Hey Russell Brand: ‘Read some f*cking Orwell!’

With their recent Russell Brand-edited issue, The New Statesman probably got the most bang for their buck ever in the entire 100 year history of the venerable socialist journal. Brand is obviously a controversial figure and he pulled no punches during the—I thought totally amazing—interview he gave to BBC broadcaster Jeremy Paxman to promote the issue. Seen all over the world, I can’t think of a better advertisement for what the New Statesman is selling or radical ideas in general.

It was a worldwide mass media coup and Brand’s comments penetrated the normal noise. That people were talking about socialism, the capitalist oligarchy and the survival of the human species, well, great work for a comic. Even Fox Business News dipshit Neil Cavuto inadvertently opened the door to a brief discussion of socialism on his show in a segment critical of Brand’s comments. Anyone curious enough to follow up got exposed to something they’d never normally see on Fox.

Brand concluded his own epic “letter from the editor” exhorting his readers NOT to vote as it only lends legitimacy to politicians and the capitalist system, something which has now led comic actor Robert Webb, the self-described “other one” on the brilliant Peep Show series (watch it on Netflix, Americans) to respond to Brand in the pages of, where else, The New Statesman.

From Webb’s “Russell, choosing to vote is the most British kind of revolution there is”:

... I thought you might want to hear from someone who a) really likes your work, b) takes you seriously as a thoughtful person and c) thinks you’re willfully talking through your arse about something very important.

It’s about influence and engagement. You have a theoretical 7.1 million (mostly young) followers on Twitter. They will have their own opinions about everything and I have no intention of patronising them. But what I will say is that when I was 15, if Stephen Fry had advised me to trim my eyebrows with a Flymo, I would have given it serious consideration. I don’t think it’s your job to tell young people that they should engage with the political process. But I do think that when you end a piece about politics with the injunction “I will never vote and I don’t think you should either”, then you’re actively telling a lot of people that engagement with our democracy is a bad idea. That just gives politicians the green light to neglect the concerns of young people because they’ve been relieved of the responsibility of courting their vote.

Why do pensioners (many of whom are not poor old grannies huddled round a kerosene lamp for warmth but bloated ex-hippie baby boomers who did very well out of the Thatcher/Lawson years) get so much attention from politicians? Because they vote.

Webb, of course has a very good point here, but I can see where Brand is coming from as well. I used to think voting was futile myself, because no matter who I voted for, the government was always getting elected. In my defense, I was in my 20s and there was a thimble-full of difference between between Democrats and Republicans during the Clinton era. Now I vote, it’s insane not to until the Tea partiers die off en masse.

He continues:

You’re a wonderful talker but on the page you sometimes let your style get ahead of what you actually think. In putting the words “aesthetically” and “disruption” in the same sentence, you come perilously close to saying that violence can be beautiful. Do keep an eye on that. Ambiguity around ambiguity is forgivable in an unpublished poet and expected of an arts student on the pull: for a professional comedian demoting himself to the role of “thinker,” with stadiums full of young people hanging on his every word, it won’t really do.

That’s one way to look at it—mature, nuanced, something a Cambridge grad might argue—but as much as I respect what Webb has written, I don’t think his open letter will sway the adressee much one way or the other. If you look at the some of the other articles in Russell Brand’s New Statesman issue, it’s pretty clear where he’s coming from and it’s not a timid place. He might not be coming out and directly calling for a violent revolution—although he surely hints at it—but some of the pieces he selected for publication most certainly do a lot more than beat about that bush, notably Naomi Klein’s essay which asks aloud what a lot of people—including many scientists—have been wondering: Is waging revolution against the unsustainable capitalist Leviathan the unambiguous answer to climate change and survival of the human species?

