"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce" so wrote Karl Marx in the 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon; if he was writing today he might well have added; "...and also as celebrity."
In Britain today we have a rash of celebrity social activists, who from the lofty heights of their cocoon of privilege and wealth inform the ignorant masses just what is wrong with society, and offer pearls of celebrity wisdom as to how the world could be put to rights (which often consists of the rest of us having to purchase their latest book etc.)
This past week, the multi millionaire Bob Geldof took time off from providing evidence in support of his close friend, Tory MP Andrew Mitchell to re-re-re-relaunch BandAid, which, with a few different words, to make it relevant to the latest crisis is shortly to solve the crisis of Ebola, just as the previous outings of Bandaid solved world hunger, 3rd world debt and the war in South Sudan (nobody please mention the continued existence of hunger throughout the world, of crippling debt and poverty or of the continuing bloody conflict in the Sudan, as this might make poor Bob sad).
The millionaire comedian and actor Russell Brand, previously most famous in the UK for abusing an elderly man by telephoning him on live radio to claim to have slept with his granddaughter, has become an icon of Rebellion.
Notwithstanding Brand's tax avoidance, his misogyny, his close friendship with open nazis and conspiracy theorists or the vapidity of his call for a new kind of revolution, in which the multi millionaire implores humanity to cast aside material concerns in favour of a new spiritualism, all across the left, from the comment is free pages of the Guardian to the outer reaches of Trotskyism and anarchism, Brand has become a totem of rebellion against an undefined establishment.
Brand has achieved this exalted status through the pursuit of a highly professional publicity campaign; through virally distributed videos, appearances on demonstrations (where he is always photographed, even when masked and anonymous, and also forever available for interview by conveniently positioned journalists), a guest editorship of the union busting New Statesman and then, the Newsnight interview, where Brand was afforded the attention usually reserved for a world leader, all culminating in the publication of his £20 book, which, notwithstanding the fiasco of the official launch party, is guaranteed by wall to wall promotion in every major book shop and review in every newspaper best seller status this Christmas.
The response of Brand's supporters to criticism is twofold; his true believers will claim him to have changed, the tax avoidance, the misogyny, the rightwing associates are all in the past, and, anyway, that his detractors are really the shills of the 'establishment'. The leftists who have embraced Brand may actually acknowledge all criticism to be valid, but claim that he has publicised the idea of revolution to an audience far wider than anything that Socialists could reach through their propaganda, and that by allying ourselves to Brand we gain access to that audience.
This is mistaken, firstly, it ignores Brand's actual message, which is anti materialist, spiritual and religious in charactor, which sees society as being afflicted by a vast conspiracy, rather than any class analysis and is thus completely anti socialist.
More importantly, it displays, at best, a lack of belief in the ability of the working class to liberate themselves, and at worst a contempt for the intelligence of workers.
In a society obsessed by celebrity, rebellion is only valid when endorsed by a celebrity.
What they fail to understand is that Capitalism has no morals, where there is a need, there is a market and, so there is a commodity to be profited from.
The alienation felt by so many toward a political system dominated by corporate interests and the preserve of only the most privileged is just another market to be exploited.
In this, Brand is no different from fried chicken or toilet cleaner. A product to be exploited and profited from, his revolution a commodity to be sold to a appreciative customer base. And no more dangerous to capital than a pot noodle.
In the 19th century the centres of the great cities of Britain were transformed by great public works constructed on the orders of philanthropic capitalists. great reform campaigns swept away slavery, disease and childhood abuse. Christian charity enthused these monied reformers, steeling them in their determination to drive out every Ill and sin from capitalism, whilst ensuring their dividends were unthreatened.
Indeed, far from being any threat to Capitalism, these reformers and their campaigns were mostly aimed at regimenting the poor and streamlining their exploitation: the moral crusade against 'Gin Lane' and mass (working class) drunkeness was as much about the regulation and disciplining of an unruly workforce as it was about concerns for the moral or physical health of the populace. Jamie Oliver's campaign against poor nutrition in school meals, similarly became an assault on working class mothers and 'Turkey twizzlers'.
Late 19th century campaigns against the sex trade criminalised single working class women, labelling any woman not conforming to Victorian sexual roles as a prostitute. The crusade of British evangelists against the Slave Trade led directly to the expansion of British imperial power throughout the continent of Africa. Only a tiny number of these reformers were able to take their opposition to the evils of capitalism, to recognise the Evil of Capitalism, and reject their privilege to become a part of a socialist movement dedicated to its overthrow.
The pioneers of socialism began by rejecting the pious words and charity of Lord and Lady Bountiful. Not the crumbs from the rich mans' table, handed to a grateful and suitably 'deserving' poor; but the whole world, as a common treasury for all!
For over a hundred years the cause of socialism has been dominated by the machinations of two statist creeds, social democracy and Leninism. These have fed off the discontent and aspirations of the working class to become alternative managers of Capitalism. Their heydays are long past; the labourites have long abandoned any pretence to 'reforming Capitalism' in favour of simply managing it, after the end of 'Communism' the Leninists have been reduced to mini sects which replicate within their own structures the regimes of the old Stalinist States in a homage to Marx's dictum, "first as tragedy, now as farce".
Their aspirations have shrunk with their horizons, whilst they grandly imagine storming the winter palace and fantasise about bloody revolutions, in reality they have little or no belief in the working class ever rallying to their 'proletarian leadership', and even less in the ability of the working class to emancipate itself.
They hide themselves in front campaigns for partial reforms, and embrace and promote a succession of 'Saviours from high' who they are sure will deliver us, until the inevitable betrayal, when they move on to the next.
For these 'socialists' what Brand is for is unimportant,it is enough that He is.
All previous revolutions have been the overthrow of one minority ruling class and the victory of a new one. Such revolutions have needed abstract slogans and ideals ( Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité, Peace, land, bread, ) in order to enlist the support of the masses.
They have needed heroes and demagogues to inspire the majority to give their lives for the victory of new masters.
The state socialists may talk about socialism, but in reality they wish to replace our present system of class exploitation with another, only with a new bureaucratic exploitative class. This is why they too need heroes, martyrs, demagogues and saviours, because they need to beguile the masses to support their revolution, to support another new ruling class.
The socialist revolution can only take place when the majority of the working class not only understand that it is possible, but also desirable. It needs no abstract ideals to mask it's true purpose, no demagogues to beguile the masses.
It needs no heroes.