Russell Brand and the resonance of revolution

by Jerome Roos on October 25, 2013

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That this epic interview went viral speaks volumes about the desire for radical change that still simmers just below the surface of our everyday normalcy.

So Russell Brand predicted a revolution on BBC Newsnight. With a rapid spitfire of cunning rhetoric he reduced Jeremy Paxman — the establishment’s private pitbull — to a cowering heap of journalistic fluff. The video instantly went viral. My newsfeed lit up with activists waxing poetics about the coming insurrection. All the major social movement pages implored their sleepy audiences to rise from their slumber like lions and reactivate that unshaken belief we all seemed to share just two years ago: that revolution is nigh. Paul Mason of Channel 4 weighed in that “Russell is right about the prospect of a revolution”, and Gawker even exclaimed that “Russell Brand may have started a revolution last night”.

I doubt it. The extreme joy with which the left (from liberals to Marxists to anarchists) seems to have embraced Russell Brand as a spokesman for the revolution is, in the first place, an indictment of our own failure. We are just so happy to see our concerns, criticisms and claims reflected in the mainstream media by a charming, articulate and — frankly speaking — slightly crazy hobo, that it briefly sent us back to that euphoric time when we first occupied everything in 2011. But at the same time, the very resonance of the interview speaks volumes about the revolutionary desire that still simmers just below the surface of our everyday normalcy. The fact is that millions of young people around the world actually agree with Russell: yes! we do need a revolution!

Of course Russell’s vision itself is not without its problems. For all his revolutionary and extra-parliamentary antics, Brand — under quite a bit of pressure from Paxman — still ended up (unwittingly, I hope) exhuming the corpse of Marxism-Leninism by calling for a centralized system of “government” control. Well, let’s just give him the benefit of the doubt and presume he meant “federated” self-governance. Also, in his otherwise excellent essay for the revolution-themed issue of The New Statesman that he guest-edited, Russell risks going slightly over the top with his New-Agey insistence upon the spiritual. As the bourgeois-bohemian vogue in Hollywood and Soho amply shows, the line between “spiritual revolution” and capitalist narcissism easily gets blurred.

But at the same time, Russell insists that a “total revolution of consciousness and our entire social, political and economic system is what interests me”. When confronted with the question what the alternative might look like, and how his utopian vision could ever be made a reality, Russell skillfully fends off Paxman’s entrenched skepticism by turning our upside-down world right back on its feet: the burden of proof is not upon us, those ones who want to change the system, to show beyond doubt that our ideas can actually work in practice; but upon our rulers — those in power — to show that their system can work for us. Since it doesn’t (and by its very  nature can’t) we should first of all stop reproducing the system that exploits us. And so we don’t vote and we don’t run for office.

Still, all of this leaves us with a crucial question. Now that the initial wave of mobilizations has subsided, how does our revolution move forward? What’s next? From Egypt to Greece to Spain to the US and the UK, and from there to Mexico, Chile, Turkey, Brazil and around the world, we now have to confront that age-old revolutionary conondrum: what is to be done? Clearly the Marxist-Leninist answer to this question brought utter tragedy, while the reformist social democratic path led straight to a giant farce. Many communist parties ended up butchering the very workers they were supposed to bring into power, while most socialist parties ended up as the ideal vehicles for the further entrenchment of neoliberal market fundamentalism the world over.

The answer lies not in the static hierarchy of the Party but in the incessant dynamism of the Movement. That said, we are definitely facing the limitations of spontaneity and leaderlessness in the short term. Now that the movements have retreated from public view and the great Thermidor of the capitalist state has come crashing down over our heads, the revolutionaries who once constituted the multitude increasingly find themselves getting sucked back in to the alienating atomicity of everyday life under capitalism. There’s a risk of becoming disillusioned — and many of us already are. That’s why Russell’s interview came at the right time. Not just because he publicly destroyed the empty pretensions of the political class and the entrenched skepticism of its intellectual watchdogs; but because he implores us all to move forward and ask what comes next.

Ultimately, it’s not Russell Brand who gives me hope. Even though I greatly enjoyed his interview, I frankly don’t care very much what this celebrity tells the BBC or what he writes in the New Statesman. It’s the fact that his heartfelt revolutionary desire still resonates with millions that truly thrills me. I wouldn’t predict a revolution just yet. But that’s because I know it’s already begun.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

amer October 25, 2013 at 21:27

“Also, in his otherwise excellent essay for the revolution-themed issue of The New Statesman that he guest-edited, Russell risks going slightly over the top with his New-Agey insistence upon the spiritual.”

I don’t think he’s wrong insofar as the object he is referring too. I think this is more of a case of miscommunication, I’m not so sure he has the language appropriately express what he means, despite him being a surprisingly good writer and orator. I don’t want to defend Brand too much here, but I think he was referring to a kind of communitarian transcendence of interests. In the article he qualifies what he means by spiritual in what he meant was a “connectedness to one another.” Taking into account his discussion on how we are misdirected from our true interests by materialism and selfish individualism, Brand must mean that we should instead see that our individual interests are actually one in the same, and that the people should come to realise this.

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Jerome Roos October 25, 2013 at 21:35

Needless to say, if that’s what he means I’m in full agreement. I’m just trying to warn of the possible pitfalls that come with a certain vocabulary of revolution.

