Russell Brand, let’s get this done.

by · October 27, 2013


OK Russell, let’s get this done.

I’m in Europe and the crisis is everywhere. I landed in Greece and it hit me in the face: people trying to generate an income in any way they can; road works half complete and not touched for months (if not years); teachers on strike against austerity; people sleeping rough, shops with no customers; fascists in parliament; and demonstrations full of angry people (and, worryingly, tired and apprehensive people). It was there in Berlin as well. Sure the roads and bike paths are immaculate, and the public infrastructure incredible, but too many are living a much more difficult existence. I queued to get into Berghain nightclub while an older and younger man collected cans and bottles from those waiting, to earn a living. They worked through the night in the cold while standing in the rain and mud. I caught the bus to a market in the local square and watched as skinheads walked along the footpath. And when I was leaving Berlin and caught a taxi to the airport, the driver’s anxiety overwhelmed me as she criticised Merkel’s economic policies at home and abroad — ‘it is harder now than thirty years ago’ she lamented (all the while knowing her relative privilege). She damned Thatcherism and noted that the same privatisation policies carry on ‘whenever Frau Merkel visits Greece’.

Over the last two days my social media has been awash with the You Tube of you being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman. Perhaps it is more accurate to say the footage of you taking on Paxman, who seems more to want to belittle you than interview you at times. While I do vote, I understand why you say you don’t — that you think all politicians are the same. And I agree that we shouldn’t support a system that is run for the benefit of the few and to the detriment of many. The Occupy idea of the 1% versus the 99% rings true for me – both within nations and at the global level. That places like ‘your’ England and ‘my’ Australia can even have an underclass, alongside their enormous wealth, is criminal. And it was excellent you repeatedly mentioned that the 1% isn’t serious about the global environmental catastrophe it has created. We have just had a ‘labour’ government that basically did shit.

But the question for me is also, where to now Russell? Where to if we really want to get this done?

To revolutionise the global political economy, we need to talk about how we do that. I don’t know that you are right in saying that a revolution will happen. Struggle will happen, we know this from the history of capitalism. But the 1% and the governments who serve them have been maintaining their position of privilege for a while now, and it would be wrong to think that they will fall without a concerted and strategic effort on our part. We need to get organised and we need to take them on. You are right that we should not demand something only a little better from them, but ourselves create the sort of permanent changes people and the planet need. It needs to be the sort of change that will last.

We also need a diverse movement of the majority. So while it is great you took on the homophobic dicks from Westboro Baptist Church, I think you need to get serious about equality and inclusion if we are really going to get this done. Your sexism has to stop. I want to stand with you, but you need to cut that shit out — it’s not funny, it’s offensive.

On Occupy, wasn’t it great to see that sort of fight back in the belly of the beast! But I think Occupy hit an impasse and many people know it. It is not enough to just call out the 1%, or to call out the police for their repression of those who fight back, we need to go further and we need a strategy. That strategy has to take on the state, and that means building a social movement that can not only provide an alternative to the existing politicians, governments and ‘democratic’ systems, but one that can sweep away the machineries of power that stand behind them. We need to replace them with a completely new way of organising society in the interests of the vast majority by the vast majority.

The 1% and their politicians we rightly hate, as well the police and military that do their bidding around the world, will only be successfully tackled if we get organised around such a strategy — one that doesn’t simply end up replicating the problems you have identified in a new form. A social revolution is never automatic or inevitable. The only inevitability is that the 1% will fight us, and so we need to be thinking about how we carry out that fight and for what aims.

Thanks for megaphoning this discussion of revolution in a way I can’t. But for now, let’s get clear on how we can make that revolution happen and let’s get it done.

Discussion25 Comments

  1. Pat Halward says:

    Hang on just one moment. Are you seriously offering that “Morning Joe” appearance as an example of RB’s monstrous sexism? Looked to me as if he was the one being objectified, by a group of supposed professionals who were speaking about him in the third person and couldn’t even get his name right. Perhaps it’s his use of the word “luv” you have a problem with? That’s pretty weak tea if it’s your Exhibit A. I don’t think you could seriously claim that he was being disrespectful, other than in a very innocuous and playful way – and especially not compared to the disrespect shown by his so-called interviewers.

    There are many things I don’t agree with RB about, but at least he’s having a go at articulating the deeper problem, which makes a refreshing change from the policy-wonkery that characterises most political interventions (necessary though that obviously is). His New Statesman editorial alludes to the wearying necessity on the left to keep a straight face and suck any potential fun out of dissent. In that context, it’s especially depressing that such a feeble instance of Brand’s supposed sexism has to be checked off here, just to put some politically correct distance between the chaotic and potentially disruptive reputation of Russell Brand and the self-appointed custodians of revolutionary politics.

