The Commonwealth is a relic and resistance is on the rise

Stolenwealth Games
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The British monarchy, also known as “The Firm,” has recently been in the news. Dispatching Royals to its far flung realms in what’s been dubbed a “charm offensive,” it is capitalising on the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee to distract from a string of scandals. The aim is to hold the fraying Commonwealth together. But far from being charmed, some former colonies have reacted to the visits as just plain offensive.

Caribbean anger. The Black Lives Matter movement detonated a fuse, globally turbocharging calls that Britain atone for its ugly legacy of colonialism. The entire British ruling class, monarchy included, grew rich from slavery and colonial plunder. According to Forbes Magazine, the crown holds $28 billion in assets and the Queen holds another $500 million in personal wealth.

A statue of Lord Nelson, rightly branded a racist and white supremacist, stood in the square outside the parliament in Barbados. Public anger toppled more than the statue when, last November, the country removed the Queen too, becoming a republic. Prince William and Kate Middleton faced huge protests on their recent Caribbean visit. In Belize, a land rights dispute involving a charity with William as its patron had locals furious. In Jamaica — where more than 90% of the population identify as Black — public figures demanded that Britain apologise for slavery and pay reparations. Outraged residents demonstrated, demanding “Seh yuh sorry!” Britain directly controlled Jamaica for more than three centuries, forcing hundreds of thousands of slaves to work under brutal conditions and extracting immense wealth. William and Kate faced similar protests in the Bahamas.

Stolenwealth Games. Distractions such as sport will not dampen the groundswell of calls for the British ruling class to face the legacy of centuries of exploitation. The Commonwealth Games take place this year in Birmingham. For the first time, athletes will be allowed to wave a pride flag during a victory lap, or raise a fist or display clothing, arm bands or badges on the podium in support of social justice causes. With homosexuality remaining a criminal offence in 35 of 54 Commonwealth nations, this will be another hot button issue. The British ruling class exported homophobia and transphobia to many parts of the world, where in pre-colonial societies such bigotry was unknown. Activists will also demand action on this issue at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting hosted by Rwanda in June.

In Australia there is a proud history of First Nations protests at Commonwealth Games. Huge marches at the Brisbane Games in 1982 demanded “land rights before games.” In Melbourne calls for a Black GST — Genocide to stop, Sovereignty to be recognised and Treaties to be made — drew crowds in 2006. In 2018, Camp Freedom was established on the Gold Coast to protest the Stolenwealth Games and continue the centuries of resistance to occupation. Many former colonies are no longer interested in hosting the Commonwealth Games. Victoria, with little competition, has been awarded the 2026 Games: another opportunity to raise demands to take the struggle forward.

Big business. While the royal family is immensely rich and influential, it does not actually run Britain or any of the other countries, like Australia, where the Queen is the head of state. It is the capitalist class that rules through its institutions. Big capital could dispense with the royalty at any time if it ceased to be useful. But currently The Firm is great for business. It is estimated to add almost two billion pounds a year to the UK economy. The monarchy is also used by the ruling class to promote stability. The message? All classes should unite to back the royal family, which is above politics.

Writing about Britain in 1924, Leon Trotsky explained this tendency: “More than anything else the British bourgeoisie is proud that it has not destroyed old buildings and old beliefs, but has gradually adapted the old royal and noble castle to the requirements of the business firm…It made use of them to consecrate its own rule.”

But for the working class, he added, “The British monarchy, hypocritical British conservatism, religiosity, servility, sanctimoniousness — all this is old rags, rubbish, the refuse of centuries which we have no need for whatsoever.”

For more on our perspective about the monarchy, see these pieces from the archives.

The Republic Debate: Capitalism vs Democracy,
Peter Murray, Freedom Socialist Bulletin, Summer/Autumn 1998

Voters see fatal flaws in referendum to create republic,
Peter Murray, Freedom Socialist, January 2000