Back in the day, Russell Brand was just the guy who spent his time presenting Big Brother's Big Mouth and hamming it up alongside Gemma Arterton in St. Trinian's. The world had no idea he would one day demand revolution from a crowd of 50,000 outside the Houses of Parliament. But on Saturday, that's exactly what happened, as an anti-austerity demonstration organized by the People's Assembly took place in London.
"This will be a peaceful, effortless, joyful revolution," Brand declared. "Power isn't there [in the House of Commons]; it is here, within us. The revolution that's required isn't a revolution of radical ideas, but the implementation of ideas we already have."
But just what are those ideas? Given that the marchers had come together beneath the banner "No More Austerity—Demand The Alternative," I went along to ask those present what that alternative might be, and what their new, improved Britain would look like.
VICE: Hi, Michael. How do you propose we solve the current situation?
Michael: Well, I think you need to start cutting from the top and not at the bottom. For me, I don't understand why you would make cuts to people who can't afford them and, as an effect from that, struggle to afford basic living costs and struggle to eat.
So your main issues revolve around the growing wealth divide.
Yes. I think capitalism was brought in for suppressive reasons, but it's now out of control. The negatives of capitalism have become even more noticeable. We need to look at how the system treats the working class.
So do any other ideologies appeal to you, or do you simply believe in better regulation of the people at the top?
I feel the system just needs to be better regulated. When used properly, capitalism could enforce positive change and not just be a means to generate as much profit in as short a space of time without any comprehension of the adverse effects. But I'm not sure how this would be best achieved, as I believe governments cannot be simply broken down into simpler structures. I just know they've created such a divide between them and the people they represent.
You're here because you don't like the way things are run. What's the alternative?
Richard: A better alternative is to stop the rich from getting richer and to start implementing taxes on the global elite. Their corruption is making people poorer all around the world. That's why I'm here, because voices don't get heard and the government just wants to send us to more wars that we shouldn't even be involved in. It's a long road to improvement, but we can't sit by and do nothing.
So how could this new alternative be implemented? Do you mean a new political party or a new way of governing entirely?
It's hard to say. I'm not a politician, so I don't really know the ins and outs of running a government, or how to implement new systems or parties that can be guaranteed to be better than the ones they replace. I'm here because I'm pissed off at the current state of things, as simple as that.
Unfortunately we lost our photo of Jon, so here's one of a sign at the protest instead.
Hi, Jon. You're here demanding an alternative. What would that be exactly?
Jon: I believe in the Communist Party of Britain. The party supports the People's Charter, which is an alternative economic plan that shows that you can have a socialist form of government.
OK. So what would you say to those who argue that communism has never managed to sustain itself? Economically, it's helped to rebuild countries in the past, but often those countries have turned into pretty unpleasant places to live.
I would say it's worked time and time again. Critics tend to find very specific examples to revise a different version of history that they have constructed. If you look at the Communist Party in Britain, it has had a very successful track record campaigning against fascists, mandatory subscription, and poll tax, to name just a few—as well as being here today.
So, for you, the only solution is complete communism?
I think the solution is a strong and united, fighting working class. The party is happy and willing to work with other political parties, such as the Green Party or Labor. Anyone who's willing to put the working-class people first and believes in socialism has something in common with us.
From left to right: Eleanor, Abbey, Clare
Him Clare. Tell me how things need to change.
Clare: Well, there's not an aspect of our lives that isn't adversely affected by what this government is doing. I've got a daughter with Asperger's, a granddaughter with autism, a learning-disabled son-in-law, a mentally ill son... I work for the NHS, and we're in social housing.
So you've really felt the full brunt of the cuts.
Yes. The solution isn't simply a case of making the cuts at the top and not at the bottom, but the government needs to recognize that there are some people in society who will always need help. You can't demand and harass them to work when they can't change who they are. We cannot demonize the vulnerable. It's horribly reminiscent of what the Nazis were saying before they started the T4 program.
How exactly have the cuts affected your family?
My son, who's a manic depressive, lives in squalor with his girlfriend because they removed his entitlement to state benefits. My son-in-law, after 18 months of trying to commit suicide because of the benefits situation, has still not received any help that was promised to him. My daughter Eleanor, despite looking after two members of the family who are both disabled, has Asperger's herself and has to attend a “fit-to-work” assessment next month. While all this is going on, we're being harassed by the government's Troubled Families Unit to “get back to work.” We're not criminals, but we're being treated like them.
Maurice didn't want his photo used, so here are some class warriors instead.
Hi, Maurice. What brings you here today?
Maurice: I'm here because this government is enforcing austerity that only affects the poor. I'm a public sector worker, and I haven't had a pay raise for many years. I'm here today because this government is taking us back to the 1930s. If we don't make a stand now, it means we'll never make a stand in the years to come.
So what would make a better alternative?
We first need to get rid of this government. I wouldn't say we need to create a new form of government, but we need to ensure that if we elect a government, it represents the people who have put them in power. This government represents the super elite, and they don't look to ensure a good quality of life for the working class. I belong to the Public and Commercial Service Union, and we've proposed an alternative to Cameron's cuts.
I feel that these cuts aren't looking at exactly what the problem is, which is the lack of resources in the first place. If people are going to work, they have to be given a proper living wage. And instead of these cuts on people who are living pay check to pay check, and struggling to buy food, we need to look at other areas where we can save money. We need to put back in place what this government has taken away.
Which government policies inspired you to come out today?
David: Well, I feel quite strongly that the cuts—especially the ones on education and the NHS—are too much. We've seen wars—the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our intervention in Libya—that have all caused countless deaths and refugees. Is marching here for a mile and a half going to make a difference? I'm not sure, but you just try your best, don't you? I'd like to see the public retaking the ownership of major services. This whole situation seems like a worldwide conspiracy, if I can use that word [laughs].
Are you saying there might be a higher echelon of the super elite working behind the scenes to achieve their own objectives?
I would say so, yeah. I'm a socialist. I believe in public ownership of the basic necessities. The only ones we have left are education and the NHS, which are also on the agenda to go private [this isn't strictly true; both services, to different extents, have seen increasing privatization, but it hasn't been announced that either are going to be fully privatized]. They also seem intent on starting another Cold War—or even a hot one, for that matter.
In my opinion, they're looking to resurrect a Cold War with either China or Russia. The armaments industry does very well out of those situations. If you took all the money that was spent during the Cold War and spent it on trying to improve things, we'd probably be in a utopia. With the Iraq and Afghanistan wars costing $51 billion so far, it beggars belief that they're now trying to squeeze the NHS out of a few million.
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