Catching up with Russell Brand, comedian turned socialist sage

How time flies! It was over two years ago that we wrote about Russell Brand, whom we were about to describe as a “British comedian” before we realized that it’s been a long time since we actually heard him say anything funny.

Russell Brand

No, Brand has long since transcended mere comedy. As we noted on June 8, 2015, he’s been more comfortable the last few years “posturing as a crusading champion of the downtrodden and a heroic enemy of The System.” His 2014 stand-up show was entitled Messiah Complex, for which this world-class egomaniac should at least get credit for truth in advertising. The show was a tribute to some of his heroes, among them Che Guevara. And the book he published the same year was called Revolution, in which he expanded upon his enthusiasm not only for the “morally unimpeachable” Che but also for Fidel Castro.

Sharing pearls of wisdom from his latest masterpiece at Carlton House Terrace, London, October 14, 2017

Lately Brand has been busy plugging a new book about his history of addiction. The book’s publisher describes it as a collection of lessons learned from “fourteen years of recovery” from addiction to “heroin, alcohol, sex, fame, food and eBay.” The author himself calls it a “manual for self-realization,” adding, with an uncharacteristic touch of what sounds like – can it be? – humility, that his “qualification” to offer up these life lessons “is not that I am better than you but I am worse.”

The Sermon on the Mount?

But don’t worry: that quote notwithstanding, Brand appears to be as much of a crusading know-it-all as ever, no less convinced than before that – despite his admitted inability, over a period of years, to stay on track and keep his own house in order – he takes a back seat to no one when it comes to diagnosing the planet’s ills. In other words, while he’s escaped dependency on booze and drugs, he’s still hooked on himself. And the media, perversely, can’t kick the habit of reporting on his every pearl of wisdom. On October 25, for example, the BBC’s website carried a story headlined “Russell Brand: Society is collapsing.” (It’s not every day you see a headline like that on any website’s “Entertainment” section.)

“People,” Brand told BBC scribe Steven McIntosh, “are starting to recognise that the reason they feel like they’re mentally ill is that they’re living in a system that’s not designed to suit the human spirit.” They’re frustrated over having to “work 12 hours a day,” over having to “live in an environment that is designed for human beings from one perspective but not from a holistic perspective,” over the fact that they’re “[b]reathing dirty air, eating dirty food, thinking dirty thoughts.”

The people Brand is apparently talking about are those who live in the Western world today; and the system in question is therefore democratic capitalism. Given Brand’s heavily documented enthusiasm for Castro, Che, and other Communists, we can only suppose that he is unfavorably comparing life in the West today with life under various Communist countries, past and present. Donald Trump’s recent speech to the South Korean parliament drew a striking contrast between the freedom, prosperity, and respect for the individual that characterize life below the DMZ with the deprivation, fear, and despair of life under the tyranny of the Kim family regime. Brand’s comments to the BBC are apparently a through-the-looking-glass version of Trump’s speech. Yes, the British funnyman appears to be saying, South Korea may look okay enough “from one perspective,” but life in places like Cuba and North Korea is better holistically. Got that?

Two Brand heroes: Corbyn and Chávez

Brand told McIntosh that he had no intention of going into politics, but that determination didn’t keep Brand from penning a Huffington Post paean last May to Labour Party chieftain Jeremy Corbyn. Now, Corbyn is a guy whom even many Labour stalwarts consider to be way over the line. Corbyn, an enemy of NATO and fan of Castro’s Cuban Revolution and Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution, is a Communist in all but name; but for Brand, he’s a man who combines “principles” with “common sense and compassion,” who has kept his “integrity perfectly preserved,” and who is, all in all, a “caring socialist leader” who has kept it together despite being the target of a “hegemonic narrative singularity.” No, we don’t know what that means either.

Another jihad enthusiast from Salford University

Salford University

When we saw the headline and subheads of a July 1 article in the Daily Mail about an unsettling development at Salford University, the first thing we did was look up Salford University, because we weren’t even sure which country it was in. It turns out to be in England – specifically, in Manchester. In fact, Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who took 22 lives at that Ariana Grande concert, was a student there.

