This is an extended version of an article recently published in Emancipation & Liberation: http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2020/12/28/what-is-the-crown-and-what-is-republicanism/
The author is a member of the Republican Socialist Platform https://republicansocialists.scot and an advocate of Internationalism From Below.
What is the Crown?
If you were to ask a few randomly selected people to define the Crown, they would no doubt mention the Queen and royal family, encouraged in this regard by the misleadingly named popular Netflix biopic. Similarly, if you were to ask for definitions of republicanism, you would no doubt hear about toothless debates about whether the Queen costs too much money, or whether or not she attracts tourists and thereby generates national income. In both instances, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the distinction between the monarchs themselves and the actual Crown Powers. It is common to see the Queen as just a wee auld woman who through an accident of birth is grandmother to the entire British nation; and to see Prince Charles as just a daft old man who is somehow the nation’s strange spiritual uncle. There is an illusion that the royal family are above and beyond the corrupt and dishonest parliamentary politicians and profit-obsessed capitalists. There is a pretension of powerlessness and an irrelevance to real life. However, the modern monarchy is merely a camouflage for the Crown, and the unaccountable Crown Powers are wielded everyday by a predominantly unelected political class. Despite the existence of a parliamentary democracy centred on Westminster with its newer devolved offspring at Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont, our democracy has very real limitations. Senior civil servants, judges, officers and ranks in the armed forces all swear their allegiance to the Queen, not to Parliament, and certainly not to the people. The ruling class may require their services, acting when necessary, against the interests of the people, or even Parliament. It is not the Queen herself who wields this power, but the Prime Minister, acting on behalf of the ruling class. This is all done under the unaccountable anti-democratic powers of the Crown which are yielded everyday by a predominantly unelected political class.
Examples of Crown Power interference
The Crown Powers are wielded by the prime minister, who uses them to act without consulting the parliament. In 1973 they were used against the Shrewsbury Pickets, to criminally charge and imprison these striking construction workers under a law which had not been used in 98 years. But the Crown Powers have also been used under Labour governments; for example in 1977, to send the army to break a firefighters’ strike. In 1975, that same British Labour government used the Crown Powers to overthrow the Australian Labour government, and replace it with an Australian Tory government, without ever consulting the electorate either here or there. This occurred in the context of Australian Labour prime minister Gough Whitham having attempted to stop the US navy from docking in Australia. (And yet many English-speaking liberals around the world stereotype the Australian people as inherently backwards, even though it was outside British interference which sent Australia down the path of political deformity). From 1968-73, the native people of the Chago Islands were illegally cleared from their Indian Ocean archipelago by British forces, at the request of the United States, in advance of the American militarisation of those islands. In 2000, the British High Court granted the islanders the right to return home, but this was subsequently overturned by the Crown powers, and the islanders were stopped from returning. In 2019, the United Nation’s International Court of Justice at the Hague called on the UK to ‘withdraw its colonial administration … unconditionally within a period of no more than six months’. On the orders of the Crown, these calls have been completely ignored by the UK government.
What is Republicanism?
Having distinguished the nature of the Crown from the celebrity-culture/state-religion distraction of the royal family, clearly to define republicanism merely as a desire to unseat the royal family at an unspecified future point in time is to sell republicanism short. Let us consider republicanism in its purest form: an immediate republicanism which upholds ‘the sovereignty of the people’ in the here and now against the UK state’s sovereignty of the Crown-in-Westminster and its anti-democratic Crown Powers. Republicanism is about the maximum level of participation in any action with democratic control at the grassroots level. It seeks to develop a programme for expanding democracy as far as it can go under capitalism. The defeat of the 1984-5 miners’ strike was a major historical turning point. In hindsight, the failure of the National Union of Mineworkers and the working-class in that fight can partially be attributed to the labour movement’s bureaucratic soft social democracy on an all-Britain/all-UK basis. Several years later, a movement arose in opposition to Thatcher’s Poll Tax. The bureaucratic leaderships of the Labour Party, the TUC and the STUC each opposed the Anti-Poll Tax movement. Again, the labour aristocracy’s bureaucratic soft social democracy on an all-Britain/all-UK framework could have allowed Thatcher and the ruling-class to have their way. But the grassroots movement recognised a winning solution; ‘Internationalism From Below’. The grassroots movements in Scotland, England and Wales each organised both nationally and internationally without the usual bureaucratic middlemen. This sort of action deliberately opposed the anti-working-class pro-UK ‘Internationalism From Above’ of the more bureaucratic elements of the labour movement. The implementation of this republican strategy (i.e. popular sovereignty against the sovereignty of the labour aristocracy) ultimately led to victories for the working-class against the Tories. This sort of republican ‘Internationalism From Below’ is what is needed today. The inhabitants of these British-Irish islands must mobilise on a basis of popular sovereignty, a republicanism in the here and now which maximises participation in political action and which enables democratic control at the grassroots level. This a strategy to build up the confidence which is required to truly defy a Tory government and the UK state which lies behind it. To conduct extra-constitutional action, for example civil disobedience, can defy the UK state and its rules. This can be conducted in pursuit of new republican break away states, to campaign in solidarity as part of an ‘Internationalism From Below’ strategy, and in pursuit of economic, social, socioeconomic and environmental issues.
E-books on the ‘Internationalism From Below’ idea are freely available to download at https://intfrobel.com/e-books/