Editorial from the June 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard
Under Elizabeth I the first poor law was introduced; Under Elizabeth II the mass of people are still poor. In the centuries between we have had an industrial revolution that covered the country with densely populated cities and huge factories, and converted a large part of the population into makers, menders and attenders of machines; conditioned to work at high pressure, fight at high pressure, listen at high pressure and even play at high pressure.
The footpad has gone from the road but the roads are more dangerous than ever from fast-moving traffic; in spite of the developments in medicine and sanitary engineering illness is rife in the overcrowded cities; the leisurely meandering of life has been succeeded by a breathless speed and the urge to cut out the “waste” of quiet contemplation and the joy in the production of things well done. Cataracts of books have been published on social questions, on co-operation, on human kindness in one form or another; books that have had a wide circulation and the recommendation of prominent people and powerful organisations; yet the world has been decimated by wars of increasing dimensions and ferocity, famines rage on a vaster scale on different parts of the earth, fresh nourishing food has become harder to obtain by the mass of people, cruelty and inhuman conduct organised by governments have spread over the world, and fear and insecurity have become ingrained into the outlook of all.
Trading, which originated in the barter of useful things for mutual advantage, had become an object in itself under the first Elizabeth and has since spread to everything and to everywhere until nowadays the different products of man’s teaming brain and skilful hands all depend upon trade, are produced for trading; even the producer himself is the subject of trading— the scientist, the labourer, the artist, the entertainer, the player of games, and the like are bought, sold, lent or leased, in this trading that is based upon the pursuit of profit. The end of centuries of invention, contriving and building has, so far, been the commercialising of everything. In this country, once described as “the richest land under the sun,” a chancellor of the exchequer has just drawn acclamations for a Budget, easing a few restrictions, which his eulogisers describe as “ leading us out from the confines of restriction to free endeavour and greater rewards for effort.” Such is the legacy of centuries of achievement.
In such a world pomp, display and glamour are a useful means to help disarm antagonism and lull discontent; they are like water in the desert to thirsty travellers, a welcome diversion to those who pine for excitement and display to enliven the monotony of a machine conditioned society and who look for some outlet, in a cramping world, for normal human emotions. To the socialist the coronation festival has no more significance than this—a buttress to maintain conditions as they are.
Royalty is only a product of society in certain historical times. In some periods the holder of the crown has had considerable power, both in this country and abroad. At present, wherever it exists it is only the figurehead of sections of the capitalist class. In spite of hereditary succession leading representatives are removable if they do not toe the line to what is required of them as Edward Vlll and others have found to their cost. In this country their statements and actions are determined by the particular Cabinet of the party or combination of parties in power. Part of their function as sovereigns is to fob off discontent and dissatisfaction, and give a fillip to the British capitalist group, by attending ceremonies of different kinds, making tours and being the centre of scintillating festivals. Their job is not so rosy because they have no respite from the glare of limelight.
That kings and queens are neither a social necessity nor a divinely inspired condition is evident from the rapidity with which so many have lost their places in recent times and have hardly been missed. Whether the figure-head of nations be kings or queens, dictators or presidents, prime-ministers or popes, the property basis of society, with the evils that flow from this property basis for the mass of people, remains much the same. Society still continues to be split into a relatively small section of privileged living in idleness and comfort, and a vast mass of unprivileged who live by working and gain comparatively little from doing so.
In a socialist society there would be no place for kingship or other figureheads. The means of living being the common possession of all mankind, people will work together in co-operative harmony to make life as pleasant and colourful as human ingenuity can contrive. There will be a joy in working together that is absent today. Gatherings for spontaneous pleasure and the outlet of effervescing emotions will not require figureheads and spurious propaganda to inspire them. What mankind has made possible by its accomplishments in different directions over the centuries will become means to make life as full as possible for all instead of being used, as today, to increase the wealth of die privileged. Kings and Queens will be relieved of their monotonous round of useless ceremonies, and the wealthy of the problem of wondering how to occupy their time and squander their easily got wealth. People will no longer be required to kow-tow as subjects to monarchs or wage-slaves to masters.
“Kings are only kings because we are on our knees. Let us arise.”