Wedding bells and establishment splits

Many comrades will have looked upon the news coverage surrounding the marriage announcement of Charles Windsor to Camilla Parker-Bowles with a certain bemusement. No doubt it will have been pointed out by socialists there are many more worthy news items out there, such as the threatened strikes on pensions, that did not even get a fraction of the media coverage devoted to this rather elderly couple. Undoubtedly, there is a great deal of truth in such a view. Why in liberal, 21st century Britain is there so much debate about what type of marriage is to take place, the title Camilla is to be given and whether Charles should now stand aside and let prince William become heir apparent? After all, it is rank hypocrisy that there should be so much controversy about Charles marrying a divorcee and the Church of England's response to it. Everyone has learnt in school that the Anglican church was founded precisely to allow King Henry VIII to obtain a divorce and remarry - again as everyone knows, he had six wives. What was good enough for England in 1531 ought to be good enough for Britain in 2005, some will argue. No doubt many on the left will say that the whole story is thoroughly irrelevant: the monarchy is just a feudal relic, a hangover from times past. Let's get on with the real struggles that affect the working class, not concern ourselves with the affairs of this rather distasteful family, who will surely have their come-uppance when the workers take power. Unfortunately, however, such views demonstrate the philistinism and economism which dominate the British left. Preferring to tell the working class to focus on their bread and butter struggles, the left has little or nothing to say about the monarchical system that is central to the operation of the British capitalist state. Indeed the modern British monarchy is a thoroughly bourgeois institution. That a reformist like Tony Benn has a much more sophisticated view of the location of power in capitalist Britain says much about what passes for revolutionary politics today. As Benn rightly puts it, "To understand how we're governed, you have to understand the power of the crown "¦ the crown is a state-within-a-state, surrounded by barbed wire and covered in secrecy." So what then can the fuss about this royal marriage tell us about the state of the constitutional monarchy system today? On one level, it might tell us that the ruling class is much more at ease with the future monarch marrying a divorcee. One only has to contrast today with the predicament of King Edward VIII in 1936. His decision to marry the divorced Wallis Simpson caused a constitutional crisis, with prime minister Baldwin telling him to ditch her or abdicate. Clearly ruling class opinion have moved on since the 1930s. In fact, if you were to believe the plethora of opinion polls on the subject, it is a good proportion of ordinary British people who seem to take most exception to his decision to marry and remain heir. However dubious such conclusions might be, only the most deluded republican would suggest there is much evidence of militant anti-monarchism right now. The majority of the British public remains monarchist, with, at best, a third of the British population displaying republican sentiments. The number that is militantly republican is considerably less. That said, such findings are far from uninteresting to republicans. Quite clearly there is a wide swathe of plebeian opinion that is virulently anti-Windsor, caused by the family's treatment of Diana, 'the people's princess', the reaction to her death and the allegations that sprung from the Burrell court case. No doubt there are one or two more family skeletons still hidden in their cupboards. Quite clearly, such hostility to the Windsor family was something that concerned the ruling class when negotiations took place about the wedding. That Tony Blair and Rowan Williamson, the Archbishop of Canterbury, were so intimately involved in giving the go-ahead to the marriage says much about their concern about the wedding announcement blowing up in the face of the establishment. Indeed that might still happen. It has been suggested that the date of April 8 was chosen by Tony Blair to coincide with the beginning of the general election campaign, so that it might be overshadowed and not be so prominent in the public eye. The ramifications for the state church could be significant. Already conservative forces in the Church of England are kicking up a stink about the approval by Williamson for the civil wedding and the subsequent church blessing, conducted by none other than himself. The evangelical wing is asking how the future king's position as the supreme governor of the Church of England is tenable, given that both he and his future wife are confessed adulterers. Clearly, they are now implicitly demanding that Charles renounces his claim to the throne, thus opening up a whole new schism in the church. Such reactionary forces are likely to be the most implacable opponents of the marriage. Already, some constitutional experts are quoting a law that goes back to 1772. It states that it is illegal for a member of the royal family to marry in a civil ceremony. Princess Anne only got around this by remarrying in the Church of Scotland, where different rules apply. This is not without its constitutional implications. Will the government ignore these 'experts' and run the risk of a court challenge to the legality of the marriage? How would her majesty's courts rule in such a case? Thus the marriage is a potential can of worms for the Windsor family, the Church of England and the government. These are reasons enough why socialists should follow closely the latest saga in the House of Windsor. Its legitimacy crisis should call forth a republican struggle not simply to replace the Windsors, but to completely abolish the constitutional monarchy system. Yet our economistic opponents on the left object. Of course they say the monarchy is a bad thing, but that its abolition would leave the British bourgeois state intact. Republicanism is at best an irrelevance, at worst a dangerous diversion from the real class struggle. They claim that our republicanism is simply part of our apparent clinging to the Stalinist dogma of the two-stage revolution - first fight for democracy, then