WeeklyWorker

07.05.2015
Royal cult

Just a waste of money?

The hype surrounding the birth of Charlotte Elizabeth Diana Windsor once again shows that we need to fight for a different world, says Tina Becker

As you would expect, lefties all over the world are outdoing each other in their disdain over the birth of HRH Princess Charlotte of Cambridge, as the little girl is officially called. Their complaints run pretty much along the lines of the Socialist Worker headline in September 2014, when news of Kate Middleton’s second pregnancy broke: “Stop the press! A woman is going to have another baby!”1

On the one hand, you cannot blame people for being fed up with the non-stop reporting of what is, on the face of it, just another birth. Millions of women do it. Every day. So what’s the big deal?

The comrades are wrong though. It is a huge deal. Not only has the Duchess of Cambridge managed to produce the fourth in line to the throne. This birth, and the publicity surrounding it, is used to further emphasise the monarchy’s ‘right’ to rule over us ‘subjects’. The all-encompassing reportage of such special royal occasions continues to reinforce the notion that the monarchy belongs to Britain like fish and chips. Indestructible. Solid as a rock.

And the left is not helping. This week’s Socialist Worker (May 5 2015) does not even bother to mention the story that has been dominating the news for weeks, and for a few days relegated coverage of the general election. Back in September, the paper wrote: “The new scrounger can take its pick of palaces and stately homes. Meanwhile a third of children in Britain live in poverty.” It does not take a genius to work out that the two things are only related in the sense that they illustrate the injustice of class society. After all, those children would still go hungry even if Kate Middleton had remained childless.

Not once does the article mention the need to abolish the monarchy, let alone the House of Lords or the need to establish annual parliaments. Tellingly, Socialist Workers Party national secretary Charlie Kimber once described the institution of monarchy as a “frippery” - nothing but some ostentatious adornment at the head of the British state.2

This is a classic symptom of what Marxists call economism: ie, the downplaying of democratic demands in favour of the narrow politics of trade union consciousness. Sean Matgamna, patriarch of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, offered the opinion that “the British monarchy could be sloughed off tomorrow with little else of importance changing in British society”.3

Hence getting rid of the monarchy can safely be left to The Guardian (remember its campaign for a republic?). Or the awful pressure group, Republic, which argues that the monarch should be replaced by an elected head of state: “In place of the queen we want someone chosen by the people, not running the government, but representing the nation independently of our politicians.”4 Maybe somebody as independent as Germany’s president, Paul von Hindenburg, who in 1933 put Adolf Hitler into power? An extreme example, perhaps, but one that illustrates how delusional it is to expect that somebody “independent” could be given the job.

Republic’s terrible representative was given prime time on BBC News 24 to argue about how expensive the monarchy was and how the queen and her family were going round “wasting our money”. A sentiment that many on the organised left share.

But it is not really about the money. It is annoying, of course, that a woman who has a personal wealth of over £340 million (making her the 302nd richest person in Britain)5 and her family receive in excess of £35 million a year from the taxpayer (and that is just the official figure). But supporters of the institution can easily shoot back, claiming that the monarchy brings in millions and millions every year, be it via tourism or the so-called ‘Kate effect’, which will now be augmented by the ‘Charlotte effect’. Thousands and thousands of people are snapping up a coat or dress that Kate (and now her daughter) have worn, just to ‘feel like a princess’ for a day. Financial ‘experts’ estimate that the new-born child will have brought in an additional revenue of “£1 billion before she’s 10 years old”.6

But this is not a financial question: it is about democracy. It goes to the heart of the way we are ruled and what kind of future society we envisage.

Modern monarchy

Running a feudal system was never that easy. Even in times of relative ‘peace’, you had to invade one place after another or make deals with other powers to avoid being taken over yourself. As a noble, in all likelihood you had to marry somebody you had never met and with whom you perhaps did not even speak the same language - the main thing was to produce sufficient offspring to cement the power of your ‘house’. All the while, you had to make sure your subjects did not rebel too much and too often. One way of doing that was to promote the cult of the monarch, a blessed individual who, unlike the grasping barons, supposedly cared for the poor and needy.

