The RCN is posting four pieces as a contribution to the debate on a socialist republican the Diamond Jubilee.
- Socialist Republicans and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee
- Republicanism Socialism and Democracy
- The Crown Rules Britannia
- The Queen: Floating in the Stink
1. Socialist Republicans and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee
“Maud Gonne joined with James Connolly in preparing the anti-Jubilee demonstrations. To counter the loyal displays, she secured a window in Dublin’s Parnell Square from which lanternslides could be shown on a large screen…. Daniel O’Brien made a large black coffin on which were inscribed the words ‘British Empire’, and to lead the procession which was to accompany it through the streets Connolly procured the services of a workers’ band… Maud Gonne then set to work tuning out black flags which were embroidered wit the facts of the famines and evictions which had marked Victoria’s reign.
On Jubilee Day… a rickety handcart… draped in the semblance of a hearse… was pushed by a member of the Irish Socialist Republican Party. Maud Gomme and W. B. Yeats joined the procession and quickly distributed black flags. They all moved down Dame Street to the sound of the Dead March.
As soon as the police realised what was happening reinforcements were rushed from the Castle. Baton charges began to disperse the dense throng of spectators. Connolly, at the head, had reached O’Connell Bridge when the fighting became exceptionally fierce. With a flash of inspiration, he ordered the coffin to thrown into the River Liffey and the whole crowd took up in chorus his valedictory words, “Here goes the coffin of the British Empire. To hell with the British Empire!”
The Life and Times of James Connolly, C. Desmond Greaves, pp. 89-90
Queen Victoria’s Jubilee
James Connolly in Workers Republic
“The great appear great to us, only because we are on our knees: LET US RISE.”
The loyal subjects of Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India, etc., celebrate this year the longest reign on record. Already the air is laden with rumours of preparations for a wholesale manufacture of sham ‘popular rejoicings’ at this glorious (?) commemoration.
Home Rule orators and Nationalist Lord Mayors, Whig politicians and Parnellite pressmen, have ere now lent their prestige and influence to the attempt to arouse public interest in the sickening details of this Feast of Flunkeyism. It is time then that some organised party in Ireland – other than those in whose mouths Patriotism means Compromise, and Freedom, High Dividends – should speak out bravely and honestly the sentiments awakened in the breast of every lover of freedom by this ghastly farce now being played out before our eyes. Hence the Irish Socialist Republican Party – which, from its inception, has never hesitated to proclaim its unswerving hostility to the British Crown, and to the political and social order of which in these islands that Crown is but the symbol – takes this opportunity of hurling at the heads of all the courtly mummers who grovel at the shrine of royalty the contempt and hatred of the Irish Revolutionary Democracy. We, at least, are not loyal men; we confess to having more respect and honour for the raggedest child of the poorest labourer in Ireland today than for any, even the most virtuous, descendant of the long array of murderers, adulterers and madmen who have sat upon the throne of England.
During this glorious reign Ireland has seen 1,225,000 of her children die of famine, starved to death whilst the produce of her soil and their labour was eaten up by a vulture aristocracy, enforcing their rents by the bayonets of a hired assassin army in the pay of the –best of the English Queens’; the eviction of 3,668,000, a multitude greater than the entire population of Switzerland; and the reluctant emigration of 4,186,000 of our kindred, a greater host than the entire people of Greece. At the present moment 78 percent of our wage-earners receive less than £1 per week, our streets are thronged by starving crowds of the unemployed, cattle graze on our tenantless farms and around the ruins of our battered homesteads, our ports are crowded with departing emigrants, and our poorhouses are full of paupers. Such are the constituent elements out of which we are bade to construct a National Festival of rejoicing!
Working-class of Ireland: We appeal to you not to allow your opinions to be misrepresented on this occasion. Join your voice with ours in protesting against the base assumption that we owe to this Empire any other debt than that of hatred of all its plundering institutions. Let this year be indeed a memorable one as marking the date when the Irish workers at last flung off that slavish dependence on the lead of ‘the gentry,’ which has paralysed the arm of every soldier of freedom in the past.
The Irish landlords, now as ever the enemy’s garrison, instinctively support every institution which, like monarchy, degrades the manhood of the people and weakens the moral fibre of the oppressed; the middle-class, absorbed in the pursuit of gold, have pawned their souls for the prostitute glories of commercialism and remain openly or secretly hostile to every movement which would imperil the sanctity of their dividends. The working class alone have nothing to hope for save in a revolutionary reconstruction of society; they, and they alone, are capable of that revolutionary initiative which, with all the political and economic development of the time to aid it, can carry us forward into the promised land of perfect Freedom, the reward of the age-long travail of the people.
