Socialist Worker

Does a monarchy make a difference?

Published Tue 26 Apr 2011
Issue No. 2249

Why do we still have a monarchy? England led the way in abolishing the absolute rule of monarchy when King Charles I was executed on 30 January 1649.

This followed the English Civil War between forces loyal to monarchy and those supporting parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell.

Despite this, the monarchy still reigns over Britain—unlike countries such as France, Germany and Russia where it was overthrown.

This is partly to do with the restoration of the British monarchy after Cromwell’s rule.

The increasingly powerful merchant class made its peace with the monarchy to regain stability.

So Charles II came to the throne in 1660, though he and his successors have had nothing like the power his father wielded.

Power in Britain today does not lie with the queen. But neither does it lie with our elected representatives.

It lies with the capitalist class—those who get rich off the backs of the rest of us. The royals act as the symbols of this class.

Their use on trade missions and as tourist attractions help maintain the image of Britain’s “natural” class system. Monarchy is a public relations stunt for British capitalism.

Our rulers, politicians and the media still encourage us to live in awe of royalty. If we revere our supposed betters in such a way, it means we are less likely to take action against the conditions we have to live under.

Loyalty to the monarchy is supposed to unify the people of Britain under one family that is somehow above politics—united as Britons, no matter what our class.

Many people believe that the monarchy is vital in maintaining a stable parliamentary system.

For some, even on the left, the idea of gradually reforming the country is dependent on this system.

But socialists should reject this idea. It goes with the argument that says that other aspects of the state are neutral—such as the police and judges. But this is not the case.

The state is there to carry out the interests of the ruling class. In capitalist society, this means the bosses.

There has been a concerted attempt to make the monarchy look like they’re “doing their bit” in recent years—that they’re just like ordinary people.

This wedding is no exception. Kate Middleton’s upper middle class upbringing has been used to support the idea that the monarchy has modernised and has allowed the “new rich” into its tight circle.

This is part of the rehabilitation programme for a monarchy that has lost much support over the past few decades.

It began to break down in the 1980s and 1990s as the details of the royals’ state-funded luxury lifestyles were laid bare across the media.

This fed into widespread anger at a time of recession and the Tories’ brutal attacks on working people.

The fairytale of royal weddings then also started to fall apart.

In 1992 alone, three of the queen’s children—Charles, Anne and Andrew—had very public separations from their partners.

In the same year, Windsor Castle, one of the royals’ many residences, caught fire—with ordinary people left to pick up the bill.

Tabloids

Public opinion in the monarchy hit a low, so the royals adapted. The queen agreed to pay income tax for the first time (on money we give to her) and allow tourists to visit Buckingham Palace (for a fee).

But these reforms did little for her popularity.

In 1994, Charles and Diana divorced after several years of their private lives being a staple in the tabloids. Diana died in a car crash in 1997.

She was no commoner, but the perceived feeling that the royals had it in for her because she wasn’t posh enough hit the monarch even harder.

Today there is little enthusiasm for the royals, despite the media frenzy about the wedding. The idea that god has chosen royalty to rule over us used to be widespread, but few believe it now.

But at a time when we have a government of public school-educated millionaires, the promotion of the monarchy is part of the elite reasserting its rule over the rest of us.

The monarchy is part of the capitalist system in this country.

Only through a revolutionary change can we see this class system—with all its absurdities—done away with.

Until then, our society will still be ruled by unelected forces whose job it is to keep the rest of us in our place.


Article information

News
Tue 26 Apr 2011, 17:53 BST
Issue No. 2249
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