Monarchy in the UK part 1 Source: http://socialistresistance.org/2091/monarchy-in-the-uk-the-string-that-ties-the-robbersbundle
By Piers Mostyn
The monarchy still does the ideological heavy lifting for the bourgeoisie, as this Spring’s two major Royal events have shown. The marriage of the Queen’s grandson William in April was a carnival of the elite, parading inequality and repression in front of a population struggling to cope with wage cuts, slashed pensions and job losses. The details may have differed, but it mirrored his father’s 1981 wedding to Diana Spencer – which was staged against a backcloth of urban riots, Irish republic hunger strikes and a Tory-stoked recession. 500,000 were estimated to have attended the ceremonies in London. It’s tempting to speculate that the number was chosen as a deliberate match for the previous month’s TUC march against the cuts. A counter-mobilisation no less. Three weeks later the Queen visits Ireland – at a time of economic bankruptcy and vicious austerity in the South (with Britain’s multi-billion pound bail-out a reminder of who calls the shots) and British rule in the North stabilised by the latest Stormont elections. The suggestion that this first Royal visit in a century is made possible by the resolution of the national question and a meeting of equals doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. These are dress rehearsals for the Queen’s diamond jubilee next year, which will in turn segue into the London Olympics. A non-stop nationalist pageant with accompanying civil liberties crack-down. Millions may be out of work, the government may be trashing education, health and welfare services. But the message will be, “with the Queen’s help, the nation got back on its feet after the austerity of the post-war years, together we can do it again”. The subtext: “don’t blame finance capitalism or look to class struggle as a way out, instead be content to wave flags.”
The question posed over the next year is: will this be met by an alternative? Not only: will there be a movements of strikes, mass action and demonstrations of the type seen in Greece, Italy, France and Portugal? But also: will there be an alternative ideological perspective? One that not only prioritises people and need over profit and greed but stands up for democracy and basic rights? As tyrants are confronted and overthrown across the Middle East, what does the British monarchy represent and what are the prospects of removing it? The mainstream perspective is that the British Queen isn’t an autocrat and doesn’t wield power; the monarchy is slowly modernising and anyway its role is purely symbolic; opposition is either a waste of time because there are far more important jobs at hand or because its popularity makes this counter-productive. Even the left tends to follow suit, rarely raising its head above the parapet on the issue. The predominant feature of the British monarchy is that the head of state inherits that position through birth and can only be removed through death. Constitutional monarchies, like the British, are properly distinguished from autocracy because of the limited amount of formal power. But many dictators will still lay claim, however dishonestly, to some process of popular legitimation (for instance a stitched up election in which candidates are hand-picked) rather than an absolute right in perpetuity, purely governed by family origin. A society that accepts a monarchy is quite explicit in requiring no such legitimising process. There need be no confirmation and no endorsement. No qualification is required. Monarchs may go through the formality of obtaining some type of education just to avoid looking ridiculous – but this is entirely unnecessary. A monarch will still be such even if he or she is an imbecile. There is a ritual of public activity for the sake of appearances, but it is not absolutely essential. The job description is simply: to be the first born male of the previous monarch or the nearest relative according to a set of complex hereditary principles; not to be Catholic or marry one; to “defend the faith”; and to look the part. A society that accepts that such a process is an appropriate way to choose its head of state is making a very significant compromise. That personage is irremovable, its reign and that of its descendants and its descendants descendants is timeless and infinite. Putting to one side the anti-Catholicism and sexism, this flatly contradicts basic principles of democracy and self-determination. However little substantial power is wielded, making such a compromise even on a symbolic level will inevitably sap the independence, self-confidence and political will to act of the population that acquiesces. To have the Queen’s head on postage stamps, to have all criminal prosecutions in the name of “Regina” (and not “The people” or “The state of” as in the USA), to have countless public spaces, institutions and honours identified in “Royal” terms are daily symbolic acts of self-humiliation for all whose daily lives are in some way impacted. All this is doubly so in respect of former colonies that claim selfdetermination and yet have the British monarch as head of state.