To you, workers of Ireland, we address ourselves. AGITATE in the workshop, in the field, in the factory, until you arouse your brothers to hatred of the slavery of which we are all the victims. EDUCATE, that the people may no longer be deluded by illusory hopes of prosperity under any system of society of which monarchs or noblemen, capitalists or landlords form an integral part. ORGANISE, that a solid, compact and intelligent force, conscious of your historic mission as a class, you may seize the reins of political power whenever possible and, by intelligent application of the working-class ballot, clear the field of action for the revolutionary forces of the future. Let the ‘canting, fed classes’ bow the knee as they may, be you true to your own manhood, and to the cause of freedom, whose hope is in you, and, pressing unweariedly onward in pursuit of the high destiny to which the Socialist Republic invites you, let the words which the poet puts into the mouth of Mazeppa console you amid the orgies of the tyrants of today:
But time at last makes all things even,
And if we do but watch the hour,
There never yet was human power
That could evade, if unforgiven,
The patient hate and vigil long,
Of those who treasure up a wrong.
2. Republicanism Socialism and Democracy
The following two articles come from the RCN’s pamphlet of the same name, published in 2008, and now out-of-print.
Republicanism And The Democratic Road To Socialism
The role of communists is to develop an awareness of the utility and necessity of democracy – Victor Serge
As long as democracy has not been achieved, thus long do communists and democrats fight side by side – Frederick Engels
Republicanism in the United Kingdom describes the movement from below for a radical and militant democracy. For socialists, republicanism addresses those immediate democratic issues faced by the working class in the here and now. It seeks to develop a programme for expanding democracy under capitalism as far as it will go. It concerns itself with progressive and in some senses transitional demands. To the extent that we achieve our democratic demands these strengthen our class and weaken the ruling class and its allies. It is a necessary and unavoidable part of the struggle for socialism.
This democratic struggle is called republicanism in the UK because it highlights that we live in an undemocratic, constitutional monarchy. The term republicanism also connects us to our own radical history.
Republican struggles in these islands provide a red thread going back to the Levellers in the English revolution, the Cameronians (radical Covenanters) here in Scotland, the struggle of the United Irishmen, the Chartists, and the prospects of Workers Republics raised by James Connolly and John Maclean. The rise of capitalism and the struggle of the emerging bourgeoisie against the feudal state and church led to a false association between capitalism and the spreading of democracy. In reality wherever they have achieved power, the bourgeoisie have sought to narrow, limit and impoverish democracy, for the majority of the population. Consciously or unconsciously they have recognised in the proletariat their future gravediggers. Hence they have sought to block any democratic path to a genuine republic because, in a truly democratic republic, the bourgeois and their system, capitalism, could not flourish.
Socialists see republicanism today as directly linked to the struggle for the socialist republic tomorrow. However, Republicanism is not a sentimental attachment to yesterday’s struggles. It helps us develop a strategy and tactics to directly oppose today’s oppressors and exploiters. To declare for the democratic republic is to declare war against the existing bourgeois state.
Republicanism in Action
Republicanism in the workplace or trade union means spreading action outwards and upwards from the origin of the conflict or from its most militant site. It is not about waiting until your faction has won the position of the General secretary-ship of the union or a majority on the party executive. Industrial republicanism recognizes the sovereignty of the members in their workplaces and branches and not the sovereignty of the Union head office or full-time officials. Neither is its main purpose to reform the capitalist state and its laws, although it may produce useful reforms such as the legal right to strike or to take secondary action.
Republicanism endorses direct action in the community. It is not about waiting to ‘win power’ in local or national elections where power is in the hands of the elected few. Republicanism is about the maximum level of participation in any action with democratic control at the grass roots level. For republicans, contesting local and national elections is not an end in itself. We stand in elections to offer an ideological alternative to capitalism and to challenge the state under which we live. When the Tories tried to impose their hated Poll Tax in Scotland, tens of thousands (some say hundreds of thousands) took action to resist. This resistance was spread further, by activists, to England and Wales. A struggle initiated in the housing schemes of Muirhouse and Pollok was fought to a famous victory. Tens of thousands of protestors defied the state in Trafalgar Square on March 31st 1990
When socialists put up candidates for the local elections it was to legitimize actions being taken or considered e.g., campaigning in Council elections on a ‘Don’t Pay the Poll Tax’ slogan. During that titanic struggle millions moved from protesting against an unjust tax to breaking the law and organizing to prevent the rule of the state operating as it wished. The most militant areas became no go areas for Sherriff’s Officers and representatives of the Labour Party (who’s councils were imposing the tax). This is republicanism in action.
Sometimes latent republican struggles in the community become conscious republican struggles. In 1969, tens of thousands demonstrated for Civil Rights in (e.g. equal voting and access to jobs and housing) in Northern Ireland. Their resistance was met by British paratroopers in Derry on Bloody Sunday, January 30th 1972, when 14 peaceful demonstrators were shot down. This was followed by internment without trial. The republican struggle against the UK state took off.
