It is always a nauseating but faintly amusing sight to see celebrities politicos and BBC presenters on newsnight pretending to argue with each other and pretending that they are in any way different each other and that they haven’t come from the bbc and/or oxbridge public school political milieu. Whenever I’ve been doing political stuff, talking to people about demos or anti cuts stuff, some people i know always voice the idea that they are not clever enough to know about stuff like that and that they leave it to people who do know what they are talking about, there’s an idea that you can’t be into politics unless you have a certain level of education or be massively clever instead of something that affects everyone and takes into account things that many people dont even think are political. A lot of people don’t have confidence in their own ideas or even in the idea that they’re even “allowed” to have any.
History is not made by great men. So why does so much of the left act like it is, even when they’re not that great, like the leaders of trot sects who have been in their position for decades unchallenged because they don’t even trust the “advanced layers” who have joined their group with the reins of internal political power, let alone the people they’re thinking of leading, or some celebrity that spouts semi-radical rhetoric (which they then assume is the way to the class, like working class people are only capable of thinking through soundbites and what someone said off the telly and can’t actually cope with complicated analysis) like they were more important than the class they purport to represent.
You can see it with the “critical” support of George Galloway, Tommy Sheridan or Julian Assange where a charismatic ability to attract attention and followers even if they are largely or purely out for personal gain or have less than savoury personal and political backgrounds is deemed more important than what they’re saying or doing or whether their “interventions” are worth anything – or whether people have heard of them or even know about them or the work they do has any practical effect. Searching for a figurehead that they can get behind “critically” and “without illusions”.
You can see it with the leninists and their frequent near deification of Lenin and Trotsky and of course the authority of the countless “vanguard parties of the working class” whose leader becomes the new Lenin, who was more important in this great man theory than the working class themselves.
A striking example of this happened this week with how many people on the left reacted to Russell Brand, whose video argument with Jeremy Paxman , while it undoubtedly got a lot of people talking about revolution, was not actually saying anything especially new but was perhaps what putting into words what some people were saying anyway – only, they’ll never get to be on telly. He was talking about revolution because people were talking about it already, people are thinking about it already, because people are angry, and don’t need to be told to do so from above. It’s not a case of the average person is asleep and needs to be woken up by a comedian who a few years ago was being derided for weeks in the media for his prank call with Jonathan Ross to Andrew Sachs about fucking his granddaughter.
I hate this idea that you shouldn’t criticise someone who is doing something vaguely left wing so even if what they’re doing is shit at least they’re doing it, even if they’re contributing to the continued professionalisation of politics and the alienation of just about everyone to what has become more than ever a rarified faux-controversial “safe” establishment bubble, because at least they’re out there and what have you ever done etc etc. There is an analogy to be made between this, and the idea that any job is better than no job at all, so doing literally ANYTHING is better than not working. Job as a bailiff? Take it because at least you’d be doing something, and it’s better than sitting on your arse not doing anything!
So for example if you point out, for example, that Russell Brand owns a $2.224 million mansion in Hollywood and has repeatedly and publically endorsed and shared a platform with famous anti-semite David Icke, invited him onto his show and had Icke praise him, promoted initiatives like his “People’s Voice” television station, which “leftie” Mail journalist Sonia Poulton is also participating in – “Be part of the heard, not the herd”. If you’re lucky you can fight capitalism with a signed poster of “David” himself! be still my beating heart. Profit is a filthy word is it?
‘I am excited by David’s new venture. We all complain about media bias and now we will have an outlet beholden only to the people. I think it will be crazy and fun and I hope to be on it.’ – Russell Brand
Except that as Icke admits in his promotional video, it will be reliant on donations until advertising revenue kicks in. It won’t be beholden to the people if it has to account for what water-filtration system salesmen, “truth” dvd manufacturers and the owners of Natural News want to hear about will it Russell?
