1930s >> 1937 >> no-389-january-1937

Puppet Kings and Labour Prudes

The most talked-of political event of the past month was the dramatic exodus of King Edward VIII. One week he was the world’s most publicised figure, titular head of the world’s greatest Empire, moving with the authority of his position among one of the world’s wealthiest circles yet at the same time able to arouse great enthusiasm among the poorest of the poor by his visits to depressed areas and references to the poverty problem. The next week saw him spirited away under cover of darkness to a wealthy semi-exile, robbed of his royal position, and replaced by his brother. And this, says Mr. Baldwin, all occurred because the proposed marriage to a woman who bad been married twice before to men still living would have robbed the Crown of some of the lustre and respect essential to the maintenance of the bonds of Empire.


For us, as Socialists, the incident has its own significance. We aim at a system of society, Socialism, that will have complete stability because its foundation, the method by which the wealth of the community will be produced, owned and distributed, will be completely satisfying to the mass of the population. Having no privileged class, such a society will have no need of armed forces to protect the haves from the have-nots. Nor will it need those institutions which cover the naked reality of class privileges and class rule with the glamour of kingship and aristocracy, and thus prevent the working class from perceiving how they are robbed and by whom. Socialism will need no kingship, for it will have no need of an institution the main function of which now is to hide the fact that the State is an instrument used by the propertied class to enable them to exploit the propertyless.


It has always been the aim of the Socialist Party of Great Britain to point out how easily that State machine could be captured by the working class and transformed into an instrument of working class emancipation. Our propaganda has been faced with many obstacles, two of which have centred round the Crown. We have been told, on the one side, that the King “rules as well as reigns,” and that, therefore, to gain control of Parliament is useless, as the King could defy a Socialist majority controlling Parliament. On the other side, we have had to meet the argument that the Crown is not part of the capitalist machine but an independent force which might help the workers against capitalists and the capitalist class. The events of November, strikingly dispose of both contentions and thus will help to remove from workers’ minds doubts that prevented acceptance of the Socialist message.


In the first place we have witnessed how easy it was for the Party controlling Parliament to dismiss the most popular monarch of centuries because he would not accept their conditions, be a docile royal rubber stamp, and order his life as they wished. Many members of the Cabinet must have reflected that it was more easily carried out than the dismissal of organised wage-earners in their own factories. (Incidentally, those who still believe that Parliament is an unworkable machine may usefully observe how expeditiously it put through on operation of such magnitude and importance to the ruling class.)


The second point concerns the former King himself, for here we had an individual on whose behalf it has been claimed that he. interested himself in some of the problems of the working class. The extent of his understanding or the depth of his interest need not concern us here. It can, however, be said that it is impossible for anyone brought up in such surroundings to gain a correct appreciation of the working class point of view, let alone accept it. Nor would such an individual be prepared to support the only remedy, Socialism, since that involves the end of class privilege as well as the end of the monarchy. Inevitably, in essentials, the Crown must be the handmaiden of capitalism.


Nevertheless, in several directions Edward VIII interfered in social and political questions sufficiently to incur the disfavour of the ruling groups, and that was a reason why his abdication was desired in addition to the question of his marriage to Mrs. Simpson. The astonishing ease with which they accomplished that feat should prove to everyone that the notion of the modern monarchy opposing capitalism or even acting as a check on it is fantastic.


The episode is instructive, too, for the way it exposes the ruthlessness and hypocrisy of official circles. The Crown must, in the interest of the propertied class, be an untarnished symbol fitted to deceive the masses into a belief that the ruling class are a superior caste and that the country is governed by them in the interest of all, not merely of themselves. Also, the Monarch must be an apt instrument, prompt to obey capitalist orders. Edward, having some tastes and views of his own, was not willing. So Edward must go. Then, without more than an instant’s pause, the high-powered slush machines—the Press and the Pulpit— plastered the new King with all the amazing attributes with which they had been endowing his predecessor only a week before. One journal, simultaneously with the announcement of Edward’s abdication, hastened to inform its readers that the brother is a better golf player and tennis player, and better all-round athlete. Within a day or two we had learned that the new King is the only member of the Royal Family who was in action in the Great War (Edward was in France, but not in action, it seems, but we were never told so until now), that he drove a railway train, attends summer camp for boys, and takes a keen interest in social questions.


