Russell Brand Stokes the Armchair Revolutionary Fantasy With Double-Talk

I don’t understand why so many “political” people harbor such fantasies of “revolution” in places like the United States and Great Britain. I get it. They’re frustrated. So am I at times. But what do you imagine people will rise up and “rebel” against? More importantly, how do you imagine they will do it? Ultimately, what these “armchair revolutionaries” are expressing is distaste for the results of the democratic process. Ironically, because Americans and British live in free countries, the tools for “revolt” are already at our fingertips. We were given them many years ago. And most of the problems we face are because we don’t use them.

The “revolutionaries” were out in force yesterday, touting an interview on BBC Newsnight from Monday night, in which Jeremy Paxman interviewed Russell Brand about the comedian’s stint as a guest editor for an issue of the New Statesman about revolution, suggesting that Brand was on to something. Otherwise intelligent people were gushing over this interview, as if Brand’s insight was something new and he was some sort of “Messiah” or something. (It’s not, and he isn’t.)

Yet, when I watched the interview, I saw someone absolutely ignorant of democracy, who was double-talking and bullshitting his way through an interview filled with questions he didn’t even seem to understand. Watch this:

One thing you can never tell about Brand is when he’s putting us on or not. In this case, he has to be putting us on. For example, the first thing Paxman confronts him on is about his lack of a voting history,

Jeremy Paxman: But is it true you don’t even vote?

Russell Brand: Yeah, no, I don’t vote.

Paxman: Well, how do you have any authority to talk about politics then?

Brand: Well, I don’t get my authority from this pre-existing paradigm which is quite narrow and only serves a few people. I look elsewhere for alternatives that might be of service to humanity. Alternate means, alternate political systems.

Paxman: They being?

Brand: Well, I’ve not invented it yet, Jeremy. I had to do a magazine last week. I’ve had a lot on me plate. But I say, but here’s the thing you shouldn’t do. Shouldn’t destroy the planet, shouldn’t create massive economic disparity, shouldn’t ignore the needs of the people. The burden of proof is on the people with the power, not people like doing a magazine for a novelty.


Paxman: You can’t even be asked to vote.

Brand: It’s quite narrow, quite a narrow prescriptive parameter that changes within the –

Paxman: In a democracy, that’s how it works.

Brand: Well, I don’t think it’s working very well, Jeremy, given that the planet is being destroyed, given that there is economic disparity of a huge degree. What are you saying, there’s no alternative? There’s no alternative? Just this system?

How could anyone think any of this is serious, intelligent political discussion? First off, what he’s talking about isn’t politics, it’s philosophy. I agree with Brand, that we shouldn’t so the things on his laundry list. But I know exactly how to change all of those things under the current system. Don’t you? It’s called the vote. People have to use their power to influence politicians, and they don’t do that. In fact, Brand practically brags that he doesn’t use the ultimate weapon people have in a democracy, the vote. Yet, he sees fit to lecture us on politics. And people are buying this?

One thing armchair revolutionaries should understand is, even if someone like Brand was able to “invent” a system that “worked better,” there are only two ways to implement it. There is the violent method, in which we take over the government by force, which isn’t likely if people like Brand can’t even be motivated to show up to vote on election days. The only other way to do it is use the democracy. You have to use the system in place to change the system. The reason all of the things Brand describes are happening is precisely because people don’t vote for those things, and they don’t support politicians who want to change things. The way the system works is, if something’s wrong, you advocate to get enough support for change, and you get the right people in office to implement it.

It’s pure cynicism to claim “the system” is the cause of the problems we face. It’s the same system that turned the United States and Britain into world powers. What changed? People used to be proud to vote. Now, they act as if their vote is a useless waste of time, in part because people like Brand and his band of armchair revolutionaries tell them so. Give them something to vote for, and they will.

And I wonder about anyone who asks about “alternatives.” Alternatives to democracy, where the people have the ultimate power? What does Brand have in mind? Well, nothing, it seems. He hasn’t “invented” it yet. But political systems are, by nature, very simplistic. I know the armchair revolutionaries want politics to be complex, but it’s not. In a democracy, the vote is the key to everything. You want change? Get the votes. And alternatives to a democracy? You either give the power to run the government to the people at large, or to someone specific. Does this mean Brand wants to go back to a strong monarch? Or would he prefer a dictator? There aren’t a lot of alternatives. If you have something specific in mind, even a socialist system, you still have to vote it in. If Brand wants an authoritarian in charge, he’ll have to get him elected, and then he’ll need the votes to change the laws to give the authoritarian power.

Here’s another example of why I think Brand is putting us on. Check out this bit of double-talk.

Brand:  …it’s not that I’m not voting out of apathy. I’m not voting out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery, deceit of the political class that has been going on for generations now and which has now reached fever pitch where you have a disenfranchised, disillusioned, despondent underclass that are not being represented by that political system, so voting for it is tacit complicity with that system and that’s not something I’m offering up.

And then later:

…Jeremy, my darling, I’m not saying – the apathy doesn’t come from us, the people. The apathy comes from the politicians. They are apathetic to our needs. They’re only interested in servicing the needs of corporations. Look at where – ain’t the Tories going to court, taking the EU to court, it’s because they’re trying to curtail bank bonuses? Is that what’s happening at the moment in our country? Isn’t it?