The Mail story was about another Muslim student at Salford – one Zamzam (yes, Zamzam) Ibrahim, the president of Salford’s Student Union. Zamzam, a recent recipient of a Bsc degree in Business and Financial Management, was elected to her Student Union office in March. She has also been elected to a leadership position in the National Union of Students (NUS). During her campaign for the latter office, she claimed that there had been a 41% rise in anti-Muslim hate crime in the UK since the Brexit vote and opposed the “PREVENT” strategy, a UK government policy that is intended to keep terrorist events from taking place and that Zamzam calls “racist.”

Zamzam Ibrahim

But that’s nothing. The Mail discovered that during the last few years, Zamzam has shared a good many strong opinions on social media. Specifically, she has expressed a desire to “oppress white people,” has said that she considers “friendship between men and women…un-Islamic,” and has wished that everyone would read the Koran, because it would lead to “an Islamic takeover!”

After the Mail‘s discoveries were picked up by other news media, another British newspaper, the Independent, gave Zamzam space to defend herself. She argued as follows. First, she’d made the comments quoted by the Mail back in 2012, when she was only 16; they were, in other words, the “adolescent comments of a young girl” who was “struggling with my view of the world and my place in it” and “grappling with the deep injustices I could see around me and trying to figure out how I could make the world a better place.”

Second, the Mail had “twisted” her comments “to make them seem far more sinister than they ever were intended to be.” Third, she has since grown up, and the comments cited by the Mail “do not reflect my views today.”

One reader who commented on Zamzam’s article noted a couple of important details in her piece. First, an apparently deliberate error: in 2012, she was 18, not 16. Second, some of her offensive messages don’t date back to 2012 – they’re only a few months old.

Another reader noted that Zamzam, although given plenty of space by the Independent, hadn’t explicitly rejected any of the assertions she’d made in her social-media messages. Instead, she’d made use of the opportunity to slam the image of Islams served up by the “right-wing media” and to play the victim – not just any victim, mind you, but one belonging to an intersectional bonanza of officially recognized identity groups: a woman, a black, and a Muslim.

Zamzam with unidentified friend

“The question to Zamzam,” stated the reader, “is whether she has changed her beliefs in this period or she continues to hang onto them. Has she for example changed her views on whether males and females can mix in public and private places?….Does she for example still feel that Muslims are the oppressed and not the oppressors of Jews, Christians, yazidis, Armenians, converts to other religions, disabled and LGBT communities and many others living in their midst?”

Indeed, those are the questions. It seems clear even from Zamzam’s Independent article that she still views Muslims as an oppressed group. What, one wonders, did she post on social media after a student from her university committed that massacre at the Ariana Grande concert? We’ve tried to find out, but without success, because Zamzam – who, in every picture and video we can find of her, is wearing a hijab – appears to have deleted her social-media accounts.

Punker turned ISIS recruiter. Cool!

Useful stooges come in a wide range of varieties, but the kind that starts out as a British punk rocker – a female one, no less – and ends up as an ISIS recruiter is a special breed.

Sally Jones

Her name – her birth name, anyway – is Sally Jones. She’s from Chatham, Kent, and used to be a guitarist in an all-girl band called Krunch. But then she went to Syria with her son, Joe “JoJo” Dixon, to marry an ISIS fighter (and computer hacker) named Junaid Hussain. The heart, after all, wants what it wants.

After marrying Hussain, Sally came to be known, to her new comrades anyway, as Umm Hussain al-Britani. We’ve seen her also identified as Sakinah Hussein. And while he was still alive, the two of them were known as “Mr. and Mrs. Terror.” She was a big recruiter in Raqqa, and was involved in a couple of plots to kill Americans.

Too bad Brad and Angelina have split up – it sounds like a great idea for a movie project.

Sally in 2004

But then, in 2015, Sally’s hubby was taken out by a U.S. drone. Did that bring Sally down? No way. After cursing America (“the greatest enemy of Allah”) for killing her man, Sally, according to a September 2016 report in the New York Post, was named head of the female wing of something called the Anwar al-Awlaki battalion. Known by the monicker “The White Widow” (great title for a sequel, no?), she led “a secret army of female jihadis hellbent on launching a bloody wave of suicide attacks in the West – with their kids in tow.” Sally, noted the Post, “pledged to destroy” her native land “with the help of her deadly new brigade of femme fatales.” Part of Sally’s value to ISIS, apparently, was that her reputation as a former punk rocker helped them bring Western females into the ISIS fold.

