“At least facetiousness is funny.”

So says Russell Brand:

Brand condemns some rather old problems, among them inequality and “political disillusion”: only then, just as swiftly, to dismiss the point of addressing them. He is much too content to place himself in an intellectual vacuum.

Socialism makes the modest suggestion that welfare should not depend upon the charitable donations of the rich and religious to the deserving poor, a view that holds petty paternalism and charity as insults to human dignity – what Marx called the soothing of the heart-burned aristocrat. It’s why charges of hypocrisy are so ludicrous: “champagne socialism” is an attempt to vomit egalitarians out of public discourse with a pithy remark, alluding, apparently, to the miso soups and lattes over which they denounce the bourgeoisie. (I can only afford cava myself but we’ll let that pass.)

Is this really “hypocrisy”? Compare socialism with the sickly utopianism of so-called “compassionate capitalism”: a view – usually of the wealthy and often of the masochists whom they exploit – in which the accumulation of money by private individuals will only and inevitably operate to the benefit of wider society. It’s why the liberals who befriend this fatuous verdict are usually such chillingly dull specimens.

Now: whatever legitimate questions might be raised about the viability of economic rationalisation under socialism (usually envisaged as being without a monetary system), or the popular tyranny that any “revolution” would risk stirring, there’s at least a sense of commitment to this ideology. On the practical level, you might say, there’s the nationalisation of production; and more romantically there are distant visions of equality and internationalism. Neither scientific nor humanistic impulses can be separated from socialism.

Brand, on the other hand, has nothing to say on this tradition: instead he aligns himself with anarchism of the most vacuous sort. It is the political activism of weed and hedonism, having been arrested for public nudity in 2001 as though ventral modesty and complicity in child labour were inextricable accomplices. As a rule, anarchism doesn’t impress me; it’s a commitment to distaste rather than principle, the populism of idiocy and intellectual dishonesty plagued by the frivolous hypocrisy of which socialists have the right to be dismissive. In 1968, thousands marched through London demanding Harold Wilson take a moral lead in his foreign policy; while the Occupy Movement, four decades later, would say nothing beyond vaguely austere denunciations of capitalism and those Wall Street suits somewhat overly-sharp for the primate species that we are.

Social crises have to be confronted both for what they are and what they may become. It is not enough to complain about flooding in winter and then to stay silent when people march against building the flood gates in spring.


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