Tag Archives: socialism

Boots Riley and the Music of Dissent and Rebellion


Over Easter weekend, more than 1100 people attended the Marxism2014 in Melbourne.  One of the highlights of the conference was the Saturday evening performance by activist and radical musician, Boots Riley, who also spoke on race and racism in the USA earlier in the day.  Riley hopes to be touring Australia later in the year with his band, The Coup and you can check out some of their tracks below, as well as an interview with Boots on building the radical movements for change in the USA.

As the Marxism 2014 website notes, Boots Riley is one of the most influential radical American musicians of the past two decades. The critical acclaim that has greeted his musical endeavours, in particular his role as front-man of legendary US hip-hop outfit The Coup, has only been matched by the vitriol with which his work has been greeted by conservatives.

Since forming in 1990, The Coup have released a total of 6 albums, with their unique combination of funky rhythms and lyrics that move from cheeky wit to the hardest of hard-hitting political critique providing inspiration (and enjoyment) for a generation of radicals around the world. Their music has been widely acclaimed, with their 1998 release ‘Steal this Album’ labeled a masterpiece by Rolling Stone magazine, and other albums regularly appearing in ‘top 10 albums of the year’ lists in Rolling Stone and other major music publications.

Boots Riley has rapped with Tupac, produced a score for an episode of The Simpsons, had a novel written based on the lyrics of one of his songs, and, perhaps most impressively of all, had his work dismissed by Fox News as “a stomach-turning example of anti-Americanism disguised as highbrow intellectual expression.”

Riley has never been shy of controversy. Following the 9-11 attacks in New York, The Coup famously put out a press release stating that “last week’s events were symptomatic of a larger backlash against U.S. corporate imperialism.” Statements such as this, as well as the lyrics of songs such as ‘5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO’, have made him a favourite target of the conservatives. His influence on radical culture and politics in the US cannot be denied. In 2003 he was even named, by Vibe Magazine, as one of the 10 most influential people of the year. Nevertheless, the fame he has achieved through his music hasn’t led him away from direct involvement with political struggles and movements on the ground.

Riley was born into a family of radicals and has never wavered from his commitment to revolutionary politics and practice. He has been involved in many campaigns for social justice in his local community in Oakland, California, recently playing a leading role in the Occupy movement in the city.

Abby Martin interviews ‘Boots’ Riley, about his musical roots, the state of dissent in the US and the corporatisation of America.


Boots Riley and The Coup:

The Guillotine

My Favourite Mutiny

The Magic Clap



The Left and Russell Brand



* 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.