Will power and the monarchy
The struggle between British royalists and republicans seems to be hotting up. Last week we saw two significant moves. In the blue corner the 'wonderful' William Windsor had a big photo opportunity in Chile. He taught children, chopped trees and cleaned the loo. Fortunately the palace was laying in wait, video cameras at the ready, so we could share in this very special moment.
The young citizen Windsor was launching his long running 'election' campaign. He wants to be crowned UK head of state. Meanwhile the foxhunting and tree-hugging Charlie, still first in the queue, was appearing on Coronation Street. The royal establishment, 'the Firm', are clearly worried about Charlie. They seem to believe that the best way to save the monarchy is to skip him and give us Will power. But Charlie is determined to remain at the head of the queue.
Royalty is Britain's true religion. The anointed and crowned representative of the rich and powerful dress up in silly clothes. They parade about the streets to remind us that, 'We are rich and you lot are poor. Get down on your knees and pray to that.' Millions of grateful subjects are ready to oblige. Of course this national bowing down to capitalist wealth and privilege is hidden under royal ideology, spin doctors and marketing men. The royal symbol must be all things to all people. The monarch must appeal to all social classes. The trick is finding out what the people want and 'constructing' the right sort of king. The marketing men and the focus groups are working overtime.
With a campaign slogan, 'New Labour, new king', the wonderful William has some advantages over the rest of us. He is the only candidate allowed to stand for the job. His victory seems automatic and assured. His Royal Party is fully funded by the taxpayer. He will not have to declare election expenses - he can spend whatever is necessary. The only thing that might stop this certain victory would be the unlikely event of a challenge from the left.
If we want to see how politically backward the British left is, we need only consider the following exchange. The Mirror's court correspondent came on Radio Four singing the praises of the boy candidate. He explained that a carefully constructed press campaign was now splashed across every paper. It was a great coup for 'the Firm'. The royal bandwagon was moving forward again.
Then, to put 'our' side of the argument, up spoke Hilary Wainwright for the "leftwing Red Pepper magazine". Hilary agreed that William was a nice young man. Unfortunately, the Windsors were using him. So we should not criticise him. She obviously did not want to spoil his election campaign. The main thing was that William was an innocent in the midst of this blatant manipulation of public opinion.
Hilary drew a parallel with Diana Spencer. She had tried to reform the monarchy by extracting more concessions. Not for the people of course, but for herself! Hilary forgot to mention that. Neither did she remind us that challenging the royal establishment was a very dangerous thing to do. Not a good plan, especially when your mother-in-law is the head of the security services and was keeping a very close eye on your every move.
Diana Spencer seemed to appeal to Hillary's sense of feminism. She had been a kinder, caring "queen of hearts". Perhaps he would become a youthful, trendy, feminist-friendly king, like his mum. So nothing against William. He was already assuming the royal mantle of being above and beyond criticism.
You can imagine the response of the court correspondent. How silly could Hilary be? Of course William knew what he was doing. He was doing his duty. A fine job he was doing too. Did she think he was ignorant? Very soon Hilary was in retreat. Of course she did not think so. We are all agreed he is basically a nice young man.
Poor Hilary, our 'republican' spokesperson. She had forgotten that he had been bred specially for the task of fooling the people and extracting vast quantities of taxpayers' money for his family business. All that was necessary was to build a brand image which would overawe the population, including comrade Wainwright. We would not merely allow the Windsors to pick our pockets on a daily basis. We would smile, be happy and indeed grateful at being mugged by one of the richest family businesses in the country. Hilary had been sucker-punched by royal ideology, inbred by centuries of parasitism and sycophancy.
However, republicanism is fighting back. In the 'red' corner is The Guardian, which last week launched its campaign for republicanism. There is no greater testament to the failure of the British left than the fact that The Guardian might plausibly claim to be the vanguard of republicanism in Britain. It has certainly overtaken comrade Wainwright and the Socialist Workers Party. Unlike them, The Guardian actually has a plan with a timetable attached for getting rid of the monarchy.
So how did British liberals throw down the gauntlet to the SWP? First they have declared that the current monarch is so popular as to be untouchable. The Guardian wants us to wait a few years, perhaps 10 or 20, until she dies or abdicates. Then, faced with the prospect of Charles Windsor, a referendum should be held. If that secures a majority, then the monarchy will be abolished.
This plan is obviously a piece of rotten political opportunism. But it seems to be the only show in town. It is what we in the Revolutionary Democratic Group have called 'soft' or liberal republicanism. It is the political twin of ultra-leftism. When the monarchy was debated at an SWP meeting in Luton last August, SWP speaker Ged Peck condemned the monarchy, but could not see the point of doing anything about it. He explained that the SWP had more or less ignored the monarchy since their 1977 'Stuff the Jubilee' campaign. He did not think they would need to discuss it again, except for an odd article, for another 23 years. How revolutionary and militant can you get?
We do not know whether Liz Windsor will survive that long. But if she did there would be a certain coming together of the SWP's worship of spontaneity and The Guardian's soft republicanism. 'A referendum in 23 years' could be a unity slogan.
