Recently, Russell Brand was asked to edit New Statesman and was interviewed on Newsnight by Jeremy Paxman. [UPDATE: transcript by frothquaffer]
Brand spoke about how existing power structures very badly fail to serve most people. He also said that he chooses not to vote, and called (sort of) for a revolution.
There was a huge, enthusiastic reaction on Twitter – at least on my timeline. Then there was a backlash, based in the more staid media – traditional newspapers, news sites like HuffPo, columnists and journalists with an established voice. This was not limited to the obviously pro-establishment right wing, but included left wing voices. Most of the criticism was centred on the voting issue, some on the lack of detailed plans for a revolution, and a great deal on ad hominem issues like Brand’s playful vocabulary and show business career; Brand was not a serious person, and only serious people were entitled to express an opinion.
What are we to understand from this? The Left is notorious for vicious factionalism, but to what extent should we understand that these avowedly socialist cherry-pickers and hair-splitters are, intentionally or not – (fx: dramatic chord) enemies of the people? I’m not yearning for the guillotine, but these are difficult times and I’m trying to understand who is on the side of the angels, sometimes, and who mostly isn’t.
And here are some links. It may surprise you to learn that I haven’t read all of them with the close attention that they possibly deserve. This isn’t and can’t be a complete list, and of course the headings rely on my personal, superficial, fallible judgement. I may add more links as I encounter them.
Anti-Brand (usual suspects)
Anti-Brand (arguably Left)
[Updated 29 October to add links.
Sian Norris, whose post I’ve linked today, fully recognises in a few paragraphs the broken state of our alleged democracy but still uses most of her words very forcefully and sincerely defending the right and duty to vote, as the one tiny Velcro-like lever that can resist oppression, a little, if we all pull together. I’d reverse the emphasis, but there’s nothing here to disagree with. Contrast this with some of the other Left voices – someone attributed this to Progress, someone else to Common Purpose – where Brand is painted as an upstart who shouldn’t talk about serious things, and only the non-voting and the call for revolution, presented as frivolously grotesque, are amplified to their audiences. You might want to speculate that those writers are more comfortable with the current way of doing things than with addressing the consequent injustices – but then, we mostly are, even the victims.
I posted a comment over there:
Well said. Voting is the one tiny, precious lever they allow us to have and if we all pull together it can make a difference – not usually because individual votes make a difference, but because they know we are watching and fear that some of us will understand and remember.
Brand’s not really a Messiah, even if he plays one on stage. He may actually be a revolutionary of sorts, but don’t confuse him with Che Guevara. Who he is doesn’t matter nearly as much as what he says. The MSM and some (you may think) unlikely allies want to cherry-pick and refute the things he said, or can credibly be presented as having said, about voting and revolution; those arguments were more nuanced than many of the supposed rebuttals. Voting may very well seem to be a futile exercise in the face of cynical, systematic oppression; we desperately need change that is at least somewhat revolutionary in scale and kind.
The message being smothered is that democracy is broken; the system is crooked and being deliberately made worse; and it does not have to be like this. Brand is pushing effetely against the Overton window so that more of us understand that we can talk about this; eventually it may become slightly more possible for the political establishment to work for the people and not quite so much for the wealthy and the powerful.
That’s an effort that we need to applaud, support, and amplify.
[UPDATED 30 October 2013
Added a link to the Robert Webb piece in New Statesman. Wondering a little late in the day if I should have a separate category for people who are broadly supportive of Brand but really don’t like him suggesting people shouldn’t vote. ]
[UPDATED 31 October 2013 – another link, plus the frothquaffer transcript]
[UPDATED 1 November 2013
Added link http://libcom.org/blog/dear-messrs-webb-lustig%E2%80%A6-01112013
It is not we who are uninformed. It is not we who deny reality. It is not we who pretend that politics for the last 30 years have revolved around who’s sat on the green benches and use that as an excuse to do the sum total of fuck all to contribute to our world and our future because some other bloke will sort it out. That’s you. It’s your casual acceptance and shrug of the shoulders that capitalist representative democracy is the best of a bad lot that has led to the utter destruction of first working class power, then our protections and rights.
Also corrected date in previous update. ]
[UPDATED 2 November 2013
Added Laurie Penny link, which (I might find if I were to read it) appears to be a subtly derailing ad hominem about Brand’s attitudes to women.
Brand is also getting some mentions at #classconf13, mostly taking it for granted that Brand’s main point and purpose is that people shouldn’t vote.]