Irish revolutionary socialist James Connolly had a clear understanding of this. On the occasion of the last sovereign visit to Ireland, that of King George V in 1911, he issued his third anti-monarchical proclamation (the others marking Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and King Edward’s coronation in 1902). It included the following: “A people mentally poisoned by the adulation of royalty can never attain to the spirit of self-reliant democracy necessary for the attainment of social freedom. The mind accustomed to political kings can easily be reconciled to social kings – capitalist kings of the workshop, the mill, the railway, the ships and the docks … fellow workers, stand by the dignity of your class. All these parading royalties, all this insolent aristocracy, all these grovelling, dirt-eating capitalist traitors, all these are but signs of disease in any social state…” Five years later Connolly played a leading role in the insurrection that led to his execution in the name of the same King. War followed and the King’s descendants were unable to return to Ireland for 100 years. Say what you will about Connolly, he certainly made his point. Until the 18th century the monarchy or related hereditary and feudal systems of government, was near universal globally. The first wave went with the American and French revolutions. But progress was slow, as the initial surge was met by counterrevolution. In Marx’s time monarchies were still very much the norm. A big wave of further progress followed the first World War spurred by the influence of the Russian Revolution and the struggle for self-determination that swept the world over the following half century. One of the early impacts was the Irish Easter Rising in 1916 and the war of independence that followed. The roots of this history go back to the 17th century English Revolution and the beheading of King Charles I. Although followed by the Restoration this ended the divine right of king’s to rule, providing an important precedent for the flowering of republicanism two centuries later. But despite Britain starting out in the vanguard of anti-monarchism, it now lags at the back as a last bastion defending the institution. Excluding the Pope, there are 43 monarchies in the world today. Five of them absolute (Brunei, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Swaziland) and the rest constitutional. Of the 43, 16 are Commonwealth countries making QE2 head of state in over a third of the world’s monarchies. If you exclude micro-states like Andorra and Lichtenstein, the proportion is higher. It goes without saying that the ability of monarchies to sustain themselves in the remaining countries must owe something to Britain’s power and influence (“if it’s good enough for them, why not us”). Only Japan, among the others, is at the top table politically and economically. The British state’s bloated global pretensions – as nuclear power and UN Security Council member, maintaining a wholly disproportionate defence expenditure and invading countries at will – require all the puffed up posturing and pomposity it can lay it’s hands on to fool the rest of the world into acquiescence. If reduced to an “ordinary” republic, its status would tend to shrink to its true significance as a small North Atlantic nation.
The monarchy helps project British power play at an international level, enabling the state to “punch above its weight”. A not-so-discrete but constant reminder of the days of Queen Victoria when Britain ruled a quarter of the globe. Consider the recent Royal Wedding and the two billion strong global TV audience – top end ratings on a planetary scale. The organisers knew what they were doing when they built a two story studio complex on the Mall with a prime view of Buckingham palace for dozens of the world’s top TV companies. To some it seems perverse that commercial popular culture in a republican (small “r”) USA appears to be so enamoured of British royalty. But it isn’t a contradiction at all. The British monarchy projects the kind of “soft power” imperial status that the USA is desperate for as it throws its military hardware around to compensate for growing economic weakness and insecurity. The monarchy’s close affiliation to militarism and imperialism is nothing new. It goes to the heart of its raison d’etre and has been centuries in the making. Tom Paine described the appropriately named “William the Conqueror” as a “French bastard landing with an armed banditti and establishing himself king of England against the consent of the natives”. That was in the 11th century. From the vicious English civil wars of the 14th and 15th centuries that Shakespeare plotted in his history plays; through the invasion, subjugation and occupation of Wales, Scotland and Ireland between the 14th and 18th centuries; to the wars against Spain and France from the Elizabethan era to the early 19th century and so on and so on – the blood-soaked empire was established, monarch at the helm, consent or no consent. The core role of monarch at the heart of the state was central to its stability and strength. The monarchy’s ideological role extends to the domestic plane, acting as lynch pin of an archaic class system and