I was listening to BBC Radio 4 on the headphones on my way home from work last night when three Westminster politicians were asked about Russell Brand’s interview with Jeremy Paxman. The link shows it has had nearly 9 million hits, just a few million more than this blog. This is why Radio 4 was covering it and why it is important.
Is it another illustration of the celebrity culture that colonises everything? This is the claim of some of the derisive dismissal of Brand’s rantings by the rest of the media who, at least the ones I’ve read, have slagged him off as a hypocrite. An obvious example of ad hominem argument or shooting the messenger, not that it’s always wrong to shoot the messenger when the message is intolerable. In this respect I’m reminded of the opening scene of Gladiator when the Germanic tribes respond to the demand to surrender by the Roman legions by throwing the severed head of the messenger on the ground in front of their massed ranks.
The problem of course is that shooting the messenger doesn’t deal with the message as the Germanic tribes discovered. It might be claimed Brand doesn’t have an argument. But read his New Statesman article and he does.
It might be dismissed as primitive or naïve but a better word is elemental and he does have more than a few good lines. He makes a case. It’s not the sort you will read on this blog but this blog doesn’t pretend to have the only or the best or the most effective voice for revolutionary change. It aspires to encourage the recovery of Marxism and its application to the practical political programme of socialists. It hopes that whoever thinks this is a reasonable objective to pursue will contribute to it and write their own posts.
So what if Brand’s surprising political commitment lights up the sky like a meteor and crashes and burns to earth? What if he is a one-hit wonder? When the rest of us are unable to get a gig a one-hit wonder is something to be.
Has his outburst reduced the credibility of our cause? Or given it a little more light? Perhaps one more point of departure to argue for it and to advance it?
He is obviously very aware of the brickbats he would get for his ‘champagne socialist’ position and his trenchant, and in some ways reasonable, response to this is itself rather honest compared to the carefully constructed insincerity of politician’s continual hypocrisy. It’s not as if he’s a champagne socialist in the way that that other celebrity in the new is – ‘Sir’ Alex Ferguson – with his Icumfigovan sign in his office, his hobnobbing with millionaires and his advice on man management to Tony Bliar. Nevertheless Brand has a brand problem – for example my partner thinks he’s a prat and she is very rarely wrong in such judgements.
Brand can be criticised as anti-political, with his calls for people not to vote, but he is not stupid and he puts forward a case why we ‘should not encourage them’. He also puts well the idea that apathy is more accessible than anger to all the shit that people have to put up with from politicians and the system they pimp. Compared to many on the left, who claim there is a crisis of working class representation, that is we don’t have the right politicians in parliament to represent us, the radical critique of all politicians who do represent us is refreshing.
Not because we haven’t heard it before, in fact as Marxists we invented the revolutionary critique of bureaucratic ‘representation’ of the working class, but because we never see it on television. We are extremists who never get heard but a little bit of a hearing for revolution makes us a little bit less extreme in the sense we are able to register in political debate a little bit more.
Listening to the feeble and self-serving helpings of cant from the Tory, Labour and Liberal politicians last night on the radio shows how even such a minor assault on their system from someone with a shred of credibility can so easily expose the defenders of the status quo. Now Radio 4 reports the disillusionment of Paxman himself with the politics on offer in Britain. For Ireland multiply that lack of alternative by the number of Euros given to bailout the banks.
Above all, when pressed for what he wants as an alternative Brand calls for socialism and for revolution. This is a darned sight more than some on the left do when faced with such a question. The next question is that of the child – but how do we get a revolution? You can ague all you like that Brand hasn’t much to say about this that seems practical but what is the message of the so-called revolutionary left?
As I have posted many times, the left that claims to be Marxist asks the state to extend its power through extra spending, taxation and through nationalisation while simultaneously believing, but not having the courage to say so in front of the workers, that this same state should be smashed in a revolution.
Let’s not pretend Brand is an advanced political thinker whose views we should instantly embrace. He may be on a ‘messiah world tour’ but he’s still more a very naughty boy than a genuine Messiah.
Brandism is hardly going to succeed Marxism, Leninism and Trotskyism. It’s not a practical guide but an emotional and reasoned outburst. It’s not even an inarticulate expression of youth rebellion. He’s 38 and very articulate. We’re not obliged to defend his every word or even every tenth one but his avalanche of words creates an impression – there is something radically wrong with the world we inhabit. Very, very wrong.
It would be easy to criticise what he says for all sorts of reasons, from his apparent attitude to women to his lack of political strategy. But it is precisely his political limits that creates a focus on the key message that he is held to be delivering – opposition to the venality of the present system, the need for a revolution.
I’ve just finished reading a book – ‘A Marxist History of the World’, written by a member of a British left organisation. It also makes the argument that what is needed is a socialist revolution. The French revolution of 1789, the revolutions of 1830 and 1848; the 1917 revolution in Russia and revolutionary wave in Europe up to 1923, the Spanish revolution in 1936, the Hungarian revolution of 1956; the French general strike in 1968; the Iranian revolution of 1979; the overthrow of Stalinism after 1989 and the recent Arab revolutions, are all held up to show its possibility. The last 100 years has been ‘pregnant with revolution’ readers are told. We face Armageddon reminiscent of that foretold by the bible –with the appearance of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The stakes have never been higher with a crisis of capitalism the deepest and most intractable ever.
This to me is no more coherent than Russell Brand’s interview but without a few of the redeeming features of the latter.
The list of revolutions includes only one successful socialist one – 1917 – and it was strangled into Stalinism relatively quickly. We will, rather shortly, be commemorating the 100th anniversary of this revolution.
The point is not that the objective of revolution should be abandoned. Revolution is not required to achieve a certain state of affairs – socialism – revolution is that state of affairs, which is the ruling of society by its majority.
Revolution on the other hand is seen by many on the left as one strategy to achieve something as opposed to alternative reformist ones – such as voting and elections to parliament – which are said not to be realistic. Revolution is therefore seen as a cataclysmic single event rather than as a process, one that begins and grows and that moves towards a qualitative rupture that destroys the old state and creates a new one based on the working majority of society.
The road to socialism is not growing state control but increasing workers’ control of every aspect of their lives through incrementally reducing the power of the capitalist class and its state in preparation for the final battle. I have tried to explain this a little bit on this blog.
When a public intervention leads to Radio 4 interviewers pursuing their politician guests with the question “but why not revolution?” this intervention deserves some support.