Australasian Spartacist No. 240

Autumn 2020


Abolish the Monarchy!

Harry and Meghan Rebrand Feudal Reaction

The following article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1170 (21 February), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S.

LONDON—Like the Mafia, Britain’s Royal House of Windsor is an institution no one leaves, except in a box. No questioning Family funds in front of the masses, either. So on January 8, Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, put royalist noses out of joint when they announced their intention to “step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent” in order to “carve out a progressive new role within this institution.” The monarchy should have been abolished centuries ago, and once was, with a headsman’s ax.

The British monarchy is a pre-Enlightenment system of unabashed class privilege and social deference, at the apex of which is the crown. Head of the established churches and representative of God (who is of course an Englishman), the monarch is “consecrated” by the archbishop with holy oil at coronation. The revolutionary overthrow of England’s feudal order in the 17th century culminated in the public beheading of Charles I, an object lesson in democracy that was repeated in the Great French Revolution of 1789. But once the interests of England’s rising merchant-capitalist class were secured, the monarchy was restored in 1660 to exorcise the specter of revolt from “below.” The body of bourgeois revolutionary Oliver Cromwell was exhumed, decapitated and his head fixed on a pike as a “traitor.”

Irish socialist James Connolly observed: “The mind accustomed to political kings can easily be reconciled to social kings—capitalist kings of the workshop, the mill, the railway, the ships and the docks” (“Visit of King George V,” 1911). The continued existence of the British monarchy is an assertion that class privilege and vast inequality are part of the “natural” order of things in which each has its place, “the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate,” as generations of schoolchildren were forced to sing in the hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful.”

For Britain’s black population, that place is a grim one. Racial oppression in Britain today is the product of the slave trade, the bloody subjugation of Africa and Asia and the attempted extermination of the indigenous population in Australia, New Zealand and the Americas. The monarchy was always the linchpin of the bloodsoaked imperial order, embodied today in the Commonwealth and the 16 Commonwealth countries in which the Queen is the head of state, with power to dismiss their elected governments and dissolve their parliaments.

The public humiliation of the Duchess of Sussex is a measure of the vicious racism that pervades the “United” Kingdom. Despite her millions, in the eyes of the racist British establishment, an American mixed-race actress is not a suitable wife for a Royal. The tabloid press has been ostentatious in putting Meghan Markle down, while lauding Kate Middleton, the millionaire girl from next door, as the white paragon of wifely obedience. BBC presenter Danny Baker was sacked for his piggish depiction of Harry and Meghan’s son as a chimpanzee. But all the racist venom directed against Meghan Markle does not change the fact that she represents an institution which sanctifies oppression.

For liberals embarrassed by the feudal trappings of the monarchy, the Sussexes have provided a welcome facelift for the Windsor dynasty (formerly Saxe-Coburg-Gotha but rechristened as part of whipping up anti-German nationalism during the interimperialist carnage of World War I). At the time of Harry and Meghan’s wedding, we noted: “The admittance of a black woman into the House of Windsor (now she’s got her visa sorted and been baptised in the Church of England) is absurdly presented by a fawning bourgeois media as the recasting of the feudal freak show that is the monarchy to be less ‘gammon’ [white conservative] and more ‘woke’” (reprinted in WV No. 1137, 27 July 2018). After the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s much ballyhooed announcement that they will devote themselves to financial independence and charity, liberals like the Guardian newspaper fawned over the fairy-tale image of a prince and princess showering pennies on the servile masses from above.

It’s “Megxit” in name only, for all the hoopla. The couple will not formally represent the Queen, but Harry remains sixth in line to the throne. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex retain their titles, including His/Her Royal Highness—although they agreed not to use that one in public. The couple eschewed income from the Sovereign Grant, which, according to their website, makes up 5 percent of their income, but not the 95 percent which comes from Prince Charles’s feudal privileges in the Royal Duchy of Cornwall. In addition to controlling 53,000 hectares of land across 21 counties and a vast investment portfolio, under a 1337 law, the Duke of Cornwall inherits the estates of everyone in the Duchy who dies without a will or living relatives.

