By Owen Adams
WHAT is the left-wing best at? Surely slogans calling on us all to unite and fight against the privileged few?
The cruel irony is, it’s the right-wing that has succeeded in being united to prop up the interests of the privileged few, while the left eats itself to near-oblivion with accusations and counter-accusations, some petty, others fundamental. Cries of “sell-out!”, “fake!”, “traitor!” ring out across the broad spectrum which now encompasses anything from mainstream Labour (which, according to the Political Compass, was planted in the centre-authoritarian-right when last measured in 2010) to anarcho-communist, aka libertarian socialist.
Many of us who identify as ‘left’ have a common goal, that of the emancipation of the people and end to exploitation, but how will we ever get anywhere if we don’t unite? And how can we get the message across to the masses struggling beneath the onslaught of the elite against us that the greed of capitalism, the morass of exploitation, is not human nature but moral injustice? That we’re trying to end a class war not of our making, while trying to save our planet from the ravages of the elite?
One problem is many people see revolutionary or any other sort of change as a Pandora’s box, they are gripped with fear of the unknown so continue on the same old path designated to us by the elite. And this notion was what inspired the latest FOIST track, which took us a gargantuan two months to create.
As I was uploading the track on to the internet, impatiently telling my Facebook friends to watch out for it, my newsfeed was full of a clip from BBC’s Newsnight, which just blew me away. A famous person given eight minutes of airtime seemed to be echoing the title of our latest FOIST oeuvre “all we are saying is give anarchy a chance”. All too often it seems many who call themselves anarchists are anything but, while numerous others advocate classical anarchism without using the term, and the latter seemed very much to be the case here. The A-list celebrity stated as my heart and soul cheered: “The planet is being destroyed, we are creating an underclass, we’re exploiting poor people all over the world and the genuine, legitimate problems of the people are not being addressed by our political class.”
Jeremy Paxman, while archly playing his establishment interviewer’s role, agreed “all those things may be true”. But what was the comedian-actor-presenter-writer’s scheme? “A socialist egalitarian system, based on the massive redistribution of wealth, heavy taxation of corporations and massive responsibility for energy companies and any companies exploiting the environment… I think the very concept of profit should be hugely reduced. David Cameron said profit isn’t a dirty word, I say profit is a filthy word. Because wherever there is profit there is also deficit. And this system currently doesn’t address these ideas.”
He may not have used the A-word, but he did use the S-word.
I was exhilarated, particularly as I saw the initial positive reaction from not only committed anarchists but friends who rarely voice political opinions. The message was gaining ground, a call for revolution, and Channel 4’s Paul Mason wrote a piece largely applauding the messenger and his message.
As you’d expect, it was just a few hours before rightwing commentators began wading in to pick apart this extraordinary primetime television exchange. But at about the same time also came the first volleys from the left.
If it had been Noam Chomsky, David Graeber, Howard Zinn, Stuart Christie, Ian Bone, Mark Steel, Mark Thomas or the ghosts of Bakunin, Durutti, Malatesta, Kropotkin, Emma Goldman or even Karl Marx in the chair opposite Paxman making similar arguments, I doubt whether there would have been such a rumpus (then again, I doubt whether they would have got eight minutes on Newsnight). But this was Russell Brand, Marmite man. And this, I believe, has had a massive bearing on the response, the messenger in danger of overshadowing the message.
So what are people saying and what have I been saying back?
“I can’t stand Russell Brand.”
Until recently, nor could I. Narcissistic to the point of inducing revulsion, questions need to be asked about Brand’s attitude to women, which more than borders on the misogynistic. His self-adoration and his quest for stardom can partly be explained by his ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) but his alleged sexist behaviour must be challenged.
Titling his autobiography My Booky-Wook annoyed me to the point of rage. What did anyone see in him apart from having the gift of the gab? But then I discovered his Nazi Boy documentary, made before he hit the big time, where he wholly showed up the BNP as sad, friendless losers, I started reading his prose in the Guardian, I saw his impressive performances mocking the Westboro Baptist Church, his telling-it-like-it-is on Question Time and his castigation of the sponsor of the GQ Awards. I’ve since seen his return to his former hometown of Thurrock in Essex, to support the mental health group, Mind.
His peacock mannerisms still annoy me (though admittedly some of that may be down to male envy), and stagey people often sound at their most pretentious when they strive to “keep it real”. Ooh, and I don’t like his hair either, his boots, nor his bared chest.
But I say forget the man, as what he’s saying is more important.
“Profit is filthy… says the man with $15 million.”
Kropotkin was a prince, Marx wasn’t skint, nor was Vanessa Redgrave. John Lennon performed Imagine and Working Class Hero in a mansion. The Chartists, Suffragettes and other progressive political movements were promoted and led by moneyed people. Does this negate them speaking up for the working class (particularly as Brand claims to have working-class roots)? This is the meme doing the rounds, but it’s a non-starter really. He hasn’t made his millions on the back of exploitation, tickets might cost £30 for his shows, but so what? Did anyone’s philanthropy ever fulfill the aims of a revolution? Maybe he’ll do benefits or maybe he funds causes already, who knows? The fact remains, profit IS filthy.
