Elizabeth II: Not just an expensive symbol

Socialist Party: Economist republicanism

The Socialist Party's economism was on full display during a session on the monarchy and the state reports Peter Manson

In a sense it could be regarded as an advance that a session on the monarchy was even included in the Socialism 2012 programme. But the low priority given to the question of how we are ruled was demonstrated by the very poor attendance at the session entitled ‘The royal delusion’, which was introduced by national committee member Becci Heagney.

Overwhelmingly her talk was dominated by questions relating to the distribution of wealth. While the workers are told we must cut back, millions are wasted on the royal family, whose individual members have huge personal fortunes. And it was not true that the monarchy earned its keep by bringing in the tourists, other SPEW comrades argued. They would come in anyway if a socialist government opened up the palaces to visitors! Well, so long as we keep pulling in the tourists, that must be good for ‘the country’.

While comrade Heagney’s presentation was not without class content - the monarchy was a pro-capitalist institution symbolising privilege and would in the last analysis be used against the working class - it did not deal at all with its ideological role in the here and now. The fact that the institution is supposed to be not only ‘above politics’, but ‘above class’ too - the fact that it symbolises a classless ‘national interest’ - seemed to pass her by.

I argued from the floor that what really ought to cause outrage was not so much the wasted millions - in reality petty cash compared to the state budget as a whole - but the monarchical notion that we workers are held to be mere ‘subjects’ within the ‘one nation’ British order. We should prioritise amongst our immediate demands not only the abolition of the monarchy, but the dismantling of the whole constitutional monarchy system: get rid of the second chamber, no monarchical president (or presidential prime minister), accountable and recallable MPs on a worker’s wage, the replacement of the standing army by a people’s militia - in short, a democratic republic.

SPEW comrades were unanimous, however, that none of this was “a campaigning priority”. One said that we should not feature the monarchy on placards or on the front page of The Socialist, but should rather bring it up only in connection with cuts and so on. Another said we must fight for socialism and only bother about the monarchy when it “gets in the way” of that fight. Once again the central ideological role of the institution was ignored.

I was allowed back in to point out once more that the institution should not be regarded as just a “reserve weapon”, in the words of one comrade. The fact that the majority of our class either supported the monarchy or had a neutral attitude towards it ought to cause us great concern. If workers are prepared to tolerate such a symbol of ruling class power, how on earth could they be won to the notion of “socialism”: ie, working class power?

In her reply comrade Heagney informed us that one SPEW branch had indeed run an anti-monarchy stall at the time of the jubilee. But we “can’t campaign on it every day”. For her the monarchy was “not a central issue” (which made me wonder why she had bothered to talk about it in the first place). What mattered was “getting the government out”. To be replaced by an alternative government administering capitalism under the constitutional monarchy state, obviously.