Geoff Gay writes: I am sending this letter to both The Guardian and the Loughborough Echo – the Guardian because it is a response to the November 6th article by Russell Brand, and the Echo, my local weekly, because they are more likely to publish it in full.
I take the view that, while much of Brand’s analysis of the current political situation in Britain and the “Western World” makes sense, Brand’s description of himself as “naive” contains more than a degree of truth.
Brand says, “I believe in change” and develops points on the range of ills created by Capitalism – government prioritising the interests of big business over those of the people, insignificant distinctions between the main political parties, huge economic disparity and the exploited underclass, possible ecological disaster, drone strikes on the innocent etc. etc.. He then says, “Can we really believe these problems can be altered within the system that created them, that depends on them ? The system that we are invited to vote for ? Of course not, that’s why I won’t vote. That’s why I support the growing revolution.” To which I ask, “What growing revolution ?”
Brand points to movements like UK Uncut, Occupy and the People’s Assembly.
Is that what he means by “the growing revolution”? Yes, there is certainly a movement for change, but how can there be a “growing revolution” when a recent opinion poll showed that more than 50% of people trust the Tories with the economy? Objectively, Brand is right to point out that there is not a unified “economy” ; rather we have their economy on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the economy which affects ordinary people. But how many people realise that? While most people swallow the line that there is one economy, there can be no “revolution”.
Recently, after 20 years’ membership, I resigned from the Labour Party. I was close to resigning several times through the Blair/Brown years, but decided that I could achieve more by staying in. But the last straw was the appointment and pronouncements of Tristram Hunt as Labour education spokesperson- yet another member of the privately-educated coterie which runs most things in this country. Changing that state of affairs, along with all the ills of Capitalism, will be a massive job. Organisations like UK Uncut, Occupy and particularly the People’s Assembly (in which I am an active participant) can play important parts. But, beyond that, to use Brand’s words, we need to “collude and collaborate”, not just to “design” an alternative system, but to work towards the necessary fundamental changes. As Karl Marx said, “Philosophers have interpreted the world ; the point however is to change it.”
In 1945, support for change had become a huge groundswell, encapsulated by the landslide Labour vote. And, for all its many faults, and in the face of the aftermath of World War Two, that Labour government largely succeeded in carrying through the changes, of which the most important was the establishment of the NHS. In 1951, Labour still had a majority of votes, but our stupid first-past-the-post voting system allowed the Tories back in. Then, for many decades, the British left (“left” meaning on the side of the majority of people) fractured and dissipated, and (with one brief interlude under Michael Foot) the Labour Party was almost forced to move to the right by its determination not to challenge either the voting system or the sacrifice of principles to the god of obtaining an outright majority under that system.
Brand puts forward a number of things that a genuine left government could do towards creating a fairer society, but his naivity lies in his concentration on telling people not to vote until we have “men and women strong enough to defy this system and live according to higher laws” , along with his failure to say how we get from here to there. “Not voting” would only have an effect if something like 95% of people took that course, and that won’t happen in the foreseeable future. A more realistic advice would be to vote for a genuine united party of the broad left. And, believe it or not, that could soon become a serious possibility : Having resigned from the Labour Party, I am able to concentrate (as well as my work in the trade union movement and the People’s Assembly etc.) on contributing to the success of the Left Unity project, inspired by the Ken Loach film, “Spirit of ’45 “. Left Unity is working towards setting up a party as described above, and I will be attending its Founding Conference on November 30th.
Russell Brand says that he is ” a changed man”. If he really wants to do something constructive towards what he calls “the growing revolution”, he should join Left Unity, advise others to do this instead of telling them not to vote, and make a sizeable donation (he admits to being rich) to this cause.