movement, universal suffrage, the US civil rights campaign, the anti-apartheid movement, gay rights, countless successful boycotts ...) in order to undermine Webb's lazy conjecture that any kind of revolution would necessarily end in some kind of brutal totalitarian dystopia.

The fact that Russell couldn't tear Robert Webb's smug liberal defence of our rotten political system to pieces illustrates that d
espite his impressive verbosity, and his ability to articulate the anger that millions of us are feeling, Russell isn't actually a very deep thinker. In my view it is absolutely crucial to carefully define what you are calling for before you go chucking important words like "revolution" about, because to use such words in an idle manner is to belittle them, and to abstract them from their true meaning. Another crucial thing is to remember that if someone comes at you with a glib liberal critique of your appeal for social justice, you need to ruthlessly tear their fatuous argument to shreds, rather than lazily invoking the fact that you're a vegetarian, as if that makes you some kind of inherently good person.

Aside from his lackadaisical attempts to actually define what it is that he wants (other than a revolution in which nobody is killed, people are treated as equals and nobody's stuff is smashed up) another problem with Russell's political ruminations is his appeal to apathy.

In my view there is already far too much apathy, so calling for even more will only make the situation worse. If non-votes were actually counted in the last two general elections then "nobody" would have won back to back landslide victories. In 2010 David Cameron became Prime Minister despite fewer than one in four eligible voters (23.5%) casting their ballots for Tory candidates, whilst 35% of people refused to vote at all. In the grand scheme of things David Cameron and the Tory party (and Tony Blair and his Iraq invasion supporting Neo-Labour party before them) were comprehensively trounced by political apathy.

It is quite clear from these figures that the disenfranchised would have more than enough clout to change the political landscape under a remotely fair voting system should they vote en masse, but under the archaic and grotesquely unrepresentative shambles we're lumbered with, a turnout of 5 million for one of the alternative parties probably wouldn't even return a single MP! Brand isn't calling for a fairer and more representative political system, he's calling for even greater numbers of people to refuse to vote in the futile hope that the establishment elite will see this lack of democratic mandate as some kind of impediment to their selfish objectives.

If the facts that 35% of people couldn't be bothered to vote at the last election, and that the Tories gained nothing like enough votes to form a majority government weren't enough to stop them carving up the NHS for their corporate mates, vandalising the justice system, flogging off Royal Mail for a fraction of its real value, imposing ideological lunacy on the education system, selling off what remains of the national silver and coddling corporations and the super-rich minority with generous tax cuts, whilst simultaneously imposing harsh austerity and relentless wage repression on the majority, then why on earth would an increased apathy rate of 45% or even 55% stop them?

The massive flaw in the political apathy stance is that if you refuse to vote out of disgust at the system, you're giving more political power to those that actually buy into it. You're actually empowering those that are too ill-informed to understand that all three of the establishment Westminster parties are wedded to the hopelessly discredited right-wing pseudo-economic ideology of neoliberalism, and even worse, you're giving more power to those that understand exactly how bad the neoliberal orthodoxy is for the well being of the majority and for the health of the economy, but support it because it serves their own selfish self-interest. By refusing to play the game, you allow those that do play it to monopolise and subvert it in order to serve their own selfish instincts.

In 2014 we will have the European elections, which are conducted on a proportional basis, meaning that there is no such thing as a wasted vote. Given that just 34% of the electorate bothered to vote in the last European election in 2009, even a relatively small turnout for minor parties such as the Green Party or Left Unity would return several MEPs that would be actively opposed to the neoliberal orthodoxy. Marginally over 2% of the eligible vote was enough to return 2 candidates each for the Green Party and the fascist BNP in 2009, whilst the Liberal Democrats collected 11 seats with just 4.7% of the eligible vote. If just one in ten people voted for an alternative party next year, then they could conceivably fight Labour and the Tories for second place behind UKIP (a party that dresses itself up as an alternative to the establishment status quo, but which embraces the rotten neoliberal orthodoxy even more passionately than the three establishment parties do).

To not vote in a General Election when you live in an absolutely safe constituency, where the candidate for one particular party is guaranteed victory, is reasonably understandable, but to refuse to vote in an election where you actually have the chance to make your vote count is hopelessly apathetic. When you have a chance to make a difference, no matter how slight, you've got to take it, otherwise your criticisms of the system amount to little more than the petulant foot-stamping of a frustrated child.

My advice for those that are thoroughly pissed off with the self-serving political orthodoxy is that apathy is definitely not the solution. You've either got to get involved with one of the many alternative political parties and movements (Greens, Left Unity, UK Uncut, The National Health Action Party, the Socialist Party, the People's Assembly, Positive Money, The Pirate Party, 38 Degrees ...) or, if you really must attempt the seemingly futile, you could join the Labour party in order to try to influence the party leadership away from their adherence to right-wing neoliberal orthodoxy and back towards the left.

