Delighted to repost with thanks another contribution to recent discussion of the British monarchy — delayed by technological difficulties.
Gearóid Ó Loingsigh
11 September 2022
The British monarch Elizabeth Windsor, formerly Saxe Coburg Gotha, has died at the grand old age of 96, thanks in no small part to the subsidised lifestyle and medical care she enjoyed throughout her long life. Her death has produced the usual outpouring of manufactured grief from the media and also “genuine” grief from a sector of that population groomed by that same media.
But what is to be said of her passing? There has been some reaction to her death that concentrated on her being a mother and grandmother. But we were not invited to mourn the passing of mothers or grandmothers, but the death of a monarch and all that monarchy represented. So, before we look at the legacy of Elizabeth Windsor we should ask ourselves what is monarchy. The Irish revolutionary James Connolly, executed by the British state under the reign of George V, stated in relation to that same king’s visit to Ireland.
What is monarchy? From whence does it derive its sanction? What has been its gift to humanity? Monarchy is a survival of the tyranny imposed by the hand of greed and treachery upon the human race in the darkest and most ignorant days of our history. It derives its only sanction from the sword of the marauder, and the helplessness of the producer, and its gifts to humanity are unknown, save as they can be measured in the pernicious examples of triumphant and shameless iniquities.(1)
In this, Connolly only described monarchies in general as the most ignorant and backward manifestations of humanity. It is a point that bourgeois revolutionaries such as Rousseau and Voltaire would not have disagreed with. In fact, it was a standard capitalist argument for much of history. However, various capitalist nations hung on to their royal households, either as symbolic figures or as propaganda figures for their campaigns and conquests.
Much is now made of the contribution of Mrs Windsor to society, the arts, and even peace through her now celebrated handshake with Martin McGuinness, though who gave more in that handshake is not questioned. Connolly was very clear about the contribution of monarchies to the progress of society.
Every class in society save royalty, and especially British royalty, has through some of its members contributed something to the elevation of the species. But neither in science, nor in art, nor in literature, nor in exploration, nor in mechanical invention, nor in humanizing of laws, nor in any sphere of human activity has a representative of British royalty helped forward the moral, intellectual or material improvement of mankind. But that royal family has opposed every forward move, fought every reform, persecuted every patriot, and intrigued against every good cause. Slandering every friend of the people, it has befriended every oppressor. Eulogized today by misguided clerics, it has been notorious in history for the revolting nature of its crimes.(2)
Connolly had no truck with royalty. No time for tales of cute old grannies who shook the hands of erstwhile enemies. Any evaluation of the queen of the British state has to go beyond her supposed personal qualities. Criticisms of royals are not well received. When the then British diplomat and future Irish revolutionary, Roger Casement, exposed the atrocities of the Belgium king Leopold II in Congo and his mass murder of over ten million Congolese, the report was not well received initially and the descendants of the man who murdered more than Hitler are the actual monarchs in Belgium and are apparently a lovely couple and third cousins of Mrs. Windsor. Discussions about royalty are not about the individual qualities of the monarchs but the system as such. Though even on this point Mrs. Windsor comes a cropper.
In 1972 the British army murdered 14 civilians in Derry on what was to be the last Civil Rights march in the country. The British quickly engaged in a cover up which basically blamed those murdered as having been armed members of the IRA. Everyone now accepts that this was not true. Even the Saville Inquiry which stopped short of blaming the British state directly for the murders accepted they were all unarmed civilians. But Elizabeth Windsor nonetheless decorated Lt Colonel Derek Wilford, the man in charge on the day and has never apologised for that. Her role in this is often forgotten.
So, any question of looking at the death of Elizabeth Windsor cannot be ahistorical. Though Sinn Féin have issued statements that are breath taking in their servility. The Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald tweeted.
To the Royal Family and all who mourn the death of Queen Elizabeth, especially Irish Unionists, I extend sincere sympathy. She lived a long, full life. In her lifetime relationships between our countries were changed and changing. I salute her contribution to this transformation.(3)
She is of course, referring to the Peace Process and her handshake with Martin McGuinness. This says more about Sinn Féin than it does about Elizabeth Windsor. As a monarch she never had a problem dealing with people she saw as her inferiors, or those bowed in deference to her. Michele O’ Neill was equally effusive about the queen acknowledging the apparently profound sorrow of Unionists. And added that.