    As I hope Emma Goldman would have said: If I can’t tease slow-witted pundits by means of playful flirtation, I don’t want to be in your revolution.

    • Meg says:

      As I recall, he started off criticizing her “low cut dress” and saying “I’m only a man. I have instincts.”

      A more troubling incident was when he refused to go on with filming in a set until a woman from costuming showed him her breasts, in an appalling abuse of his power in the situation.

      • Pat Halward says:

        “That [widely reported] story,” says Connolly evenly, “is a total invention. A complete fabrication. It’s total bollocks. It never happened. Russell was very well-behaved, and I found him very interesting.”


        I count myself as a feminist, and I find it a bit embarrassing when some feminists lose all of their critical instincts on certain issues.

      • Pat Halward says:

        Hope I wasn’t being too harsh, there. But if, like me, you live in the UK, there’s a horrible irony in, of all things, an article from The Sun – a newspaper that continues to put photos of topless women, sometimes teenagers, on its third page every weekday – being pressed into service in a defence of feminist proprieties against Russell Brand, who has fearlessly ventilated his contempt for the British tabloid press on numerous occasions, which few celebrities have the courage to do.

        As for the comment about Brzezinski’s low-cut dress, I think you need to watch the clip again. His comment immediately followed a light-hearted (though not particularly witty) exchange between her and Brian Shactman about whether he (Shactman) should “loosen up a little and show a little more chest hair”, to which she responds: “No, I only think Russell can do that”, and then follows up by complementing Brand on his décolletage. To which Russell responds: “That is a very kind compliment – you also look beautiful”, and that Brian is at liberty to wear whatever he likes (at which Brzezinski expels a delighted, girlish squeal). A couple of moments later when Brzesinski leans across the table towards him – in this context I’ve just described in what some might feel is laborious detail – Brand does say: “Be careful, because that’s a low-cut dress – I’m only flesh-and-blood, I’ve got instincts”.

        Now, despite her manifest limitations as an interviewer, it’s only fair to the woman to report that she appears to take no offence whatsoever at this comment, which is clearly, to the attentive viewer, a reference back to the earlier conversation about how unbuttoned everyone was. I presume one of the reasons she seems unoffended is because she understands that he’s a comedian, and that that sort of “call-back” is is stock-in-trade. And, you know, she’s a grownup. It takes a particularly perverse sort of puritanism, I think, to disregard her relative composure in pursuit of the opportunity to take offence on her behalf.

        Again: feminism is way too important to open itself up so – well, promiscuously! – to the charge of being a mirthless project devoted above all to the policing of irreverent and amicable social interaction.

  2. Pat Halward says:

    Reported in The Sun, eh? The paper Brand had repeatedly denounced on stage before they reported that story? Well, in that case, I’m sure it happened just the way they said it did.

  3. Matt Rodell says:

    We don’t need Westboro’s support, they are a very small organization who are a burden to the humanitarian progression. Also Russel is very left wing so if you want to go with his ideas you have to take environmental and humanitarian factors into consideration, not just can we get richer (economical stuff) which just sounds conservative and how it is now. Also his apparent ‘sexism’ is a part of his comedic act which is not to be taken seriously, grow a sense of humour dude, it’s not like he is implementing the ideas of sexism into his political ideologies. You need to see the picture more correctly but still kudos on your support.

  4. Tom says:

    I don’t mean this as a stinging criticism of Left Flank which is a great venue in general, but think about it:

    * Public figure indulges in a pro-socialist tirade with crossover appeal on a prominent TV show

    * Left blog posts upbeat exhortation to “get stuff done” in response

    * Comments immediately descend into a debate over whether public figure’s personal politics (such as they can be reverse engineered from the nuances of his public appearances) are acceptable to the left.

    For Brand’s politics to be damaging to the actions called for by this post, there would actually have to be actions taking place, and making up ground to be damaged.

    And if those actions were taking place, I doubt Brand’s politics would matter a damn.

    • lizhumphrys says:

      I do think you are right that Brands comments occupy more space because of the particular historical moment we are in (the falling away of recent movements). On the other hand, the space for Brand to say these things (and be asked to edit New Statesman) arises because the mainstream feels they must respond to Occupy, Indignados, etc.

  5. Bob says:

    This is a disgraceful piece of writing. Specifically, I loathe your ignorant opinions and your arrogant undertones. Sounds like you’ve run a revolution before. It was just a guy who can articulate and thus inspire people to wake up. Shame on you.

  6. Kate says:

    Matt Rodell wrote: “his apparent ‘sexism’ is a part of his comedic act which is not to be taken seriously, grow a sense of humour dude, it’s not like he is implementing the ideas of sexism into his political ideologies”…

    ‘Dude’, why don’t you just read over that a few more times and have a think about it. Then reduce it to the “grow a sense of humour” bit, and repeat. It ends up not being very funny. Like sexism.