Seeing Struggles Through a Republican Lens
A republican perspective politicises issues and illuminates a democratic path that leads us beyond capitalism. It is an energising principle, which brings with it a personal responsibility to think and act like an active citizen rather than a submissive subject. It allows us to come to grips with the enemy state and thus provides an antidote to passivity in socialist organisations and society at large
Thus campaigns against homelessness and for the building of more council houses are not just about the demand for more homes. It is an argument about collective rather than private provision of services and about democratic accountability, councillors are elected, Housing Association executives are not. This then becomes a political not just an economic demand. Similarly the struggle around the defence of asylum seekers challenges the state’s ability to create and control borders and restrict the free movement of people (in contrast to capital, commodities and profits). Another example is foxhunting. This can be opposed on the grounds of cruelty to foxes or on the basis of who should control the land. These examples indicate the militant ways in which revolutionary republicans fight for reforms.
Republicanism is about releasing the latent power of the people, and it means recognising the legitimacy of democratically agreed, direct action taken by ourselves at whatever level. In short, republicanism is putting the ‘sovereignty of the people’ into action in the here and now. Republicanism challenges not just the ruling class but also their knowing collaborators in and out of parliament (e.g., trade union bureaucracies) and their unknowing collaborators (those left organisations that want to restrict class action until it – ‘the chosen party’ – considers the time and tactic is right). Connolly, for example, acted in true republican fashion when he threw the weight of the Irish Citizen Army behind the Easter uprising despite personally judging the wider organization to be ill prepared.
Making our own organizations democratic
Republicanism is fundamentally about the highest form of democracy. That is democratic control held by the basic units of the society – workplaces and effective networks within communities. Elected representatives must always be accountable and subject to recall and dismissal. If elected representatives are paid, then they should receive no more than the average skilled workers’ wage. This is a vital weapon against careerism and will help eliminate those powerful forces that drive a wedge between the elected and the electorate, the union member and the full timer.
It is imperative that socialists lead the struggle within society to extend absolute democracy to all areas of our lives. To achieve this it is absolutely essential that our own organisations are democratic. This must include trade unions and socialist parties.
The Republican Communist Network’s insist on the importance of republicanism and a democratic constitution within the SSP because we recognise this as the most effective method of decision making i.e. it maximises our ability to produce correct answers to problems we face. It leads to collective decision making through mutual education and debate. An active, living democracy allows us to harness the creativity of the membership and honestly reflect on the results of our practice and to quickly amend it in the light of this learning.
A democratic party allows the working class to express itself through its structures. It is essential to foster a democratic structure that recognises the value of minority views being expressed. Socialists support elections being conducted on the basis of proportional representation (PR). This is an indispensable demand, both within and beyond our own organisations. It ensures that minority opinions are always heard and are not silenced, and allows debate between differing points of view; the lifeblood of democracy.
This expresses the essence of the Marxist dialectic whereby our practice develops through the open clash of differing ideas on what constitutes the best way forward..This is an important corrective method for any socialist grouping. Failure to allow this results in mistakes like the SWP dismissing the 1984-5 miners strike and the Poll Tax as unimportant struggles. An error of a different nature was CWI’s prediction of the Red Nineties i.e. that, as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, there would be a massive upturn in working class struggles and through these a politicisation of the class. In reality the opposite happened.
In each of these cases the lack of an effective internal democratic structure reduced the ability of these organisations to adapt their strategies to deal with reality as it actually unfolded and disproved their earlier predictions. This inflexibility made them less effective as vehicles to express the needs of the working class.
Ultimately democracy is a living thing. It cannot be completely captured by constitutions etc. It can however be enhanced or hindered by such things. Republicanism embodies such characteristics as openness, egalitarianism and a long term perspective. Further it recognises that adhering to principle may involve short-term losses. Republicans within any political organisation will always contest the drift toward bureaucratic control of that organisation by dominant faction(s) whether that control is exerted through the power of their block vote, or via rigging the rules and constitution to stifle dissent. Republicanism will always challenge those holding office who put their personal interests above those they are elected to represent.
Although republicanism is not communism or socialism it is difficult to imagine how either of these will be achieved without a strongly republican movement and thoroughgoing democracy to guard against the many temptations of managerialism, bureaucracy and totalitarianism. The struggle for democracy has the potential to unite our class and points the way to revolutionary change and a new form of society. Indeed socialism can only develop and be maintained under conditions of active, mass, democratic participation in the running of society. In its absence we have by definition another, non socialist, form of society e.g. as in the former USSR.