“He’s talking about revolution, but he isn’t saying how”
Many have seized on his comment: “Jeremy, don’t ask me to sit here in an interview with you, in a bloody hotel room and devise a global, utopian system.” Yet he does flesh out his ideas on the sort of revolution he wants to see in the New Statesman: “Total revolution of consciousness and our entire social, political and economic system is what interests me.” It’s long been said that the revolution must come from within – in his book The Fall, Steve Taylor advocates humanity getting back in touch with a ‘life-force’ or ‘life-spirit’ and connectedness with the planet and universe (which he argues is exemplified by some new age theories and Taoism). Brand is a fan of transcendental meditation (which he discovered when beating drug addiction about 10 years ago).
Surely it would be a mistake, one which he would be castigated for, if he offered a 12-step programme to ‘true’ socialism or anarchy? A revolution must be everyone’s revolution, or it will just revert to hierarchy and tyranny. We’ve been down the route of Leninist vanguardism (still advocated by the tiny left parties) and it only resulted in more oppression. As Bakunin (an imperfect man himself) said: “We are convinced that liberty without socialism is privilege, injustice; and that socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.”
The shape a revolution takes must be taken collectively and individually, without Brand or anyone else calling the shots.
However, he might have suggested horizontal organisation within communities…
“He’s just helping the Tories stay in power by telling people not to vote.”
I’m inclined to disregard a fresh conspiracy theory that the BBC and Brand concocted a ‘don’t vote’ message to ensure the Tories and UKIP will be in power forever. Besides, he repeated the call in the New Statesman: “As far as I’m concerned there is nothing to vote for. I feel it is a far more potent political act to completely renounce the current paradigm than to participate in even the most trivial and tokenistic manner, by obediently X-ing a little box.”
He’s right… and yet this is the big conundrum. By ticking the box, we are complicit in maintaining a parliamentary and electoral system designed by the elite, to maintain the elite. While Labour may have brought in a universal health care and welfare system in the late-1940s, it has helped to erode both ever since. The minimum wage may have been one of the few positive achievements of the Blair administration (though it falls short of the living wage), but we also saw a continuation of Thatcherism, privatisation, horrific wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (millions marched against it, and were ignored), and the scrapping of Labour’s socialist principles embodied in the original Clause IV.
So is Labour really no better than Tories? I think it is, albeit Labour offer only the occasional glimmer of hope; Labour wants to retain a nuclear arsenal, build more nuclear power stations, make cuts, be “tough on immigration” while promises such as renationalisation and bringing NHS services into public hands can readily be broken. It was Labour which bailed out the banks with trillions of taxpayers’ money, and continued the deregulation of the City. It was Labour which wanted us all to carry ID cards, brought tanks into Heathrow and curtailed civil rights in the guise of anti-terrorism.
But within Labour exists people with social justice in their hearts and yes, socialism (even Miliband says he is). I know some of these party activists, and I support their efforts.
Besides, Tories and fascists will always use their votes.
Even if Labour is a path towards disappointment, disillusionment and disenfranchisement, the evil visited on the poor is not as prevalent and all-encompassing as it is with the Tories.
Another friend said “why didn’t Brand advocate a vote for the Green Party?” Perhaps because he believes it’s a wasted vote. While Greens are far more left of mainstream Labour (see the Political Compass) they are still operating within the same elite institution and flawed first-past-the-post system.
Ultimately, how can we be living in a democracy when the monarchy still holds sway, vetoing laws they dislike and rubber-stamping those which steal from the people?
With reluctance that I will put an X next to Labour in 2015. About 60% of people, perhaps more, most likely will do as they did in 2010, and not vote.
Brand says: “I say when there is a genuine alternative, a genuine option, then vote for that. But until then, pffft, don’t bother. Why pretend? Why be complicit in this ridiculous illusion?”
Maybe the onus is on Labour to now prove itself a genuine option for those outside the narrow franchise of regular voters which it appears to solely chase?
Brand has just voiced what many of us were thinking within our four walls. He should be lauded and applauded, not torn apart by the left, where he clearly has his affinity.
And putting an X on a sheet of paper every five years is not enough. It is not taking charge of our own lives, it is giving the job to a politician – highly unlikely to be working in any of our interests.
Perhaps a better idea would be for people to wake up to the fact that when a majority votes for nobody, nobody is in charge. The Tories seized control of the country with 20% of the vote, and in my locality UKIP took three out of eight council seats in May 2013 with 9.4% of the overall electorate’s vote (66.7% didn’t vote).
Our political system, as so many of us readily accept, is hopelessly flawed. Lao Zi wrote about 2,500 years ago: “No one rules, if no one obeys.” Words worth hanging on to, and echoing down the millennia, to still have resonance now through the latest conduit, Russell Brand.