Webb feels the most British form of revolution is precisely the one waged at the voting booth:

What were the chances, in the course of human history, that you and I should be born into an advanced liberal democracy? That we don’t die aged 27 because we can’t eat because nobody has invented fluoride toothpaste? That we can say what we like, read what we like, love whom we want; that nobody is going to kick the door down in the middle of the night and take us or our children away to be tortured? The odds were vanishingly small. Do I wake up every day and thank God that I live in 21st-century Britain? Of course not. But from time to time I recognise it as an unfathomable privilege. On Remembrance Sunday, for a start. And again when I read an intelligent fellow citizen ready to toss away the hard-won liberties of his brothers and sisters because he’s bored.

I understand your ache for the luminous, for a connection beyond yourself. Russell, we all feel like that. Some find it in music or literature, some in the wonders of science and others in religion. But it isn’t available any more in revolution. We tried that again and again, and we know that it ends in death camps, gulags, repression and murder. In brief, and I say this with the greatest respect, please read some fucking Orwell


Left-of-center types not voting out of protest will only cede the government to the reichwingers, Webb’s right about that, but seriously dude, death camps and gulags are NOT the obvious consequences of a revolution against capitalism either. I winced when I read that. Reading a little Orwell can never be a bad thing, though.

What about voting AND some direct action so they know we’re fucking serious?

I think where both Robert Webb and Russell Brand might agree is that things seem to be coming to a head.

Billy Bragg posted the following to his Facebook page today:

Have to admire Robert Webb’s pro-active response to Russell Brand but it has also made me wonder, in a week when I’ve been protesting on the streets of London with Mark Thomas and Bill Bailey, why is it comedians who are willing to take a stand these days rather than musicians?

Below, a classic clip from That Mitchell and Webb Look:

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Gil Scott Heron was right - the Revolution will NOT be Televised

So I’ve been trying to sum up how I feel about Occupy Wall Street and the media coverage (or non-coverage) of the demonstrations the last few days, when I found this clip and realised that one of the most brilliant poets of the last hundred years had already summed it up perfectly. Of course.

I was gonna say that the oldstream media has been over for me since 2000, when I saw some peaceful protests badly misreported on TV and in the papers. I wanted to mention how my obsession with this summer’s “Murdochgate” sprang from a desire to see the established news channels I detest so much crumble, to lose all respect with their audience through their refusal to cover a story with such huge significance. I’ve been struggling to express how we don’t need validation through a mainstream that has always ignored us or deliberately misrepresented us, that people shouldn’t worry too much, the message is getting out there loud and clear.

But fuck it. Gil Scott Heron beat me to the punch (hard) thirty years ago. 

This incredible recording of “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” (as a spoken monologue with no music and some ad libs) is from 1982. It was performed at the Black Wax Club in Washington DC, as part of a documentary film on Scott Heron called Black Wax. His voice is a thing of rich, easy-going beauty but his words are like dynamite. Yeah, the times and technology may have changed, but this is still so prescient and just so damn relevant it’s amazing.

Gil Scott Heron died only four short months ago, and it’s a real pity he can’t be around now to see the people of his home town out on their streets and taking direct action, how he can’t be there himself to rally the crowds with this incredible monologue and share his no doubt sharp-as-a-pin insights into politics and society. It’s true - sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone. But we DO still have this recording, and I hope that everyone, including all the people involved with the protests in New York, gets to hear it.

Because the revolution will NOT be televised.



You see, a lot of time people see battles and skirmishes on TV and they say
“aha the revolution is being televised”. Nah.
The results of the revolution are being televised.

The first revolution is when you change your mind about how you look at things, and see there might be another way to look at it that you have not been shown.
What you see later on is the results of that, but that revolution, that change that takes place will not be televised.

After the jump “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” (Black Wax monologue) transcribed, plus footage from the fantastic Gil Scott Heron “Black Wax” documentary/live film.


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George Jackson: Soledad Brother 40 years later

Forty years after his death, George Jackson continues to reflect different things to different people depending on their ideologies and experiences.

To some, Jackson was a renowned author, Marxist, and activist truth-teller who brought the injustices of the American experience in and out of prison into harsh light as the once-vibrant ‘60s faded to a disillusioned and bloody end.