Having met Queen Elizabeth on a number of occasions alongside my colleague, the late Martin McGuinness, I appreciated both her warmth and courtesy.(4)
Her courtesy is a diplomatic ploy, as for her warmth that is not the image given in any of her public engagements, not even when greeting her son Charles after a long trip. The poor kid did not get a hug, he was made genuflect. But we can take O’Neill’s word for it. It is not important. Neither her courtesy or alleged warmth are political evaluations. Whether we should mourn a monarch does not depend on such personal qualities. Henry Kissinger the Butcher of Cambodia and Chile comes across as an affable, even charming old man, and he may well be in real life, but that is not how we judge him. Likewise, George Bush the Lesser (as Arundhati Roy dubbed him) also comes across as likeable, though it would be hard to convince the dead of Iraq that this mattered one jot: it doesn’t.
The press coverage of her death and much of the commentaries indicate that there is clear obfuscation on the part of the press and ignorance on the part of the population about the nature of the English royal family and the role of Elizabeth Windsor as queen. One of the myths is that she is just a mere figurehead, with little or no power. It is true that most power rests with Parliament and the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. But she has powers that she has exercised from time to time. She has instructed governors of overseas territories not to sign laws. In 1975, through John Kerr, her governor general in Australia, she dismissed the then prime minister Gough Whitlam.(5) It was a rarely used power, but it exists as do other powers she never had to invoke, like her control over the military. She has invoked the Queen’s Consent more frequently to prevent parliament discussing Bills she was not happy with. She also was the last port of call for those sentenced to death, when capital punishment was still on the statute book.
In the 1950s three Greek Cypriots were sentenced to death, Michalaki Karaolis, Andreas Dimitriou and Evagora Pallikaridis. The last of these was a particularly notable case. Pallikardis confessed under torture to carrying weapons. His lawyers pleaded to Elizabeth Windsor for clemency. She refused. The warmth that Sinn Féin leader O’ Neill felt was not on display for the 18-year-old, nor was she the loveable old grandmother that others have referred to. Likewise, the other two were also hanged. On the rare occasions that she has had to exercise power she has shown herself to be of the same pedigree as her blood thirsty forebears who raped and pillaged their way across the planet.
She never spoke out about the situation in Kenya and the Mau Mau rebellion, which kicked off early in her reign. The Pipeline, as it was known, that the British set up in Kenya was a camp system in which prisoners were moved up and down it according to the degree of torture that was required to break them. That matter was raised in Parliament at the time by some Labour MPs. The prisoners even managed to smuggle out letters to MPs and other officials, amongst them Elizabeth Windsor.(6) She knew what was happening. She was fully aware. She exercised no powers to bring an end to it. She just didn’t talk about it publicly, ever. It was not the only situation that she kept quiet about. Her relationship with the issue of race has never been a good one. She negotiated exemptions to racial and sexual discrimination laws and employs very few non-whites.
In 1990 the journalist Andrew Morton reported in the Sunday Times that “a black face has never graced the executive echelons of royal service – the household and officials” and “even among clerical and domestic staff, there is only a handful of recruits from ethnic minorities”.
The following year, the royal researcher Philip Hall published a book, Royal Fortune, in which he cited a source close to the Queen confirming that there were no non-white courtiers in the palace’s most senior ranks.(7)
In her Christmas speeches she tended to talk of banal matters and family. However, she did wade into politics some times and these speeches, unlike the speeches when she opens Parliament, are hers.
In her Christmas speech of 1972, she referred to various situations around the world and also the North of Ireland. Her take on it was simple.
