Monday, 4 November 2013

Russell Brand Interview - We need a Revolution

There is some enjoyable sparring between Paxman, clearly channelling the sentiments of thousands of PSE teachers parrotting the vacuous suggestion that those who criticize the failings of our 'representative democracy' should stop and instead involve themselves in it, and Brand, who channels the sarcastic teenagers who know all the reasons why the teacher is wrong and are happy enough with that. But this isn't a serious political debate or any sign that revolution is on the agenda.

Brand talks generically about the way in which differences within the 'political class' are more ephemeral than they seem, and how this has made people dissillusioned with the political system. Strip out the occasional nods towards leftist terminology (like saying 'political class' instead of 'Westminster Politicians') and this is mainly the stuff of a million pub conversations about how 'they are all the bloody same'. Nigel Farage could probably agree with 80% of it.

To be scrupulously fair, he does talk about the failure of the banking system, about unequal distribution of wealth and income, and about cuts and austerity. That's a good thing, and something we don't hear discussed in these terms often on mainstream TV.

But as another famous beardie once wrote, the important thing is not to interpret the world but to change it. Here Brand was utterly helpless in the face of the Paxman steamroller. Paxman says that the only way to change the political system is to participate in it; Brand knows that this is wrong but is unable to articulate why. That would require too much engagement with detail and with structure and process. Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky can do this, but they don't get prime time with Jeremy Paxman, and not many people would watch if they did. Brand does get prime time, precisely because he can't spell out a detailed critique of how 'representative democracy' screws us all.

It's a bit unfair to blame Russell Brand for not having a detailed political program or strategy, a point that he makes rather well himself during the interview. But it is important to recognize that talking about a revolution without actually expressing any idea about what that might mean is, in some sense at least, one of the safety valves of the political system. We have seen this in other anti-politics movements led by comedians and celebrities, notably the Beppe Grillo movement in Italy, that captured the rage of an important section of the population and then led into a blind alley with a program that again, Nigel Farage would have quite liked.

Lots of people have shared the interview video, excited that someone famous was at least using the R word. That's got to be a good thing, and it would be an even better thing if our party and the movement of which it is part would be able to engage with this sentiment, which goes far beyond the usual waters in which the anti-capitalist left usually fishes. But that in turn requires a political strategy for change that goes beyond 'vote for us, we are different to the rest of them'. And a vision of a revolution that is neither a fairy tale of opting out of capitalism to create a parallel world alongside it nor a nineteenth century insurrectionist fantasy.

Written by Jeremy Green

1 comment:

Mike Shaughnessy said...

This post, like dozens of others I have read in the mainstream media, mirrors Paxman’s sneering contempt for Brand. ‘How dare somebody who knows nothing about politics get the chance to put his view on national TV? He doesn’t even know what he wants to replace our marvellous system of parliamentary democracy. He doesn’t even bother to vote’
Well, Brand’s not on his own there is he? 35% of the registered voters don’t bother to vote either, (who knows how many don’t even bother to register, it’s not far- fetched to think that the majority of eligible voters, don’t vote), and this interview was a heart- felt, passionate and articulate expression of the validity of their view.
There is nothing wrong in seeing injustice and railing against it. Who has a fully developed alternative worked out anyway? The point is to stir things up about the status quo. That way change lies.
I did miss the interview on TV, but read all the comment about, and so was actually surprised how good Brand was. If you haven’t seen it take look now.
Oh, and Chomsky has been on Newsnight. Compare Paxman’s fawning demeanour in this interview with his approach to Brand.