On Russell Brand

Thinking about the discussions on the Russell Brand/Jeremy Paxman exchange that have taken place over the past few days, I’ve come to the following tentative conclusions:

The fundamental question, to me, is how we on the left use the moment that has been generated by that exchange, by Brand’s remarks and the resonance that some of them had with quite a few people.

Too much of what I’ve seen focusses on Brand himself, often with uncritical adulation because he’s ’started a conversation‘ and admonitions that we should be so grateful to him for starting the conversation that we shouldn’t actually so much participate in whatever conversation that is, but nod reverently and keep our criticisms to ourselves.

This, to me, is fundamentally missing the point, and, more importantly, the opportunity.

We owe Brand nothing. Brand isn’t some member of popular movements who was able to fight his way onto the Beeb to get heard: he’s a celebrity who is in the public eye specifically because of that, and who happened to say a few things that strongly, and validly resonated with a lot of people who are disgusted with the hollowed-out shell that passes for official politics in the age of neoliberalism.

So we’re not beholden to him, and there’s no reason for these discussions to revolve around the underlying idea that he is somehow a (potential) movement leader when, to my knowledge, he’s never really shown any interest in getting involved in grass-roots organising to begin with.

What he is is a walking opportunity to talk to more people about the things that need to be talked about. If there is to be any point to the conversation his remarks to Paxman have started, then it really needs to start with a critical appraisal of the issues raised both by his words and proposals (such as they have been) and his behaviour.

There’s much to discuss: Are his proposals, to the extent that they’re concrete enough to comprehend on this level, really revolutionary? What is missing from that that must be included in order to have some hope of building a decent society? How can we best overcome the impulse to declare certain people ‚movement royalty‘? What do the discussions that have arisen over Brand’s repulsively misogynist behaviour tell us about sexism on the left and how best to combat it?

To me, in the end, the left ought to approach the openings and resonances generated by the Brand/Paxman exchange the same way we would approach it if Iain Duncan Smith were to show up pissed at the next question period and drunkenly acknowledge that the government was fully aware that the disability benefit ‚reforms‘ were probably going to be murderous, and that there were no actual jobs to be forcing benefit claimants into, and these policies had been pursued specifically with a view to lowering working-class living standards: