1990s >> 1997 >> no-1117-september-1997

Commonwealth — What’s in a Name?

The Commonwealth is indeed a strange organisation, consisting of some 30 republics, 5 states with non-British monarchs and 16 nations that continue to recognise Queen Elizabeth as their monarch.

Basically set up as a grouping of countries that were once part of the British Empire, members now include Namibia—formerly a Germany colony, Mozambique—once under Portuguese rule and Cameroon, which had largely been under the control of the French. At the same time, several countries originally controlled by Britain, are not members—i.e. Israel. Jordan. Yemen, Palestine, Rwanda, Egypt, Sudan.

Existing chameleon-like, the Commonwealth has no real rules, other than new members must agree to abide by democratic and human rights guidelines laid down in the 1991 Harare Declaration.

It was from this organisation that Sierra Leone, having just experienced a military coup, was to find itself joining Nigeria in suspension—Nigeria having been suspended by the 1995 Auckland Summit—until such a time as democracy is restored.

This says much for the Commonwealth, for at least 20 of its members also find themselves at the bottom of the UN Human Development Index, experiencing the poverty and relative social ills that have in the past made unrest, internal conflict and coup all the more likely—ironically, the same countries that British capitalism “milked dry” in the days when huge portions of classroom atlases were coloured pink.

For the average worker in Commonwealth countries, membership has not altered their lifestyle one iota. Socialists correspond with many workers in Commonwealth countries including Jamaica. Pakistan, Botswana, Sierra Leone. Uganda—and are more than familiar with their tales of woe.

The World Socialism Movement has members in 11 Commonwealth countries, all of whom will testify that membership means little more than business as usual. They will tell how being a worker in such countries no more increases their prospects of work than it prevents member countries going to war with one another (i.e. India and Pakistan), and that in such countries the word “democracy” is as hollow and meaningless to the exploited as the word “commonwealth” itself.

The aforementioned members, however, do share a vision of a real “commonwealth”. It means a global system of society where all wealth is held in common and is democratically controlled by all people. It is a society from which borders and frontiers, social classes and leaders, states and governments have disappeared, in which production is geared to meeting needs, not profit, and in which people give of their abilities and have free access to the benefits of civilisation. This is the real “commonwealth” socialists look forward to.

John Bissett