Republican consciousness and practice brings the possibility of revolutionary change into the sphere of everyday life. Revolutionary social change is understood as the culmination of an ongoing and developing revolutionary process rather than a one off event.
The Paris Commune and the workers councils (soviets) in the Russian Empire did not spring out of nowhere. They were the culmination of long struggles to assert popular and workers’ control over people’s lives. Today’s workers’ and popular struggles to retain control of our own organisations and to win and try to establish control over reforms which will improve our lives, are the bridge to this socialist or communist future. The republican desire to assert our self-determination is but a step on the way to creating a society based on the principle, ‘From each according to their ability; to each according to their needs’.
Republicanism And The UK State
When people are asked what is meant by the word ‘republic’ they usually answer, “A country without a monarch”. In today’s world this covers a great variety of states, including the USA, France, Germany, Russia, Israel, China, South Africa and Cuba. At first glance, then, ‘republic’ would not appear to be a very helpful term for socialists, who want to distinguish between more or less progressive social and political systems.
Therefore, despite the fact that we, in the UK, live in one of the few remaining monarchies in the world, what significant difference could the ending of the monarchy bring about? Certainly, the existence of the Royal Family helps to buttress a more rigid class system here, where class is understood in its older sense of hierarchical privilege, with upper, middle and lower classes. The desperation with which some Labour politicians and trade union leaders pursue ‘honours’ is one indication of the hold of this old-style class privilege within the UK.
Nevertheless, a quick examination of the world’s most powerful republic, the USA, shows us that the lack of a monarchy is not necessarily a barrier to the promotion of huge income differentials between an obscenely wealthy elite and the downtrodden poor. So, why should socialists consider themselves republicans at all, rather than just ignoring the monarchy until we have achieved our real aim, the creation of a socialist republic? Answering this question means taking a closer look at the political nature of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The UK is a constitutional monarchy, which means, in effect, that the Queen exerts little power in her own right. Yes, the Royal Family enjoys massive privileges in terms of property, income and status, but these are rewards given for its role in supporting and promoting the interests of a wider British ruling class. The fragility of royal political influence was shown over the Windsors’ inept handling of the ‘Princess Di Affair’. Diana was seen by the public to be much more in tune with the modern day, neo-liberal requirements of a celebrity monarchy. Tony Blair perceived a ruling class need for a ‘New Monarchy’, and quickly labelled the late Diana, the ‘People’s Princess’. The Windsors, however, were still seen by most to be, out of touch with the present-day world. Since then, they have had to put a lot of effort into trying to repackage the monarchy.
So, does this mean that the longstanding infatuation of the British public with the Royal Family, which long prevented even the old Labour Party from challenging royal privilege, is at last waning? It probably does, but that does not get to the root of the problem. Far more important than the Royal Family itself, is the political system it fronts. Despite the existence of a parliamentary democracy centred on Westminster, with its new devolved offspring at Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont, it still has very real limitations. These lie in the state’s Crown Powers, which are wielded, not by the Queen, but by the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister has a wider circle of advisers, from the world of finance, industry and the media. They help him to adopt strategies and form policies to promote their needs, without too much democratic scrutiny. We can see some of those pressures in Gordon Brown’s handling of the Northern Rock collapse, where defence of City interests has been paramount. If anyone thinks that defence of small investors is Brown’s first interest, just ask the victims of the collapse of the Farepack Fund, run by Halifax/Bank of Scotland. Business leaders have also ensured that the bidding and contract details for the government’s many lucrative PFI contracts, amounting to billions of pounds of public money, are conducted in secret under the guise of commercial confidentiality. This means that whole swathes of the UK economy, ostensibly under the control or supervision of Parliament, in reality lie way beyond any effective public accountability. The results of this can now clearly be seen, with Brown and Darling’s paralysis in the face of the present economic crisis. New Labour is in the pockets of big business, and no amount of Union Jack waving around our Olympic heroes and heroines can disguise this.
This unaccountable economic influence has to be supplemented by other anti-democratic political means. This is why senior civil servants, judges, and officers and ranks in the armed forces, all swear their allegiance to the Queen, not to Parliament, and certainly not to the people. The ruling class may require their services, acting, when necessary, against the interests of the people, or even Parliament. Of course, it is not the Queen herself, who wields this power, but the Prime Minister, acting on behalf of the ruling class. This is all done under the Crown Powers.
The UK’s constitution even has provision for the suspension of Parliament in ‘extreme situations’, with resort instead to direct rule by the Privy Council. This very select band of former and existing senior government ministers is chosen for its reliability in upholding ruling class interests. Its members all enjoy close contact with the world of business, whilst some have had direct dealings with military officers, MI5 and MI6.
