by Ray Nunes 1998
Since the later days of feudal society when kings and queens ruled the roost there has been a conscious and unending drive by the ruling class to surround the monarchy with a mystique, a term which combines mystery and adoration. In feudal times the church and ruling aristocracy created the myth that royal rulers were appointed by a Supreme Being, the doctrine known as the ‘Divine Right of Kings’.
As the capitalist class came to dominance they found they had to conduct revolutions against absolute monarchs. The last absolute monarch in Britain, Charles Stuart, had his head chopped off by the parliamentary forces. No ‘Divine Right’ there! France followed suit. However, the mystique of monarchy was revived with the change to constitutional monarchy. The ruling classes created new, groundless myths about the inborn ‘superiority’ of monarchs.
The press and the rest of the media
Such propaganda really took off in a big way in the 19th century with the rise of the mass-circulation press. In our day and age it has grown to astronomical proportions with giant media empires brainwashing the masses.
The ‘mystique’ aspect has always been a weapon in the hands of the ruling class or classes. The monarch and his or her power were thought to be kept strong by the long-standing practice of keeping royalty above and apart from the masses. In this way royalty, surrounded by pomp and circumstance, was given almost a superhuman aspect.
If there is one thing that is pointed up by the recent death of Diana it is the gulf between the royals and the mass of ordinary people. While Diana grew to share in the mystique, she also spread glamour around the royals. They lived by archaic protocols set in stone. When Diana rebelled against these she became a non-person, was ousted from the inner circle and given the coldest of shoulders. That didn’t stop her from being more popular worldwide than all the rest of the royals put together. The media and the glamour industry saw to that.
Why all the royal silence?
At the time of writing (mid-September) all sorts of rumours abound about the royal reactions. However, few seem to ask, publicly or privately, why were the top royals - not excluding Charles and the Queen - totally silent for 6 days, until mass public pressure at last shoehorned the Queen into broadcasting in an attempt at damage control?
The mystique has now been dented. Tabloids and pop magazines don’t seem to take much notice of it. However, keep in mind that ‘the English love a lord’. There is still a section of the ruling class which wants to rescue royalty from itself - but for its own purposes.
The real uses of the monarchy
Once capitalism became the dominant socio-economic system the capitalist class, and particularly its ruling section, the monopoly capitalists, made use of the monarchy in two ways - both in its own interests. The first was as a tool, to keep the working class and the masses quiescent by giving them something to adore, no matter how phoney the subject of adoration. The second was perhaps more important - to use the monarchy as a buffer between the ruling, exploiting class and the wage workers.
The buffer role is a big advantage for the capitalist class. If the economy is buoyant and stays that way for a while, the capitalists can take the credit and point to their far-sightedness. Likewise they can blame other countries for their own economic and political shortcomings. If there is an economic crisis (1929 for instance) or a depression or recession they can manipulate public opinion to divert the heat from themselves. Let there be no illusions. If the rule of big capital seriously is threatened, the capitalists would have no hesitation in offering up the monarchy as a scapegoat to divert the wrath of the people, just so long as the blame is not placed on their shoulders - where it ought to lie - for the sufferings of the masses.
The mystique of monarchy is important for both uses, although it loses a large part of its lustre in times of crisis.
Britain’s Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, seemed to strike a popular chord over Diana when he told the royals they must adapt or die. In the next breath, however, he comforts them with a statement that he is a royalist and wants to see the monarchy continued. His statement is typical of Labour party opportunism. First, wait to see what the public thinks before expressing an opinion. Then come out in defence of reaction and reactionary institutions. Of course, this is no novelty for Labour ‘leaders’. They are mostly imperialists to their toenails. Consciously - usually, or unconsciously, they know their role in the scheme of things capitalist and perform it, i.e., to serve the interests of the monopoly capitalists and to seek to adapt the interests of the working class to those of the monopolists.
Every negative has a positive and vice-versa. The negative impact on the monarchy of recent events therefore has its positive side. In exposing the cold disinterest of the top royals, Diana’s death has given a positive boost to republicanism in Australia, for instance.
Australians have always had a more radical approach to the monarchy than New Zealanders, who like to think themselves more English than the English. It seems likely now that Australia will move towards a republic, and perhaps - who knows - New Zealand might even follow suit. Far and away the best sort of republic for the exploited masses would be a working people’s republic such as the Workers’ Party of New Zealand calls for in their Party Programme. But that, one must say, is not just around the corner. In our view, however, even a capitalist republic would be better than a monarchy. It would just be one barrier the less for the working class to overcome. No-one could then claim that the people of this country were ‘subjects’.
Subjects - or free people?
No doubt there are people around who have a slavish mentality and are happy to be called ‘subjects’. Class conscious workers should reject any such idea of slavishness. Most likely the majority of adults are familiar with the song ‘Rule Britannia’. The closing lines of its chorus are ‘Britons never, never, never, shall be slaves’. But in the glory days of the British Empire Britons thought nothing of making slaves of small and weak nations. They became ‘subject nations’.
Are New Zealanders proud enough of their independence to stand up and declare: ‘We shall not be subjects of anyone - those days are gone for good’?
It is high time for a republic - even a bourgeois one. Let us add: don’t let yourself be captured by the mystique of monarchy. If you’re a ‘subject’ you’re not free. If you’re free you’re not a subject. It’s as simple as that.