Comedian turned revolutionary Russell Brand articulates the bitterness increasing numbers of people feel at the society we live in.
Thousands of people packed cinemas around Britain, not to see the latest blockbuster, but to hear Brand expound live on screen why we need to change society.
Brand echoed many people’s disbelief at the way the world is, “Sometimes I feel like this is all a film and wonder, ‘Are they just fucking with us?’”
The central London event was chaired by Guardian columnist Owen Jones, a Labour left winger who is another favourite of the angry and disillusioned. But he played a minor role, and no one talked of looking to Labour.
Still, a huge cheer filled the Ritzy Picturehouse when people saw Jones’s Ritzy Living Wage campaign T-shirt.
Jones argued for cinema workers to join a union and for support for the Ritzy workers. Their fight for better conditions and the London Living Wage continues (see page 19).
The evening wasn’t exactly the debate on “a new vision for political action” that was billed, but it was always interesting.
Brand said, “The people that work at Pret a Manger should run Pret a Manger, or those who do the deliveries should run the deliveries.”
But for him class politics is just another way of dividing us.
Instead his philosophy is about making changes to ourselves as the starting point for bringing about wider change. “Be the change you want to see,” as he puts it.
Tickets to watch in cinemas cost up to £16.50 a head. To go to the Guardian newspaper’s actual event at the Emmanuel Centre near Westminster cost more, but was still sold out.
Cynics have argued all Brand was doing was promoting his new book, Revolution.
But anyone who has watched his YouTube videos, what he calls Trews—“true news, news you can trust”—will realise he is trying to do more than sell a few books.
Brand argued that “capitalism has provided us with the organisms for change” and said people need to be organised to achieve that change.
He said he is in favour of “killing” corporations and taking over their resources to benefit the majority.
Audiences included long time Brand fans, curious observers and many looking for change. Hannah Murton tweeted while watching in Islington, north London, “Fully feeling part of the movement. This will happen #revolution.”
Brand’s recent call for revolution has won criticism and praise.
In the evening’s discussion people worried how to tackle the power of multinational entities, and about the use of nuclear energy instead of renewables.
People asked Brand about a range of issues and often he’d ramble off at a tangent or make a joke.
But he has never claimed to be some kind of strategist. “I’m not the guy to do the admin. Look at me!” he said, “But I’ll talk about it.”
He sees himself as “amplifying” the struggles and ideas of others, whether that is the Focus E15 mothers demanding decent housing, firefighters fighting for their pension or the ideas of Naomi Klein.
There is a refreshing honesty from him. He doesn’t think he has the answers and is learning it for himself as he goes along.
But the lack of any concrete call to action can be frustrating.
One contributor argued people should get behind three basic ideas—participatory democracy, tackling inequality and a people’s environmental constitution.
He said we should all go on a big protest together to fight for these things. When asked about this, Brand said talk to the guy who spoke from the floor.
The discussion showed how open people are to alternatives to capitalism and even what they should be. But they aren’t sure how to get there.
Brand has been denounced as a hypocrite multimillionaire and bogus revolutionary, but he seems sincere in his criticism of the system.
As he says, “The people that tell us that change is impossible are the ones that benefit from it most.”
Someone with his profile attacking capitalism, advocating revolution and encouraging direct action can bring those ideas to a wider audience.
Russell Brand is not going to lead the revolution—but he wants to shout for it, and attack the injustice and inequality of capitalism. And that’s no bad thing.