The fact that SNP leader Alex Salmond is now a Privy Councillor shows that, beyond the exaggerated public disagreements, through which party political competition normally takes place in the UK, the British ruling class inner circle still consider him reliable enough. Indeed, Salmond enjoys his own close links with the Scottish finance sector, which has wider British interests to defend. More importantly, Salmond’s acceptance of a Privy Councillorship indicates that he will play the political game by Westminster rules, when he finally puts forward the Scottish Executive’s ‘Independence Referendum’.
Way back in the late 1970’s, before the British ruling class came to the conclusion that ‘Devolution-all-round’ (for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) was the best strategy to defend its interests in these islands and the wider world, key sections were still bitterly opposed even to the very mild devolutionary proposals put forward by the then Labour government. In the lead-up to the 1979 Devolution Referendum, the ‘non-political’ Queen was wheeled out to make a Christmas broadcast attacking Scottish nationalism. Senior civil servants were told to ‘bury’ any documents, which could help the Scottish nationalists. Military training exercises were conducted, targeting putative armed Scottish guerrilla forces. The security forces became involved on the nationalist fringe, encouraging anti-English diatribes and actions, to discredit any notion of real Scottish self-determination.
However, unlike Ireland or Australia, Scottish nationalists did not then have to face the full panoply of Crown Powers. It was not necessary, since the SNP opposition was so mild and constitutionalist in nature. In the ‘Six Counties’ of Northern Ireland, the Republicans, and the wider nationalist community, felt the force of her majesty’s regiments, including the SAS, the UDR (with its royal patronage) and the RUC, and the Loyalist death squads, all backed up by juryless Diplock Courts, manned by Unionist judges, and by detention as required, in ‘her majesty’s’ special prisons. Those sections of the state, which provide the ruling class with legal sanction to pursue its own ends, are prefixed ‘her majesty’s’ or ‘royal’. Self-styled Loyalists include those who are prepared to undertake certain illegal tasks when called upon by the security services.
Back in 1975, Gough Whitlam fronted a mildly reforming Labour government, which wanted to keep US nuclear warships out of Australian ports. He felt the long arm of the Crown Powers when the British Governor-General removed him from his elected office. More recently the Crown Powers have been used to deny the right of the Diego Garcia islanders to return to their Indian Ocean home, when they won their case in the British High Court. Unfortunately for them, Diego Garcia is now the site of a major US military base. Current British governments are even more subservient to US imperial interests than they were in the 1970’s. We should take seriously the warning from Lisa Vickers, the new US consul in Edinburgh, when she attacked the SNP’s formal anti-NATO policy. “I don’t think you just wake up one morning and say ‘we are going to pull out of NATO’. It doesn’t work like that” – a not so veiled threat!
Alex Salmond has finally come out and declared that the SNP is a pro-monarchy party. As Colin Fox (SSP National Co-spokesperson) has said, Salmond wants the ending of the outdated 1707 Union of the Parliaments, only to return to the even more antiquated, 1603 Union of the Crowns. Of course, there are still Scottish republicans to be found in the SNP. However, they are a bit like those ‘Clause 4 socialists’, once found in the old Labour Party. For them socialism was a sentimental ideal for the future but, in the meantime, a Labour government had to be elected to run capitalism efficiently, in order to provide enough crumbs to finance some reforms for the working class.
Today’s SNP ‘independista’ wing passionately believes in a future independent Scotland, but believe the road is opened up, in the here and now, by an SNP government managing the local U.K. state in the interests of big business. They are going to be disappointed as the old SNP turns into an ‘independence-lite’ ‘New SNP’, just like its counterparts in Quebec, Euskadi and Catalunya. The SNP leadership is not going to challenge US or British imperial power, so it will not be able to deliver genuine independence. This political measure will be strongly opposed by resort to whatever Crown Powers are seen to be necessary. Being prepared to counter those Crown Powers has to be central to any socialist strategy, which opens up a prospect of real democratic advance, in the struggle for Scottish self-determination.
The Crown Powers have also been used by Prime Ministers to declare wars without parliamentary sanction, and to mobilise troops to break strikes when necessary. Therefore, it should be clear why socialists have an interest in promoting republicanism – it increases people’s democratic rights, whilst undermining the anti-democratic powers in the hands of the ruling class. Socialists living under fascist dictatorships, or in countries with major restrictions on trade union rights, don’t say life would be no better under parliamentary rule, or with legally independent trade unions, because the ruling class would still run things. Socialists place themselves at the head of the struggle for greater democratic rights, but don’t stop at the more limited forms compatible with capitalist rule. Socialists see republicanism today as a part of the struggle for the socialist republic tomorrow.
The Crown Rules Britannia
Steve Freeman and Phil Vellender of London Occupy live in the ‘heart of the best’. Here they highlight the difference between the Monarchy and the Crown Powers.