We know only too well that a selfish insistence upon our rights and our own point of view leads to disaster. We all ought to know by now that a civilised and peaceful existence is only possible when people make the effort to understand each other.(8)
Exactly who was selfishly insisting on their rights was not explicitly spelt out, but it was obvious that she didn’t mean the British state, but uppity Paddies and others around the world. This was made clear when in 1973 she awarded an OBE to Lt Col Wilford, the officer in charge of the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry in 1972. The families of those murdered and injured on that day called upon her to apologise.(9) She did not do so. The nearest she came to it was a banal statement on history during a visit to Ireland in 2011 when she stated “It is a sad and regrettable reality that through history our islands have experienced more than their fair share of heartache, turbulence and loss… with the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we wish had been done differently, or not at all.”(10) She did not accept Britain’s actual role in that and there was no specific reference to the Bloody Sunday massacre.
There is no shortage of sycophants and royalists who claim she had no powers, when in fact, she did as her son Charles now has. Others have preferred to go the route of she didn’t do it, it was others. Not quite true. She did preside over the dying days of Empire and gave succour to the troops busy murdering and torturing people in places she liked to visit on the Royal Yacht. But the many atrocities committed before she acceded to the throne are also hers. The Irish revolutionary James Connolly said of the visit to Ireland of one of her predecessors in the role.
We will not blame him for the crimes of his ancestors if he relinquishes the royal rights of his ancestors; but as long as he claims their rights, by virtue of descent, then, by virtue of descent, he must shoulder the responsibility for their crimes.(11)
And she did claim them. One of her other forays into matters of Empire was her Christmas speech of 1982.
Earlier this year in the South Atlantic the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy enabled our sailors, soldiers and airmen to go to the rescue of the Falkland Islanders 8,000 miles across the ocean; and to reveal the professional skills and courage that could be called on in defence of basic freedoms.(12)
It should be remembered that Britain gained control of the Malvinas in a colonial war, in 1833, against the newly independent Argentina. In 1982, what was at stake was mineral wealth in the sea. She, like Thatcher, rejoiced at the sinking of the General Belgrano ship, lest we forget that those who now joke about her death are not that far removed from her own sense of mourning people she sees as enemies of her dwindling Empire. She had no sense of shame. In 1990, following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iraq she stated without any sense of irony that
The invasion of Kuwait was an example on an international scale of an evil which has beset us at different levels in recent years – attempts by ruthless people to impose their will on the peaceable majority.(13)
This was the queen of a country that had imposed itself on more of humanity than any other previous empire had ever done. Of course, Hussein had been a friend of Britain. In 1953, the CIA and the British overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran, which had nationalised the oil industry dealing a blow to the Anglo Persian Oil Company, now known as B.P. This set in motion a chain of events that would see Britain install another royal, the Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi whose despotic rule would lead to the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Enter Saddam. He launched a brutal and bloody war against Iran, invading it in 1980. The war lasted 8 years and cost 500,000 lives. It was bankrolled by the west through the Saudis. There was no one claiming that he had imposed his will, nor were British troops sent to attack this important ally.
Part of her role is that of cheerleader for empire and war. British troops serve under her, not Parliament. They are called upon to serve Queen/King and country and a major part of her role is to encourage young men (and lately women) to throw their lives away in places like Iraq as part of imperial exercises in power and the theft of natural resources.
It is also laughable that the English monarch talks of the peaceable majority when Britain is one of the major arms manufacturers and exporters in the world, supplying despots around the world with the necessary wherewithal to keep local populations in line. Her own son Andrew was appointed Special Representative for International Trade and Investment for the UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) in 2001 and in that role he promoted arms sales. When he was forced by circumstances surrounding his role in the abuse of young girls alongside Jeffrey Epstein to step back from a public role, Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade commented that:
The news that Prince Andrew will step back from Royal duties is unlikely to provoke feelings of sorrow or regret for most British citizens – but for despots, dictatorships and arms dealers around the world it will be a sad day. They have lost one of their most high profile and influential supporters.(14)
During Mrs. Windsor’s reign Britain exported almost 135 billion (in current prices for each year) of arms and is the fourth largest exporter of arms in the world.(15) Some British companies with operations outside of Britain also export arms. These figures do not include what Britain manufactures for its own armed forces or what it buys from other countries.