the state it props up. Its current form evolved out of a two phase compromise: first with the feudal nobility following the Civil War and then with the rising capitalist class in the 18th and 19th century. British society is ridden with the institutions and cultural trappings of that archaic system: the continued existence of a non-elected House of Lords in which some members still get a vote by virtue of their birth; the unwritten constitution; the prerogative powers, exercised “on behalf of the Queen” by the prime minister (to call elections, wage war etc); the prominent influence of the public school system; the lack of any serious separation of powers (a cornerstone of most bourgeois democracies) centralising power in the hands of the government and undermining accountability; and the antiquated voting system. The last of these may seem out of place. After all other countries have first past the post systems. But is it possible to say that the Royal Wedding and the very substantial No vote in May’s Alternative Vote referendum were not connected? An electorate that symbolically cedes such important principles of self-determination and democracy is hardly going to get on to the barricades over such issues. It certainly hasn’t done since the days of the suffragettes. The monarch does in any event retain certain “residual” powers – to appoint a prime minister, to convene the Privy Council (whose members are sworn to secrecy) 4
and such like. A powerful glimpse of such powers came in December 1975 when Australia’s Governor General, appointed by the Queen, sacked the country’s Labour Prime Minister Gough Whitlam at a time when he was challenging US-British security interests. The monarchy’s ideological role also operates at a deeper cultural level. It is code for a reactionary populist nationalism – typified by the many commentators during the Royal Wedding, some claiming to be Republicans, chirping away about how the event and its attendant street parties “brings the nation together”. In some countries flag waving is quite commonplace. In Britain it rarely occurs en masse outside of royal events. The monarchy, and particularly the concept of “The Crown”, helps to prop up a conception of the state as being not only a neutral body (in the sense of being outside of party and class interest) but also “above” the people. This in turn undermines notions of democratic accountability. The fact that juries never convict police officers who are accused of killing surely owes something to the pervasiveness of this culture. The Royal Family also embodies the concept of “the ideal family”. Enshrining marriage, heterosexuality and monogamy – even though hypocrisy and double standards rule behind closed doors. The Monarch also embodies the church-state relationship, as head of the Church of England and “Defender of the faith”. Liberal-left acolytes of royalty, at pains to reconcile this role with their secularism, like to hang on to Prince Charles’s supposed commitment to remove “the” from this formula. This is what counts as radical reform. But why wait for Charles? Or William? Why can’t parliament do that tomorrow? Better still remove all four words and cut the connection to God. The monarchy’s cultural role is nowhere clearer than as a soap opera-type distraction. Never more evident than in times of austerity. The people ask for bread, but they are given circuses. The claim that the monarchy is either modernising or at least harmless doesn’t bear analysis. The principle of male primogeniture is completely sexist and should have been scrapped at least when women got the vote. Sweden got rid of it in 1980. By 1991 Holland, Norway and Belgium followed suite. 20 years later it still isn’t on the agenda here. Similarly the 1701 Act of Settlement prohibition on Catholics and those who marry Catholics – a provision correlating with the brutal subjugation of Ireland into colony status. These are hopelessly reactionary and archaic principles. Why haven’t they been reformed? Liberal apologists for the Crown squeamishly tip-toed around this awkward subject in the run up to the wedding. Media pundits, exuding quiet authority, assured their viewers that reform would be “immensely complicated”. The reason? Because it would supposedly require simultaneous change in 16 Commonwealth states. This is like blaming empire on the colonies or slavery on the slaves. The British ruling class wouldn’t dream of waiting on minor ex-colonies if it wanted reform. The fact is that it doesn’t.
These archaic institutions are all part of a complex system of props and supports for the particular form that the capitalist state takes in this country. The fear is that such tinkering will bring the whole house of cards tumbling down. Ask an ex-colony to pass a minor procedural law on monarchy and it may get ideas above its station and junk the lot. Best leave well alone. The reason we have had an unfinished bourgeois revolution for 350 years is because the bourgeoisie have no interest or desire for completion. That remains the case despite the occasional very minor shift being forced upon it â€“ borne out of the necessity of co-operating with other nation states in Europe or to avoid some of the worst appearances.
