They see no difference between Cameron, Clegg, Boris, either of the Milibands or anyone else. To them these names are as obsolete as Lord Palmerston or Denis Healey. The
riots in 2011,
which were condemned as nihilistic and materialistic by Boris and Cameron (when
they eventually returned from their holidays), were by that very definition
political. These young people have been accidentally marketed to their whole
lives without the economic means to participate in the carnival. After some
draconian sentences were issued, measures that the white-collar criminals who
capsized our economy with their greed a few years earlier avoided, and not one
hoodie was hugged, the compliance resumed. Apathy reigned. London
There’s little point bemoaning this apathy. Apathy is a rational reaction to a system that no longer represents, hears or addresses the vast majority of people.
Thus far Russell Brand, a famous comedian, on democracy.
|Russel Brand. Wikimedia|
So why is democracy failing to inspire?
The concept of democracy is, I suggest, an abstraction, similar to the concept of population, and democracy (as a system) is a superstructure, because it is a part of the state. The state, according to Lenin, is an organ of class rule. It exists above civil society and imposes on it certain forces (police, army, and media) because of class antagonisms that it wants to quell. Classes and their antagonisms exist because of the different social relations of production (capitalist/wage worker) embedded in the capitalist economy. So the concept of classes is far more concrete than the abstracted concept of democracy.
This has some outcomes: it means that class struggle can be more democratic than democracy, since it represents a more concrete movement for social change, while democracy is merely an abstraction and represents at best a superficial declassed difference among the population, which is another weak abstraction anyway. Democratic change can rarely be radical social change, because it does not have the grounds to be that.
And because democracy is a branch of the state and the state exists to support the given class dominance and subservience, democracy can even be regressive.
The role of the citizen as elector is to take part in the abstraction of democracy. As long as the elector partakes in elections they support the abstraction. But this participation always contains a further more extreme abstraction: this being the notion that democracy is something other than the state, special, separate from it and that it can really provide, as such, genuine social change. This illusion is refined and produced by the media.
One way to ensure survival and reproduction of the existing relations of power is to engage the oppressed class in its own repression, often called 'hegemony', democracy is the chief political tool for hegemony. To achieve this properly it requires strict control of the media aesthetic state apparatuses (ASAs). It is notable that these apparatuses are not usually themselves subject to direct democratic control (e.g. the BBC or the private media and all the sub sets of media production that exist to serve this industry). In any case it always exists along with the state forces before democracy arrives on the scene.
In some senses the existence of a Russell Brand brand (a subject he likes to play on himself in a funny postmodern way) is a proof the media is democracy. In capitalism the media is the democracy, and parliaments are a branch of the media, because they do not really do anything political in the genuine sense of political change, since activity on the political level must involve genuine action to change and this kind of democratic politics is basically for social consolidation (of base and superstructure) not change.
Now, science must deal with abstractions, concepts, but it must strive to make those concepts as concrete as possible. Political science cannot itself be democratic, because it is a science; science is not a popularity contest, which means in the end that democracy is not the ground on which future progress can be made. Human progress is always through science, i.e. through truth and understanding. This truth seems an uncomfortable one for those who regard democracy as a safeguard from totalitarianism, but science is 'totalitarian', there is no 'balance' between it and falsehood. For example, Einstein's theory is correct, and we should not try to balance this with an incorrect theory to make it 'fair'.
To arrive at the truth requires struggle, because it is of course not simply a given. However, those who support the struggle for truth also often need to support the struggle for democracy, especially where none exists, since even this democracy (that we find wanting) is in some locations an advance on despotism. But this does not remove the obligation to 'do science' in the political field, as any other: with democracy as a part of the state, we must always take note of the limitations and abstractions of democracy, especially at a time of economic crisis. And democracy as a state system will always in the end default to support the state and its apparatuses, which means that it will default to support the ruling class in the class struggle.
This does not mean that all electors will automatically side with the ruling class and obediently engage in elections for one or other of them faultlessly, the crisis sees to that, so the election system will tend to be systematically manipulated degraded and distorted to get the 'correct' result so that democracy in the end completely fails to represent even in the limited way that it traditionally does. As we see today parliamentary democracy in advanced capitalism has become a system of cartel politics in a false dialectic, corrupt and backward (e.g.
in the crisis, or Spain).
Russell Brand sees the problem as one of consciousness, but not in the way of the old fabian-like
socialist left –
I was hurt when a fellow protester piously said to me: “What you doing here? I’ve seen you, you work for MTV.” I felt pretty embarrassed that my involvement was being questioned, in a manner that is all too common on the left. It’s been said that: “The right seeks converts and the left seeks traitors.” This moral superiority that is peculiar to the left is a great impediment to momentum. It is also a right drag when you’re trying to enjoy a riot.
Perhaps this is why there is currently no genuinely popular left-wing movement to counter Ukip, the EDL and the Tea Party; for an ideology that is defined by inclusiveness, socialism has become in practice quite exclusive. Plus a bit too serious, too much up its own fundament and not enough fun.
He is right, so damn right. But it is an indication that the media is so powerful and so much a part of the state that only a person who is a famous comedian can utter such things as he does and get some attention. It is similar to, in
Beppe Grillo, a new cultural phenomenon perhaps, and a positive one, but also a
sign of the times. It's a positive thing that these individuals do what they do
(and Brand can write well too), but it also shows us how shut out the rest of
us are from this conversation, and perhaps how commodified even our ideas of
revolution have become, our radical 'consciousnesses' are being sold back to
us, branded (I speak figuratively as a member of the working class here, which
I admit I am not in fact, although that was my background and I have the memories).
We see here, I think, that politics is the field of the media and is to do with feelings, we have had Ronald Reagan, the actor-president, and today we have comedian politicians, and they function so well because they are able to work with the aesthetic level, the level of our feelings, not our consciousnesses, in the state media (and all media is really state media). This emphasis on consciousness that Brand highlights indeed comes from that branch of protesting leftist who always believes that his consciousness is superior to the next leftist's, a holier than thou attitude, yes, but precisely because consciousness rather than feeling and empathy is made the foundation of everything on this 'left', strangely in contrast to Marx's sensual materialism. Focussing on consciousness is a feature of the Lukacsian and Trotskyist branch of Marxism and it lends itself to philosophical idealism, for all its very vigorous assertions to the contrary.
If we were to have our consciousnesses raised by comedians, would things be different? Would a revolution ensue because suddenly we understood consciously?
I suggest not, we would watch it unfold on the telly. The masses already, for the most part, understand consciously better than us members of the intelligentsia, they don't have to try very hard to know this, they live it and every day they are made aware of it by life's struggle to survive. But the masses will only become that kind of radical mass fit for a revolution when they feel in their bones the revolutionary passion, when they feel the injustices being wrought in a certain way. How may they feel these things in this way, given they already know it and feel its pain? The TV, pop culture, the web, none of these things is likely to help that passion along; in fact they sublimate and redirect these kinds of impulses in a very expert way, a way which we cannot discount Russell Brand from being connected with, despite himself; actually, how could he avoid it?
You see the question now has a different inflection, and we can and should ask: what is Brand (and co.), in his role as a celebrity in the aesthetic state apparatus, in relation to the feelings of the masses? How does he act within the means of aesthetic production? Is this producing a new kind of feeling? He is modest enough not to suggest he is doing something radically new in his practice, but we must ask this question of all aesthetic producers.