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PCMcGee October 27, 2013 at 08:14

We are not “facing the limitations…of leaderlessness” we are embracing the opportunity of “leaderlessness”. Power currupts, absolutely, which is the point of having a leaderless rebellion. The only thing stopping it is the entrenched powers of the old establishments, which will not survive the changes that are most definitely coming. It may not happen tomorrow, but, barring self immolation, it will most certainly occur. Enjoy your bread and circuses, for now.

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Fouad Khan October 27, 2013 at 12:40

your insistence on dismissing Brand while embracing all that he says is emblematic of what ails the movement. Yes, we need to continue to be “leaderless” in a way… but we also need icons and slogans and monuments… like all revolutions do. By definition, the icons of revolution must be detached from all institutions of the current system in that they must draw their power not from institutions but from a direct connection to people… millions of people. The most likely candidate for these icons then are celebrities. So let’s be careful not to dismiss outrightly when someone articulate (and obviously well informed) from that lot decides to rise up and make a statement.

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dave fryett October 28, 2013 at 06:23

What do you mean, Jerome, when you say that “we are definitely facing the limitations of spontaneity and leaderlessness in the short term.” From my end it seems the alternative, as does such rhetoric, comes from the ISO and the like.

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Jerome Roos October 29, 2013 at 14:08

As I explain in the sentences that follow: under the atomizing and alienating pressures of capitalism, in the short-term leaderless mobilizations usually end up being diffused into the social fabric, making it seem as if the movement itself “disappeared”. This impression in turn increases the sense of despondence among movement participants. I think this phenomenon is fairly self-evident in the post-mobilization phase of all the movements, from Egypt to Greece to Occupy to Turkey.

At the same time, I also think this is just a phase, which is why I highlight the fact that these are limitations “in the short-term”. In the long run, as history has amply shown, decentralized and horizontal self-organization is the only way to go if we want to succeed and stay true to our revolutionary aims. That means we now have to transition from the “immediacy” of the mobilizations, where we temporarily built a Disneyland of Direct Democracy in the squares and parks, to a more serious long-term project of autonomy that envisions and realizes the construction of alternative social structures — from worker-run enterprises to independent media to federated neighborhood assemblies to alternative currencies, you name it.

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dave fryett October 31, 2013 at 20:44

Sounds great, when do we begin? I’ve been in the “despondent” mode for decades now…

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pete leroy November 3, 2013 at 22:32

The essence is always the same, and will always be the same:

the moneysystem, and all other problems of humanities are a reflection of human consciousness, the way we perceive and see ourselves. The only true revolution threr is, is the war/revolution you wage on yourself, to eliminate the false idenitifications with mind and body, and transform consciousness.

All great minds in history (socrates, buddha etc), knew their true self. All with lasting influence knew their true selves. When more people come to know their true nature, there is a possiblity for a golden age of humanity. However, everything which goes up, must come down. Only by realising your idenitity beyond form, and living and acting through that, can real change be accomplished.
Usually people go trough different steps:

1: they think, talk etc: opinions are formed, millions of words written like on this website, but nothing is accomplished because this is all done from the limited point of view of the mind, from the perspective of the small self which perceives itself as seperate from all.
2: after years of doing this, some people realise that the problem actually lies deeper, inside human consciousness, and begin a journey of awakening. Awakening meaning: seeing and breaking. through the lies one has created for oneself about oneself: i am my mind, my body etc etc.
3: some people then go on and erradicate all flase identificiations within their own mind, and acutally realise their true nature (beyond word, forms etc). Silence is the result, and out of that peace one can act totally beyond self-seeking, knowing that every action or word written from the egoic point of view, from the mind, is useless and only generates more suffering.

The only true revolution starts with the ‘I’ and ends with the dissolution of the ‘I’. As long as one does not know oneself, millions of words can be written, millions of revolutions can be started but nothing will ever change. Only by being totally beyond self-seeking can humans and hence the world be at peace.
All problems discussed in this forum are just a reflection of the distortions of self perception within human consciousness. So yes…duhhhh. obiouvsly it is a spiritual problem, if you have not gotten to that stage yet, maybe it is time to stop writing so many articles withouth even knowing who is the one writing all this.
First sit in silence and ask yourself who you truely are, and when that is done,
write and act.
Not a single revolution will start, or succede, or change anything in depth, unless one starts with the ‘I’.

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Michael Kenny November 4, 2013 at 20:14

It has been interesting to watch how the old fogey Marxists of the American internet has enthused over Brand, whereas nobody in Europe has taken him seriously. There will, of course, be a revolution and Mr Roos is right to say that it has already begun. I think it will occur in the 2035 – 2050 period, in Asia, will be brought about by the generation now in its 20s and will very definitely not be Marxist. Our political ideas are formed when we are in our 20s. Between 50 and 65, we get a chance to put those ideas into practice. Thus, when the people now in their 20s are in their 50s, they will change the world and it will probably be as great and far-reaching a change as the French Revolution. But like the French Revolution, it will probably fail initially but will set off a process which will percolate through the world over the following two centuries. I put it in Asia because Asia is the centre of the 21st century world (just as Europe was in 1789). We are now a backwater (fortunately for us!). As always, the revolution will be the result of a lost war, in this case, between Asian countries. The last Marxist will have died of old age by that time, so it will a revolution on behalf of some new ideology which may well not even exist yet and which will emerge from the Asian way of thinking. It will be a fascinating time to be alive. I my age, I’ll miss all the fun!

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