“Gonna start a revolution from my bed…” On Russell Brand’s Revolutionary Treatise

russell brand

Did you catch the unlikely yet compelling showdown between mockney-pseudo-poet Russell Brand and Newsnight attack dog Jeremy Paxman last night? Well if you didn’t, or rather you couldn’t keep up with Brand’s hundred-mile-an-hour-revolutionary musings, his sentiments on the current mainstream political climate have since surfaced online in greater depth on the New Statesman (of which he is currently guest editor). But why Newsnight? What is Harlow’s greatest export (aside from maybe Robert Halfon MP) trying to suggest? Well, his opening gambit goes as follows:

I have never voted. 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.

Russell’s attitude to the present state of affairs is the conventional yet uncomfortable amalgamation of both apathy and disgust: his refusal to vote in itself is both a political statement of action and inaction, while his denouncement of an increasingly narrow spectrum of options from left to right in this country is centric to his argument. It essentially borrows liberally from the standard armchair revolutionary’s guide to politics.

Now it would be churlish to completely trash Mr Brand’s arguments, which are in fact the carefully considered and informed thoughts of an intelligent, playful and ultimately sweet man who has merely been asked for thoughts by a major political magazine. But there is a sense from the beginning that while his aptitude for diagnosis is without question, he is crucially loathe to offer a cure.

That said, there’s a refreshing symmetry in his attacks: left and right are perceived as too synonymous, too bureaucratic and too inert to make any discernible difference to the current economic disparity, poverty and profiteering corruption that plagues ours and other countries alike, and therefore are both ripe for the guillotine: the left, or rather the seemingly now antiquated concept of socialism escapes no less unscathed:

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.

Anarchy it is then: a simple process of cleansing and anarchic elimination is loosely prescribed, but again it is a little light on its feet with the details. Although interestingly Russell’s thoughts on the core principles of Conservatism open the debate up to some pop existentialism:

The right has all the advantages, just as the devil has all the best tunes. Conservatism appeals to our selfishness and fear, our desire and self-interest; they neatly nurture and then harvest the inherent and incubating individualism.

Brand then similarly notes how the threat of “global destruction” is the result of “human instincts gone awry”, which actually threatens to render his argument a defeatist misanthropy until he declares:

Capitalism is not real; it is an idea. America is not real; it is an idea that someone had ages ago. Britain, Christianity, Islam, karate, Wednesdays are all just ideas that we choose to believe in and very nice ideas they are, too, when they serve a purpose. These concepts, though, cannot be served to the detriment of actual reality.

An existential epiphany on the part of the human race is therefore the true answer. Simple enough right? But surely a repair of our democratic system via engagement rather than rejection would be the first practical step? By renouncing the democracy from the very off, Brand creates his own problem by forcing a hypothetical post-revolutionary to question its own core mechanics of governance. A disdain or even hatred for democracy is a fair enough line to tow (after all, it’s a free country, thanks to democracy) but the very nature of revolutionary rhetoric frees itself from the usual political nitty-grittys of outlining practical plans of action, or worse still, policies.

Russell Brand, like any good anarchist, will happily point out a problem but in the same action save themselves the bother of suggesting a way of solving it. The concept of revolution will always be tough to argue with simply because there is no real substance: hating the government, hating Cameron, hating Miliband, hating politics is an increasingly mainstream view in hard times like these, simply because it’s so basely agreeable and easy to follow. Especially when it’s launched from the artful gob of a loveable funny man.