Monarchy–the ecological cost Source: http://collectiveresistance.com/2011/04/19/monarchythe-ecological-cost/
Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky is credited with coming up with the idea of the biosphere. According to Professor Wikipedia it is “the global ecological system integrating all living beings and their relationships, including their interaction with the elements of the lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere.” That’s a fancy way of saying that everything we need to survive as a species comes from the Earth and relies on the Sun’s energy. As anyone who has seen pictures of our planet taken from space can confirm it’s a closed system. We don’t receive fruit and veg from an inter-galactic delivery service nor do we get consignments of metals, coal or oil in quantities large enough to be of any use. And this brings us to the upcoming wedding of Billy Windsor and Kate
Thingy. Much of the anti-monarchist criticism of the event has dwelt on the reactionary nature of royalty; the happy coincidence between a ruling class offensive and a good news story and the avalanche of servility pouring out of every broadcasting orifice. No one is picking up in the damage this circus is doing to the planet. All the commemorative tat that is being produced to fleece the stupid comes with a big environmental price tag. When Buckingham Palace commissioned the souvenir condoms or the toilet seat cover in the pictures did they even think of doing an environmental impact assessment? If they did it’s not on their website. Yet these things are produced using finite raw materials at every stage in the manufacturing and distribution chain and about 60% of what is sold today will be in a landfill site in under twelve months. Goodness only knows how much CO2 is created by the millions of official royal wedding sick bags that will be used on the
day. The fact that Charles Windsor talks to cabbages and owns tens of thousands of acres of land have helped greenwash the British monarchy in a way firms like BP can only dream of. Yet this wedding offers conclusive proof that a radical environmental solution to the ecological crisis requires the abolition of the monarchy.
Monarchy in the UK part 2 Source: http://socialistresistance.org/2121/monarchy-in-the-uk-part-2
“The string that ties the robbers bundle” The monarchy, despite its longevity and its seeming stability (as evidenced by coming the jubilee – QE2 outstripping probably any other head of state in terms of throne-time) is an institution steeped in contradiction. Capitalism declares itself to be a socio-economic system based on equal rights and opportunities. At every step from the formal equality of parties to the law to the cult of the entrepreneur, it is steeped in an ideology that asserts that “any one can make it, everyone is treated the same and has the same rights”. Twenty years ago this is what underpinned John Major’s declaration that Britain was a classless society. It is all, of course, untrue. Britain ranks near the top among western capitalist states for high inequality and low social mobility. So inconvenient facts like these, alongside racism and sexism, have to be quietly ignored or their consequences violently resisted when they spill on to the streets. The worse the contradiction has become – with neo-liberalism, the “free-est” form of modern capitalism, proving to be the most unfair and unequal – the more the production of an alternative fantasy world as reality has had to go into overdrive. The National Lottery, reality TV and game shows are the cultural flipside to this social order: telling people that, against all the evidence to the contrary, anyone can make it. If you are poor, don’t work, aren’t educated or are ill: it must be your fault. The problem is that Monarchy – as the ultimate mass media soap opera, periodically enacted as a costume drama on the streets with millions of extras – runs counter to this mythology. John Major, the offspring of circus performers, became a Tory Prime Minister. But it is simply not possible for anyone to be monarch. Indeed it is a position reserved for the biological product of a miniscule fraction of the filthy rich. Whereas, at every level capitalism espouses an ideology of “rights” and “democracy”, the monarchy stands for inherited privilege and repression. Far from being the “ideal family”, the veil has increasingly been torn aside to reveal its dysfunctional opposite. It is marked by more emotional illiteracy, failed marriages and insecure children than you are likely to find among the single parent inhabitants of urban estates that New Labour wanted to force into “parenting classes”. The extent to which an old “deferential culture” really existed has always been exaggerated. In the last 100 years eroded by two world wars, the secularisation 8