But the rise of democracy and the formation of the working class has really changed all of that. It has become harder and harder to win the masses to approve of such an undemocratic system - witness China, Russia, Germany, Austria, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, Iraq, Greece, Iran and other countries which became republics in the 20th century.

Britain’s monarchy has survived, but that does not mean it will never come under threat. The mass discontent with the ‘heartless’ monarchy in the aftermath of the death of Diana Spencer in 1997 really shook our rulers. They know that in the age of mass media and social networking, you have to go the extra mile to convince people that they should remain ‘subjects’.

Step forward, Catherine Middleton. In the four years since her marriage to William Windsor, Kate has more than adequately filled the role assigned to her. During engagements she smiles away for hours on end, while engaging in the same inane small talk with one person after the other. She is not known to have ever said anything interesting about, well, anything.

But best of all, she is a ‘commoner’. Her great-great-grandfather on her mother’s side was a miner, the one on her father’s side a labourer and brick-maker. Kate’s mother herself used to work as a stewardess, where she met her husband, a flight dispatcher. Well, if those two normal, working class people can produce an offspring that goes on to marry a prince, there’s hope for all of us, isn’t there?

Not quite. As it happens, Michael Middleton also inherited a couple of trust funds from his wealthy grandmother, a member of the Lupton family, which is described in the City of Leeds archives as “landed gentry, a political and business dynasty”.7 The Middletons used the money to set up a company flogging party equipment, which means they were already multi-millionaires by the time their children went to secondary school. Kate did not go to any old secondary school, of course - she attended Marlborough College, which currently charges £33,090 per annum.

In the words of the writer, Hilary Mantel, Kate was “designed to breed”. Mantel later clarified her much-criticised words, which were indeed taken out of context: “My whole theme was the way we maltreat royal persons, making them one superhuman and yet less than human.”8

This is exactly the point. Our ruling class works very hard to present the members of the royal family as down-to-earth, normal human beings. In the run up to the birth, the papers were full of stories of journalists describing the hell of having two children under the age of two. How, oh how, will poor Kate cope? With two full-time nannies and two wealthy grandparents by her side, plus a housekeeper, a cleaner, a gardener, a personal assistant, a chauffeur, no need to go back to work any time soon and no worries about the family’s finances, she will probably be OK. Just.

Unless you are about to inherit your granny’s millions, there is very little chance you will ever meet, let alone marry, one of the Windsors. They are nothing like ‘us’. And they epitomise the inverse of the kind of society we fight for.

Communists do not believe we need some kind of second ‘bourgeois revolution’. The bourgeoisie had their chance and messed it up a long time ago. The working class, as the only democratic class in society, will have to take the question of the monarchy seriously if it is ever going to become the ruling class. History shows that the downfall of a monarchy almost without exception coincides with a revolutionary situation. Such a scenario is exactly what we communist republicans seek to bring about by prioritising the fight to abolish the monarchy and winning a democratic republic.

By establishing a republic we will, by the way, be doing William Windsor, Kate Middleton and their offspring an inestimable favour - liberating them from the unnatural and alienated life that comes with their role and giving them the opportunity, at long last, to become rounded human beings.

Our republicanism is militant and revolutionary. As opposed to the passive republicanism we have come to expect from the economistic left in general - yes, it would be a nice idea, of course, but we are not going to say or do much about it. By contrast, the CPGB calls for a democratic republic, so foolishly dismissed by some on the left as a ‘diversion’ from the struggle for socialism, as part and parcel of the struggle to democratise all of society - from top to bottom.

tina.becker@weeklyworker.co.uk

Notes

1. Socialist Worker September 9 2014.

2. Weekly Worker May 29 2005.

3. www.workersliberty.org/node/459.

4. https://republic.org.uk/what-we-want.

5. The Sunday Times Rich List April 26 2015.

6. The Daily Telegraph May 2 2015.

7. Yorkshire Evening Post September 11 2006.

8. The Guardian March 8 2013.