FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Beyond Russell Brand’s Revolutionary Change

by ELLIOT SPERBER

Russell Brand’s recent calls for revolutionary change (in his BBC interview and in his article in the New Statesman) have raised a considerable degree of discussion and controversy. Predictably enough, those on the right have reacted by generally dismissing the message. Not only do they characterize its substance as unrealistic, they question the capacity of the messenger; that this is an ad hominem is neither discussed nor, apparently, comprehended.

Although largely agreeing with the message, those on the left tend to either uncritically root for the messenger, or fall into arguments over leaders and structure and organization, not to mention what the parameters of an international revolutionary subject would encompass. This is not to say that these general tendencies of the left and right are rigid or not fluid. Plenty on the radical left are criticizing Brand. Among other things, his objectification of “beautiful women” is – as Musa Okwonga, among others, have pointed out – patently sexist. (That the name New Statesman is patently sexist as well is, as far as I know, not under discussion.) In the end, however, Brand’s character flaws have little to do with the validity of his arguments.

Though they may mitigate his persuasive “power” – and point to weaknesses in his thinking – they in no way diminish the need for the elimination of, among other injustices, global pollution, poverty, inequality, and the other systemically produced conditions Brand argues should be eliminated. His character flaws, however, are relevant to the extent that they cast light on the claims of proponents of “leaderless” social movements. For in invoking Brand’s flaws, some proponents of leaderlessness – like Natasha Lennard (who, ironically, has over 7,000 Twitter “followers”) – undermine their own positions. Writing in Salon, Lennard asks that “we temper our celebrations of [Brand] according to his very pronounced flaws.”

Yet the argument against celebrating and raising people to the status of leaders has little, if anything, to do with a person’s “pronounced flaws.” Even flawless people should not be leaders. According to the anti-leader argument not even gods, those flawless beings, should be leaders. “No gods, no masters”, right?Among the more problematic aspects of the Political Leader Question is the fact that the term “leader” is particularly ambiguous. Does it mean ‘one who gives commands’ (i.e., a dictator)? Or is it limited to the sense of “spokesperson” (which means dictater in a more benign, but still problematic, sense)? Or does it simply mean one who “leads by example”? Or one who influences by charm and guile? Or does it mean “organizer”? For their part, pro-leader people don’t seem to see how one could even have a political movement without leaders.

Meanwhile, anti-leader people seem incapable of recognizing the clandestine leaders influencing strategies, priorities, agendas, etc., within their own ranks. Neither side seems to discuss what Jean Baudrillard, in his essay The Masses: The Implosion of the Social in the Media, described as “the modern enigma of politics”: the 16th century thinker Etienne de la Boetie’s insight that political leaders derive their power less from taking it from those they rule over than by the subjected population’s own renunciation of their own power.

In other words, the Leader Question is the Power Question (not to mention the ideology question, the hegemony question, the autonomy/heteronomy question, and the coercive versus non-coercive power question, inter alia). Leaders and followers not only simultaneously reproduce one another in a mutually reinforcing dynamic, this dynamic arises whenever a person has influence over another. And Russell Brand, with his eloquence and celebrity visibility, has no small measure of influence over millions. That is, at least for the time being, he is already a type of leader.

To be continued…

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and contributor to hygiecracy.blogspot.com He lives in New York City, and can be reached at elliot.sperber@gmail.com

More articles by:

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at elliot.sperber@gmail.com and on twitter @elliot_sperber

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castille’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
Gregory Barrett
“Realpolitik” in Berlin: Merkel Fawns Over Kissinger
Louis Yako
The Road to Understanding Syria Goes Through Iraq
Graham Peebles
Grenfell Tower: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
Ezra Rosser
The Poverty State of Mind and the State’s Obligations to the Poor
Ron Jacobs
Andrew Jackson and the American Psyche
Pepe Escobar
Fear and Loathing on the Afghan Silk Road
Andre Vltchek
Why I Reject Western Courts and Justice
Lawrence Davidson
On Hidden Cultural Corruptors
Christopher Brauchli
The Routinization of Mass Shootings in America
Missy Comley Beattie
The Poor Need Not Apply
Martin Billheimer
White Man’s Country and the Iron Room
Joseph Natoli
What to Wonder Now
Tom Clifford
Hong Kong: the Chinese Meant Business
Thomas Knapp
The Castile Doctrine: Cops Without Consequences
Nyla Ali Khan
Borders Versus Memory
Binoy Kampmark
Death on the Road: Memory in Tim Winton’s Shrine
Tony McKenna
The Oily Politics of Unity: Owen Smith as Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary
Nizar Visram
If North Korea Didn’t Exist US Would Create It
John Carroll Md
At St. Catherine’s Hospital, Cite Soleil, Haiti
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Singaporean Conjucture
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Trump: the Birth of the Hero
Jill Richardson
Trump on Cuba: If Obama Did It, It’s Bad
Olivia Alperstein
Our President’s Word Wars
REZA FIYOUZAT
Useless Idiots or Useful Collaborators?
Clark T. Scott
Parallel in Significance
Louis Proyect
Hitler and the Lone Wolf Assassin
Julian Vigo
Theresa May Can’t Win for Losing
Richard Klin
Prog Rock: Pomp and Circumstance
Charles R. Larson
Review: Malin Persson Giolito’s “Quicksand”
David Yearsley
RIP: Pomp and Circumstance
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail