Russell’s Revolution

Fergus O'Farrell with a piece on Russell Brand. A different version of this piece featured in College Tribune. The author is an Irish history MA student, researching Cathal Brugha. He can be followed on Twitter under the handle @fergus_farrell.       

Russell Brand was known to many of us before his political awakening. The good looking, swarthy comedian has been a familiar figure on television screens and in celebrity magazines over the past decade. He has starred in Hollywood movies, presented reality TV shows and was briefly married to Katy Perry. He has also suffered from drug addiction, made sexually explicit prank phone calls on the veteran actor Andrew Sachs about his granddaughter, and he once brought a homeless drug user to an Ideal Homes exhibition because he thought it would be “amusing”. But things have changed. No longer the prankster, handsome rogue of the tabloids, Russell has re-branded himself as a political activist.

The Problems

In several television appearances on current affairs programmes in the UK, Brand has laid out his main concerns: the growing inequality in society; the irrevocable damage being done to the environment; some governments’ policy of criminalizing drugs; and the excess power of multinationals in global politics. Last month he published Revolution, in which he points out the problems with the current system and his “vision for a fairer, sexier society that’s fun and inclusive”.

While Brand has correctly identified many of the issues which the world faces in the 21st century, he has little of substance to offer in the way of solutions. He calls for a people’s revolution, where the masses take power back from the elite, the blueprints for which are yet unknown. Not surprisingly, few have taken the plans too seriously. Another tenet of his political philosophy is his “don’t vote” message. He tells us that “voting is pointless”, that nothing ever changes - a message that is misguided, conceited and ignorant.

The ‘Don’t Vote’ Message

Britain has enjoyed the incredibly privileged position of having uninterrupted democracy for centuries. Almost every country in Europe has suffered from the horrors of dictatorship, where millions are denied the right to vote. These days, the right to vote is enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but Brand wants you to believe it more beneficial to abandon this right. He says your vote won’t change anything. To see the flaws in his argument, one only has to consider what a win for the Yes campaign in the recent Scottish independence referendum would have meant for the United Kingdom. While the Scottish independence project was ultimately unsuccessful, it is clear that the vote had profound impact on the UK and on the future of the Union. To follow Brand’s advice and sit on the sidelines while major changes were being debated and voted on in the UK would have been a huge missed opportunity for any citizen.

In Ireland, there are plans to hold a referendum in 2015 on lowering the voting age from 18 to 16. There are also signs that the age may be lowered in Britain for General Elections. The fact that the voting age was reduced from 18 to 16 proved to be significant in the recent referendum on Scottish independence. The referendum on same-sex marriage in Ireland, also planned for 2015, could be impacted by a lower voting age. Young people, often more radical and liberal than older voters, are likely to have a huge impact on the referendum on same-sex marriage planned next year. With much of the debate already being driven by Ireland’s young people, no one doubts that a lower voting age would mean greater youth engagement in the topic.  Brand’s message to his predominantly young followers belies their intelligence and presupposes their apathy towards politics.

Boasting over 8.5 million followers on Twitter, Brand wields great influence over swathes of young fans. It is admirable that he has used this influence, raising genuine social problems to a huge audience, impressing many with his oratorical skills. He oozes confidence, is at ease in front of a large crowd, and has the rare ability of balancing provocation and eloquence (though some call it verbosity). There is, however, no substance behind his rhetorical flushes. Back in 2008, Barack Obama orations ignited passion, both inside and beyond American borders, with messages of “Hope” and “Change”. Like Obama, Brand possess charisma and charm. But unlike Obama, Brand lacks vision. While many of Obama’s campaign promises have not materialized, one cannot doubt that he, at one time, had a plan. Brand, urging similarly heaving changes, has laid out no roadmap for the future of his voterless Britain.


Carrying his confused and misguided message, Brand claims to be a man of the people - an ordinary, concerned citizen who has been duped by the political elite. Interviewed on Newsnight on October 23, Brand rebuked Evan Davis for using a graph to demonstrate a point: “people like you use graphs to confuse people like us.”

