Sunday, 14 December 2014

More Lennon Than Lenin

Solomon Hughes and the Morning Star are decidedly unimpressed:

Russell Brand’s heart is in the right place. His head hurtles engagingly in many directions at once. But there is a massive hole at the heart of his book, Revolution.

Brand makes a funny, (over)verbose attack on the spiritual hollowness of contemporary capitalism.

Brand favours a mixture of Buddhism and Occupy-style anti-capitalism to clear away the unsatisfying low-grade employment that keeps people working for and buying in Lakeside Shopping Centre.

He is much more John Lennon-ist than Leninist.

He’s good at talking to other people when he isn’t talking about himself (which is far too much). But he seems to have been talking to all the wrong people.

For a book about Revolution, he spends no time with anyone who was actually in one. It’s not like there is a shortage. The year he was born, the Portuguese revolution ended decades of fascism [well...].

Since then, dozens of revolutions have thrown out dictators, with varying degrees of success. But Brand doesn’t speak to anyone involved.

Indeed, he barely talks to anyone who has organised a strike or a sit-in or a campaign or march.

In recent years city squares in southern Europe and north Africa have filled with protesters who have torn up established political maps, but Brand didn’t seek them out.

Instead Brand mostly interviews “highly respected experts like Thomas Piketty and Naomi Klein.”

They are all interesting people — although not all revolutionaries — but they have written their own books and given their own speeches.

Brand ends up restating their insights in comic style, what he calls Noam Chomsky via Norman Wisdom.

It’s a real shame, because grassroots activists who drive radical change need to be heard.

I fear Brand has been badly let down by his researcher for the book, Johann Hari.

Former newspaper columnist Hari always struck me as a “wannabe,” using a left-wing pose to grab an establishment career rather than someone interested in grassroots organisation.

Hari suddenly became very pro-Iraq war in 2003, demonstrating his general tendency to suck up and show off in a desperate attempt to join the big boys’ club.

It looks like Hari has found Brand a list of leftish “intellectuals” to talk to instead of left-wing activists.

So the book veers towards a print version of a funny, political celebrity chat show instead of a discussion with the demonstrators.

The biggest problem of the book isn’t, as broadsheet reviewers complain, that it is too wackily “anti-Establishment.”

Instead, Revolution doesn’t reach beyond the established commentators enough.

Brand makes the case for change from below. He says:

“We’re fucked unless we organise and disobey. They’ve got this sewn up. They own both the teams that are competing, the stadium they play in, the grass they play on, and we’re the ball they’re kicking around. They have removed all possibility for reform or redirection within the system. The change must come from us. Our only hope of survival is to overthrow their structures and take our power back.”

But then he doesn’t spend enough time with people from outside these structures. Which means he doesn’t talk about the hows and whys of actually organising against “their structures.”

He breaks away from just seeking out leftish “stars” around Occupy Wall Street, where he engages more with activists.

But clearly not enough to understand how protest happens.

Brand writes positively about the Situationists, whose mixture of DaDa and Marxism informed their eye-catching, absurdist protests around 1968.

Weirdly, he then says “Dom Joly, Sacha Baron Cohen and Jackass” are “derived from this tradition because their crazy public antics make us question the nature of customary, consensual behaviour.”

Despite his engagement with Occupy, Brand seems not to know that the Situationist-inspired Adbusters magazine helped get Occupy going.

In the middle of a groundbreaking, Situationist-inspired protest, TV comedian Brand thinks other TV comedians are the real Situationists.

Comedians can add to the left by running benefits, by adding to the public debate or, as Mark Thomas has shown, by full-on campaigning.

Brand seems to have stepped up his game since the publication of Revolution with his work around the New Era Estate campaign — work sadly not reflected in his book.

Clowns can also sometimes be a problem, tripping the left up with their big red shoes.

Italy’s Beppe Grillo, whose Five Star movement won a quarter of the seats in the last general election, really has caused damage to the Italian left.

At the moment Russell Brand seems to be a funny man who wants to help the left.

His all-over-the-placeness is part of his charm, but it does leave room to worry he might end up in a Grillo-style ego-trip.

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