Revolutionise society from inside the system, Mr Brand

From Sachsgate to his close-to-the-bone jokes at the 2008 MTV VMAs, Russell Brand’s sense of humour has always polarised opinion. If possible, though, his political beliefs do so even more. Over the past few months alone, he has been heralded the Left’s anti-establishment loudhailer, following the launch of his latest book, ‘Revolution‘. At the same time, possibly due to the interview he gave on Newsnight on 23 October, he has been portrayed as its very own pantomime villain, heckled with each paparazzied public appearance, and ridiculed for his 140-character rants on Twitter. (#PARKLIFE!) On the Right, and maybe even on some parts of the Left, people think that Brand has some sort of Messiah complex – the title he used, incidentally, for his latest stand-up tour. Looks-wise, it’s true, he does bear a surreal resemblance to images of Jesus Christ. Yet with his “them and us” ideology, Brand is more like Moses than any other Biblical figure: a divider of the UK’s shifting political sea. Like Moses, to extend the analogy, he is trying to lead his followers to his own promised land – a place without Forex-fixing bankers, without PR-peddling politicians, where the rich-poor divide is radically reduced. In ‘Revolution’, Brand argues that the coalition government has lied to us, indoctrinated us into believing there are no other alternatives, and invites us to join the revolutionary movement. Of course, as a non-believer might say about Moses’s parting of the Red Sea, such a bold ambition is far from likely to be achieved in this neo-liberalist age – if ever at all.

 

One Mount-Sinai-sized obstacle that lies in the way of Brand’s political utopia is the issue of powerful corporations. Along with the coalition government, Brand loves to lambast the UK’s rich, multinational business – especially their CEOs. In an article for the Guardian, published after his interview with Jeremy Paxman last year, Brand goes after Sir Phillip Green, CEO of Topshop, who he describes as “an arsehole” for failing to pay any income tax on a £1.2billion dividend. “The money he’s nicked through legal loopholes would pay the annual salary for 20,000 NHS nurses,” Brand writes. “It’s socialism for corporate elites and feudalism for the rest of us,” he adds. In ‘Revolution’, also, Brand writes on the topic of General Motors: “Let’s kill General Motors. Let’s take it back from the shareholders, scribble out the name and the logo and let’s use its resources for something more valuable.” In his latest Newsnight appearance, Brand identified this outlandish proposal as part of an “alternative to corporate hegemony”. To use his stance on General Motors as a general example, however, this is where Brand’s attitude towards corporate power reveals a basic flaw in his political vision. Despite the company’s financial trouble, General Motors is not going to ‘killed’ – to borrow Brand’s colloquial, often confusing, lexicon – anytime soon. Founded 106 years ago in Detroit, the spiritual home of America’s automobile industry, General Motors Corporation (now General Motors Company) is still a symbol of its country’s capitalist system. Today, with assets worth more than $166 billion and 396 facilities on six continents, it provides a model for a corporation’s expansion across a globalised market. Although Brand can boast about his activism and a much-publicised book (or wooky book, as he might call it), General Motors is anchored to the seabed of Western society – along with most other big-name corporation listed on the FTSE 500. Instead of fighting against corporate firms, then, like an inmate rattling the steel rails of their cell, why doesn’t Brand harness their power and work with them?

There is nothing at all revolutionary, of course, about the idea of working with corporations. Charities, youth groups and small businesses all do it – and they will continue to do so in the future. In particular, there is one group from which Russell Brand could genuinely learn: The Kindness Offensive (TKO). Set up in 2008, group began when three friends – David Goodfellow, Benny Crane and James Hunter – climbed Parliamentary Hill in north London, and asked members of the public what random acts of kindness they wanted done for them. On that afternoon, one request made was a father’s wish to take his 11-year-old daughter to see the Moscow State Circus – which TKO duly organised, complete with ringside seats and juggling lessons. (Yes, you did read that right.) Since then, with the help of firms such as Barclaycard and Hasbro, the group has provided a toy to each child in a London hospital, given away 25-tonnes of food to the UK’s homeless, and established a free-bookshop headquarters in Islington. Unlike Mr Brand, TKO, with their moto: “Kindness is a one-word revolution”, understands how to access and share corporations’ resources without a full-blown coup d’état. On the subject of Brand’s revolution, interestingly, David Goodfellow says: “We work with Nestlé, Panasonic, Canon – some of the biggest corporations in the world – and our view is not ‘Give us back the power.’ Our view is, ‘Okay, well you’ve got a lot of resources Let’s work together to mould and change what you are doing with them.'” Obviously, if Russell Brand worked with the same corporations, it would completely compromise his political views. Indeed, it is easy to imagine the far Left – currently his steadfast supporters – turning against him and even vilifying him in a similar way to how the Right has recently. If Brand is as serious about instigating change as he claims, though, working with corporations may be the most feasible way of achieving it on nationwide scale.

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