Presumably, the “us” whom Brand refers to isn’t “us, the stupid people, who don’t understand graphs”, but “us, the common people.” Brand is a wealthy celebrity who is driven around by a chauffeur. While it may be true that some of the politicians which Brand criticises are out of touch with the electorate, Brand is certainly out of touch with the masses. He is even worse than a champagne socialist: he’s a celebrity socialist. A regular visitor to the US, Brand’s concerns for the environment seem to be easily forgotten on those trans-Atlantic flights.

Brand should be commended for highlighting many of the problems which the world is facing. However, I doubt his book Revolution will be taken seriously any time soon. His only “solution” - the don’t vote manifesto - ranks among his best jokes to date.


  1. Brand is first class pratt... Some even call him a wanker and a hypocrite of the 1st degree..

    All the waffling he does and his anti-NWO speeches is for the optics.. I can link him standing in front of the camera giving it 'loads' and 30/45 mns later he's sipping champers with his multi millionaire friends who screw the working class...

    I wouldn't piss on him if he was on fire..

    No time or respect for the man....

  2. " incredibly privileged position of having uninterrupted democracy for centuries."

    Oh dear oh dear, how easily some folk fall for the mainstream media crap, yes I mean you too frankie. You do not know Brand and understand nothing about him except what you know from the mainstream media.

    Look where he comes from, what he is attempting to do, look beyond the crap. His politics are evolving all the time, like any sensible being so one should not get to hung up on the don't vote stuff.

    On Thursday he was in Grays talking to kids from his old school, (He came on the train chauffeur must have had day off ;) earlier in the week he used his celebrity to give publicity to a E14 demo at Downing St in support of the tenants on an east London estate whose homes had been brought from under them by a US asset stripping hedge fund, who are going to put the rent up from approximately £500 per month to over £2000. His presence gave the tenants publicity across the TV news and media and more importantly it gave them confidence to continue to fight as they weren't alone. (When he gets behind a campaign he does not play a walk on part like most celebs but joins whole heartedly. I'm 66 and have been at this game for a long time and truthfuly the way Russell talks and more importantly listens to people who are being shafted is a joy to behold.)

    Is he perfect, of course not, will he turn out to be a shooting star,who crashes and burns? Who knows, who cares, he is here now, siding with us, the dispossessed and doing a fucking fine job.

    His strength is unlike some silly celebes he is comfortable in his own shoes, he has put his faults out there and said mine are far less than yours Mr Capitalist exploiter/lackey, do your worst. If you wish to attack someone, surely there are more worthy candidates out there for your pen?


    Far from the UK having been an uninterrupted democracy for centuries, today it does not even have the attributes of a democracy which most people beyond the UK would recognise.

    Its second legislative parliamentary chamber is unelected, as too is its head of State, worse than that only the members of a single family can be 'selected' as head of state and even them certain categories are barred from standing due to religion, etc.

    This so called democracy was set up to represent a single class, and is designed to do just this up until this day. Thus the UK State reeks of class privilege and wealth, with positions in the upper echelons of the state being filled by people who come from a class which make up only a tiny minority of the over all population. (Media, Law, judiciary, military, politics, business etc, with well over half oxbridge and public school educated)

    These folk claim the UK is the mother of democracies, when nothing is further from the truth, not least espececially as far as the USA and most of Europe are concerned. In the former case its founders would have no truck with what England stood for and the same goes for much of Europe. (you should read Tom Paine)


  3. Mick,
    Sorry to disappoint you but i don't get hung up on anything least of all main stream media... Russell Brand is doing what he's doing for the optics and nothing else. He's an NWO stool pigeon (almost reeks as bad as Bono). Brand thinks he intelligent because he uses longer words than henry Joy.

    Now why doesn't Russell take a leaf out of Xiong Shuihua book. Thats how you repay back the community you came from. Not playing up to cameras by taking the a tube and inflating and all ready over blown ego.

    If good old Russell was as anti-capitalist , anti establishment as you make out then why did he shake hands and bow in front the Queen of England? Arcoss the channel around the same time as good old lefty Russ was hob nobbing it.... Sarko was told by a French working class man.... 'Don't touch me & fcuk of you cunt.." or in French.. Casse toi pauv' con !

