Editorial of the Socialist issue 1225
“Lose trust in democracy and democracy dies. Lose trust in capitalism and it fails too.” This was the warning given by the Tory leader of the House of Commons, Penny Mordaunt, at the launch of the Edelman Trust Barometer 2023 in March.
Surveys on trust abound but they all conclude that confidence in the institutions of modern-day capitalist society – political parties, governments, press, police, judiciary – is being eroded, and especially among young people. The World Values Survey found that confidence in the government among Millennials in Britain has halved since 2005. This is the background to the Coronation.
For the poorest, Mordaunt said, “the whole system can seem rigged against them”. That’s because it is. Nurses, for example, face a Tory government, led by a multimillionaire heir, attacking their democratic right to strike. The pay ‘rise’ being imposed on them amounts to around half the amount that removing student bursaries has taken from their salaries. In fact, the NHS pay offer equates to about a sixth of the inflation on a cheese sandwich.
Meanwhile, the big businesses who own the means of producing that sandwich – including energy, water and supermarkets – rake in profit. The Financial Times recently noted that across western economies profit “margins reached record highs” during 2022, and “remain historically high”. Research released in March by the trade union Unite showed that, for the 350 largest companies listed on the London Stock Exchange, “Profit margins for the first half of 2022 were 89% higher than in the same period in 2019.”
Mordaunt expresses the well-founded fear among the defenders of capitalism that the resulting fall in trust in the system poses a threat to the continuation of capitalism, based on maximising private profits through exploitation of the majority by a small minority. The fear is that the Edelman findings, that “61% want a new type of political party”, while “73% want new thinking, ideas and approaches”, will find expression in a struggle to build a new workers’ party with a socialist programme to end the capitalist order and the poverty, war and oppression inherent to it.
The monarchy has historically played a role in blurring the edges of class inequality. By engendering a sense of ‘nationhood’ or ‘national unity’, the monarch, and royal events, have attempted to draw working-class people into feeling part of the system, obfuscating how rigged it is and the need to organise for socialist transformation.
70 years ago
However, the crisis of capitalism and the attempts to make the working class pay for it undermines this. At the time of the Queen’s Coronation 70 years ago, there was some material basis for believing that the system offered a decent future. The NHS had been established – and was not yet being destroyed by privatisation and funding cuts as is the case today. Under pressure of the organised working class and the potential threat to the capitalists’ right to rule, the Tory government in 1953 completed 245,160 new council homes. Under Tony Blair’s pro-capitalist New Labour, 130 council homes were built in 2004 and numbers remain low. House prices have increased dramatically too: if the price of a supermarket chicken had increased at the same rate since the late 1960s, it would today cost more than £50. What basis is there for working-class people, especially the youth, to have confidence in this system?
The publicly paid-for £250 million Coronation is revealing that under Charles the monarchy’s ability to continue playing that role is increasingly limited. Since 2013, the number of young people who support its continuation has halved to 32%. The recent research into its obscene wealth published by The Guardian newspaper and the focus on the royal family’s connections to the slave trade adds to this mood. Slavery played a central role in creating the basis for British capitalism and involved virtually every institution of modern British capitalism that existed during the years of the transatlantic slave trade, including the royal family.
This situation poses a problem for the capitalist class for a number of reasons. Their system is not democratic, including the maintenance of an unelected head of state and House of Lords; billionaire-owned press, and anti-trade union legislation; and, fundamentally, is based on ownership of the means of production by the tiny capitalist elite. But their preference is for this to be obscured, and for a consensus which upholds them in power with minimal opposition. The alternative which is forced on them by class struggle, relying on increased repression, can more clearly reveal the real character of capitalism, ‘red in tooth and claw’ and can accelerate the understanding of the need to replace the rigged capitalist system.
For the capitalist class, there is more to this conundrum. The monarchy holds reserve powers, including to dissolve governments, call elections and even declare martial law. The Queen’s powers were used in November 1975 in Australia, when the governor-general, the Queen’s representative, removed the elected Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam. Whitlam had been pushed by pressure from the working class and social movements to carry out substantial reforms, including free higher education.
It is for these reasons that the Socialist Party says the monarchy should be abolished. Because of the role the monarchy can play for them, the capitalist class will fight to maintain it. Building a mass workers’ movement armed with a socialist programme that can replace failed capitalism, with all its repressive and coercive state institutions and inequality, is needed. Socialism, based on a democratic planned economy, can meet the needs of the millions not the millionaires, and the environment.