To others, he was a career criminal and prisoner turned violent radical whose acts and incitements brought misery to many and resulted in the kind of revolutionary martyrdom now worshiped by Islamicists and Tea Party extremists.

In a society that both thrives on a fundamental class-based inequality and manages to keep its prison population of 2 million over 40% black, Jackson remains a figure of some relevance, however legendary. Perhaps the best way to get a picture of the man is to read his words in Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson

On the ideological side of things, here’s George Jackson - 40 year commemoration, a video produced by Jonathan Jackson Jr:

After the jump: George Jackson in context, and Bob Dylan’s salute to the man…

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Nina Simone: in the name of freedom

Eunice Kathleen Waymon was born 77 years ago today in the tiny town of Tryon, North Carolina. As Nina Simone, she’d go on to become the most powerful singer/songwriter of the Civil Rights era, blending the rawest aspects of jazz, blues, soul, and gospel into a unique style that buoyed her message of liberation.

As a generation of despots falls in the Middle East and people confront the forces of greed in Wisconsin, it seems apropos to recall what Simone bestowed on the world…

After the jump: Simone repossesses the Beatles’ “Revolution” and Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” in the name of avant-garde freedom blues…

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Aerosol resistance in bloody Cairo: ‘The people want the regime to end’

Cairo-based British journalist Sara Carr continues to bring some fantastic street-level photojournalism from her adopted home city, including some shots of the spray-paint agitprop going on in the capitol.

Carr and some others have just assembled a Cairo offshoot from the Occupied London site, reporting on the ground, and along with Democracy Now, it’s proven a great item to add to your Egyptian Revolution RSS. They’ve already posted twice on today’s ruthless and unsurprising pro-Mubarak raid on Tahrir Square.
“No to Mubarak, no to Nazif, no to Sorour”
(Refers to Ahmed Nazif, Prime Minister for past 7 years until yesterday, and Ahmad Fathi Sorour, speaker of the People’s Assembly since 1991 and first in the official line of succession as President after Mubarak)

“Down with the regime” with inverted “Eagle of Saladin” coat of arms from the Egyptian flag.
Stencil of Mubarak; underneath, the Arabic word “Irhal”, meaning “Leave”.


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How to do news: Al Jazeera spends 25 mins. with actual young Egyptian & Tunisian activists

As bewildered analysts on the sidelines wring their hands over “what’s next in Egypt,” Al Jazeera continues to very simply shame the American news media with regards reporting on the region’s issues.

Jane Dutton, the host of the network’s “Inside Story” show, does what we used to call actual insightful reporting by bringing into AJ’s Cairo studio Egyptian activists Gigi Ibrahim, Amr Wakd and Wael Khalil and, remotely, Tunisian graduate student activist Fidi Al Hammami. And while these kids may represent a somewhat elite and educated part of the thousands on the streets, Al Jazeera goes a long way here beyond the usual news formula of interviewing either excited guys in the middle of a protest yelling at the camera or annoyingly hedging news “contributors.”

At around the 18-minute mark, Khalil makes the crucial remark that puts the American punditry’s narcissistic agonizing into perspective: “We don’t need the US.” In short, Uncle Sam, the EU and the international community are rather irrelevant to this struggle. The paradigm’s changed, and the old powers need to get over themselves.

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Marching music for 21st century rebellion: Mutamassik’s ‘That Which Death Cannot Destoy’

Mutamassik’s 13-track That Which Death Cannot Destroy was one of 2010’s most under-recognized releases in underground music. It could also turn out to be a brilliant soundtrack to the current anti-authoritarian street-fight spreading throughout Egypt, the Maghreb and the Middle East.

Even better—the whole album is offered for FREE download.

Mutamassik (meaning “stronghold” and “tenacity” in Arabic) is the nom de tune of Giulia Lolli, a half-Italian/half-Egyptian composer and DJ with a background that’s reflected in her splintered internationalist musical style. Born in Italy and raised in the American Rustbelt, Lolli went to New York City in time to swoop quickly in and out of the illbient scene of the mid-‘90s before heading out to Cairo, and finally landing up in what she terms a “CAVEmen-style” existence with her husband, Brooklyn guitarist Morgan Craft, and child in Tuscany.

