Russell Brand, the British comedian, used a guest editorship of the 100-plus-year-old leftist magazine New Statesman last month to call for a “total revolution of consciousness and our entire social, political and economic system.” Capitalism, and the ideology that sustains it — “100 percent corrupt” — must be overthrown. He also doesn’t think people should vote, as partaking in democracy would further the illusion that a rotten system could change. It was a call, albeit chaotically phrased, for a socialist revolution.
Born into the middle class, Brand’s childhood was disturbed: his photographer father left when he was six months old, his mother developed cancer when he was eight (but survived), he left home in his mid-teens and took to drugs. He later became a star, delighted in promiscuity, married the singer Katy Perry for a year and a half and grew modestly (by star standards) rich, with an estimated net worth of $15 million and a lovely new Hollywood millionaire bachelor’s pad.
None of this disqualifies him from speaking and writing seriously about politics, nor from calling for a socialist revolution. Marx was born into the upper-middle class, Lenin was a minor aristocrat by birth, Stalin studied to be a priest and Mao was the son of a wealthy farmer. Even Pol Pot came from a peasant family considered relatively wealthy by the standards of the times. All of these people called for, or launched, revolutions. No reason, then, to believe that a demand for a 21st century socialist revolution could not be launched from the Hollywood Hills, or from a BBC studio.
It’s interesting to speculate what such a revolution would look like. But Brand won’t play along: his article in the New Statesman and a subsequent Newsnight interview was long on florid rhetoric and denunciation, and wholly devoid of detail. Perhaps that’s best. Because let us not forget that the socialist revolutions of the 20th century were horrors, claiming more victims than Nazism — who were shot, starved, frozen and tortured to death.
Such revolutions, on past experience, are some of the world’s worst ideas. Its leaders launch them in the name of the suffering poor, using the reality of widespread misery to justify seizures of power — which brings much more misery. Brand followed that pattern: he went to Kenya on a Comic Relief trip and saw children foraging through a vast stinking trash dump for bottle tops, which have some value: later, at a Givenchy fashion show, he saw the skinny models and “could not wrench the phantom of these children from my mind.” The starving scavengers are the moral levers of his revolution.