by Pieter Cranenbroek, International Politics Blogger
“There is going to be a revolution, not a flicker of doubt. This is the end.”
Russell Brand’s passionate plea for a world revolution on Newsnight has been watched by millions in the past few days. The interview was an interesting extension of the inspired article he wrote for this week’s issue of the New Statesman. The Essex-born entertainer does well in exposing the faults in the present political set-up, but how likely is a radical change to occur? Although Brand’s prediction of a revolution may be premature, you could say that he has hit the nail on the head.
“What gives you the authority to talk about politics?” The disdain in Jeremy Paxman’s tone of voice when Brand admits he has never voted may be the best illustration of the paradigm Brand wants to tear down.
The implied judgment of ‘if you don’t vote, you’re not entitled to an opinion’ is clear. Throughout the interview, Brand appears to be freed from institutionalised thinking, like Neo in The Matrix, and tries to explain to everyone that there is a different reality out there. It is the very sentiment that Brand wants to convey.
Basically, the whole interview can be summed up by the following line of thought: “I’m calling for change. I’m calling for genuine alternatives. I say when there is a genuine alternative, a genuine option, then vote for that. Until then, don’t bother.”
Obvious parallels can be found between Brand’s 4,700-word essay and Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto. The Manifesto was essentially a criticism of the established order with a prophetic component. The capitalist society could not be sustained, a class struggle would follow and capitalism would necessarily be replaced by socialism and eventually communism.
Indeed Brand’s call for a socialist, egalitarian system that should overcome economic disparities and should listen to the needs of the people clearly resembles the views of the German political theorist. Add the environmental aspect that the current system is destroying the planet and you more or less have Marxism 2.0. The principles of communism are still as appealing today as they were in 1848, but few will warm to the idea of a communist society.
In theory, communism is the most beautiful and perfect society that man has ever created. The idea of everyone having the same, no reason to be jealous, no reason to steal, no disparities; it all sounds too good to be true.
And it is, unfortunately. Those countries that have had a communist society have not done justice to its grand theory. In reality communism has not proved to improve society; on the contrary, it is nowadays intrinsically linked to suppression, poverty, and famine with a starving population fearing the man in charge. In this sense, a bottom-up variant of communism might be more desirable but how will you be able to avoid the pitfalls of communist society as we know it? The problem of making communist reality correspond to communist theory seems to be a catch-22.
Fear of the unknown
If all revolutions have one thing in common, it is that they have proved hard to predict. A quintessentially human characteristic that usually gets in the way is our desire for stability. Humans have a chronic fear of the unknown, which is why just about everything new will be criticised first before praising it for its merits.
Protesters, for instance, are often labelled troublemakers or even anarchists because they disrupt everyday life. Most people simply don’t like a ‘disruption of normalcy’ as Brand aptly names it and prefer to cling to the life that is familiar.
Another reason why Brand’s prediction may be a bit premature is his rhetoric. Instead of saying what a new political system should entail, he mostly points out what it should not be. Right now, Brand’s spiritual revolution is still too much based on vague terms and antonyms of the present system. People will not fight for a utopia, as a species we are too much realists for that, people will only fight for a new reality. And at the moment this new reality is still too abstract and empty.
However, Brand has to be applauded for spreading awareness about real problems that many people would rather not think about. In his own words: “For me it’s real, it’s not some peripheral thing.” When you’re cutting funds for people in need just to bring down the budget deficit, you are not representing the people.
Sure, a solid and responsible economic policy is important but this can never be at the expense of the poor and the needy. A government cannot be run like a corporation with a primary goal of making profits. Governments are a non-profit organisation with a substantial loan: no absolute need to make profits, hoping to breakeven, but accepting a loss when it is necessary to complete the tasks it has been given.
Brand may not have come up with a viable alternative for the present political system, but at least he is pointing us in the right direction. Hopefully it will inspire original thinking and sprout de-institutionalised ideas. A genuine alternative.