Sunday, 18 December 2011

Thoughts on protesting the Diamond Jubilee

The campaign group Republic has announced plans to protest when Elizabeth Windsor celebrates 60 years on the throne next year. I can agree with the sentiments behind the protest, and am certainly no fan of the monarchy. But when it comes to “the biggest and boldest anti-monarchy protest in modern times,” I find it difficult to muster much enthusiasm.

The reasoning in favour of the demonstrations is set out by Republic here;
The jubilee celebrations go to the heart of what’s wrong with the monarchy. They’re an enforced celebration of hereditary power and all the problems that spring from it. They represent everything we, as republicans, oppose.

We’re protesting because we want to send that message to the royal family, the government, the media and – most importantly – to the people of Britain. It’s a unique opportunity not just to voice our opposition to an unaccountable and anti-democratic institution, but to promote the positive republican alternative.
True enough, the monarchy is the last vestige of feudalism in Britain. It is the worst extreme of class privilege, through a position of power defined literally by what womb you happen to squeeze out of. Moreover, the pageantry and patriotism of the celebrations only serve as a propaganda boon to the ruling class.

Whilst we eat scones and wave our little plastic flags in the name of national pride, we are blind to the injustices being perpetuated against us in the name of capital accumulation. Class being the defining social relationship in society, anything which promotes class collaboration and the division of workers along other lines ought to be rejected. The monarchy is that division writ large, nationalism wrapped up in twee pageantry and sold through the politics of the personality.

But what happens when we get rid of it? For Republic, the goal is "replacing the unelected monarch with a directly elected, ceremonial head of state." In other words, make the government more "democratic" - in the bourgeois, parliamentary sense - by having the head of state elected, but leave the rest of the political status quo largely intact.

If nothing else, this is an incredibly limited goal which might excite liberals but has little value to someone who believes in libertarian communism. One need only look across the Atlantic - where Barack Obama and Congress have effectively overturned the Bill of Rights - to see that a constitutional republic doesn't necessarily get us any closer to that than a constitutional monarchy. Moreover, if you believe that such a society can only be realised through social revolution (as I do), such small, reformist steps appear a waste of time and energy.

Indeed, I'll cite what North London Solidarity Federation said ahead of the Royal Wedding;
Our feelings on the matter are those of indifference. Of course, in a rational society there'd be no hereditary privilege and, in fact, there would be no inequality at all. However, at this moment in history, it's capitalism, not feudalism, that is ruining the lives of working people.

With that in mind, North London SolFed will be doing what we always do: organizing democratically and non-hierarchically with our workmates, fellow tenants, and community members. As for the long-weekend, that's probably the only good thing the royals have ever given us. We'll be enjoying the day off work with family, friends, and co-workers. Some members may take part in demonstrations as individuals, but organisationally, we will continue to focus our energy and resources to support workers in struggle, get active in our own workplaces, and build a sense of community that transcends commodity relations and nation-states.
There is an argument for using the event to create economic disruption as part of the anti-cuts struggle - as I argued back in January - but given the heavy repression that occurred last time and the enormous police operation that will no doubt come with the Jubillee, there is little to no hope of such a plan achieving much.

There is also an argument for engaging with groups like Republic. Though its liberal-republican politics are clearly far from radical, plenty of newly politicised people are drawn to precisely such groups in their search for an outlet, and the presence of more radical ideas and propaganda may hone their thinking beyond (essentially) arguing for the Queen's job to be put up for election. However, from this it doesn't follow that protesting the Jubilee is itself a worthwhile venture.

I want rid of the monarchy. But I don't want rid of them merely to give the capitalist social order an added sheen of "democracy." I want the present conditions swept away along with them, in favour of libertarian communism. This won't come from making Britain a republic, but from organised class struggle.