Behind the monarch lies the real power
Monarchy is only the string that ties the robber’s bundle – Percy Bysshe Shelley
The jubilee is an obvious time to reflect on the distinction between queen and crown. Many people think these terms mean the same thing. It is much better to see them as opposites, albeit interconnected – the monarch and the state. Louis XIV famously said, “I am the state”, which is a definition of absolute monarchy. In contrast we see a hint of separation when Queen Victoria used the royal ‘we’: “We are not amused.” This means two of them are not happy – the person and the institution – me and my shadow.
This distinction has its origins in the doctrine in the middles ages that the king has two bodies. One is the ‘body natural’ – the living human being. “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?” said Shylock in The merchant of Venice (Shakespeare’s reference to Jews also reminds us that monarchs are not deities). But the second body is the ‘body politic’ – the institution of monarchy, which never dies. The king is dead – long live the king. The English revolution of 1649 made that distinction sharper.
Today we live in a capitalist world when everything is business. So our distinction is between two enterprises – the Crown Corporation and Royal Family Ltd. The latter is called “the firm” by the Duke of Edinburgh and has its HQ at Buckingham Palace. These are separate businesses which go together like a horse and carriage. The relationship between them is more like ‘state capitalism’ than the much vaunted ‘free enterprise’.
The Crown Corporation – hereafter simply called ‘the crown’ – is, like any capitalist firm, a separate legal entity. It is the largest and most powerful multinational ‘corporation’ in the country. It has offices, or embassies, in nearly every country in the world. It has power not only in the UK, but the various tax havens or secret banking jurisdictions, such as the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey, the Cayman Islands, etc. It also has a very extensive information-gathering network, which enables it to keep ahead of most of its rivals.
First the crown is the state, together with its various organisations: departments of state such as the treasury and home office, revenue and customs, armed forces, security or secret services, the police, Crown Prosecution Service, the courts and her majesty’s prisons, etc. But it is much more than this. It is the people in charge who direct these millions employed by the crown across its territories.
The power of the crown is concentrated in its board of directors, which can be called the core executive or the political class. The phrase, ‘The crown rules Britannia’, means that it is the political class that runs the place – certainly not parliament and much less the people. The crown is not a democracy. The political class includes senior civil servants, the prime minister and his key ministers and advisors, heads of the security services and the joint chiefs of staff. The prime minister is the chief executive reporting weekly to the royal chair of the board.
The political class is mainly made up of bureaucrats who have clawed their way up from their Oxbridge education or through the military, with which “the firm” has a special affinity. The chair of the board is an hereditary position. Then there are professional politicians who are chosen by the prime minister to serve as the key ministers of the crown. They do not have to be elected because of the back-door route through the Lords. But they all have to swear allegiance to the crown.
The crown is no more a democratic institution than Ford, McDonalds or News International. This is not to say that there is no democratic influence. This is not absolutism, but constitutional monarchy. But gone is the pretence that we elect the people who actually govern us. They are all chosen, although it helps if you have a seat in parliament (general elections do impact on the composition of the political class). However, a minister who is not trusted by the political class will always be an outsider and ‘not one of us’.
The crown, therefore, has a kind of permanence at its core. Its strategic role in governing the country transcends the vagaries of elections. We often hear of one government defending its reactionary policies by pointing out that it all began under the previous lot. So it did. The crown and its policies in reality hardly change from one election to the next. They are merely given a face-lift and painted blue or red and pushed more quickly or slowly. Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron follow the same line of policy and serve the same financial markets.
If we look inside the robber’s bundle we do not find the landed interests associated with aristocracy. We discover the City of London, its banks and financial markets with a long history of robbing people on a global scale. The crown has been their political instrument and the Bank of England their lever. The prime minister is the first minister of the City, whose priority is to protect and support them – for example, against a Greek default, the Tobin tax or European regulation. Today we are living through the ‘great bankster robbery’ carried on by the crown and the Bank of England, and fronted by the Tory-led coalition.
Crown and health
Since the defeat of the miners and the rise of Thatcherism, the crown has adopted the free-market philosophy. Governments come and go, but the same free-market strategy rolls on. Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat – it makes little difference to the policies of the crown. Naturally, this sameness and consistency is echoed in the mass media, which generally promote the crown’s settled consensus of what are or are not the acceptable parameters for debate on any given subject.
Take the recent example of the NHS. The crown, in the guise of the department of health, has had a long-term plan to privatise healthcare and open it up as a market for competition. Private provision is now mainly responsible for the long-term care of the elderly. Privately run treatment centres set up by New Labour now control 5% of the profitable elective surgery ‘market’. The private finance initiative financed, at huge cost to the taxpayer, Blair’s hospital building plans. Now the private sector has taken over Hichingbrooke, the first NHS hospital run for profit, by Circle.
