Queen Capital’s Jubilee
An extra day’s holiday is always welcome, but why should we be celebrate the diamond jubilee of a left-over from feudalism?
Although not a deliberate decision by the British capitalist class – these things depend on historical circumstances – there are certain advantages in having a hereditary monarchy as opposed to an elected Head of State.
The capitalist class rule today through universal suffrage but this assumes that the voters will continually vote for politicians who will uphold capitalism. One way to ensure this is to inculcate a feeling of patriotism into the population, i.e. loyalty to the state. With a constitutional monarchy, this is ready-made (or rather, historically inherited). What can be cultivated is a loyalty to the monarch rather than directly to the state, as republics have to do.
In the US they cultivate loyalty to the flag. In France it’s to the idea of the Republic. This it is easier to cultivate loyalty to a person can be seen in less developed capitalist countries where some individual dictator becomes the focus (with his photo everywhere) and where the dictatorship is often expected to be inherited by one of their sons (as with Kim Il Sung, Mubarak, Gaddafi, Assad, etc). The same phenomenon occurred in England: when Cromwell died the title of Lord Protector went to his son.
Britain has been a constitutional monarchy since the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 when parliament kicked out James II who had delusions about the divine right of kings. Parliament managed to find a Stuart who was a Protestant – one of his daughters, Mary – and, by Act of Parliament, appointed her and her husband, William of Orange, a Dutchman, king and queen. Who can (and cannot) be the monarch is laid down in the Act of Settlement of 1701, which still applies.
Mary was succeeded by her sister Anne. When she died in 1714 without leaving an heir, parliament imported a German prince who happened to be a great grandson of James I and gave him the crown. The present royal family are the direct descendants of this prince. He couldn’t even speak English. Nor could his successor. The first two Georges were not particularly popular amongst the population. Nor were their successors, George III, George IV and William IV, who were mercilessly lampooned. But they served a purpose as a focus for the loyalty of the political class, allowing continuity of the state while governments changed.
It was only under Queen Victoria that popular support for the monarchy was cultivated. With some success. This was not an accident as her reign (1837-1901) co-incided with the extension of the franchise to more and more workers, so that after 1867 even without universal suffrage a majority of electors were workers. They had to be trained to be loyal to the British capitalist state so that they wouldn’t use their votes to overthrow it. The cult of the monarchy served this purpose well and still does today. The gutter press may sometimes go for junior members of the royal family, even for Prince Charles, but they never go for the monarch or for the monarchy as such.
Socialists are of course anti-monarchists and opposed to everything the monarchy represents, from aristocratic privilege, bowing and scraping, silly titles and ceremonies to being exports salesmen and the symbol and head of the British capitalist state. But does that mean that we think there’s some advantage in getting rid under capitalism of the monarchy and establishing a republic in its place? What would be the point? Conditions in republics such as the US and France are no different from those in constitutional monarchies such as Britain and the Netherlands. And wouldn’t be in a republican Britain or Netherlands either.
It goes without saying that, if it hadn’t already disappeared by then, one of the first acts of a socialist majority in control of political power would be to abolish the monarchy as part of the democratisation of society. And, on the other side of the Atlantic, there’d be a bonfire of American flags and in France the smashing of statues of Marianne.