Viva La Revolution?

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Since his article in a recent edition of the New Statesman and an interview with Jeremy Paxman that followed, Russell Brand has been attracting widespread attention thanks to his rather colourful and romantic view on the current state of global politics.

In his article for the New Statesman, which he guest edited in an October edition, Russell Brand talks about being bored of the norm of everyday politics, and of being part of a social underclass that has been let down by the government which has left him disillusioned and angry. The comedian-come-actor speaks of revolution, not a revolution like that which saw Vladimir Lenin storm the Winter Palace to yank the peasantry of tsarist Russia into the forefront of rapid industrialisation and a Marxist utopia, or that which saw America complete its emancipation against an ever tyrannical British Empire; but a world-wide revolution, led by those who feel let down by their governments, those who have fallen behind in the chase for the golden egg, and those who are paying the price for the comforts almost all westerners wrap themselves in day after day.

This whole thing sounds very romantic, and could almost be lifted straight out of the pages of The Communist Manifesto, but one important thing that Brand doesn’t do in either his article for The New Statesman or in his interview with Jeremy Paxman is explain what it is he actually wants. In his own words to Paxman, his idea of a successful and an accredited revolution would be “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”.  Again, this sounds all well and good, but why exactly does Russell Brand want such a revolution? What has made him come to hold such beliefs that if we were sitting the other side of the Atlantic would probably be labelled as dangerous and maybe even extremist? –Thank god Joseph McCarthy can’t hear this!

There are, firstly many points to consider with Brand’s viewpoints. To begin with, in his interview with Jeremy Paxman, (an interview which another Fortitude Magazine writer covered here), he claims the world is being “destroyed” by the current political system, holding to blame the present leadership of the world for the social ills of all corners of the world. While this is a little over the top, there is no hiding that in this world there are winners and losers, and more often than not, those losers have lost before they even start out. This is of course the situation in many African countries, where the raping of their land and people from a time when empires ruled the world is still casting a dark and dreary shadow over the continent today. That is to say, what happened in the past cannot be pinned on the government of today. Capitalism was rolled out across the globe as the large empires came, saw and conquered, abolishing pre-existing ways of life and order in place of profit based capitalism that turned the natives of these conquered lands into the enslaved. With this, the problems of capitalism were also inherited by these hinterlands, workers at home became part of the capitalist machine for large corporations in the same way natives became commodities for the companies, and again in the same way the products they created did. Thus the whole world became infected –if you will- as a global pandemic created global trade and trade blocks. The whole world being subjected to the boom and bust way of life that capitalism creates, bringing almost all of the world’s peoples under the same umbrella, all relying on the same profit at the same time. This is of course nothing to do with present day governments, and is perhaps straying a little of topic, but the point here is that Brand is wrong to say that the social disparities that exist globally are because of the government of today. Yes, they may do little to alter these disparities, but as long as capitalism keeps the world’s heart beating, then there is little that can be done in the way of this. In short, it is not the government that create the throwback problems many societies now face (street gangs, alcoholism, drug addiction, unsanitary living conditions) but capitalism, and it is the government of today who is left trying to deal with these problems.

From these social ills, Russell Brand makes a statement that is incorrect, referring to the street riots in North London and Birmingham during 2011 as being ‘politically motivated’. While many sympathisers to those who participated would attempt to argue this point, the fact that only those from certain sectors of society and in certain areas of the country took part suggests otherwise, and if Russell Brand wants to try and use the events of 2011 as a way of supporting the notion that the time for revolution is nigh, there doesn’t appear to be much hope considering said riots were nothing more than a storm in a teacup with little to no success at all; all those in favour of a revolution may as well give up now.

The main issue with Brand’s argument in the New Statesman is his lack of clarification over what it is he wants from a revolution, this is something Paxman touched upon in his interview, and something the comedian was quick to dodge, too. If Brand is serious about his motives and he really believes in what he is saying, he must have an idea of what the alternative system is, given he seems clear on what he wants from a revolution, but once the dust has settled and the furore has ended, what does he want? That is one distinct difference (besides the beard) between Brand and Marx, when Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto, they were laying the foundations for a revolutionary movement, pinpointing the weaknesses and the problems with capitalism and its crushing grip on a society that depends so heavily upon it… but also giving an alternative, offering a ray of light in the dreary darkness they had unveiled, that’s why such writings still have an influence in much of the worlds politics today (be it in its extremity in North Korea, or its watered down version in countries like Venezuela and much of South America). Russell Brand may say he was merely attempting to put the cat amongst the pigeons with his comments, but if he is going to make such bold statements, knowing full well to the amount of influence he has, he must have an idea of what he would want such a revolution to achieve, otherwise how could the revolution be a success? At what point would it come to an end?