Lolli has described her music as “Sa’aidi Hardcore & Baladi Breakbeats: Egyptian & Afro-Asiatic Roots mixed with the head-nod of hip-hop & the bass and syncopation of hardstep.” (The term “Sa’aidi” can refer to people of Upper [central-eastern] Egypt, and can also be interpreted as “ascending”; “Baladi” refers to traditional, oft-rural Arabic folk music.)

With that said, That Which Death… sees Lolli lay down a ritualized heavily percussive base over which she smears rumbling bass tones, cranky cello, evocative samples and scratches, various electronic instrumentation, and her own subliminal vocals to create an otherworldy brand of liberationist marching music.

Get That Which Death Cannot Destroy free…

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Exclusive: ‘Who are they and who are we?’ A hip-hop reflection on the Tunisian revolution

As this posts, despite an evening curfew falling on the cities of Cairo, Suez and Alexandria, some of the biggest popular showdowns yet between the Egyptian people and the regime of President Hosni Mubarak continue. That remarkable unrest has been explicitly inspired by the recent historic and ongoing revolution 2,100 miles west in Tunisia, which has led to the ouster of the dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years of repressive rule.

One little-known aspect of the Tunisian uprising is the role of hip-hop. As in most of the Arab world and Iran, and despite Ben Ali’s draconian rule, Tunisia’s hip-hop scene has grown. Artists like Afrock, T-Shibo, and Killah Rector have carried on the work first laid down by pioneers like Wled Bled, and the arrest for questioning of 22-year-old MC Hamada Ben-Aoun, a.k.a. The General, for his track “President, Your People are Dying” happened a few days before Ben Ali fled the country.

Watch and listen closely. This is the epitome of music culture against repression.

I asked Tunisian rapper Firas Louati for a few words on the unrest in his home country:

I grew up in Tunisia. For me, like I’m sure each country is for every kid, it was the center of the universe. I truly believed that everything revolved around Tunisia. People from all over the world literally did pilgrimage to it, whether for religious reasons (during Lag Ba’omer, a Jewish holiday that takes place after the celebration of Passover, Jews from all over the world come in masses to Ghriba synagogue, home of the world’s oldest Sefer Torah), or more commonly for touristic reasons during the summer when Tunisia becomes a Mecca for beach-goers and sun-lovers.

As I got older I realized it wasn’t really the center of the universe. I discovered we were categorized as a Third World country, and since both my parents are revolutionary syndicated journalists (my father was jailed during the 1978 manifestations), I learned pretty quickly that we were living in a dictatorship, that the media is censored and freedom of speech is virtually non-existent. Sure we ranked highly among African and Arab countries, and women enjoyed a freedom unheard of in the neighboring countries, and for decades that was the thread of dignity we, people of Tunisia, hung onto. But that wasn’t enough, not if we wanted our kids to be proud of being Tunisians.

It took long enough, but Tunisians rid themselves of their fears—fears of the government, but most importantly fears of leaving their comfort-zone and the apparent safety and security our country was famous for. And they marched into the streets simultaneously, first to express their anger and discontent, then to ask for reforms and, well…jobs! Then, finally, to demand and ultimately impose a radical change—a historic one, too. For the first time in history, an Arab people has ousted its president and dictator without foreign help or the use of force.

And on that Friday, the 14th of January, the eyes of the whole world were on Tunisia. On that historic day, Tunisia was and forever will remain an idol and an inspiration for the tired and the poor, the weak and the oppressed, anyone who has ever dreamt about liberty while living under dictatorship. On that historic day, Tunisia WAS the center of the universe. I couldn’t help remembering all those revolutionary rap songs I wrote, all those cliched phrases that even I was starting to get tired of: “Power to the people,” “We can change our destiny,” etc.—and smile. Finally it was relevant, finally it made sense.