No, forget it, this is starting to sound too improbable for a movie. At this point in a pitch meeting, surely the Warners execs would already have tossed us out.

Sally, back when she was torturing people with music

Anyway, the idea was that Sally and her brigade of female jihadis – who, like Sally, were “mainly war widows” – planned to “use the fact they are female to slip under the radar before launching their bloody attacks.” The Post noted that the women might “even bring their children on their merciless missions in an attempt to foil the security services.”

In addition to leading that gang of war widows, Sally also kept busy providing her fellow terrorists with training “in combat and strategies” for suicide missions that were to be carried out in the West.

Thus did Jones become “the world’s most wanted woman.”

A recent picture

But that was last September. In July of this year, the Post had a new story about Sally. It would appear that she’s been through some kind of crisis. Or change of heart. Or something. In any case, she’s been doing a lot of crying. She “desperately wants to return home to the UK,” reported the Post, but can’t because leaders of the terror group won’t let her go.” One of Sally’s colleagues, a woman identified as Aisha, told Sky News that Sally “was crying and wants to get back to Britain.”

It wasn’t clear, however, whether Sally wanted to take her son back to the UK with her. Now 12 years old, “JoJo” is now 12, described by the Post as “a child fighter who is believed to carry out executions.” A few years ago, we would have doubted his ability to adapt to an ordinary school in the UK, but nowadays we suspect he’d find a whole bunch of classmates eager to hear about, learn from, and be inspired by his experiences.

Red Ken’s anti-Semitic fantasies

Ken Livingstone

Ken Livingston reached the pinnacle of his career in the years 2000-2008, when he served as mayor of London. Before that he served for many years as a member of Parliament and, later, as head of the Greater London Council. Now 71 years old, he’s one of the veteran figures in the Labour Party – he’s been an active member for 47 years – and has enjoyed wide respect and affection within its ranks, despite his tendency to defend radical Islam and insult Jews and Israel (a country he considers anathema). Thanks to his far-left views, he has long been known by the nickname “Red Ken.”

Naz Shah

But Red Ken is no longer every Labourite’s favorite socialist crank. In an interview with the BBC in April of last year, Livingstone stood up for Labour MP Naz Shah, who’d been suspended from the party for having written or reposted anti-Semitic material in Facebook. For example, she’d compared Israel to Nazi Germany and reposted a meme calling for Israel to be moved to the U.S. In her defense, Livingstone said: “Let’s remember, when Hitler won his election in 1932 his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel.” In other words, Hitler “was supporting Zionism.” Only later, according to Livingstone, did the Führer go “mad” and decide to exterminate the Jews of Europe.

Seen from one perspective, the former mayor’s remarks were nothing new: as Richard Ferrer put it in the New Statesman, Red Ken has “made gratuitously antagonising Jews into an art form.” While serving as mayor, for example, Livingstone played host to Islamic religious scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi, for whom rabid Jew-hatred is an inextricable part of his theology.

Yusuf al-Qaradawi

Qaradawi, by the way, is also big on hating homosexuals, and when British gay-rights advocates protested Livingstone’s extremely gracious – in fact, downright friendly – treatment of Qaradawi, Livingstone shot back by calling them dirty Islamophobes. Yet even though Jews and gays tend to form an important part of the Labour Party base, especially in London, Livingstone somehow got away with all of this.

He didn’t get away with his comments in defense of Naz Shah, however. Shortly after airing his curious rewrite of modern German history, Livingstone was fired from LBC (formerly the London Broadcasting Company), for which he had co-hosted a TV program for eight years. Not until this April did the Labour Party take up his case. After three days of deliberations, the party’s National Constitutional Committee declared his words about Jews “grossly detrimental,” but decided to suspend him from the party instead of expelling him outright. In the meantime, speaking to reporters, Livingstone made things even worse for himself, claiming that the Nazis had sold guns to Zionists before the war and that this amounted to a “real collaboration” between the two. When asked to apologize, he refused.

