That handshake and the nature of royalty
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The piece below is taken from the July/August issue of the Socialist Democracy bulletin, here.
Most commentary on the royal visit to the North have focused on the symbolic significance of the handshake between Elizabeth Windsor and Martin McGuinness.
For the remaining republicans, the handshake symbolized capitulation. The main significance was that Elizabeth was visiting as head of state and it is a traditional republican trope that she would be welcome once Ireland was united and independent. The current meeting could only signify acceptance of British rule.
Sinn Fein, on the other hand, argue that the Good Friday Agreement offers a mechanism for resolving conflict. In this context the handshake with British royalty was symbolic of reconciliation. The logic is consistent, although it would have helped if the unionists had agreed rather than maintaining a barrage of abuse.
As for most of the small socialist movement, the symbolism is empty, representing an outdated sectarian division that can be resolved by workers keeping their head down and building around “bread and butter” economic demands.
The literature of Marxism takes a very different position. The power of royalty is a material power, part of the mechanism of capitalist rule where it is retained as part of the state apparatus. There are no circumstances where the Marxists are reconciled to royalty and we always seek its destruction.
The capitalist state rules through a combination of social control and the use of force. Royalty plays a role in both.
As a mechanism of social control the trappings of royalty extend far beyond the royal family – to the aristocracy, the landed gentry and to the army of OBEs, CBEs and knighthoods that infest many social institutions such as the police, the health service and the media.
Nowhere is the culture of kowtowing to royalty more deeply entrenched than in the armed forces. It is not for nothing that the ceremonial uniforms that royals wear on state occasions represent different branches of the state forces or that they hold allegiance to the queen rather than directly to parliament.
Socialists who argued that this was empty symbolism because capitalism operates through parliament were ridiculed by the Marxist theoretician Leon Trotsky. This was only true, he argued, when capitalism had a firm grip on the working class. If the hold of parliament weakened then a whole extraparliamentry and extrajudicial mechanism was at hand to stamp with an iron heel on the workers.
Of course there is one place where the social control elements of royalty and the elements of force come together and that is in the North of Ireland. Founded on the last mutiny by the British army, sustained by unionist and loyalist political currents slavishly loyal to the crown, hostile to parliament and linked to armed force within and without the state apparatus – there was little doubt what Martin McGuinness was shaking hands with.
If there was, it should have been dispelled quickly a few weeks later, when Sinn Fein acted as police to ease the path of her majesties subjects as they yet again asserted their sectarian dominion through the 12th parades.
Posted on July 30, 2012, in 21st century republicanism and socialism, Democratic rights - general, Internationalism, Irish politics today, Partition, Political education and theory, Provos - then and now, Repression and resistance in the six counties today, six counties, Toadyism, Unionism, loyalism, sectarianism. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on That handshake and the nature of royalty.
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