“It’s not apathy, it’s indifference…”? Uh huh. And it’s the politicians who are “apathetic”? Why would a politician, whose living is based on getting enough votes to keep his job, be apathetic? Who’s fault is that? It’s the voters! Politicians only get away with shenanigans because voters let them. Every time there’s an election, voters have an opportunity to get rid of the uncaring ones. If Brand is so “disillusioned,” shouldn’t he be voting, and encouraging other people to vote along with him? I mean, if politicians are doing so many bad things, why would you not swap them out for new ones? Funny thing is, if everyone who was in that “disenfranchised, disillusioned, despondent underclass” voted, everything would change. Yet, here’s Brand, in an influential position, and he’s encouraging the majority to not vote. And armchair revolutionaries are falling all over themselves to kiss his ass for it.

How about this one:

Paxman: What’s the scheme, that’s all I’m asking. What’s the scheme? You talk vaguely about revolution – what is it?

Brand: I think a socialist egalitarian system based on the massive redistribution of wealth, heavy taxation of corporations, and massive responsibility for energy companies and any companies exploiting the environment. I think they should be ta– I think the very concept of profit should be hugely reduced. David Cameron says profit isn’t a dirty word; I say profit is a filthy word. Because wherever there is profit there is also deficit. And this system currently doesn’t address these ideas. And so why would anyone vote for it? Why would anyone be interested in it?

Look at all of those meaningless buzzwords. “Socialist egalitarian”? “Massive redistribution of wealth”? “Wherever there is profit, there is also deficit”?? This is the kind of thing political blowhards have been saying for years. It’s meaningless drivel. Michael Moore, who is one of those who posted this yesterday, makes enough profit on his ventures to live in a Manhattan highrise; does his profit make him evil?

Even if I thought Brand meant any of this nonsense, how does he plan to implement it without selling it to people and getting them to vote for it? Does he plan to wish the system to change? Does he think yelling at it loudly enough will just change? If you want socialism, fine. Get people behind it and vote to change the law. Unless you have a genie to work with, you’ll need votes and politicians. If you want to redistribute wealth, you need to change the law.

Then, there’s the end of the interview. Seriously; who buys this crap?

Brand: I don’t think so because the time is now, this movement is already occurring, it’s happening everywhere; we’re in a time where communication is instantaneous and there are communities all over the world. The Occupy movement made a difference in – even if only in that it introduced to the popular public lexicon the idea of the 1% versus the 99%. People for the first time in a generation are aware of massive corporate and economic exploitation. These things are not nonsense and these subjects are not being addressed. No one is doing anything about tax havens. (…)

Remember that – yeah, totally, there’s gonna be a revolution, it’s totally going to happen. I ain’t got even a flicker of doubt. This is the end. This is time to wake up. I remember I seen you in that program where you look at your ancestors and you saw the way your grandmother would have to brass herself or had to have got fucked over by the aristocrats who ran her gaff, and you cried because you knew that it was unfair and unjust. And that was, what was that, a century ago? That’s happening to people now. I just come from a woman who’s being treated like that. I just been talking to a woman today who’s being treated like that. So if we can engage that feeling, instead of some moment of lachrymose sentimentality trotted out on the TV for people to pore over emotional porn, if we can engage that feeling and change things, why wouldn’t we? Why is that naive? Why is that not my right because I’m an actor? I mean, I, I’ve taken the right. I don’t need the right from you. I don’t need the right from anybody. I’m taking it.

Yeah, well, no you’re not.

Unless you’re planning to take up arms and overthrow the government, you’ll need to vote. This is the thing armchair revolutionaries don’t seem to want to understand; the vote is key to everything. If things are getting bad, use the democratic process to change it. Back when things were booming for both the US and the UK, voter turnout was far higher than it is now in both countries. . Why does no one see the correlation?

If you want to change the government, you have to do it through the people, and get them to vote. The concept of revolution has changed, and it requires the system to accomplish it. There are no shortcuts. The idea that you can march in the streets and spontaneously get the people in charge to change anything is nonsense. You have to gather support for the changes you want, and you have to implement them through the electoral process.

It’s funny. People from other countries and truly oppressive regimes come to Britain and the US because of our freedom to decide who our leaders should be and what they should do; a luxury many of them wish they had. At the same time, significant numbers of our own people don’t seem to recognize that we already have the power to change everything. Unfortunately, democracy is hard work, and it’s not magic.

That’s right, my little armchair revolutionaries, as the good witch Glinda told Dorothy many years ago (and I’m paraphrasing here), you’ve had the power to change everything all along.


Democracy is very powerful, but it’s voter apathy that causes politicians to be apathetic. If we were doing our job, they’d be doing theirs.

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  1. The knee jerk “socialist paradigm” of redistribution is just another form of elitist control over us. Oh maybe not HIM, but the vast majority of us. Any time you create a situation with hierarchical (and probably patriarchal) authority over others, you have massive corporatism. It no longer matters if it’s private capital or public.

    Not voting – and not digging down to find candidates who absolutely care to be PART of (not in charge of) community revitalization and national reorganization – is proof of total laziness. There are thousands of things that could be made humanity friendly were good candidates – not polemical assholes – to actually, you know, WORK to both serve from town to federal levels and to help choose and send them to those positions.

    The failure of such “I have a magazine to get out” armchair nut jobs just makes democracy less vibrant. Not that I want this idiot in charge of anything, but he is complicitous in the oppression of others by his elitist indifference to our needs. He forgets in socialism that he’s a Kulak. So he’d damned well better hope the revolution never comes.

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