Russell Brand’s interview with Paxman isn’t even that revolutionary – his revolution when it comes down to it is just shit about taxing corporations and “massive responsibility for energy companies” – which even many Tories would probably say they agreed with. It’s hard to be storming the barricades with that level of wealth isn’t it? And while it is nice to see someone famous seem to endorse your views this still exists in a bubble the likes of which the majority of people i know will never break into. The reason he is able to get on TV and say that stuff is because he’s rich and famous already. Being a successful comedian gives him a huge amount of control over his work, means he is not in a position where he has to work in order to survive and puts him in a position which the majority of people cannot hope to imagine.
Like Paxman who despite his repulsive classist sneering, which must and should be attacked but is really part of the same thing when they just move in the same social and economic circles – “who are you to edit a political magazine” and useless equation of voting in elections with being political and not voting with the now tedious refrain of “apathy”. It may not be a controlled opposition but in some way these radical ideas are simply “recuperated back into capital“.
Although he talks about revolution and socialism he starts using similar language and imagery to David Icke like “waking up”, like “paradigm” and “consciousness” and of course ways of doing things “that have been passed through the generations”. A revolution of “consciousness” before things can actually change – he says that people are compliant with what’s happening to them amid some other self-aggrandising rambling bollocks that makes some good points but suffers from a lack of self awareness and also the fact that most of the time I dont know what he’s going on about. People already are conscious. To think that everyone is unaware of the conditions that affect them and their friends and families and have to have someone explain it to them is pretty fucking patronising. Thats not the issue.
We need an actual revolution, not a “revolution of consciousness”.
But Brand has far more in common with Paxman in terms of lifestyle, expectations, etc , and with the editors of the New Statesman who he guest edited – even the majority of its readers earn far higher than average incomes, they produced a special supplement in association Barclays and with Vince Cable about getting Britain to work ffs – than the people he claims to speak for. When these are the people he sees and associates with and relates to every day whose side is he really on? And these are the spokespeople of revolution? Is this who are we supposed to look now, who are supposed to wake us up? These people with the same salary, same lifestyle as the people the say they oppose, whose idea of “change” is at best wishy washy sub reformism that wouldn’t be out of place from Ed Milliband, at worst out and out conspiraloonery, in a “revolutionary” garb are the people who you can’t criticise because “at least they’re doing something”?
What if what they’re doing is actually detrimental like the hypothetical job seeker who gets lambasted for not choosing a job they have moral issues with or which would jeopardise their health because of a belief in the moral good of work and the idea that doing something no matter what it is no matter how stupid irrelevant or harmful always puts you above of criticism. “Oh at least they’re doing something! What are YOU doing?”
Of course the “great men” theory also has another side to it whether we are discussing Russell Brand or anyone else, and it is something that should give anyone who is involved in this stuff pause for serious thought, especially considering the meltdown and collapse of the SWP. The great man (and sometimes a great woman) who can get away with whatever the fuck he or she wants in personal morality terms, because we love him or he’s charismatic or he’s got a great personality and he’s a great speaker, so intelligent, so devoted to the Party etc etc. I like X and I don’t like Y so X can’t be doing Y because I don’t like people who do Y. It’s all right for Russell Brand to sexually harass someone because hey it’s Russell and we love him and he’s said something vaguely left wing.
You don’t have to have any great knowledge of politics to see right through this and to know that having “heroes” and using them as a way into (yes people agreed with him but what impact does his video and articles have on people’s real life? Do people really base their views on what people like Brand are saying rather than their lived experience, which we’re not hearing about, is not the fact he says it simply a reflection of the fact people think about it and think it’s important) and substitute for the class (im sorry, cant really think of another way to put it) never ever ends well
And are the working class really that stupid that they need a celebrity writing in the New Statesman, a magazine aimed at self-described “opinion formers”, to tell them to wake up, that the great men speak and they will follow?
Brand says that the occupy movement “introduced” the idea of the 99% and the 1% to the public lexicon. Did it really or did the occupy movement grow out of conditions that were already there, out of things that were already being said or done. Is it always the case of revolutionary ideas coming down from above, like nobody would have ever have thought of the idea of a class struggle or a class system without Occupy or even without Marx?