Forget the establishment, Russell. The real enemy is the bloody liberal majority.
The recent production of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People by the Berlin Schaubühne at the Barbican identified the ‘bloody liberal majority’ as the real problem. Russell Brand’s call for revolution has put him on a collision course with the establishment. The backlash has been ferocious but it is the response from liberals, which is most revealing. One by one they have queued up to have a pop at him. Piers Morgan took the first swipe. Then Stewart Lee wrote a piece in The Guardian satirising him as a Christ-like figure. Next up was an unexpected attack from Johnny Rotten formerly of the Sex Pistols in an interview with Polly Toynbee. Rotten described Brand as ‘idiotic’ for encouraging young people not to vote. And now the internet trolls are harassing him after he did not adhere to interview etiquette on Newsnight.
Far from liberals applauding courage and integrity for speaking truth to power, they have cynically tried and failed to take him down. Brand is prepared to bite the hand that feeds him unlike the platoons of self-serving A-Z list celebs. He is not satisfied to take the fame and money and pucker up. If only more figures in our media would learn from his example. Piers Morgan does not really deserve a response. Brand’s Messiah Complex tour has already pre-empted Stewart Lee’s satirical bent. And as for a so-called anarchist like Rotten, Brand was not encouraging young people to disengage from politics. In fact, he has galvanised thousands switched off from the Westminster farce. Brand appears to be fully cognizant of the implications of this ambush from the liberals. At last week’s Guardian Live event in conversation with Owen Jones, he pointed to the Guardian logo behind him and jokingly announced, “This lot are the worst”.
The funny thing is that these venomous attacks are always personal deflecting away from cogent arguments. Take the character assassination of Julian Assange. The intent is to neutralise any possibility of real discourse on the Wikileaks cables. For one that the Iraq and Afghanistan logs reveal war crimes. In the case of Bradley Manning, it was the old ‘Lee Harvey Oswald’ chestnut that he was an unstable loner seeking exposure. Which is why Edward Snowden managed his entrance on the world stage with a down to earth and likeable interview. Of course, there had already been attempts to defame him with lurid revelations that his girlfriend had worked as a stripper. In the case of Brand, the charge is that he is a narcissistic egomaniac. As if our glorious leaders are somehow beyond reproach.
Should we be surprised? Not really. After all, liberals have always fucked everything up. Blair’s New Labour signalled the castration of Old Labour as the voice of ordinary people. Thatcher described it as her greatest achievement. Likewise the Lib Dems. The first whiff at power and they jumped into bed with the Tories thus enabling the destruction of the NHS and the dismantling of the welfare state. All of which could not have happened without the votes of Lib Dem MPs.
And as for the bloody liberal majority. Yes we are also part of the problem. As Brand puts it, if you are fed up with foreigners coming over here, taking freebies and not paying taxes then you’re right – Amazon, Google, J P Morgan, Goldman Sachs. These are the real parasites. We may eat organically and recycle. But we’re not prepared to get off our liberal asses. Because we’re too busy incubating our nest-egg cashpile homes in the real-life game of Monopoly hoping to make it with the big boys. Until we too begin to feel the heat. And make no mistake about it, once the elite have finished feeding off the poor, they’re coming for the middle classes next as Alex Proud pointed out in the Daily Telegraph recently. So engage, be the change you want to see in the world.
Like him or loathe him, Brand has the truth on his side. And people are suckers for the truth, bubba. In Britain today, the 5 richest families have as much wealth as the poorest 12 million. 5.2 million people are in low pay jobs. Over 1 million people have used food banks in the past year. There are more people below the poverty line in-work than out of work. Poverty has doubled in Britain over the past thirty years according to the largest study of its kind by the Poverty and Social Exclusion Project. Globally, the richest 85 people have as much wealth as the bottom half or 3.5 billion people. The top 1% in the world own nearly half the world’s wealth. More important than all of this is climate change or the ecological catastrophe that is killing our planet. Ironically, it may be this that catalyses the change needed to save us from turbo-charged capitalism.
In other words, the economic system is not working for ordinary people in the developed world. And neither is representative democracy. Because it has been co-opted by the corporate elite through funding, lobbying and the revolving door. Hence why the political parties are identikit. Yes there are shades of grey but it’s like choosing between death by a hundred or a thousand cuts.
So what is to be done ask the cynical liberals? As if Brand’s failure to come up with an alternative socio-economic system signals game over. Lenin’s question, though, continues to haunt us. It is precisely Lenin & co , who are considered the bogeymen of the left. As Brand puts it, we do not want a demagogic figure telling us what to do. The problem with horizontalist movements like Occupy is that the lack of a revolutionary vanguard or leadership may be democratic but it is often impotent. The various coloured revolutions and the Arab spring have demonstrated that they are all too easily hijacked by the counter-revolution. And, in the case of Ukraine and Syria, this has led to civil war, bloodshed and chaos. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The alternative Brand posits sensibly would be for us to organise, localise and collectivise. After all, world hunger can be solved through something as simple as local, organic farming. Who stands in the way? Agri-business and transnational corporations. Again Brand hits the bullseye. These corporations only exist because we allow them to. We can revoke their charter at the time of our choosing.
Whatever we choose to do, though, we need to act fast. The left no longer has the luxury of playing the waiting game and needs to gets its act together. Another 10 years of capitalist crisis and economic stagnation and the political landscape may be unrecognisable. If progressive parties do not seize the moment with alternatives that appeal to the majority then the far right will. Are you listening Ed Miliband? And the result will be not revolution but repression.