At the time of the Sussexes’ wedding, then-Labour Party leader and ostensible republican Jeremy Corbyn praised the Royal Family’s charitable work and wished the Duke and Duchess “all the best.” Now the Labour Party leaders have rallied behind the Royal couple, with Corbynite Labour Party leadership candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey appealing to them not to leave Britain. It was exactly this “courtiers’ Byzantine, bootlicking, lackeyish point of view” for which Trotsky excoriated the British Labour Party leadership, observing: “How can they assault bourgeois property if they dare not refuse pocket money to the Prince of Wales?” (Where Is Britain Going?, 1925).

For the British imperialist bourgeoisie, the tens of millions of pounds the government spends each year in the flamboyant assertion of royal privilege is well worth the price. But monarchy is based on hereditary succession, a principle which presents some awkwardness for the potty reactionaries of the House of Windsor. First in line for the throne after the 93-year-old Queen, Prince Charles has long been ridiculed for his devotion to homeopathic quackery and for talking (and listening) to plants. Charles’s environmentalism harks back to an earlier era, before the industrial revolution, when his precursors lived off the sweat of the peasants. So does his feudal overlordship of the Duchy of Cornwall, according to its residents.

Prince Harry’s most notable exploit, before his 2018 marriage to Meghan Markle, was dressing up in regalia of the Nazi Afrika Korps for a “native and colonial” party in 2005. Ten years later, the Sun made public a Windsor family home movie of the Queen’s mum teaching young Elizabeth the fascist salute around 1933. Joining them was future King Edward VIII, notorious for conspiring with the Nazis and for his friendship with Hitler. The British Royal Family’s attraction to fascism is no accident of history: jackbooted authoritarianism expresses in an unvarnished form the monarchy’s haughty contempt for working people and racist scorn for the inhabitants of their former empire.

For the time being, Meghan and Harry have settled in Canada, where they should not feel homesick as 89 percent of its territory is officially “Crown Land” (and where granny is on every coin). Canada is often depicted as an anti-racist paradise straight from The Handmaid’s Tale. Far from it! The Canadian ruling class uses the tool of “multiculturalism” to reinforce the subjugation of Quebec by denying its national rights, and to apply a thin veneer over racist bigotry and the brutal oppression of immigrants and Native peoples. As our comrades of the Trotskyist League in Quebec and Canada exposed in “Raising the Banner of Leninism” (reprinted in WV No. 1138, 24 August 2018), Quebec’s national oppression and the British monarchy “are the two elements that make Canada what it is today and without which it would in fact have little reason to exist.” The Crown has always been committed to the forcible retention of Quebec as an oppressed nation within English Canada. This was brazenly displayed during the 1970 October Crisis, when Her Majesty’s representative sanctioned then Premier Pierre Trudeau’s invoking of the War Measures Act, under which the Canadian state repressed the Québécois workers movement, supporters of independence and the courageous militants of the Front de Libération du Québec.

With Westminster refusing Scotland the elementary democratic right to a new independence referendum, the Labourite New Statesman of course raised the banner of the Queen in defense of English-chauvinist Unionism: “the monarchy is potentially the strongest remaining symbol of British nationhood, and even the SNP [Scottish National Party] leadership does not want to terminate the Union of the Crowns” (31 January). At his wedding Harry was given newly minted titles in Scotland and Northern Ireland: Earl of Dumbarton and Baron Kilkeel, titles he retains. The Royal Family is the embodiment of the reactionary “United” Kingdom, which incorporates Northern Ireland under British military occupation, and rests on English domination over the Welsh and Scottish nations.

Nor is the function of the monarchy simply ideological. The British officer corps is drawn from the aristocracy and owes its allegiance to the Queen, not Parliament. The Royal Family is dripping with military appointments. Prince Harry’s former appointments included Captain General of the Royal Marines, a position he inherited from his grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh. A rallying point for reaction in times of social crisis, the monarchy, with close military ties, would provide the basis and legitimacy for a right-wing coup.

The continued existence of the monarchy is an affront to the working class and to elementary democratic principles. In one of the world’s first modern capitalist countries, even minimal democratic demands of the bourgeois revolutions await proletarian revolution. Abolish the monarchy! Down with the reactionary “United” Kingdom, the House of Lords and the established churches! For a voluntary federation of workers republics in the British Isles!