The recent interview between Russell Brand and Jeremy Paxman became an overnight sensation. Brand’s attack on the profit system, criticism of the current political class, and bold call for revolution have clearly found an echo amongst ordinary people who clearly can no longer tolerate the status quo of crisis and falling living standards that capitalism offers.
The recent interview between Russell Brand – actor, comedian, and guest editor of New Statesmen – and Jeremy Paxman – presenter and interviewer on the BBC’s Newsnight became an overnight sensation, quickly gaining popularity to become the most watched video on YouTube. Brand’s attack on the profit system, criticism of the current political class, and bold call for revolution have clearly found an echo amongst ordinary people who clearly can no longer tolerate the status quo of crisis and falling living standards that capitalism offers.
The majority of viewers of Brand’s interview with Paxman on Newsnight clear empathised with the ideas he espoused. The “absolute indifference, weariness and exhaustion” he talks about in reference to our current political system is a feeling shared amongst a huge number of our population, who see no difference between the three main parties, which all offer nothing but austerity.
A recent YouGov poll asking who out of David Cameron or Ed Miliband is on the side of working people showed that the majority of respondents see neither leader as their genuine representative. It is clear that the political disenchantment that Brand refers to exists amongst a large proportion of society.
It is only natural, amidst crushing austerity, extensive privatisation of public services and most recently, the hatred displayed towards energy companies, that people feel that their interests are not represented in parliament. Instead we are faced with a Tory-led government of individuals who are in the pockets of the banks and big business, preserving their best interests and suppressing the working class for the benefit of profits.
Speaking about his disenchantment with politics, Brand says “I was part of a social and economic class that is underserved by the current political system… [People] don’t feel like they want to engage with the current political system because they see that it doesn’t work for them. They see that it makes no difference. They see that they’re not served.”
Such a statement echo’s Marx’s own comments about how, under capitalism, democracy is always truncated and restricted, since the real decisions in society are taken behind closed doors by the unelected managers of the banks and owners of industry. Democracy under capitalism, Marx stated, is nothing more than “deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class is to misrepresent the people in parliament”.
Credit must be given to Brand for fervently arguing against the effects of capitalism, and also for endorsing the idea of a socialist egalitarian society and boldly stating the need for revolution. This reflects how much of an echo revolutionary ideas have gained, now being shared and discussed by famous figures in front of millions of people.
The attacks on Russell Brand as a result of his interview have come mainly from commentators in the bourgeois media, who claim that his refusal to vote is an example of ‘cowardice’, or that the revolution he talks of has been tried “again and again, and we know that it ends in death camps, gulags, repression and murder” (Robert Webb, New Statesman).
These arguments presented by Robert Webb and others – that any call for revolution means condoning the acts of Stalinist Russia – are entirely vacuous. The brutal acts of the Stalinists bureaucracy of the Soviet era have nothing in common with Marxism, socialism, and revolution. These attacks and criticisms are typical capitalist scare tactics used to frighten society away from revolutionary ideas, thus protecting the elite from any threat to their profits and private property.
In addition to the interview with Brand, Jeremy Paxman also recently stated that he felt sympathy for the disenchantment that Brand talks of in the interview, admitting to once not voting. Paxman was similarly faced with an enormous amount of vitriol from bourgeois media outlets and politicians for his negative remarks about the political class he has interviewed over the years.
These vehement counter-attacks against Brand and Paxman demonstrate the concerns of the capitalists and their political representatives who are clearly worried – after years of scandal and crisis – about the public’s lack of trust in the establishment and the entire economic system. Such are the concerns of the ruling class that any popular figure who echoes the concerns of ordinary people and points a magnifying glass over the hypocrisy, inequalities, and injustices in society is instantly pilloried in a desperate attempt to discredit any questioning of the status quo. But one cannot kill an idea that reflects the experiences of the masses, and such attacks by the capitalist media and politicians only add fuel to the fire of revolutionary consciousness amongst the mases.
The Marxists sympathise with why Brand, Paxman, and many others would choose not to vote, given nothing but the pro-austerity options available, not to mention the distrust that people now have towards politicians following the MPs expenses scandals.
However, we cannot change the world by absolving ourselves from politics. One cannot drive a car by sitting on the bonnet. The revolutionary ideas that Russell Brand talks of will not be simply granted from above, but must be fought for through struggle – including a mass political struggle; a battle of ideas and arguments in the labour movement and in society for socialist policies.
It is time for such ideas, which are clearly gaining support in society, to be demanded and mobilised for by the leaders of the labour movement. It is not a depressing picture that Russell Brand paints of British society today, it is one of great potential. Given the correct leadership, the potential for the socialist transformation of society is now greater than ever before, with the majority of people experiencing the capitalist crisis more and more each day.
Brand, however, was criticised by Paxman during the interview for failing to put for an alternative – a criticism that Brand responded to by claiming that it was not possible to describe a “utopia” in the middle of a television interview. This lack of any genuine alternative being presented against the current state of affairs is a theme seen across the world, with the leaders of the labour movement consistently saying what they against, but never saying what demands and programme they are for.
The tasks of Marxists is to argue for such an alternative: for the revolutionary and socialist transformation of society; for a rational plan of production in the interests of the vast majority of people, not the profits of the few; not for a “utopia”, but for concrete demands that are, in any case, already popular in society: the public ownership and democratic control of the banks and big business to provide a job, home, and decent public services for all.