Changing of the guard at Britain’s Medieval-Capitalist Totem
From the point of view of the independent interests of the working class, the death of Elizabeth Windsor is a non-event. There is nothing to mourn, men and women die of old age every day, its simply a natural process and only of interest to their family and friends. However, for the ruling class of Britain, forcing and brainwashing the bulk of the population to pretend to mourn someone they never met or were never likely to meet, let alone know, is a vital class interest today. Hence the long, orchestrated orgy of propaganda, obsequious grovelling, etc. in the media, together with the whole huge logistics of ‘lying in state’, monotonous repeated street advertising bought up in advance with a level of universal uniformity usually only seen under Stalinist regimes like North Korea, who consciously mimic the trappings of monarchy.
The queues are a bizarre spectacle of superstition and masses of the population acting against their own objective interests in pursuit of a fantasy. Reported at over 13.5 hours long towards the end of the week, it is likely that three or four million out of a population of around 67 million are taking part in this orgy of fantasy nationalism, pageantry and medievalism. Benedict Anderson defined nationalism as akin to religious belief in an “imagined community” comprising of individuals who will never meet, and the imaginary nature of nationalism is certainly on show here. This worship of a billionaire aristocrat is certainly bizarre, and its active encouragement is a long-planned logistical exercise by the British state, codenamed ‘London Bridge’, as is widely known.
The privileged longevity of Elizabeth Windsor, monarch since 1953, is seen as an ideological weapon by the British ruling class who long since abandoned any but the most formal pretence that their class rule is in any sense ‘democratic’. The idea that one elite family, and one individual within it, can epitomise the essence of a supposedly great tradition and nation, is drummed into schoolchildren for instance, with propaganda texts, assemblies and instructions to mourn Windsor and flowers being handed out to pupils across the country.
Earlier this year a ‘Platinum Jubilee’ textbook was handed out to every primary schoolchild in the country at government expense, costing £12 million. This is an outrageous example of indoctrination into an anti-democratic creed whose whole purpose is to inculcate deference and subservience to inherited wealth into the younger generation of those working-class and even middle-class youth who have no real interest at all in maintaining such a medieval institution. This was done by a government that cracks down ruthlessly on any sign of political dissent in schools, with any set of ideas that oppose capitalism equated with terrorism, racism and anti-Semitism. Fortunately, it does not seem be working, as opinion polls show many more young people under 25 want to abolish the monarchy than to keep it.
This totalitarian brainwashing in favour of private property and deference to hereditary billionaires also has, as is well known, the support of the Starmer-led Labour Party, whose ideologues have also equated anti-capitalism with anti-Semitism, not to mention engaging in mass expulsions of leftists for supporting Palestinians, or opposing expulsions of those who do support Palestine. Now the racist scab leadership of Starmer is banning Labour MPs from commenting about the monarchy during the period of the funeral, and in fact about anything. This in the middle of a strike wave, that, in a serious capitulation, the leaders of militant trade unionists like Mick Lynch have postponed for the duration of the mourning of the monarch.
However, inflation has not been postponed, attacks on the working class have not been postponed at all. The new Tory Prime Minister, the execrable and feeble-minded Truss, has continued to work during the period of supposed mourning, preparing further attacks on trade unions, tax cuts for the wealthier parts of society, and a con-trick scheme to try to defuse the issue that threatens the future of the Tory government: fuel price rises. She aims to do these things at the expense of the working class, both by nailing down most of the existing scandalous profiteering price hikes so far in 2022, effectively at least doubling fuel prices for this year, while using government borrowing, not expropriation, nationalisation or even taxation of fuel profiteers, to offset the next predicited rises, simply stuffing the face of the profiteers with government money to compensate them for the freeze(!!), and laying the basis for future austerity attacks to recoup that from the population and its public services and living standards at a later date.
The Labour Party, for its part, clearly opposes nationalisation of the energy privateers, many of whom are blatantly selling ‘renewable’ energy at the same market price as gas-fuelled energy, which is much more expensive, and thus making huge profits from doing so. Instead, Starmer’s Labour published a ‘God Save the King’ meme on social media, and has said nothing at all to condemn the arrests of individuals who have protested Charles Windsor’s accession as King by dynastic succession, or such provocations as the re-emergence in public of Andrew Windsor, whose involvement with Jeffrey Epstein and child sex-trafficking is a major scandal that also threatens the monarchy.
After the cretinous funeral period, comes the coronation of Charles Windsor and his consort, Camilla Parker-Bowles, as the monarch, probably next spring. It is always, by the very nature of the event, difficult to protest a funeral, but a coronation is something else. The coronation of this couple is going to severely test the stability of the British monarchy, as Charles is discredited among many for his previous adultery and the death of his former wife, Diana Spencer. There is something slightly surreal for an adulterous couple like those two to ascend to a monarchical power that makes the monarch head of the Church of England, which is supposed to oppose the ‘sin’ of adultery (though its founder, Henry VIII, created it in the 16th Century so he could do just that!). It was something along similar lines that was responsible for the abdication crisis of 1936. The monarchy hangs by a thread with his accession to the throne. More intelligent monarchists want to see Charles Windsor refuse the crown in favour of his son, William, who is young and untainted enough (they hope) to give the monarchy a whole new lease of life. But he shows no sign of doing so.
Some naïve liberals believe that the monarchy is purely a medieval institution, an excrescence and anachronism, that British capitalism can overcome and become somehow more democratic. This is a fantasy however: the British bourgeoisie is terrified of any mass expression even of reformist class consciousness because it fears that such things will start a chain of events that leads inexorably to revolution. Monarchist-nationalism, spread as widely as possible, is the most potent weapon that they have against the emergence of any such class consciousness.
Not only that, but the anti-democratic features of the British constitution, including the power of the Head of State to dismiss governments, are bound up explicitly with the monarchy. They have been used twice in living memory, though not so far within Britain itself: in 1975 for the monarch’s representative to dismiss the Australian Labour Government of Gough Whitlam, on behalf of US imperialism, and similarly in 1983 in the Caribbean island nation of Grenada in the context of a US coup and invasion of that country to destroy and remove its leftist government, led (until his murder in the coup) by Prime Minister Maurice Bishop of the leftist New Jewel Movement. The British monarchy is not a bug, but a feature of British imperialism as it has concretely evolved. Other imperialist states, including those such as the United States that do not have monarchies, nevertheless have other anti-democratic features that allow the bourgeoisie to override the popular will when it suits them to do so. The monarchy is just the form that this takes in Britain.
The monarchy may well be medievalist, but it is no mere feudal relic that can be easily disposed of. It is deeply embedded in the structure of British capitalism. The fight for its abolition is a key democratic demand, to be sure, but such is the nature of capitalism that a real struggle for its abolition will destabilise British capitalism itself. All the more reason why Marxists should demand its abolition as a key part of our programme to overthrow capitalism itself.