Queen Elizabeth II and her legacy

Nigel Smith

Queen Elizabeth the Second died on Thursday, September 8th, at one of her estates, Balmoral in Scotland. Her death followed a short illness. She had been on the throne of the United Kingdom for seventy years and was ninety-six years of age.

Colonial ruler

Queen Elizabeth was the head of the UK state over the period of decline for British imperialism. The British Empire at the height of its dominance (before WWI) was the largest empire in history, included 23% of the world population and 24% of the Earth’s total land area! 

This imperialist rule was imposed through unimaginable levels of violence, racism, torture, etc. In India, South Africa, Cyprus, Iraq, Palestine, Ireland, Kenya and so many more countries, British imperialism has committed heinous crimes- all of which were supported by the royal family. Even though the anticolonial revolts and the fall of the power of British imperialism led to a change in policies, the establishment of the Commonwealth instead of the British Empire, colonial policies were still harshly implemented. A recent court case about Britain’s repression of the Mau Mau movement in Kenya is telling: the British government accepted that Kenyans “had been subject to years of systematic torture and abuse” and “up to 320,000 Kenyan Kikuyu people had been held in British detention camps as part of a campaign of terror that ‘left tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, dead’ and untold numbers of lives ruined by forced labour, starvation, torture and rape.”

Queen Elizabeth did also meet with a number of dictators Britain supported, such as the Shah of Iran. 

The Windsor Royal family is one of the richest clans in England according to Forbes, as their wealth exceeds $28 billion. The monarchy cost the taxpayer in the UK £102 million a year, while they are exempt from most taxes. Besides this huge wealth, the Queens assets were found implicated in the off-shore scandal of Paradise Papers. Even the jewels in her crown are a testament to the colonial rule, as they were stolen from South Africa.

Mother figure?

Indeed, her policy of avoiding expressing political views on current issues in public has actually worked for her. It allowed the myth of the “mother figure”, acting as a stabilising influence across the political divide to be promulgated. However, we should remind ourselves of the constitutional role of the monarch. The monarch is head of the armed forces and service men and women have to swear an oath of allegiance to her. They tend to see their loyalty to the crown as usurping their loyalty to the government of the day. The Queen has not acted as a break on the state in terms of its belligerence and has always supported the wars that her government has entered into: legal and otherwise. She meets with the Prime Minister on a weekly basis and is briefed by them on the approach the state is about to take. In general, these meetings have never produced a constitutional dilemma for the Queen and she has always been able to read the Queen’s speech, outlining government policy and written by the government, without a clash of conscience. Would that have been the case, one asks, if the government was proposing the abolition of the monarchy or the adoption of truly socialist policies? It is more than likely that the military would then be used by the monarch to defend the status quo and suppress the will of the monarch’s “subjects”. Yes, the British people are referred to as subjects of the Crown and there are numerous ways in which the Crown places its subjects in a subservient role.

The armed forces are not the only body of workers who swear an oath of allegiance to the monarch. MP’s, judges and magistrates, police officers, clergy and public notaries also have to swear the oath. Newly naturalised citizens also have to swear this oath, “to be loyal to the British monarch and his / her successors” – a scandalous infringement of their democratic right to free political thought. As Tony Benn put it, “The reality is that nobody takes an oath to uphold democracy in Britain. The Queen takes an oath to govern the country and uphold the rights of bishops.” The national anthem itself is an oath of allegiance to the monarch and the Union Flag a potent symbol supporting the concept of the United Kingdom and therefore the monarchy.

A pyramid of patronage

The monarch is at the summit of a pyramid of patronage designed to protect the ruling class. The very concept of a monarchy places in the psyche of British citizens the thought that there is a group of people above them, not by way of merit, but from an accident of birth. It has the effect of consolidating the idea that citizens are there to serve the wishes expressed by the monarch. It also reinforces the power of patriarchy because male heirs succeed to the crown in advance of female heirs. This places women in a subservient role and reflects the patriarchy that still influences the elite class in the UK. It is perfidious in its consequences and socialist feminists rightly rail against the abuses that inevitably flow from a system that sees women as inferior to men. The effects of that psychological trap are all to plain to see with the extreme numbers of abusive attitudes that persist in the UK. 

Racism and sexism in the royal family

Prince Andrew, her son, has been protected from being held to account for his vile association with abusers (such as Jeffrey Epstein) as well as his own acts of sexual misconduct. At the same time Prince Harry, her grandson who married the actor Meghan Markle, has discovered an atmosphere of racism existing towards Meghan Markle within the royal family. Prince Charles, the new monarch, has complained in the past of his mother putting her role as Queen ahead of her role as a parent and how this has badly affected their relationship. The standard protocol of sending your children away to boarding school at a very young age is common practice amongst the elite, in order to “toughen up” their children to enact the levels of oppression of the mass of the people that the British ruling class carries through with such alacrity.

State propaganda

In a response to her death, the BBC suspended its usual TV and radio broadcasts for twenty-four hours, in favour of reporting on the Queen’s death, as they had done when her husband, Prince Philip died. This is now to be followed by ten days of mourning and the suspension of all major sporting fixtures. 

The function of the BBC becomes clear at times like these, it acts as a bastion of the establishment and is using the occasion of the Queen’s death to whip up sympathy for the monarch and by association the rotten system that she underpinned. There is no doubting the fact that the overwhelming majority of British citizens had a positive attitude towards the Queen. Many would describe her as decent and principled because she appeared to take a neutral view on matters of state and performed, in their eyes, a symbolic function. 

But even besides the prevailing propaganda, in a 2021 YouGov survey, at least 41 per cent of people aged 18 to 24 preferred an elected head of the state as compared to 31 who wanted a king or a queen.

It would be wrong to suspend struggle

It would be wrong to deny that many people will feel a sense of grief and loss at the death of the Queen. However, this is not the time for the working class to move away from its understanding that the royal family does not act in their interests. There have been announcements that some strikes have been called off because of the Queen’s death. Presumably this is to avoid alienating significant numbers of people from supporting the strikes. Wouldn’t it have been better to go ahead with the strikes – held in a respectful but politically robust manner in order to raise the debate about the relevance of the monarchy? Shops, hospitals, factories and schools continued to operate today and so should trades unions. In any event trades unions must re-enter fully into struggle as soon as possible, as the strike wave developing is of huge significance and should not be cut across. What seems more puzzling is the postponement of union meetings in the days following the Queen’s death. This has been the case with my own regional trades union congress group. West Yorkshire Trades Union Congress postponed its meeting for this month which was due to take place on Saturday morning (10.09.22), as a sign of “respect” – a decision I completely disagreed with. 

The monarchy does not act in the interests of the working class or the British people in general. It reinforces ideas of exploitation, patronage and patriarchy and has no place in the modern world. Socialists should make it clear that there would be no place for a monarchy within a socialist state and should fight for its abolition. 

As James Conolly wrote in 1910, and can still apply today

Every class in society save royalty, and especially British royalty, has through some of its members contributed something to the elevation of the race. But neither in science, nor in art, nor in literature, nor in exploration, nor in mechanical invention, nor in humanising of laws, nor in any sphere of human activity has a representative of British royalty helped forward the moral, intellectual or material improvement of mankind. But that royal family has opposed every forward move, fought every reform, persecuted every patriot, and intrigued against every good cause. Slandering every friend of the people, it has befriended every oppressor. Eulogised today by misguided clerics, it has been notorious in history for the revolting nature of its crimes. Murder, treachery, adultery, incest, theft, perjury – every crime known to man has been committed by some one or other of the race of monarchs…

Προηγούμενο άρθροJames Connolly: Visit of King George V (1910)
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