Following the death of the Queen, there has been a wave of clampdowns against those expressing anti-monarchy views.
Last Sunday in Edinburgh, for example, at a ceremony for the accession of King Charles III, a young woman involved with Revolutionary Students and other student activist groups at Edinburgh University was arrested for holding up a placard that said ‘abolish the monarchy’.
Police argued that this constituted a ‘breach of the peace’ – the same charge given to a man who was later arrested in Edinburgh for heckling Prince Andrew as he passed.
Similarly, Socialist Appeal comrades running a street stall in Nottingham on Sunday were instructed by police not to use anti-monarchy slogans. Officers told the comrades that these could ‘cause offence’ and constitute a breach of the peace. This was despite the comrades and their stall receiving a positive reception from local members of the public.
At our paper sale on Sunday, the police came over and instructed us not to use anti-monarchy slogans. We were told they 'might be offensive' and were a 'breach of the peace'. The public certainly didn't think so, nobody complained even once! pic.twitter.com/LCbH2M7UrD— Nottingham Marxist Society (@NottsMarxists) September 13, 2022
The ruling class attempts to frame the monarchy as just a harmless tourist attraction, and Queen Elizabeth II as Britain’s collective nan.
But this draconian response to those voicing republican criticism reveals the real reactionary role of the monarchy – that of a key pillar of the establishment, which must remain sacrosanct and irreproachable.
The monarchy is a reserve weapon for the ruling class, to be called upon in times of crisis to uphold the status quo.
This can be achieved through the monarch’s unlimited constitutional powers, or by whipping up nationalist sentiment and rallying people behind the flag, or both.
Now we see the ruling class deploying this weapon: cynically using the Queen’s death to try and cut across the rising class struggle – silencing the left and subduing the labour movement.
The establishment has piled pressure on the trade unions to cancel strikes. They have waged a relentless propaganda war to whip up a mood of ‘national unity’, mourning, and grief. And now basic democratic rights, such as freedom of speech and the right to protest, have been pushed to one side in order to stifle any anti-monarchy sentiment.
The hypocrisy stinks. The right wing constantly accuses the left of undermining free speech, screaming hysterically about so-called ‘cancel culture’ and no-platforming. Yet it seems that these same people find no issue with a complete curtailment of freedom of expression when it comes to the monarchy.
This comes as no surprise. After all, the establishment demonstrated the exact same hypocrisy and cynicism when the war broke out in Ukraine: blaring out a deafening chorus of chauvinism and jingoism; and demanding that workers wrap themselves in the Union Jack in support of ‘democracy’ – i.e. the interests of western imperialism.
The heavy-handedness of the state following the Queen’s passing, and the nationalistic foghorn provided by the mainstream media, similarly come as no surprise.
The monarchy is a weaker and blunter weapon for the British ruling class than it once was – increasingly rotten and mired in scandal. But sensing the tide of social and economic upheaval already at its feet, the establishment will attempt to make use of any weapon it can.
Yet in its fragile state, leaning upon the monarchy offers diminishing returns, particularly as the class struggle in Britain continues to intensify.
The demands of striking workers have not been forgotten, even if industrial action itself is on hiatus. And the cost-of-living crisis – far from being made ‘insignificant’ by the death of the Queen, as one BBC commentator arrogantly asserted – has been thrown into stark relief by recent events.
After all, we are told by the Tories that the government cannot find the money needed to reduce the millions-long NHS waiting list, but it can shell out millions of pounds for one woman’s funeral.
Going forwards, the ruling class will try every trick in the book to hold back workers and youth.
This includes restricting democratic rights like the right to protest. Already, they have happily made use of the new Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Act to silence protestors. And similarly, Liz Truss has threatened to introduce pernicious new anti-union legislation to prevent strikes.
But with the crisis of British capitalism only deepening, pulling more and more of the population into misery, attempts to keep a lid on the explosive anger that is brewing in society are futile.
No amount of legislation and repression will be able to stop workers and youth when they begin to organise and mobilise en masse.
And when this does happen, the ruling class won’t just have to worry about calls to abolish the monarchy, but calls to abolish the entire capitalist system.