The battle is far from won, but we know the challenges awaiting us, and we will work them out as a united free people in a democratic way. Because now that we tried the taste of freedom, we are never giving it up again.

Thank you people of Tunisia for making her once again the center of the universe.

Here’s the video for Firas’s recently released tune, “Tunisian Revolution,” with a translation from the Arabic below:

Tunisian Revolution

[The chorus is sampled from “Homma Min Wehna Min” (“Who are They and Who are We”), a song by revolutionary Egyptian composer Sheikh Imam.]

1st verse:
If the people one day decided to live*
then it’s as if they decided to walk on water.
Hands are cuffed, my “masters”’s needle has sewn our lips
nothing left but the weaponized pencil
and my fist.
The night they arrested my heartbeat…**
Long live my country
he who betrayed it will live in it
and he who isn’t among its wealthiest won’t.
The people have been subdued, robbed,
heroes been put down, burnt down,
riches have been accumulated and disappeared.
Underneath us the fire is burning,
and above us the wealthy are living,
and we’re stuck in the middle.
If the people one day decided to live,
start digging graves and preparing burial shrouds.
Blood is screaming inside our veins,
we die and they live, dear country.
If the people one day decided to live,
then destiny has to obey
and the shackles have to be broken
and the dark night has to end.


2nd verse:
Who are they?
U won’t see them but u will feel their shackles
Who are they?
The ones that deafened hearing people
and muted the talkative until we became like statues,
steered like a herd.
Who are they?
They’re the ones who dried the ink out of our pens,
imprisoned speech.
Who are they?
They’re the ones that made the flag cry.
Who are they
and who are we?
Where are they?
In fortified castles.
Where are we?
In destroyed shacks.
Their sons enjoy our misfortune,
our sons get beaten in universities,
get burnt.
Their sons get the highest positions,
our sons hang from coffee shop to coffee shop, from bar to bar
are unemployed, with diplomas…

*A take on Tunisian national anthem by Abul-Qasem Alchebbi:
“If the people one day decided to live
then destiny has to obey
and the shackles has to be broken
and the dark night has to end”

**Refers to the famous 1984 Egyptian TV film The Night They Arrested Fatma, a drama about a young woman who became radicalized during the Egyptian Revolution of 1952.

After the jump: the video (with English subtitles) that helped get Tunisian rapper The General arrested…

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
Huey Newton compels William F. Buckley to side with George Washington, 1973

Huey Percey Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, would be 68 years old if he hadn’t been shot in Oakland on this day in 1989 by Tyrone “Double R” Robinson, an alleged member of George Jackson’s Marxist prison gang The Black Guerilla Family.

Here he is engaging William F. Buckley on his show Firing Line in a preliminary thought-game before getting deep into the kind of civil dialogue on political theory that’s absolutely impossible to find on television today.

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Leave a comment
Ulrike Meinhof nabbed!

Thirty-eight years ago today, on June 14 1972, West German police raided the house of Fritz Rodewald, a teacher who’d been habitually sheltering German-based U.S. Armed Forces deserters in his Langenhagen home. This time, they were after the two young German strangers who’d appealed to him for accommodations. The cops had already apprehended armed and wanted Red Army Faction terrorist Gerhard Mueller at a public phone, and Rodewald had tipped them off that Mueller’s comrade Ulrike Meinhof was inside.

It had been a busy couple of years for Ulrike the activist/journalist. She’d left her job at the leftist magazine konkret and—sometime soon after the interview below—entered the realm of armed revolutionary struggle in what was then one of the richest democracies on earth.  This clip must have been recorded just before she helped break out RAF leader Andreas Baader from his detention in a research institute in May 1970. Twenty-four months of bank robberies and bombings later, she was in prison, where she would be found hanged under dubious circumstances. Later it was speculated that a 1962 operation to remove a brain tumor might have played a tragic part in her violent fate. Regardless, along with Patty “Tania” Hearst, Meinhof had become one of the most well-known female terrorists of the century.

Following the interview is part one of the BBC’s documentary on the RAF, Baader-Meinhof - In Love With Terror.



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