Livingstone in his Che/Corbyn t-shirt

After his suspension, Livingstone was photographed wearing a t-shirt bearing an imagine that combined features of Che Guevara and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn – who, like Red Ken, is a radical socialist. It was unclear whether Livingstone, a fan of Che’s and a longtime ally of Corbyn, was trying to make a statement about Corbyn, who had criticized him for his remarks about Jews, or whether the shirt was just part of his ordinary casual wardrobe. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May, a member of the Conservative Party, said that Labour’s failure to dump Livingstone entirely amounted to a “betrayal” of Britain’s Jews. One hundred and seven of Labour’s own MPs, along with 47 Labourites in the House of Lords, agreed, signing on to a statement by the Jewish Labour Movement that criticized the committee’s decision to suspend rather than expel. And the Independent called his suspension “the mildest of rebukes for a 71-year-old who has no intention of running for office and describes himself as a ‘house husband.’”

These developments came at a bad time for Labour. Local elections will be held on May 4, and Labour’s prospects were already looking poor.

Stalinizing Britain’s schools

Recently, British columnist James Bartholomew took up a subject that goes to the heart of what this website is all about.

james-bartholomew-2
James Bartholomew

It started with a holiday cocktail party, where he happened to meet a woman who teaches history at a top U.K. school. “We somehow started chatting about Stalin,” he recalled, “and she said – in passing – that there had been good aspects to his Five Year Plans.”

Stalin_Joseph
Josef Stalin

Of course, anyone who knows the true history of Stalin’s Five Year Plans knows that they proved to be a nightmare for the people of the Soviet Union. Far from improving the Soviet economy, as intended, they caused famine. Compared to the Western world’s economy, the USSR’s was a disaster. Yes, they told the world otherwise, but historians have long since shown that the statistics shared by the Kremlin with gullible Western journalists were sheer fairy tales.

After his encounter with the history teacher – with whom he “only just managed to avoid having a row” – Bartholomew decided to look into exactly what British children are being taught these days about Stalin. He bought a copy of a study guide for history students. What he discovered was that the fatuous teacher’s “balanced” view of Stalinism is now “the standard line” at the very best British schools.

Take collectivization – Stalin’s expropriation of privately held farms from their owners and introduction of a system whereby groups of peasants were ordered to run them on behalf of the state. As any student of Soviet history knows, this policy proved to be disastrous. Bartholomew sums up the results:

Production decreased. People starved. Some farmers were not keen to have their property taken away. They were imprisoned or killed. Some collectives hid grain to avoid starvation. If discovered, they were killed, too. In all, up to ten million died as a result of the collectivisation in one of the greatest man-made disasters the world has ever known.

But that’s not what British students are being told. According to the study guide, collectivization had its “pros and cons.” One “pro”: it “ended the forced exploitation of peasants by greedy landlords and got rid of the greedy and troublesome kulaks.” The “kulaks” were the small farmers from whom Stalin stole the farms. To call these people “greedy and troublesome” is to use the language of Stalinism itself. They were greedy, yes, insofar as they sought, like any person operating a private business under a capitalist system, to maximize production and profits and minimize expenses. “Troublesome”? Again, yes, to the extent that they stood up to the Bolsheviks who took their property from them.

eton
Eton College

Another “pro” of collectivization: “It helped peasants work together.” Yes, and ultimately starve together.

“It would be grotesque,” observes Bartholomew, “to suggest as a subject for discussion the possible Pros and Cons of the Holocaust. It would be sickening to offer the idea that forced labour camps ‘helped people work together’ even if you expected children to knock the suggestion down.” The same should apply to Stalin’s reign of terror. But no: when it comes to subjects like Stalinist collectivization, “students are advised to give a ‘balanced answer.’ Students are to take into the ‘balance’ that up to 10 million people were starved or killed. The brutal enforcement of starvation of 2.5 to 7.5 million Ukrainians, know as Holodomor, is not mentioned.”

kremlin
The Kremlin

The reason for this is clear. In Britain, as elsewhere in the West, the people who formulate school curricula uniformly recognize the horrors of Nazism – but some of them are likely to have a soft spot for Communism, notwithstanding its own attendant horrors. “The communists in the Soviet Union,” Bartholomew reminds us, “were responsible for the deaths of a minimum of between 13 and 15 million people, the second worst rate of deaths caused by human action after those caused by Mao Tse Tung in China. But young people are not taught this.” And the less they know about “the terror, economic failure and mass murder that took place under communism,” the more likely they are “to be seduced by similar ideas.” Yes, that’s how it works.  