    I support Russell Brand 100% on his anti-capitalism, and would also defend him against conservative feminist attacks, which would throw out the revolutionary ideas he supports just because he – who has a sexist sense of humour – said them. But the idea that we shouldn’t call out progressive people on shit things they say and do is deeply flawed and dangerous.

    • Pat Halward says:

      Kate – I don’t think I disagree with anything you’ve said here. But doesn’t it concern you that the standard of evidence against RB seems to be so low, among many feminists? Most of them, I’d guess, wouldn’t for one moment accept The Sun as an honest witness in relation to women’s rights in general. So why has the recycling of a Sun smear against RB that appears in this thread not been roundly and decisively condemned by feminist readers?

      Also (and here maybe I do disagree with you a little), I’m not sure it’s fair to conclude that, just because RB talks about sex and his past relationships as material for his act, that makes his sense of humour “sexist”. Isn’t he just positioning himself as a slave to his senseless priapic impulses? In cases where people claim he’s been disrespectful to a particular woman, it always seems, on closer inspection, that, in the context of the particular interaction being discussed, his behaviour was perfectly considerate, and within the bounds of healthy interaction between consenting adults. I’ve tried, above, to provide some “close reading” of the Morning Joe interview.

      All of this leaves, in some people’s minds, the idea that the only explanation for the casting of RB as a misogynist is that many feminists are essentially anti-sex, and would probably prefer everyone to wear boiler-suits while out in public. Now, many of my best friends – in fact, most of them – are feminists, and I know this caricature of the movement to be unrepresentative of the majority. But you can see, can you not, why some people who look on as feminists collude with organs like The Sun in denouncing RB’s supposed misogyny might get that impression in the first place?

  7. Tom says:

    Why was my comment moderated when it seemed to have been published before? Was it judged to be rude or patronising or something?

    • lizhumphrys says:

      Hi Tom – absolutely not. We are having some issues with the blog, as it was just moved to a new server and a few other changes were done. You’ll notice the facebook ‘like’ button and twitter recorder have gone missing as well. Apologies. There was a rude comment submitted under the name ‘Bob’ using an RMIT email address (saying my post showed arrogance, shameful behaviour and was loathsome) but we didn’t even moderate that one! And I recall seeing your comment when I looked at that one. We usually only delete things that are racist etc (of which we get a few when we write on asylum seekers). We are trying to work out what has happened! Can you put your point again so I can respond though? Thanks, Elizabeth.

      • Tom says:

        Thanks Liz – I didn’t mean to come off quite so piqued, I was just surprised. Thought it might have been squashed as derailing / OT (yes I saw “Bob” and his comment earlier had disappeared too, hence my concern I might’ve been bracketed with him!).

    • lizhumphrys says:

      In fact Tom, I can see the start of your comment in my Feedly (where I get notifications): “I don’t mean this as a stinging criticism of Left Flank which is a great venue in general, but think about it: * Public figure indulges in a pro-socialist tirade with crossover appeal on a prominent TV show * Left blog posts upbeat exhortation…”.

  8. Hi Tom,

    We were moving the Left Flank site from our California servers to our Sydney servers and your comment must have just missed the boat. We’ve tracked it down and reinserted it into the comment thread.

    Sorry if this seemed like you were being moderated. It was just a database mismatch…

  9. John Passant says:

    Liz, you say: ‘That strategy has to take on the state, and that means building a social movement that can not only provide an alternative to the existing politicians, governments and ‘democratic’ systems, but one that can sweep away the machineries of power that stand behind them. We need to replace them with a completely new way of organising society in the interests of the vast majority by the vast majority.’

    To me that raises the question of building a revolutionary party here and now made up of the most class conscious workers and others class conscious elements. I think revolutionaries should be in the same organisation arguing out the way forward. And that seems to be the unstated logic of our views…

    • Marc Newman says:

      John, you’re right the working class needs organisation to win, but I think a bit less time expounding the need for a party and a bit more time outlining what an organisation needs to be doing would be good for us all.

      Moreover, the ‘state’ does not get kicked over all at once. It is the outcome of a process. How to effectively undermine the authority of the state is a central question, not on the date of some future insurrection, but right now. And that is a larger question than just the need for organisation.

      • lizhumphrys says:

        Thanks so much for your comment John. I pretty much agree with the nuance Marc has argued here, but I do agree with you that building a party is important. Though it does depend on what sort of party. In the absence of a party of the kind I feel I can play a productive role in, being a political activist and discussing a way forward within the Left more generally is not a bad place to be. In that sense I don’t see the three of us as separate, despite the fact we are one person in the Greens, one person in SAlt and one person in no party at all.

  10. […] see that things are  pretty rotten and, as Liz Humphrys put it, he’s willing and able to megaphone the message. He knows that things need to change […]