Whenever this has proved highly unpopular, ministers and civil servants have been prepared to retreat – and later return to the long-term game plan. Every government has taken it further. Now the coalition has taken a giant step forward with the Health and Social Care Bill. Tactical retreat may be necessary on some issues, as we have seen, but clearly ever more radical advances are in the pipeline.
Keep our NHS Public explained that “the health bill is the final stage in a 25-year privatisation project”. Ministers of the crown are “using existing powers to abolish PCTs [primary care trusts] and set up ‘pathfinder’, so-called ‘GP consortia’ and making arrangements with foreign private companies to take over NHS hospitals, while the government has pre-empted such debate as MPs are inclined to have” (No8, autumn 2011).
Whilst parliament was debating the bill, the crown was busily implementing its policies like some invisible coup. Crucial entities underpinning the privatising agenda were put in place before even the second reading of the bill. Through various crown regulations etc, ministers were able to ‘decree into existence’ Pathfinder GP consortia for over half the country. Funds were used to make staff redundant from the strategic health authorities and primary trusts. The old system was virtually demolished before the bill was on the statute book and 151 PCTs were put to the sword. Moreover, the new National Commissioning Board was empowered to appoint a chief executive, finance director and seven board members on salaries of up to £170,000. McKinsey and KPMG, who were consultants on the framing of the legislation, had been awarded big contracts to run GP commissioning.
Most of the left associate the crown with the queen and think that the latter is irrelevant to our increasingly difficult daily life. The opposite is the case. Whether the crown is taking us to war in Iraq or planning how to support the US-Israeli plans for Iran, or designing a privatised NHS or school system, it is a process largely impermeable to the needs of the people. Naturally, none of this is immutable or inevitable and the economic fragility of the economy is becoming ever more evident. Our political response to the crisis of the crown should not be another government of the crown, but another system of government altogether – one built on those truly democratic principles of popular sovereignty and accountability.
Queen rules the waves
Her majesty has a significant political role in this nation’s drama as the Great Distraction. The modern monarchy is a camouflage for the crown. We are so mesmerised by the continuous royal cavalcade and its pretensions of powerlessness and irrelevance to real life that we do not look in the opposite direction and notice the unaccountable power of the crown being wielded daily by the political class.
Monarchy is the UK’s national secular religion. Monarchy is the nation represented as a perfect world with a grateful people on their knees. Of course, the queen is not a god, but a living, breathing human being, dressed up for the job. Yet this ritual of worship, exemplified by the jubilee, idealises monarchy as a kind of living god which has come to walk among us mere mortals – or, most tellingly, ‘subjects’.
The jubilee will promote the queen as the nation’s grandmother. In her March 20 speech to parliament she spoke of “national qualities of resilience, ingenuity and tolerance”. It is surely inspiring to be praised by our national icon. She thinks we are great! We should surely reciprocate by welling up with pride.
The queen went on to say: “It is my sincere hope that the diamond jubilee will be an opportunity for people to come together in a sort of neighbourliness and celebration of their own communities.” We could all echo this sentiment as republicans, without hostility or any hint of cynicism. There is no reason to see her speech as anything other than sincere, for its contents explain why the motivation for the genuine affection which many of her subjects have for her is not simply rabid royalism.
However, shouldn’t we all wake up and smell the Darjeeling? Coming together for a crown-organised jubilee can never offer more than an illusion of unity in our class-divided society, in which rich and poor and those stuck in the middle are fighting for, or fighting to diminish, democracy and social justice. The monarchy is not neutral in this struggle, but the embodiment of a conservative, class-ridden society. With the queen, or her male offspring, safely enthroned in Buckingham Palace there will never be even the chance of substantive change. The subliminal message is: ‘Britain’s hereditary (ruling) class system has existed since time immemorial and will continue ever more – alongside its hereditary monarchs.’
In reality, the chief function of monarchy is not simply the nation’s enslavement to an ideology of a royalist-based patriotism. It is, rather, the Great Distraction – away from where the true levers of power are located within the structure of the crown. The crown not only governs the county and determines so much of our lives, but, moreover, in an epoch of its growing economic crisis, increasingly threatens our hard-won rights and liberties. The monarch ties the robber’s bundle precisely because the inherent danger to democracy of the unelected and unaccountable crown is concealed by the nation’s grandmother smiling sweetly.
Shelley’s was an acute observation. However, an enduring misconception concerning the crown and monarch goes some way to explain why republicanism is so weak. The left fails to distinguish between the Crown Corporation and Royal Family Ltd. This error produces a weak version of republicanism, one focused almost entirely on the queen and whether she ‘costs too much’ or arguing about how much of ‘our national income’ she generates through tourism.