And what a web they wove!

webbs1
The Webbs, early in their marriage

A century ago, the Webbs, Sidney (1859-1947) and Beatrice (1858-1943), were the power couple of British Labour. Together they help form the Fabian Society, whose devotion to the idea of a socialist UK played a major role in shaping Labour Party policy and creating the modern British welfare state. They took part in the founding of the London School of Economics. They carried out research, published studies, and sat on committees, all with the goal of establishing an entirely new social and economic order. For a time Sidney was a Labour minister.

webbs2
The Webbs in later years

“Together, we could move the world,” Sidney once said of their relationship. “Marriage is a partnership. It is the ultimate committee.” (That last sentence should give you a pretty good idea of how their minds worked.) The immense scale of their influence is undeniable; the merits of their efforts to alter the British system are subject to debate. Certainly much of what they helped to achieve was genuinely admirable. But the activity that capped off their careers can only be described as a world-class example of useful stoogery.

We’re referring here to their promotion of Soviet Communism.

webbs3
With George Bernard Shaw, a fellow Fabian

The Webbs didn’t start out as admirers of the USSR. During the 1920s they recognized that Soviet Communism and Italian fascism were two sides of the same coin – and equally appalling.

But that changed. In 1935, after visiting the USSR and perusing economic data supplied to them by the Kremlin, they published a book of over a thousand pages entitled Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation? It was nothing less than a celebration of Stalinism. The Webbs cheered on forced collectivization, applauded the Gulag, even rationalized the mass murder of the kulaks. (“It must be recognised,” they wrote, “that this liquidation of the individual capitalists in agriculture had necessarily to be faced if the required increase of output was to be obtained.”)

beatrice_and_sidney_webb_1932
In Russia, 1932

“Old people,” Beatrice said, “often fall in love in extraordinary and ridiculous ways – with their chauffeurs, for example: we feel it more dignified to have fallen in love with Soviet Communism.”

Despite their private qualms about the Moscow show trials, in which Stalin railroaded his rivals, they publicly gave the trials their support. They acknowledged that the Soviet people were being fed a diet of pure propaganda, but argued that the BBC was doing essentially the same thing to the British populace. They flat-out denied that any famine had occurred in the Ukraine. They also denied that Stalin was a dictator, characterizing him instead as “a shrewd and definitely skilful manager.” And they gushed endlessly over the wonderfulness of everyday existence in the Soviet Union, where people lived “in an atmosphere of social equality and of freedom from servility or ‘inferiority complex’ that is unknown elsewhere,” and experienced an utter “absence of prejudice as to colour or race.” In the USSR, they enthused, “The Worship of God is replaced by The Service of Man.”

cohen2
Nick Cohen

Between 1935 and 1937, Stalin had amped up the terrorization of his people to a level unmatched in human history. Nick Cohen has summed it up as follows: “Whole races were being transported, the Communist party was being massacred, every petrified citizen knew they must denounce or be denounced.” How did the Webbs respond? By taking out the question mark in the title of their book. In the 1937 second edition, it was entitled Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation. If, as Cohen puts it, that question mark had “delicately suggested it was possible to doubt that the Soviet Union was a workers’ paradise,” now all doubt was gone: “The Webbs responded to the creation of a slave economy by dropping the question mark.”

malcolm-muggeridge
Malcolm Muggeridge

Kingsley Martin, editor of the New Statesman, pronounced that the two editions of the Webbs’ Russia book were “about the most unrealistic books ever produced by able people.” The historian A. J. P. Taylor said that Soviet Communism was “the most preposterous book ever written about Soviet Russia.” Malcolm Muggeridge – who had reported (honestly) from the Soviet Union – later wrote that the Webbs “knew about the regime,” including the evils of the Cheka secret police, “but they liked it.” Once Beatrice said to him, “Yes, it’s true, people disappear in Russia.” Muggeridge recalled that she had “said it with such great satisfaction that I couldn’t help thinking that there were a lot of people in England whose disappearance she would have liked to organize.”

