The revolutionary road
What was supposed to be just another interview with Russell Brand now seems en route to becoming a defining cultural moment; the sign of a resurrection in revolutionary politics that many thought had been buried in the same grave as flower-power and Bob Dylan’s folk-rock sensibilities, rotting beneath a tombstone that says “the 1960s.”
Interviewer Jeremy Paxman acted as a stand-in for the traditional establishment: a staid and paternalistic figure whose understanding of the world does not extend beyond the realm of the status-quo. Brand serves as his opposite: a personification of revolt, who in dress, behaviour, and language subverts traditional norms, and seems to stretch the limits of possibilities.
The clash of these two intractable personalities reflects the economic contradictions that embroil the world in a competition between the haves and the have-nots. It is a material reality asserting itself through a public discourse which has, for far too long, been completely one-sided.
A single interview won’t upend shallow political punditry and pro-corporate news. Nevertheless, the popularity of Brand’s interview signals that a new and critical discourse is mounting a successful challenge to the official version of events.
Antonio Gramsci, a founding member of the Italian Communist Party who was later imprisoned by Benito Mussolini, wrote about the emergence of such a discourse, terming it “counter-hegemonic.” For Gramsci, “hegemony” is the most pernicious form of propaganda and control used by the ruling elites. Instead of securing control through the use of guns and batons, hegemony is a society-wide internalization of the views of the ruling class—the broad acceptance of their narrow interests and values as immutable and universal. Only once a counter-hegemonic discourse is widely accepted can revolutionary movements have any chance of success.
Occupy Wall Street was a flicker of today’s counter-hegemony, introducing the concept of the mutually exclusive interests of the bottom 99 percent and the top one percent. It transformed the issue of poverty from one of individual failure to systemic failure, and made space for the sentiment that the game is rigged, that poverty does not always grow out of laziness and stupidity, but instead grows from the avarice and greed of those above one’s station.
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The virality of the Brand interview is a sign that the flicker is growing into a flame and that it may just yet turn into an inferno, opening up further space at the material level for contestation in politics, economics, and in the streets. It may even allow for a chance at a real revolution. It is a chance for all the unpaid interns, exploited workers, and debt burdened students to embrace the rage and optimism shown by that flamboyant long-haired trickster, and to take the reins away from the bankers and the billionaires; a chance to remake the world and themselves.