To do nothing at all is to let the bastards win without a fight, and to embrace your own subservience to a system that you despise. Even if you believe the system is hopelessly rigged against you, you've got to try to make a positive difference, if not for the greater good, then do it for your own state of mental wellbeing

If society is going to change for the better than good people need to fight for that change because the ruthlessly self-serving political establishment won't give us anything unless we force their hand, or remove them from the equation entirely. Even if you believe that the political establishment is so powerful and entrenched that the chances of positive change are vanishingly small, you should still try to make a difference because it's just not healthy for people to meekly accept that they are subservient to a system that they are powerless to change. Is it not better to fight in vain for what we believe, than to meekly admit to ourselves that we are nothing more than inert collateral in a financial game that is being played for the benefit of a despised establishment minority?

I hope that, in some small way, the fact that I have come from nowhere** to establish myself as one of the most visited political blogs in the country, is a demonstration that it is entirely possible for committed individuals to make a bit of a difference. Yes, in the grand scheme of things mine is only a small difference. However the fact that hundreds of thousands of people a week see my political views via the AAV Facebook page, tens of thousands a week read my blog posts and many hundreds of people have written to me to express their support for what I'm doing and to thank me for helping them to see through the mainstream media bullshit, shows me that I am capable of making a positive difference in people's lives, and that I am playing some small role in the information war that is currently being utterly dominated by the misinformation campaigns bankrolled by adherents of the neoliberal orthodoxy.

As a darling of the media, Russell Brand has a much larger platform than I could ever dream of, and although his heart seems to be in the right place, I believe he's wasting the huge opportunity that he has to make a significant difference.

A powerful illustration of how  enormous Russell Brand's media power has become is the way in which the massive global November 5th 2013 (Guy Fawkes Night) protest was barely covered in the mainstream media, other than to note that Russell Brand was in attendance. To those of us that are familiar with media blackouts on coverage of large demonstrations, the fact that such a demonstration was discussed at all in the mainstream corporate press was a pleasant surprise, despite the fact that it was presented in the context of Russell Brand's attendance, rather than as a serious analysis of what the protest was actually about.

If Russell took the time to do some research and carefully define what it is that he actually wants to achieve, he has enough media power to significantly change things. Unlike Robert Webb I wouldn't be presumptuous enough to tell him which "fucking books" he should go and read, but there are a wealth of alternatives to neoliberal crony capitalism out there and if Brand actually set his mind to carefully defining some kind of viable alternative, I'm absolutely certain the public would vote for him in droves (especially the disenfranchised younger generations). I mean if Boris Johnson can get himself elected as Tory mayor of London on the strength of his "harmless buffoon" act, then it hardly seems like a stretch to imagine that, given some actual political ideas, Brand could re-invent himself as a serious political contender should he actually want to.

For those that think it sounds like an absurd proposition that an actor-comedian like Russell could make it in politics, I'd suggest that you take a look at the MoViemento Cinque Stella (Five Star Movement) in Italy, which was founded in 2009 by the actor-comedian Beppe Grillo and has already become the second most popular party in Italian politics, with 25.5% of the vote in the 2013 General Election. If you're not convinced by that, then perhaps you should consider the fact that throughout most of the 1980s the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth was a retired actor called Ronald Reagan***.

I suppose it will become clear over the next few years whether Russell Brand has undergone some kind of profound political awakening that inspires him to put his mind to effecting real political change, or whether his political musings are nothing more than idle post-adolescent chatter, soon to be forgotten when he finds another more conventional (and more lucrative) bandwagon to board. I hope it is the former, because his undeniable magnetism and eloquence would be powerful assets in the fight for social justice should he chose to actively support one of the many political alternatives out there, or even to develop his own ideas and form his own political movement.

Here are some of the many alternatives to the neoliberal crony capitalist orthodoxy, that Russell (or anyone else that is serious about effecting real political change) might want to have a look at:

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* Webb concludes his open letter with the ludicrous suggestion that Brand "read some fucking Orwell" which illustrates nothing more than the fact that Webb should probably read Orwell again more carefully, if all he managed to take from Orwell's work is that he must have been some kind of liberal, establishment supporting anti-revolutionary.

** I've never once appeared in the mainstream corporate media and nobody but my close friends and family (and the people that have access to my secret service files) even know what I look like.

*** The American public wanted a heroic John Wayne figure, but all the Republicans had to offer was a 3rd rate former B Movie actor called Ronald Reagan to lead their neoliberal revolution.


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