The revolution is coming

There was a bit of a buzz about six months ago around Russell Brand and his political views. A lot of the attention centred around his interview with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight, although a clearer statement of his ideas was to be found in his article for the New Statesman.

At the time, I found the rants well-written, well-expressed, interesting and entertaining. I was glad that someone was making these arguments in mainstream media: there is such an ideological vacuum in current politics that having a genuinely passionate, radical speaker, in a primetime slot, was quite refreshing, even if it was Russell Brand.

It’s difficult to disagree with his criticism of the current, broken system, of the apathetic failure of politicians to make real changes, of their protection of corporate interests over the rights and welfare of most people. But I was more sceptical about his closing statements:

“There’s going to be a revolution. It’s totally going to happen. I ain’t got a flicker of doubt.”

At the time I dismissed the prediction as nonsense, naive idealism and wishful thinking. Yes, the current system is deeply unfair, and operates against most people’s best interests, but it’s also very effective at distracting everyone with trivialities, like pop culture, sport and racist paranoia. And besides, most people are still well off enough not to revolt. Despite wealth inequality, despite recessions, despite government wrongdoing, everyone’s still clothed and fed. It’ll take much worse circumstances even than these to get people to risk what they have, take to the streets and overthrow the political and economic order.

Later on, I saw another video which changed my mind. It’s called Wealth Inequality in America, Perception vs Reality:

The real kicker comes at 3:50. Comparing the actual distribution of wealth in the US, to what people think it is, it turns out that the so-called “middle classes” are about as poor in reality as people think the poorer classes are in their skewed misperception. And even more incredibly, even the upper middle classes, the second-richest 10%, are worse off under the current actual wealth distribution than they would be if wealth were distributed as we think it is.

What does this mean? Obviously the super-rich are playing a trick on us, pulling the wool over our eyes to hide just how astonishingly unequal their proportion of wealth is. But they’re not just playing it on the poor and the squeezed middle classes. They’re even playing it on the rich too. The rich who, presumably, are in favour of unequal distribution of wealth, and policies which protect and extend it, because they think they’re on the winning side. But it turns out they’re not.

Highly-paid professionals, small business owners, property investors: these are the people who generally vote for right-wing parties for economic reasons, not just for immigration and benefit scrounger rhetoric. They think they’re making a rational choice because those parties’ policies favour them. They’d actually be richer under a more equitable distribution, and have a greater proportion of the total wealth, if the top 1% had less.

That’s why there’ll be a revolution. It’s never the poor, downtrodden masses which lead a revolt, although they’re often used for muscle. Every revolution in history has been led by the second-richest, second-most powerful class, when they’ve realised that the existing system is favouring the very highest elite, even at their expense.

You can see it happening already: well-educated, well-paid professionals in London can barely afford to buy property there, even in areas like Hackney or Clapham. South east England’s property owners are traditionally one of the safest demographics for Conservative votes. What happens when those people are priced out of owning property by super-rich foreign investors? When they realise the system is stacked against them too, and no political party offers a solution?

Revolution: it’s totally going to happen.

3 thoughts on “The revolution is coming

  1. How long has wealth distribution been this way / which way’s the trend going? In the UK, I suspect things are more even now than they were in Victorian times, and we seem to spend a lot more on entertainment (computer games, eating out, holidays, etc) than people did in previous decades, suggesting expendable income’s increasing*.
    To me, apathy implies contentment – if you’re reasonably comfortable paying attention to politics is an inconvenience. If you’re struggling you either ignore politics because you need to focus on getting through each day (which isn’t really apathy), or you go out of your way to change your situation by taking an interest in politics, or taking action.
    I think the reason Russell Brand’s interview was popular is simply because he made it more acceptable to not care about politics, giving people more legitimate arguments than simply “I’m doing OK, and researching parties, policies and candidates or taking the time to get more involved myself would just be hassle when I could be playing Flappy Politician”.

    *…or perhaps people are accruing huge debt and that bubble will burst catastrophically [research required].

    • To answer your first question: It’s certainly getting worse and has been for decades, and the last recession accelerated it further; the second video linked mentions at 5:00 the change in income inequality since the 1970s.

      There are lots of resources on the net you can easily find to research further. I think historically the only time it’s been at a similar level was the Victorian period (or ‘Gilded Age’ in the US). The first half of the 20th century reduced inequality, with strong labour movements (and revolutions in some countries), creation of social democratic institutions like public healthcare, education and the welfare state. Since the middle of the century, though, the trend has been back the other way, as capital interests have fought successfully to dismantle those institutions and re-consolidate wealth back into the hands of a small elite.

    • And your second point: That’s another reason I think a revolution is likely. In the West it’s been avoided until now by giving enough wealth to the lower and middle classes for them to spend on entertainment and luxuries. Now though, the plutocratic elite have become so greedy that they’ve forgotten that’s how they protected themselves, and they’re stripping that disposable income and security away again.

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