I’ve seen a lot of discussion in mainstream media about Russell Brand’s book Revolution. I haven’t read it, so I can’t comment on the contents, but there seems to be some contention about his underlying motives for writing it and whether or not his advocating a revolutionary politics is hypocritical. I wouldn’t go so far as to call him hypocritical, but I would suggest that there are better way for him to take part in the kind of revolution he’s advocating.
Brand is a celebrity worth – according to Google – approximately $15 million. His book no doubt brings him a little more income, though it’s probably nothing compared to being in a movie, for example. So the problem is not that he’s profiting directly from the book and that profiting is not itself revolutionary. When I write a book, unless we are by then living in a socialist utopia, I would hope to make some money from it simply because I have to feed myself. Obviously that’s not Brand’s concern, but it seems unreasonable to condemn him for earning money from the book.
The problem I see is with the celebrity aspect of it. There is something to be said for a popular figure drawing attention to revolutionary ideals. However, Brand has essentially branded himself (forgive the pun) as a revolutionary hero – whether he intended to or not. As a result, his revolutionary zeal risks becoming part of a cult of personality that is decidedly anti-revolutionary. It’s possible this isn’t his desire or intention – it’s possible that it is (and if he then profits from this revolutionary Brand, then he would, in fact, be a hypocrite). Either way, though, this compromises the revolutionary value of the book (assuming it actually has any to begin with) and his persona because it draws attention away from those who are actually doing the work. The revolution becomes about Brand and not about substantive change.
This is why revolutionaries and activists – or really anyone fighting for a more just and sustainable society – need to have a degree of reflexivity and humility in their practice. Sometimes – and particularly for those who are wealthy and/or famous – the best way to contribute to a cause is to avoid putting oneself on the front line advocating for change. Sometimes it’s best just to get out of the way. That doesn’t mean don’t contribute and just live the bourgeois lifestyle your wealth and fame provide. It means think of other ways to contribute that don’t involve drawing attention to yourself. Support those who are doing the real fighting on the ground and in the streets. Give them the microphone and let them speak for themselves. Give them money so that they can keep fighting without having to worry about paying the rent or putting food on the table. Those are the kinds of actions that privileged classes (but also anyone) can do that won’t simply undermine everything those people are fighting for.