We have already seen how The Guardian's easy answer of a referendum organised by a pro-monarchist government proved such a dead end in Australia. No wonder the Windsors are considering this option themselves. It might secure the future of the monarchy for 50 more years. Since at present 70% support the monarchy and 30% are against, a referendum might simply reinforce it.
What we really need is a militant republican party based in the working class. Such a party must organise the most advanced sections of the working class, the only truly democratic and republican class in the UK. Such a party would use elections and extra-parliamentary struggle to galvanise the support of the passive 30% of republicans. It would not gamble its entire policy on one throw of a referendum dice.
Would a militant republican party simply be a single-issue campaign? Of course not. How could a party of the working class base itself on one thing, when the working class has to face up to thousands of problems? But the point would be to fuse the wide variety of issues with the central question of democratic government. A republican party of the working class would need a programme, addressing a wide range of democratic, social and international questions.
The vacuum to the left of the Labour Party and the absence of a militant republican party, except in Northern Ireland, enables The Guardian to come up with its pathetic plan and finds the left totally incapable of producing its own answer. This brings us to the Republican Communist Network, set up to promote militant republicanism and communism within the left and working class movement.
The struggle between royalists and republicans provides an opening for republican communists. But the RCN is at present in an impasse, because the situation is moving faster than we are. We are stuck in the mud. The RCN (England) branch met on December 9 to see if we could find way to advance.
First, though, we had to discuss the position of our chair, Terry Liddle. Then we considered our attitude towards the Socialist Alliance and the demand for a federal republic. We had a discussion about building support for our journal. Finally we debated the slogan of a 'Scottish workers' republic'.
After an extensive discussion about the position of comrade Liddle the RCN meeting passed the following motion: "This meeting endorses the decision of the RCN (England) committee not to accept Terry Liddle's resignation as chair. We urge him to continue his many years of committed activity as a republican communist and anti-fascist." Two comrades voted against.
We then moved on to discuss the attitude of the RCN to the Socialist Alliance. Many RCN members were already active in the SA. This was the first opportunity we had to democratically decide our collective view. The following motion was agreed: "This meeting gives our support to the Socialist Alliances in England and Wales. We urge all republican communists to join and participate in the Socialist Alliances. We call on the RCN to affiliate and seek representation on the Liaison Committee. We call on the RCN (England) to coordinate where possible the intervention of republican communists in the SAs. We call on the RCN (Scotland) to coordinate joint work with RCN (England) through RCN national officers to secure the maximum unity between the Socialist Alliances and the SSP."
The meeting then discussed and passed the following motion on the federal republic: "This meeting recognises that a majority of the RCN (England) are in favour of a federal republic of England, Scotland, Wales and a united Ireland. The RCN (England) will campaign for a federal republic. This can be recognised in the leaflets and speeches of RCN (England) members, whilst also recognising the existence of minority position(s)."
We then spent some time discussing how to build sales and support for Republican Communist, the RCN journal. Comrade Peter Morton reported on existing and future sales plans including individual sales, book shops and the possibility of future public sales on demos. However, this item highlighted some of our problems.
Phil Walden told us about articles commissioned by the editorial board. It appeared that one member of the editorial board had not been involved in this discussion. In addition comrade Walden informed us that the article submitted by Terry Liddle would have a 'health warning' attached. This was news to us. The branch passed a motion calling on the editorial board to desist from this. Comrades also expressed the view that it was important that the editorial board come to a satisfactory agreement over an article submitted by Jack Conrad.
Phil Sharpe told us triumphantly how he had outmanoeuvred us on the elections to the editorial board. He said he had played his hand very cleverly like a poker player. At the right moment he had made his move and secured Phil Walden's election to the editorial board. He had played on the fear in Scotland that we were 'taking over' if a member of the RDG was elected. The fact is that there are no members of the RDG among any of the seven all-Britain elected positions.
We finished the meeting with a debate on the slogan of a Scottish workers' republic. At the meeting this slogan was supported by our minority. It terms of the real world this is a dangerous diversion. It is dangerous because it promotes Scottish nationalist sentiment, which will benefit the SNP and help promote nationalism in the SSP. It is a diversion because the real issue is the monarchy versus the republic, and the need to secure the correct tactics for promoting militant republicanism and combating the Guardian/SWP-style soft republicanism.
However, in terms of internal RCN politics, it is very important that this debate is conducted in an open and democratic way. The RCN members in England gave the two supporters of this position a full opportunity to state their case. Their main arguments were that Scotland was in advance of England and that John MacLean had been right to use this slogan in the early 1920s.
The counter-arguments were that even if Scotland was politically in advance, it was still a period of working class defeat. Threepence is more than tuppence, but it does not make us millionaires. There is no Scottish revolution and no growth of workers' councils across Scotland. The slogan was abstract propaganda. If we want to put forward abstract propaganda then workers' power or a workers' republic would suffice. An American workers' republic would be a better idea, as would an international workers' republic.
Comrades also disputed whether MacLean was correct in the 1920s to use this slogan. But even if he had been right, it is irrelevant for deciding concrete tactics for today. The debate was still going when we ran out of time.
We have made some progress on paper. It remains to be seen what happens in practice.
Dave Craig (RDG)