Saturday, May 17, 2008

Anarchy for the UK? (1999)

TV review from the May 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

BBC2's Counterblast series aims to provide a forum for unconventional, and often anti-establishment, ideas. The programme of 13 April was devoted to the anti-monarchist views of Chris Lowe. It proved to be both unconventional and anti-establishment in equal measure, giving Lowe a wide degree of control over the programme's content, which, in addition to interviews with the usual assortment of trendy left-wing academics and journalists, included coverage of some of the more extreme views of the radical fringe of the republican movement in Britain. Rarely in the history of British TV can a programme have been commissioned which ended with a call for the murder of the entire Royal Family.

But who exactly was it who should have issued such a battlecry? Step forward Ian Bone, founder of the violent anarchist group Class War. This organisation, dealt with at length in these pages on previous occasions, officially gave up the ghost some time ago, though some of its warring factions continue to claim its mantle, albeit posthumously (this is presumably why they all wear black). Bone—as well as Lowe, the programme's maker—has now set up an anarchist front organisation called The Movement Against the Monarchy. This is similar in most respects to other organisations and fronts set up by Class War such as Stop the City, concentrating on periodic and highly provocative marches through sensitive areas of the capital. Counterblast showed The Movement Against the Monarchy marching through the streets of central London on their way to Buckingham Palace, replete with black flags, with marchers dressed up as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and others carrying a guillotine. No monarchs, it has to be said, were assassinated that day but it was all good, clean fun.

Johnny Rotten, that erstwhile purveyor of anarchy in the UK, once famously stated that there is nothing wrong with the Tory Party except the people who are in it. With the republican movement in Britain that statement has a certain analogous relevance and Counterblast demonstrated this beyond all reasonable doubt. It would seem that most of the people actively engaged in the republican struggle in Britain seem to be either chi-chi metropolitan intellectuals who haven't 'arrived' until they've set up their own think-tank, or wild-eyed rabble-rousers from the lumpen proletariat intent on kicking some arse in an attempt to assuage their personality disorders. Needless to say, the vast majority of republicans in Britain—i.e. those who never get asked to star in TV programmes like this—fit neither category.

God Save the Queen?
It is of course true that getting rid of the monarchy is a Good Thing. Even the market-loving, capitalism-cradling Americans can see that (our transatlantic cousins, naturally, preferring their monarchs to rule over some other poor bastard so they can come over and take photographs). But as the Americans have actually proved, not having a monarchy solves little by itself. If anything it gives further legs to the lie that in capitalist society all are equal before the God of the market and that there are no real class distinctions. Perversely, perhaps—and as Chris Lowe and Ian Bone clearly demonstrated—the Royal Family in the UK is the feature of British society that probably generates more class hatred than any other. It is a symbol of all that is wrong with capitalist society and should naturally go along with it—but in a process of genuine, democratic revolution which neither replaces one figurehead with another (as the academics would like) nor glories in "class violence" just for the sake of kicking the shit out of our oppressors without having a clue as to what to do next.

Socialists oppose the monarchy because in many ways it embodies the things we despise: the unfettered triumph of wealth and heredity; the existence of opulence amid squalor; the victory of idleness over creativity; and the festering legacy of the anti-democratic principle. When it comes to abolishing the institutions of class privilege, socialists take a militant and principled stand, and that is a stand unencumbered by learned think-tanks or provocatively dangled nooses, by the facile desire for a President or the tragi-comic clamour for the guillotine. This is because socialists are aware above all else that the monarchy is little more than a farcical side-show in the corporate extravaganza now conquering the globe in the name of the market. The monarchy is not "the enemy": it is but one tiny fragment of it. As socialists we don't waste our time pursuing such a narrow single-issue campaign which would bring little if any practical benefit to the working class within capitalism. Capitalism can well do without the monarchy and does just that across most of the globe, including the parts wracked by the worst inequality and suffering. What it can't do without is a compliant, docile working class which is tied economically and ideologically to the market system. And it is only this class—the working class—which is capable of realising that abolishing the laugh-a-minute royals can be only one small part of a much wider and more serious process: social revolution carried out by the majority in the interests of that majority.
Dave Perrin