However, there is a lot of potential in Brand’s statements, and hope comes from a more respectable and trusted academic – Francis Fukuyama. In an article written for the Wall Street Journal back in June, the Japanese scholar spoke of a middle-class revolution, on the backdrop of the Brazilian riots during the football Confederations Cup and the second wave of Egyptian riots against an unpopular Mohammed Morsi. In his article Fukuyama argues that the upward mobility of the lower class and the continuous prosperity in the upper class has caused an environment that sees the middle classes of society lose out. As the rich receive tax breaks and the poor are given more and more opportunities to elevate themselves and their standards of living, the ever decreasingly comfortable middle class are often those that are targeted. They have no tax breaks, and are given no opportunities to better themselves, and are instead left to shoulder the burden of the socio-economic development of their country on their own. In the case of Brazil, using Fukuyama’s theory, a revolution is likely not to come out of the favelas of Rio de Janiero , but from the white collar workers who come from less humble backgrounds, but are now left  feeling let down by their government; as their commutes to their averagely paid jobs becomes more expensive due to increased bus fare, and their taxes are hiked to pay for new stadiums so their country can host major sporting events like the Olympics and the football World Cup, receiving little in return.

However, if we used Fukuyama’s argument (a brilliant academic who should never be doubted too highly) and accept that a revolution could be forthcoming from the middle class of the world (with or without Mr Brand) what could we expect to be the result? If we look at the viable roads that we could go down once the capitalist machine has been destroyed, there are a few options; however each, like capitalism, has its own flaws and weaknesses.

1.)    Communism

Communism was destroyed by American chauvinism and bastardized by an over powerful tsar like figure under Josef Stalin, after Vladimir Lenin had gone to great pains to make Marxism a workable, political mainframe and helped to turn Russia into the super power it became as the heart of the Soviet Union. Josip Tito made mistakes in Yugoslavia by attempting to delegate power out to all states momentarily which ultimately led to the union cascading inwards; while Fidel Castro spent the entirety of his presidency in Cuba after defeating the US being shunned by the rest of the world. China is showing an example of how a communist state can successfully run peacefully; it is more modern than the Leninist set up of the USSR, while its semi-free market economy continues to grow at a rapid rate.

2.)    Anarchism

Anarchism has all but destroyed both the Congo and Somalia, while on the other hand a stint of peaceful anarchy during a time when Belgium had no government for 18 months didn’t exactly bring the country to its knees.

3.)    The end of politics

As he wrote in 1991, Francis Fukuyama could be right that we could soon be approaching the end of politics. By this he does not mean that politics simply ceases to exist – of course, politics is entwined in every single thing we do during our daily lives –but instead that society becomes so advanced, or rather society finally has everything it needs and is perfectly balanced that there is no need for political ideology, because neither ideology best suits any sect of any community any more than another. Of course if this was to be the case, the very poorest would have a lot to gain from revolution, while the very richest would have a lot to lose…

To conclude, we could be entering into a period that reflects the 1960s counter-culture movement somewhat, where different sections of society want to challenge the power of the government that controls them in a bid for social and economic liberation, or, simply because the ease of access to information and communication of ideas thanks to social media allows support for such movements to grow. We could be entering a time where, thanks to the internet, society is able to remould itself into whatever form it wants to. A similar sentiment was put forward by neo-Marxist Henri Lefebvre, that we as a new generation of society need to completely alter our surroundings by tearing down the cities and towns that were built on the interests and morals of the generations before us, in way of our own urban areas that suit the immediate needs and morals of this generation better. Do we though, want to see such a revolution headed by a well known celebrity who has done more than well for himself in a capitalist society that he feels so happy to pick holes in?

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