of society, welfarism and an era in which at least there was an aspiration for workers and democratic rights. But it remains integral to the idea of Royalty. What is the purpose of a king if he is not put on a pedestal? Deference may have meant something when Tories saw themselves as “benevolent patricians” and apprenticeship to pension security was, at least theoretically, part of a “social contract”. But that has all been ripped up in the last 30 years. These contradictions are sometimes invisible but they are never far from the surface and they go to explain what can be called the “Diana effect”: an increasing public awareness of the contradiction between the monarchy and the claims that are made for it and the society it represents. The immense popularity of Diana Spencer in part derived from her tragic death and empathy with her maltreatment by “The Firm” in the preceding decade. But the liberal modernising wing of the bourgeoisie, always aware of the contradictions underlying monarchy and perhaps fearful that this would one day blow up in its faces, snatched the opportunity to reinvent and repackage the institution. It did this around the story of a fairytale princess whose privilege and high standing was balanced by sneaking out at night, incognito, to care for the needy: the Mandelsonian “People’s Princess”. The recent film The King’s Speech was more of the same. Revisionist history that reconstructed the King as the ordinary vulnerable human being that throughout his life his subjects never knew he was. A man who said (take a deep breath before reading the next word) “fuck”. Likewise the recent royal marriage. Kate Middleton was spun as a “commoner” (albeit a public-school educated one with millionaire parents) with ordinary tastes. The wedding cake was made with digestive biscuits (albeit purchased from Fortnum and Mason’s). The subliminal message we were being sent, chimed with the game shows, reality TV and lottery: anyone of you has a 1 in 50 million chance of being part of the monarchy. Desperate attempts were made to choreograph the wedding and spin it as “informal” and “normal”, which meant little more than being marginally less stiff-necked than Charles and Di’s in 1981. Opinion poll evidence suggests the PR job has been a success. According to the Guardian/ICM 63% think we’d be worse off without the monarchy. Only 26% better off. Although there is a closer split when 47% said it is a unifying force against 36% who think it is divisive. The monarchy’s nadir came in the immediate aftermath of Diana’s death in 1997, with only 48% thinking society was better off it. However, the Blairite relaunch of the new post-Diana Royal family paid off as this figure bounced back to 62% the following year. 9
Back to 2011 75% thought the wedding would cheer people up and only 17% thought not: showing that some who are basically hostile to the institution were prepared to be carried along by the celebrations. It achieved its aim in boosting the feel-good factor at a time of uncertainty and austerity. The only good news was the relatively high proportion of 19-24 year olds (37%) thought Britain would be better off without it and the declining numbers who thought there would still be a monarchy in 50 or 100 years time. But despite its superficially Diana-esque stage management and repackaging, the Royal Wedding just couldn’t help revealing its true dark side. It was accompanied by punitive repression of a type the state would never get away with at any other time. In the run up there was a co-ordinated campaign of “preventative” arrests and the charging of students involved in the protests of late 2010. A further 55 were arrested in London on the day of the wedding. These included participants in a Soho Square “Royal wedding Zombie party” highlighting the impact of the cuts on LGBT people and “suspicious” people in the crowds on the wedding route. 40 officers in riot gear raided a community gardening squat in West London. Facebook pages of activists were shut down. “Grey propaganda” was pumped out associating any opposition to the monarchy with Islamic terrorism. A street party in Covent Garden organised by the mainstream Republic campaign, supported by a range of public figures had been agreed by the police and Camden Council, but was then cancelled without explanation. After some protest, it eventually did successfully occur in Red Lion Square. The half million that lined the streets had to stand behind double crowd control barriers, a line of police officers with a further line of armed officers equipped with machine guns. These gun-totting cops, in their hundreds were not forming a traditional “honour guard” which would face the parade, but faced the crowd in the manner of prison camp guards. Who ever organised the security feared more than a lone suicide bomber. They feared the masses. Despite all the spin about modernity and informality, militarism maintained its traditional place. Prince William and his father were in full military uniform. There was a Royal Air Force fly-by. Battle of Britain (the lowest common denominator of nationalist militarism in this country) fighter planes followed by Typhoon and Tornado jets (presumably fresh from bombing Libya). The wedding itself was a mono-cultural display of the English haute-bourgeoisie and its international allies: a motley array of human rights abusers and sub-royalty churned up with the odd media star. For all the post-Diana emphasis of diversity and “being in touch with the people” they seem to have forgotten to invite any black 10