One good thing about all this is that it overreaches itself, and thousands of workers will be set on the road to useful thought through their feeling of nausea at such sycophantic utterances. The capitalists got their new King, but they have fortunately struck a blow at the institution, and through it, at their own position.


Regarding the way in which the dismissal was arranged, the full story will no doubt not be told for a long while. Sufficient is, however, apparent to show that the official Baldwin version is by no means the full story. The insistence that the King’s wish to marry Mrs. Simpson was the whole issue is hard to square with certain facts. It is an open secret that the King’s visit to South Wales, like previous excursions of his, and his awkward references to slums and poverty, were offensive and harmful to the Cabinet. And it was on this issue, not on Mrs. Simpson, that the Times and Daily Telegraph (November 24th and 25th) fired the first public shots in the conflict. They took the line that, to contrast the King’s “personal and representative concern for the well-being of a section of the people with the administrative steps of his advisers, is a constitutionally dangerous proceeding, and would threaten, if continued, to entangle the Throne in politics.” In form the attacks were directed against certain newspapers, but in substance against King Edward. It is interesting to recall also, that, at his accession, the Times evidently had their doubts about him (January 23rd, 1936), and put in a plea for him to be given “time to take the strain of his new duties.” . . . ” There is a feeling instinctive in the British race which likes to give any newcomer to any walk of life a fair chance.”


(Cynical people might say that King Edward ought to have expected trouble as soon as the organ of the British ruling class had started talking about “fairness.”)


On October 14th, The Week published a statement that a scheme was then being set on foot “for a social bomb to be exploded under the King.” This was a few days before Baldwin, according to his own statement, first broached the question of Mrs. Simpson to King Edward. The Times editorial on the South Wales visit (November 24th) coincides with the period in which, according to Mr. Baldwin (Hansard, December 10th), the suggestion had been made of a morganatic marriage. It appears that the Times at that stage was warning the King that even if he gave up Mrs. Simpson, or, alternatively, if the morganatic marriage provided a way out, he would still have to toe the line marked out for him by the Cabinet on behalf of the propertied class.


Two other aspects of the abdication deserve to be placed on record. One is the unanimity with which the Press lords agreed that there was not the slightest attempt to suppress the news about Mrs. Simpson in the months during which it was filling the columns of the foreign newspapers. Yet the New Leader reports that its printer not only refused to publish material on the matter but asserted that other printers would refuse to touch it also. Unofficial pressure by those who control industry and the Press can be as tight as any official censorship.


The other incident is the refusal of the Cabinet to allow Edward to broadcast before his abdication (Times, December 12th, 1936). The significance of this is that the British Broadcasting Corporation operates on a Royal Charter, and is thus nominally an organisation more directly under the authority of the Crown than any other. Yet he was not allowed to address his “own” subjects over his “own” B.B.C. Those who still persist in believing that the Crown has control over the armed forces or other bodies which work in the King’s name should ponder this. In fact, Parliament’s control is effective whenever those who are in a majority want to act. When a politically organised Socialist majority gains control of Parliament they will find it an effective instrument for the emancipation of the working class. Neither lords nor kings, lawyers nor financiers, will be able to stand in the way.


The conduct of the Labour Party towards the question was truly laughable. Having no policy— unless a palsied fear of Fascism can be called a policy—the Labour Party lined up behind “honest” Stanley Baldwin’s Cabinet. It shuddered at the idea of Mrs. Simpson becoming Queen —”married twice already. Both her former husbands are living” (Daily Herald, December 5th)— and echoed the capitalist plea that the Dominions would not accept her. It discovered, with the capitalist Press, that the King’s acts “are the links which hold the Commonwealth together” (Daily Herald, December 3rd). The statement is absurd, whether from a capitalist’s or from a worker’s standpoint. Capitalist interests hang together in the Empire from motives of mutual profit and mutual fears. The Crown is only the symbol with which the capitalists dazzle the eyes of the dispossessed populations in all the Empire countries. From a worker’s standpoint—that is from the standpoint the Labour Party pretends to occupy—what binds the workers of the Empire and non-Empire countries together is their common fate as an exploited class and common interest in ending exploitation. Instead of basing its attitude on these elementary facts of the working class position, the Labour Party supported the capitalist monarchy and helped the capitalist class to sack an awkward occupant of the throne. They even sank so low as to echo the excuse that Edward had failed in his duty of sacrificing his personal affections—“The King failed to subdue the man” (Daily Herald, December 11th, 1936).


What a policy and what a Party!


Edgar Hardcastle