The Left and Russell Brand

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* This was posted originally on my tumblr page for Red Butterfly Effect, when Brand’s interview first came out in mid October 2013.


Like well over 10 million other people around the world I have watched Russell Brand’s interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight. Personally, I have never been a fan of Brand, his humour doesn’t really appeal to me and I think there are many things Brand can be criticised for, such as his sexism and sexist attitudes. However, I have been quite astounded at the reaction of “the Left” and self-identified progressives to Brand’s well articulated opposition to capitalism and call for “socialist egalitarianism” and revolution in his interview on Newsnight with Paxman.

Among the criticisms I have read about Brand’s interview, both in articles from authors who apparently identify with “the Left” or from a whole variety of Facebook friends who also usually identify with either “the Left” or radical side of the political spectrum are:

Brand is:
(1) a celebrity and a poseur so not qualified to comment on capitalism, about revolution and/or social change
(2) has considerable personal wealth, so is a hypocrite and is not qualified to comment about capitalism, the corporate profit system, revolution or social change.
(3) isn’t a “real” revolutionary so isn’t qualified to comment about capitalism, revolution or social change
(4) offers no concrete program for revolution.
(5) is promoting apathy.

Noticeably what all these criticisms of Brand have in common are:

(1) Brand is not being criticised per se for the political critique he is offering up – that capitalism does not serve the majority of people, that it alienates, marginalises and exploits them etc. What he is being criticised for is his celebrity and wealth – a very poor criticism, which is extremely lacking because it actually fails to deal with his political arguments and;

(2) they misrepresent what he actually argues in the Paxman interview (for example, that he supposedly argues for “apathy”, something he actually doesn’t argue for. Instead, he points out that the current system creates apathy and that it is the system which is apathetic to the needs of the poor, marginalised and exploited and we need to actively seek to change this).

What so many who offer up these criticisms seem to be missing is that Brand is giving a popular exposition of alienation, exploitation and marginalisation under the capitalism and the corporate profit system, the need to challenge the system and to ferment change in order to benefit the mass of the population and calling for socialist revolution. AND THAT THIS IS A GOOD THING!!!

Many of us on the Left have been arguing EXACTLY the same thing for years, we have explained to any and all who will listen the very same things that Brand articulates in his interview with Paxman. As a result, I find it astounding that so many self-identified progressives and members of “the Left”, including the “radical Left” seem to be more intent on ignoring Brand’s highly articulate anti-capitalist argument and his popular exposition about the need for revolution and socialism.

One video of Brand’s interview with Paxman, which is now on youtube, has had almost 7 million, while another version of it on youtube has had almost 2 million views. Dozens of other posts of the same interview have had hundreds of thousands of views. When was the last time the radical and/or revolutionary left in Australia, the USA or the UK were able to directly reach such a massive audience with a well articulated critique of capitalism, the alienation it causes and the need for revolution and socialism?

Yes, Brand is not a “revolutionary” in the terms that many of the Left identify as a revolutionary. Yes, he is a celebrity and very often a poseur. Yes, he has accumulated personal wealth under the current corporate capitalist system. But none of this invalidates his very articulate and very correct critique of capitalism, the corporate profit system, the exploitation, marginalisation and alienation of the vast majority of the population under capitalism. Nor does it invalidate his call for social change, socialism and revolution.

One just has to read the avalanche of articles and comments coming from “the Right” and their side of the political spectrum to see that many of the criticism coming from “the Left” are not that dissimilar. So my question is: why are we doing their job for them?

This, of course, does not mean we ignore problematic issues such as Brand’s sexism but instead of dismissing his his anti-capitalist views and call for socialist revolution out of hand simply because of his celebrity or his wealth, the Left (especially the radical left) should be seeing this as an opportunity to popularise our ideas, to reach out to people and to get them active and organised into struggle to bring about a socialist society which benefits the vast majority of the population.

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