battle for communism. Nothing of the sort, comrades. Yours is a classic symptom of what we call economism - the downplaying of democratic demands in favour of the narrow politics of trade union consciousness. Essentially the operative conclusion of economism is this: Lenin was right to prioritise the overthrow of Russian tsarism - it was nasty, brutish, backward and undemocratic. We on the other hand should not bother ourselves overmuch with the constitutional monarchy system. By implication it is comparatively benign and of third-rate significance: a feudal relic, which a modernised, bang up-to-date capitalist constitution could not conceivably miss. Communists, however, believe that the fight for extreme democracy is also the fight for socialism - they are inseparable. We fight for extreme democracy to the point where it goes beyond the bourgeois system and enters the terrain of socialist democracy. The social revolution encompasses all aspects of life, not least the capitalist monopoly over the means of production and the system of wage labour. But it begins politically and can only begin politically. It is through political struggle that the capitalist division of politics and economics into two separate social spheres begins to be overcome. There is, in other words, no other way to socialism and the expropriation of the exploiters other than through the fight for extreme democracy. Indeed without extreme democracy the expropriation of the exploiters simply turns into a new form of exploitation. Extreme democracy is therefore the state form that will be taken by socialism: it is the domination of the working class which is beginning the transition from capitalism to communism. The semi-democracy that now exists in Britain thereby gives way to the extreme democracy necessary for the working class to make the qualitative, epochal leap from being an exploited class to a ruling class that is already ceasing to be a class. That is the essence of the immediate, or minimum, programme of the communists. This is why we propagandise so frequently against Britain's constitutional monarchy system. For at the heart of the democratic deficit lies the constitutional monarchy, the lynchpin of the bourgeois state. It is not that we are concerned per se with the goings on of the Windsor family. Indeed, it is not even the case that we claim that they are the real powers-that-be in Britain. That would be a ludicrous claim, since increasingly power to act resides with the (presidential) prime minister. It is rather that the central apparatus of the British state - the prime minister and cabinet, parliament, the judiciary, the security agencies, the armed forces - rests on the powers that are still formally exercised by the monarch. The powers to go to war, to dissolve parliament, to grant honours and make appointments to the House of Lords, to block legislation by withholding royal assent - these are all things which make Britain a highly undemocratic state. Not simply that: they serve as reserve powers to be used in times of emergency and social crisis. It is not hard to imagine a scenario when the forces of reaction use the power of the monarch to block legislation deemed to threaten the integrity of the bourgeois state itself. All of this would be entirely legal under the British constitution. Abolishing the constitutional monarchist system means radically changing the form of democracy. It is not primarily or simply about getting rid of the hereditary head of state. But, because the hereditary head of state symbolises and binds the whole constitutional system together, the monarchy becomes the symbolic focal point for those who want to change the whole system. Yet republicanism should not be reduced simply to anti-monarchism: it must represent a more general democratic case against the powers wielded by Blair's elected dictatorship and the failure of parliament to represent the people. It is not so much the powers of the queen, but the powers concentrated in the hands of the queen's first minister. What of the notion that the monarchy can be cast off without anything else of importance changing in British society? We could usefully learn from the history of other countries in the 20th century when they became republics. End of monarchy almost without exception coincides with a revolutionary situation. Such a scenario is exactly what we communists seek to bring about by prioritising the fight to abolish the monarchy and win a democratic republic. In Britain the main target must, therefore, of necessity be the constitutional monarchy system, because that is how we are politically ruled - our immediate programme is designed to train and equip the working class to practically raise itself from trade union to political consciousness. Through the breadth, momentum and self-making successes gained during the various stages, or phases, of this ongoing process, there comes into place a wider and wider democracy and consequently ever more extensive possibilities for the class struggle. This is what made Respect's claims during the European elections ring so hollow. Despite correctly identifying a "democratic deficit" in British politics, Respect lacked the politics to overcome it. Its Socialist Workers Party leadership voted down republicanism on the ludicrous basis that because France and the USA had republics, then it can't be that good a thing. Thus Respect makes no demands even for the reform of the constitutional monarchy. What of the Socialist Green Unity Coalition, made up of the Socialist Party, Alliance for Workers' Liberty, Socialist Alliance Democracy Platform and Socialist Unity Network? The joint policy declaration does call for the abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords. Yet, once the election campaign kicks off, one can bet that they will have as much to say on republicanism as Respect, preferring instead to campaign on those bread and butter issues like the NHS, minimum wage, pensions etc. For, however much a reactionary idiot and liability to the ruling class King Charles III may prove to be, the system is unlikely to crumble by itself. Only the creation of a working class party that puts the abolition of the constitutional monarchy system at the centre of its programme can create the conditions for extreme democracy to flourish. Cameron Richards