people. I certainly didn’t spot any in the TV coverage, although I later learnt that a princess from Lesotho had attended. Elton John and partner, gay courtier since he serenaded Diana’s funeral, a partial exception that proves the rule although he would have been preferable in the Louis XIV-era wig and costume that he once famously wore to his own birthday party. 14 years on from Diana’s death, despite all the outpouring about reform and updating for the 21st century nothing substantial has changed. The overall picture is of a bourgeoisie that grips monarchy deep in its embrace yet simultaneously harbours a deep rooted fear that its popularity will crumble under the weight of contradictions. There was, of course, republican activism around the time of the wedding. “Republic” ensured that an oppositional viewpoint was heard, despite the clampdowns. Its list of supporting public figures including well known media figures. The political spread was broader than republicanism protest at the time of Prince Charles’s wedding when it was largely restricted to Ken Livingstone and the far left. The Guardian newspaper published a leader column for a republic for instance. But for all its worth, today’s republicanism has little social weight and is weakened by the absence of an organised left. The subject is not on the agenda of any of the three main parties, nor of the wider “liberal left”, civil liberties and constitutional reform organisations. The issue was barely on the radar of Charter 88, the main campaign for constitutional modernisation in recent decades. A recent book marking two decades since it’s launch gave the issue only the briefest mention. The labour movement has been almost silent. Even the far left’s republicanism is largely kept under wraps. Wheeled out on occasion but generally regarded as a distraction from the more urgent needs of the class struggle. Why is there so little public opposition to the monarchy? Why is the substantial republican minority (26%) not politically represented? Modern republicanism has it’s origins in the French revolution. This had a big impact internationally, including in Britain. Tom Paine – involved in revolutionary activity in France, Ireland and America – helped popularise it’s ideas, in particular it’s republicanism. A group of intellectuals in England took this up, led by William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Women’s liberation was born out of this struggle and the related principle that all people are equal. A second generation, led by Wollstonecraft’s daughter Mary and the poet Percy Shelley ensured that these ideas spread in the early part of the 19th century. Shelley may be lauded as one of the country’s greatest poets but his republicanism is not so well known. It is significant that first poems, published when 18, were under the pseudonym Margaret Nicholson, after a washerwoman who had attempted to assassinate George III in 1786. And in his first great poem Queen Mab (1812) he wrote,
“Whence, think’st thou, kings and parasites arose? Whence that unnatural line of drones, who heap Toil and unvanquishable penury On those who build their palaces, and bring Their daily bread? – From vice, black loathsome vice; From rapine, madness, treachery and wrong; From all that ‘genders misery, and makes Of earth this thorny wilderness; from lush Revenge, and murder … “ And he described the aristocracy around the king as, “Those gilded flies That, basking in the sunshine of a court, Fatten on its corruption”. He accepted that the political power of the monarchy was declining but developed a critique of the ideological role: “The power which has increased … is the power of the rich. The name and office of king is merely the mask of this power, and is a kind of stalking horse used to conceal those ‘catchers of men’, whilst they lay their nets. Monarchy is only the string which ties the robber’s bundle” (A Philosophical View of Reform, 1820) And he understood the monarchy’s integral role in militarism and colonialism. In his “Proposals for an Association”, addressed to the Irish he laid into nationalism and jingoism: “I call expressions … political cant, which, like the songs of Rule Britannia and God Save the King, are but abstracts of the caterpillar creed of courtiers, cut down to the taste and comprehension of a mob; the one to disguise to an alehouse politician the evils of that devilish practice of war, and the other to inspire among clubs of all descriptions a certain feeling which some call loyalty and others servility”. Where are the Shelley’s of today? The only leading politician of the last 50 years to carry this flag has been, very much to his credit, Tony Benn. The Sex Pistol’s 1977 riposte to the Queen’s silver jubilee, the scathingly sarcastic “God Save the Queen” reaching number one in the charts, was in this vein. But otherwise very little. Paine and Shelley were very influential – widely read for many decades after their deaths. Both had a big influence on the Chartists, a militant working class mass movement for reform in mid-19th century. 12
But the bourgeoisie had no taste for the ideas of these radical intellectuals. The wave of revolutionary republicanism sweeping Europe coincided with the hegemonic rise of Britain’s imperial power. They were more interested in grabbing the fruits of this through the union with Scotland and Ireland and colonial expansion. This British capitalist boom time succeeded partly through the political stability and hegemony achieved by fusing the old nobility with the rising bourgeois class. The monarchy, symbol of the new power, was at the heart of this settlement. Even the liberal reformist wing avoided suggesting any tampering with monarchy. John Stuart Mill, a radical of this type who played an important role in the fight for women’s rights had nothing to say on the subject in his most famous book “On Liberty” or his autobiography. The organised working class movement centred around the craft unions and socialist organisations of the