    I stand over what i think about him... He's a grade A pratt. I'd love to meet him and tell him what I think about him... he has his head so far up his own ass he actually tastes the shit that comes out of his mouth. The fact most can't see through him at the minute isn't my fault. Probably because he can afford a a good PR team behind him..

  4. Taking the spotlight, RB challenges pieties. He may fail to be as coherent as demanding pundits or credentialed analysts may wish, certainly, but he is using his status in ways few from his profession do, to shake more of us up. Some of my apolitical students had a glimmer of alternatives sparked, due to his videos. These are average people, not poli-sci majors or determined activists, living far away from his homeland, who may have seen some of his comedies, but who have never associated him with discontent. They have discussed how they never thought about issues RB critiques, at least not with any extended attention, until they found his videos shared online. These are not the types who march or agitate, and if RB can at least get ordinary people thinking about ways to challenge the hegemony of corporate and political power, this is encouraging. I know naysayers will carp at RB's New Age-tinged concepts, and after all Brand doesn't have the bonafides many expect, explicitly or habitually, from one who tries to articulate critique. He is not an Oxbridge don or a sanctioned spokesman for a vetted movement, and he is not an Everyman any more, sure. But in a world where messages get Twittered and go viral, he has found an audience beyond the limits within which so much political and social critique gets carried on, due to "confirmation bias" in academia; students both more liberal and more conservative have told me they liked (at least some of) what RB was encouraging.

    I live in a gerrymandered set of districts designed to keep one ethnic group in power, and one party. 85% of voters are of this party where I live; most people don't vote and probably many cannot register as they are not citizens. (The party might secretly like this; low turnouts make it ironically easier to sway fewer voters.) Even if this party gains instinctive fealty by default from those leaning left, it's perpetuating a system beholden to networks drawn from "old-boy" and now "old-gal" pols and cronies, who reward their own-- shades of Tammany Hall. So, while progress theoretically and practically has been made the past half-century in overcoming discrimination and advancing classes who stand for most of us, there is also a great deal of corruption and lobbying, as the groups now in power retain the bad habits of those they have displaced, as those in power keep redrawing areas to stay in office. Shades of "rotten boroughs" and peers for life, it may be labelled democracy, but a representative rather than a participatory model leaves many of us discontented, feeling as if our votes are keeping some Politburo propped up, funded by lobbyists, beholden to bankers, engineered for profit. That is why voting is not seen as a panacea, and why increasingly, votes are for those chosen for us, not for those whom we truly choose. People can't afford to run for office let alone gain exposure, unless funded by the powers that be, and "donations."

    Annoying as I find RB, at least he's trying to speak out against this complacent compliance to media bias, corporate power, and ecological disaster, however he fumbles. He notes when he was poor, his criticisms of inequality were dismissed as bitter, and now he's rich, they are mocked as silly. Anger at his transcontinental flights might be leveled at Zizek or Dawkins, or billions of us (at least now and then, probably relegated to coach?). Some on the left want celebs to speak up on wealth inequality and global tension (cf. Bob and Bono, Sting or Sinéad), but when an entertainer fails to deliver an approved version of the party line...

  5. Russell Brand has no training or research history in the concepts he try’s to analyse then dismantle, from the distance I try to keep,he just repeats the same Guardian friendly mantra in language that obfuscates rather than elucidates. Its scary that people would claim to be persuaded by him but probably symptomatic of our age. Irish Republicans have at least some prior experience of hyperbolic bearded men, they lead people to intellectual dead ends. (he does have a post denture Adams mouth doesn’t he? Content and appearance)

  6. "Brand thinks he intelligent because he uses longer words than henry Joy"


    Come on mate many folk who are self educated fall into this trap, the more so if they were in jail when they started their search for an education and self knowledge.(russell was not by the way)

    When you attend very poor schools, etc, you are not taught the art of learning. Thus if you wish to learn in later life you tend to feast on knowledge in a very undisciplined way, grabbing what you can in massive arm falls and taking much of it in in a hap hazard way.

    Brand is as guilty of this as much as the next self learner, but that does not make it his fault now does it, its surely the fault of the system and those who benefit most from it and the system which denied him and many others a decent education when he was at school?