But he was so charming!

burgess62
Guy Burgess in Moscow, 1962

After Soviet spy Guy Burgess defected to Russia, what was his life like?

First he and fellow traitor Donald Maclean were held under house arrest for several months, if not years (reports vary), and were interrogated the whole time. Burgess was then installed, alone, in a dacha in a village near Moscow, where he was constantly under armed guard and was not allowed to go outside without permission.

For five years after their disappearance, the USSR maintained a public silence about the fate of Burgess and Maclean. Nobody in Britain was sure whether they were alive or dead. Then, in 1956, Richard Hughes of the Sunday Times was called to a Moscow meeting at which the two defectors handed him a joint statement in which they denied having been Soviet agents and claimed to have gone to the USSR to work toward “better understanding between the Soviet Union and the West.”

Their statement made headlines. Thenceforth both men began communicating regularly with relatives and chums in the UK. Burgess wrote a piece for the Sunday Express denouncing U.S. foreign policy. Nobody high up criticized this; but when Burgess’s former friend Goronwy Rees published a series of intimate articles about the “real Guy Burgess,” Rees became an Establishment pariah: he was dismissed from a university position and dropped by friends who felt he’d betrayed Burgess. (They apparently didn’t mind that Burgess had betrayed his country.) One of these friends wrote to Rees: “Guy was such a charming, cultivated, civilised and loveable person.” That he worked for Stalin, apparently, was irrelevant; what mattered what the charm.

burgessmom
Burgess and his mother in Sochi, Russia, 1956

Mind-bogglingly, the British government let Burgess ship his furniture and other possessions from London to Moscow. His mother was permitted to visit him annually (she taught his cooks how to make his favorite dishes) and to send him food shipments several times a year. He corresponded freely with several friends, including Harold Nicolson. The British government even arranged for the contents of his London bank account to be transferred to him in Russia, and didn’t stand in his way when he ordered groceries from Fortnum & Mason, clothes from Turnbull & Asser, shirts from New & Lingwood, and books from Collet’s on Charing Cross Road. British authorities didn’t even strip him of his citizenship: he was designated a non-resident British subject, which meant he could receive money legally from the UK.

In Russia, Burgess continued to work actively against British interests. He wrote a spy-recruiting manual, helped counterfeit official British and American documents, and composed letters that were mailed to British MPs and Western newspapers bearing the signatures of private citizens who didn’t, in fact, exist. He was considered the mot useful of all British defectors.

Premier Exif JPEG
Andrew Lownie

He also led a more orderly life than he had in Britain. He had to. When he drank too much, his “minders” gave him a “talking-to.” His mother, who after his father’s death had never made an effort to control her constantly out-of-control son, observed that “Soviet discipline is good for Guy.” As Burgess biographer Andrew Lownie writes, “Burgess was a spoilt child, indulged by his mother,” and “had never been given boundaries.” For some people, indeed, this is indeed the appeal of totalitarianism: the idea of freedom is terrifying; they are incapable of self-control; they crave a strong authority above them, restricting their movements and punishing them for any violation of the rules.

Still, in a 1959 interview with Canadian TV, Burgess said: “My life ended when I left London.”

Three years later, he told British visitors that while he was “a firm believer in communism,” he didn’t “like the Russian communists.” He was even more vehement with another visitor, saying: “I hate Russia. I simply loathe Russia. I’m a communist, of course, but I’m a British communist, and I hate Russia!” The difference, of course, was that in the UK he could be a Communist while living under the capitalist system. What was the fun of being a Communist in a Communist country?

Stalin_JosephOne thing seems clear. Burgess, we suspect, didn’t really want to see Britain transformed into a Communist state. What he wanted was to continue to live in a capitalist Britain where he was fully free to enjoy the manifold privileges and pleasures that were available to him as a member of the Establishment. At the same time, however, he wanted to be able to play the part of the rebel – without, of course, ever having to pay the slightest price for it. There was, in short, no moral or philosophical foundation underlying any of his actions. As one BBC colleague commented after his defection: “He had literally no principles at all. None at all.” Another acquaintance agreed: “There was a solid core missing….épater le bourgeois. That’s what really started him off.” What a shallow reason, indeed, to serve a monster like Stalin.