Remarkably even feminists in Britain and Ireland have publicly lamented the death of Mrs. Windsor ignoring her role in her son’s abuse of young girls. What little action she took against him was due to public outcry and pressure helped along by a disastrous interview in which his sense of entitlement oozed out of the pores he claims not to sweat from. She also forked out part of the money that was paid as part of the settlement with Virginia Guiffre, one of his and Epstein’s victims, though her part could not be used directly to pay the victim but only for the part that went to charities.(16) Not a minor point for feminists, you would have thought. Nonetheless, they lament the death of the loving mother and grandmother. One who showed none of the warmth Sinn Féin claim she shows.
Monarchies are inherently reactionary, even without the atrocities committed by them or in their name. They are hereditary positions occupied by parasites living off the public purse. A lavish funeral and later coronation of Charles will be held, costing millions of pounds. Other old grandmothers will go hungry this winter or die of hypothermia as energy prices soar, a fate Elizabeth did not face and neither will Charles. The old grandmothers around England, who will die of hypothermia this year, through their taxes ensure that Charles will see the winter through, unless a horse-riding accident upsets his plans. Monarchy is all that is rotten in society, the sycophantic outpouring of fake grief is of a people who do not seek a better society, who are enthralled to their masters and their betters, those who bow down to the great and the good. But it was again James Connolly who had said “the great appear great because we are on our knees, let us rise!”
The idea of rising off our knees has been abandoned by most. Sinn Féin is lavish in its praise for her, one of the political and cultural shifts that results from the Good Friday Agreement. The rot has even spread to their friends in Colombia. Timochenko the former FARC guerrilla leader tweeted his condolences to the people of Great Britain and also mentioned that handshake with McGuinness.(17) Britain’s trade unions through the TUC have also bowed down to the royals. The ideological role of the Windsors in class conflict is ignored. Even the otherwise militant RMT has called off strikes planned for September 15th and 17th. There was a time calling for the abolishment of the monarchy was a no brainer for progressives. In the 1980s Arthur Scargill made just that call and when questioned as to what the royals would do then, he replied, “they can work in Sainsburys”. Though some of them have pilots licences, maybe they can do the Gatwick – Dublin route with Ryanair.
Those who mourn Elizabeth Windsor are complicit in what she represents: privilege, war, torture, racism. There are no ifs or buts to that. It is as Robespierre said, “The King must die so the country can live”. It is time to abolish the monarchy and throw onto the putrid rubbish pile of history all that it represents and Charles and William can, as Scargill suggested, get a job and sycophants can go back to worrying about Madonna or Beyoncé.
(1) Connolly, J. (1910) Visit of King George V https://www.marxists.org/archive/connolly/1911/xx/visitkng.htm
(5) The Guardian (14/07/2020) Gough Whitlam dismissal: what we know so far about the palace letters and Australian PM’s sacking
(6) See Elkins, C. (2005) Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya. New York. Henry Holt and Company. paras 20.48 & 26.48
(7) The Guardian (02/06/2021) Buckingham Palace banned ethnic minorities from office roles, papers reveal https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/jun/02/buckingham-palace-banned-ethnic-minorities-from-office-roles-papers-reveal
(8) Queen’s Christmas speech 1990 https://www.royal.uk/christmas-broadcast-1972
(9) The Irish Independent (31/01/1998) Royal apology would help right Derry ‘insult’ https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/royal-apology-would-help-right-derry-insult-26200165.html
(10) The Irish Examiner (19/05/2022) The Queen’s Speech https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/arid-20155083.html
(11) Connolly, J. (1910) op. cit.
(12) Queen’s Christmas speech 1982 https://www.royal.uk/christmas-broadcast-1982
(13) Queen’s Christmas speech 1990 https://www.royal.uk/christmas-broadcast-1990
(14) Smith, A. (21/11/2019) With Prince Andrew in retirement, it’s a bad week for despots and dictators https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/prince-andrew-step-back-interview-arms-trade-jeffrey-epstein-gaddafi-a9212841.html
(15) Figures taken from https://www.sipri.org
(16) Time Magazine (17/02/2022) Who’s Paying Prince Andrew’s $16 Million Settlement to Virginia Giuffre? What to Know About Royal Finances https://time.com/6149123/prince-andrew-settlement-virginia-giuffre-royal-finances/