    I remember long ago talking to John McVicar after he first came out, he'd gone into prison illiterate and gone on to gain an Open University degree in Sociology whilst in jail and was awarded a BSc first class. He suffered from this too, but must folk ignored it as it was more important what he said and wrote as for a number of years he had a very fine pen.

    i am a great believer in no matter how many degrees you have or how many books you have read, if you lack a good heart you will never do any good with all that knowledge and might well do much harm.

    You need no letters after your name to understand whats wrong with this society, nor have an idea about how to change it, the reason Russell gains traction with ordinary folk, especially the young, is because like him they too understand this, its just they rarely hear anyone expressing these ideas on the mainstream media. Believe me these young people do not need persuading about what is wrong with the current system they live it every day.

    By the way do not get the idea I'm against higher education because I am not, its just I have absolute contempt for people who have received that pleasure but then pick holes in those who have not.

    Daithi I am not suggesting you are doing that.

    The media lackeys of capital attack Brand as an individual whilst they are really attacking what he says and represents in many young peoples eyes, i.e. opposition to neo liberal capitalism; and that makes the difference between how they treat him and bono/geldof both of who are outspoken supporters of neo liberal economics and those who advocate it..

    I noticed a columnist in todays Sun has a whole column attacking Brand for something he did years ago, why, because they know full well if they were to attack him for supporting the E14 single mums, etc they would be exposed as the arsehole they undoubtedly are.


  7. is/was he riding one of the rothschilds. viva la revolution.

  8. Mick, just to be clear that quote before you addressed me is not mine.
    ” …You need no letters after your name to understand whats wrong with this society…”,
    Probably true in terms of an individual’s own experience.(He has a problems with graphs so im guessing he can’t extrapolate any societal themes.)
    ” …nor have an idea about how to change it …”
    Incorrect. You do need some expertise to know what change to effect to solve an issue, otherwise you will pursue completely reactionary and/or populist solutions that cause exponentially more problems. Take Brands involvement in this housing issue which you laud, if rents are not set according to market forces, at a minimum it will lead to slum housing and a shortage of housing stock.
    But Brand is not unique in this respect, most politicians are legislating for things in finance they have no clue about. He seems keen to differentiate his ‘profits’ from other methods, a comedian without a sense of irony is just a fool, but whether he is a hypocrite or not, is not as important as whether he is correct or not.

  9. Daithi D

    But the problem is today that rents are set according to so called market forces, at a minimum it has lead to slum housing and a shortage of housing stock, plus an ever rising house bubble which is bound to blow at some time.

    What we actually need is a fair rent act and more new build social housing, we had both of these in the UK for decades and it worked well. Christ if there is one lesson we must all learn from the 2008 crash it's the market undoubtedly does not know best, it’s a total stitch up as the libel and countless other scandals have proven. If a mixed economy is to work well, there must be tighter regulation as the markets cannot be trusted to regulate themselves.


  10. Now you encounter the limitations of your populist stance Mick because anyone can call for cheap housing and look like they are trying to help people, but you need to factor into that other knock on effects. One knock on effect of trying to allow fairness in the housing market, getting people onto the first rung etc, was the Housing crash that began in 2007 in America, which then became the general financial crisis of 2008. It didn’t ever work well in England, it just stored up shit for future (mine) generations to sort out. Unfettered market forces are the best mechanism to prevent occurrences such as this, that means less not more regulation, but you don’t make many friends pointing this out, one thing I am sure the Left do factor in.

  11. Dathi

    But unfettered market forces caused the US housing crash. As too one generation paying for another, what's wrong with that? mine paid for my parents pensions and hopefully yours will pay for mine (plus what Ive paid in down the years)

    It’s a civilised way of doing things. If we are all left to our own devises in the long run none of us but the most wealthy would be able to afford decent healthcare and old age pensions, etc. (could this be the USA of today?)

    Of course Capitals latest wheeze is to turn generations against each other.



  12. Mick, this sites author has a neat line in dismissing some of Adams claim i think to paraphrase is quite instructive : is there any academic researcher or participant in the financial field (preferably MBS Securities) that support what you say? Hint: I was in the derivatives trading space when this was kicking off, you repeat things I know not to be true.