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Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Russell Brand strikes a chord

Russell Brand famously called for revolution and an ‘egalitarian socialist society’ a little over a year ago. Despite countless establishment journalists and politicians ridiculing him, he has since developed a massive online following, sold hundreds of thousands of copies of his book ‘Revolution’, and launched a popular political web series, ‘The Trews.’

While Brand may be vague on the specifics of the type of revolution he envisages, it is undeniable that the basic ideas he promotes have struck a chord. Like Brand, millions of people around the world worry about the impending environmental catastrophe and are suffering due to increasing inequality and austerity. Perhaps most infuriatingly, mainstream politicians are getting rich by facilitating both of these processes!

Brand has given an entertaining voice to working people’s fear, frustration and anger. Millions of people tuned in to watch him debate the anti-immigration party UKIP’s Nigel Farage on the British talk show Question Time. Brand placed the blame for worsening living standards and access to jobs and services squarely where it belongs: with big business and its allies in Parliament.

Brand put his money where his mouth is in 2014 by championing the cause of the 92 working class families of the New Era estate. These families faced crippling rent increases and eviction when the predatory Westbrook Partners – described by the Guardian as ‘global landlords using property like an ATM’ – bought their estate.

The campaign was led by three working class single mothers and involved mass rallies, actions against Tory MPs and a wildly successful petition. They ultimately claimed victory in December 2014 when Westbrook conceded defeat under the pressure and sold New Era to an affordable housing charity.

Earlier in the campaign Brand told journalists that he had learnt a lot about politics from the New Era women, that even if ordinary people feel powerless or not politically represented by the major parties, they can take matters into their own hands.

Unable to resist, a snide journalist persistently questioned Brand about his personal rent, painting him as part of the super rich displacing people like the New Era tenants. A visibly furious New Era resident leapt to his defence and silenced the journalist, contrasting Brand’s support for their campaign with the betrayal of all the establishment politicians.

Brand may not have an exact blueprint for a socialist revolution, but the media and politicians have consistently underestimated how much his political statements reflect the really existing needs and anger of working people in the UK and beyond.

Much has been made of Brand’s calling on young people not to vote. What he was actually saying was that the major parties currently represent the needs of big business, at our expense, and don’t deserve our vote.

As the historically high turnout for the recent Scottish independence referendum shows, people engage more in politics when they feel like their involvement will matter and make a difference. It should be no surprise that young people aren’t rushing out to vote for the very politicians restricting their access to work, healthcare, education and housing. Why, Brand is saying, would young people bother voting for the people who have made them the first generation to be worse off than their parents?

As Brand’s involvement in the New Era campaign makes clear, he isn’t condoning apathy: he’s calling on ordinary working people to take back politics from big business! Even better: his call for revolution and a socialist alternative has struck a chord. His enduring popularity demonstrates that in an era of austerity people are hungry for anti-big business, pro-worker, and even revolutionary ideas!

Socialists should be encouraged by Russell Brand’s popularity. It is evidence that when it develops, a new workers’ party that boldly advocates a break with capitalism will gain not only attention but also popular support.

By Chris Dite