Common sense. It’s a double (actually triple) entendre. Brand is considered “common” in the English class system (yes, even though he is rich now) and is offering what I consider common sense political – and even spiritual – analysis. There is a third meaning as well to those familiar with Thomas Paine.
Of course, nothing he’s saying is new. Many have said it before and many are saying it now, but few have the access to media Brand has, and even fewer have his following. In media terms, his audience – the audience he carries around with him if you will – far exceeds even the most popular television show’s audience on its best night. For example the finale of Breaking Bad garnered a 6.6 million audience share. As of today, Brand has 7,366,715 followers on twitter – and I think it’s safe to assume that number represents a fraction of his fans worldwide who aren’t following him on twitter.
Not only is he articulate – often eloquent – concerning our current situation as humans on a planet increasingly controlled by corporate power and the politicians they pay for, but he has every skill needed to deal with media “journalists” and all of the various and sundry lackeys of the elite who populate our popular media landscape.
Aside from being a skilled debater (he would make a joke here), he is extremely quick-witted and capable of encapsulating complex thoughts in pithy “sound-bites.” While he has many other skills perfectly suited to communicate through the media, his most important trait is his humanity. Simply put, he cares about other people and believes people generally tend toward good impulses rather than ill. Again, there are others who appear in the media who still have their humanity, but Brand can communicate it better than most. They used to call it, “the common touch.”
So, who cares? Well, I guess it depends on who you are. Most people on the left have been trying to communicate some variation of these ideas for quite a long time now, with very little success. The prominent left’s reaction to Brand’s interview with Paxton is a testament to how fractured and divisive the left has become – and an object lesson in what some lefties do with their access to the media. Of course, some of this is airing dirty laundry, but now is as good a time as any if a certain faction of what’s left of the left wants to be on board for any actual popular resistance, let alone “lead” it.
Mark Fisher discusses these issues and how Russell Brand matters in his article, “Exiting The Vampire Castle.”
On December 5th, 2013, Doug Henwood interviewed Fisher for his radio show and podcast Behind the News. Though there is a bit of academic language thrown around, I think he does a nice job of summing up the way I would. Essentially, he supports what Brand is doing in the media, rejects divisive “indentitarianism,” calls for putting class firmly in the center of left discourse, and for getting back to practicing solidarity and common cause.
I want to end here, but because we are where we are, it seems more of a whimper than a bang. These calls have been made before (though I sense more energy building behind the critique of identity politics). The truth is, we have to call out even those calls, because after a certain point, talk and theorizing will beget even more talk and theorizing if that is the bulk of left “action.” I am not diminishing the need for those things; in fact, acting and theorizing are not mutually exclusive – but we will eventually have to do the hard organizing work they did generations ago, because about half of us will have very few other options. This isn’t a static situation by any means. There will be another manufactured crisis. It will be worse than the last one. The same corporations will be responsible.
The elite have embraced Neoliberalism and are using a series of policies based on that economic philosophy to organize the entire world in their image. It is a world where everything is commodified, i.e., made into something that can be bought or sold, where everything owned by the public and everything for the public good is privatized and only exists to generate profit, where no one has privacy and everyone is a number.
While capitalists of the past may have had visions of world domination, it would be difficult even for them to conceive of how much capital has been consolidated and what those capitalists (yes, mostly in the form of corporations) have been able to do with that capital. They are utilizing a neoliberal agenda that enacts and enforces laws using politicians and global organizations to reorganize the very structure of our lives. From food and water to oil and jobs, from education to housing, our lives are being reshaped by global capital. This is the threat. This is what is happening before our eyes. They have more power and wealth than has ever existed in history and they are using it on people in the same way all over the world.
In the end, this may turn out to be their greatest weakness. If exploited and oppressed people understand the same thing being done to them is being done to their brothers and sisters around the world, they can begin to talk. When they talk, they can begin to organize, and then together we can fight the corporate power that exists only to exploit for profit. A worldwide class war perpetrated against working people demands worldwide solidarity and organizing.
Unions like the IWW with international aspirations never really achieved their goals. Now, the consolidation of capital by a relative few corporations and individuals using the same set of policies all over the world may have created the conditions for the first actual worldwide movement of people to come together and with one voice say, “basta!”