The crown and the class it represents know they cannot put a price on the undoubted lift to the nation’s morale, brought low by an ever deepening recession, which the jubilee will bring. For, when the queen dispenses honours, waves, shakes hands, visits foreign countries or meets adoring crowds, she will distract both from the crisis that the crown is now presiding over, and, more importantly, our principal role in paying for it (and her!). Thus, as the crown’s leading player in this elaborate jubilee spectacle, the queen will once again execute her main role, which is to draw attention away from the power and nature of the crown itself, and the current fall in our living standards, by momentarily banishing the storm clouds of recession somewhere over the horizon.
No wonder Cameron, the crown’s current CEO, is smiling.
(This article appeared in Weekly Worker:- http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004855)
The Queen: Floating in the Stink
Barry Biddulph of the commune
The cult of the Queen as a symbol of British unity is the illusion that she is somehow above and beyond corrupt and dishonest parliamentary politicians, and profit obsessed capitalistsDavid Hare, The Guardian 2/06/12 To make Britain proud, she is jolly good at her job and has devoted her self to sixty years of selflessness in the stultifying boredom of public service.Max Hastings, Financial Times 2/06/12 Royal pageantry is not historical, but in the history of pageants the diamond jubilee, in the words of the Guardian, is important if not remarkable, but its only important because its rare.The Guardian Editorial 02/06/12 As panic spreads throughout the world’s stock markets she is a useful symbol, keeping up the appearances of continuity and stability to stave off growing lack of confidence in the government’s austerity programme.
There is no real or rational meaning in the state orchestrated worship of the Queen,Polly Toynbee on the Andrew Marr show 3/06/12 but that’s not the point. It’s a state religion bringing magic and glamour to transform the harsh reality of job cuts, benefit cuts, pension cuts and wage cuts into an emotional communal feeling of togetherness. However, there is a negativity or fearfulness in all this spirituality. What is the alternative to the carefully crafted tradition of the Windsor Family? It could be something worse.Tom Nairn, The Enchanted Glass, 1988, Picador London. Although the worship of state leaders was historically similar in Russia, China and in the present, North Korea; that is seen as state propaganda, whereas in Britain it’s the Queen’s assumed decency and general niceness which is venerated. It’s for a person not the state. This is mystical, she is obviously at the apex of the state.
Appearances notwithstanding, the crown estates are not above shameless profiteering, far from it. Sir Stuart Hampson, chairman of the crown estates, has put the spectacular rise in property revenues from the estate down to entrepreneurial flair in the neo liberal market place. Rents have soared in Regent Street and other lucrative property. This has substantially boosted the Queens private Fortune.The Financial Times 02/06/12 She personally owns Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Balmoral estate. The unemployed from Bristol who were bussed into London to work for nothing, to steward the Royal Pageant, some of whom were left to sleep under London Bridge, own nothing but their ability to work.The Guardian 04/06/12
Andrew Marr claims he was a republican, but from observing the hard work of the Queen, he is no longer a republican.Andrew Marr, The Andrew Marr Show 03/06/12 But what work is this? She has an army of servants and the nature of the work is never specified. How would she know she was on holiday? The royal yacht Britannia was an ocean going liner, which took the queen all over the world, especially in winter. Well, she had to get away from all that hard boring work, don’t we all? She could be one of us if you don’t think about it. But do think about it, having to wine and dine with all those important dignitaries in all those grand places? Nice work if you can get it. The most those unpaid Bristol stewards can hope for is some paid temporary employment at the Olympics. Another state event to help make us feel great as the great economic depression deepens. But why spoil the jubilee party? Why be a communist kill joy? Let’s celebrate. But it is not simply a party or a celebration. It’s celebrating the Queen: Sixty years personifying the state as the head of the British imperialist army and their barbaric wars. It was difficult to escape from the Royal pantomime, even when I went into my local pub where there is no TV. The pump clips on the real ale carried the union flag, the crown or an image of the queen. Except one obviously brewed by a republican, which had what looked like a toad in royal gowns getting soaked in the rain, with the words “A long reign”. And a good beer it was-but then again, I was celebrating being off work.
(This article first appeared in the commune at:- http://thecommune.co.uk/2012/06/05/the-queen-floating-in-the-stink/#more-8001)
also see GREAT FROCK ‘N’ ROBE SWINDLE on:- frocknrobe.com
|David Hare, The Guardian 2/06/12
|Max Hastings, Financial Times 2/06/12
|The Guardian Editorial 02/06/12
|Polly Toynbee on the Andrew Marr show 3/06/12
|Tom Nairn, The Enchanted Glass, 1988, Picador London.
|The Financial Times 02/06/12
|The Guardian 04/06/12
|Andrew Marr, The Andrew Marr Show 03/06/12