late Victorian period, lost much of the Chartists’ radicalism – developing an economistic outlook, focussed on winning the crumbs of empire, with little critique of the state and tending towards chauvinism and patriotism. Some of these unions, for instance the miners, remained active supporters of the Liberal party even after the launch of the Labour Party and this economism, reformism, chauvinism and Lib-Labism has tainted the labour movement ever since. The legacy has been that republicanism dropped out of view. That it is over 100 years since both Liberals and Labour were committed to abolishing the unelected House of Lords, but it hasn’t yet happened, is testament to the same inertia. It has been to the anti-colonial struggles, in particular in Ireland, that one must look for any real challenge to monarchism in the past century. Scottish socialism has retained a radical republican core, in the tradition of John MacLean. In recent times this torch was carried by the Scottish Socialist Party whose MSPs took a very public stance on the question. But the continued fealty of 16 commonwealth countries to Her Maj, along with the sovereign’s return to Dublin – shows that it is insufficient to place reliance on any “republicanism of the periphery”. It is time for the left in this country to make the issue central to it’s vision of a new society. It is wrong, as many on the far left argue, to counterpose this to more pressing needs. The defeat in the AV referendum, the continued anachronisms of the parliamentary system, the prominence of private education, the elitism and snobbery perpetuated by the honours system and every single bombing campaign against a foreign country all owe something to the monarchy. The swamping of royalist propaganda has a suffocating and numbing effect that will also impact on the anti-austerity movement. It’s time we took on the beast. Republican unity should include all who oppose the monarchy, but little reliance can be placed on any commitment of the British state to self-reform. The labour movement must make this issue it’s own. It must be placed at the heart of an 13
agenda for radical democratic and internationalist demands including: proportional representation and voting at 16; abolition of the Lords; a written constitution; Irish self-determination and independence; Scottish and Welsh self-determination; withdrawal from the UN security council and NATO; scrapping the nuclear arsenal; slashing defence expenditure; scrapping the anti-terror and anti-union laws. The last word should go to Shelley, who’s most famous poem Ozymandias (1817), a republican vision of the inevitable demise of tyrants and their empires, set in ancient Egypt, could be an anthem for the current Arab revolts: “I met a traveller from an antique land Who said: ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert … Near them, on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on those lifeless things, The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed: And on the pedestal these words appear: ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away”. References: Donal Nevin, “James Connolly: A Full Life”; John Keane “Thomas Paine: A Political Life”, John Pilger “A Secret Country”, Paul Foot “Red Shelley”; “Unlocking Democracy: 20 years of Charter 88” edited by Peter Facey, Bethan Rigby & Alexandra Runswick; www.republic.com.
I wish I might live fifty years longer; I believe I should see the thrones of Europe selling at auction for old iron. I believe I should really see the end of what is surely the grotesquest of all the swindles ever invented by man-- monarchy. - Mark Twain, letter to Sylvester Baxter of Boston Herald, 1889
Fair pay for Royal cleaners | Collective Resistance Source: http://collectiveresistance.com/2011/04/27/fair-pay-for-royal-cleaners/
Subservience, hypocrisy, parasitism and patronising contempt for working people are the cornerstones of the British monarchy. One of the ways we know this is because the women and men who clean Buckingham Palace are paid £6.45 per hour. The London Living Wage of £7.85 is “the minimum pay rate required for a worker to provide their family with the essentials of life” according to its promoters Citizen UK.There is a pun to be made about princely sums but let’s not. According to her own website Elizabeth Windsor receives £7.9 million of public money each year but this is boosted to £38.2 million by additional benefits called “Head of State support”. Nice work if you can get it. Oops you can’t because you were born into the wrong family. The PCS union has set up an online petition to try to win a pay increase for the cleaners. Its demands are modest: “We, the undersigned note that cleaners working for the Royal Household in London are paid £6.45 per hour even though the London Living Wage is set at £7.85. Cleaners in the House of Commons and House of Lords are paid at the rate of the London Living wage. As £30 million of taxpayer’s money is paid to the Royal family annually for the upkeep of the Royal Households it is clear that the London living wage of £7.85 is affordable. Why then are the people who work so hard to maintain standards at The Royal Households, paid so little?
We call upon Jeremy Hunt, Minister for Culture, to ensure that all cleaners working within the Royal Households are paid the London living wage of ÂŁ7.85 per hour, a rate that is supported by the Mayor of London.â€?
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