The death of Queen Elizabeth IInd has been the signal for the whole bourgeoisie to whip itself into a frenzy of propaganda, repeating again and again the importance of “duty, sacrifice and resilience” in the “service” of national unity, whether it be out of the mouth of the most right-wing Tory politician or the most left-wing trade union leader, whether from the pages of the reactionary Daily Mail or the liberal Guardian. The Church of England, from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the local vicar, has been singing the same tune. Almost everyone in the public eye, everyone who has some privileged connection to the ruling class or wants to have such - academics, novelists, historians, artists, actors, sportsmen, newspaper columnists - are adding their own little contribution to this 10-day long carnival of grief, and in so doing revealing that they are not as independent-minded as they pretend, but lackeys just as much as the liveried flunkeys of the royal family.
But this avalanche of propaganda has a salutary lesson for class conscious workers: despite all its many secondary divisions and conflicts, all parts of the ruling class and state apparatus, left and right, liberal and populist, royalist and trade unionist, unite as one in face of the defence of the nation in which the working class has no stake or interest.
The use of this campaign as a club to beat the working class was highlighted soon after the Queen’s death was announced, when three trade unions involved in the current wave of strikes in Britain – the RMT (rail), the CWU (post) and the TSSA (transport) - announced that they would be suspending planned strike action during the period of national mourning. As the “radical” leader of the RMT, Mick Lynch put it put it: “RMT joins the whole nation in paying its respects to Queen Elizabeth. The planned railway strike action on 15 and 17 September is suspended. We express our deepest condolences to her family, friends and the country.”
The TUC, the leadership of all the trade unions, has postponed its Congress, when it was going to pretend to coordinate the strikes, to October or November.
Respect for national unity in times of crisis has been the hallmark of the unions since 1914 when they served to recruit workers for the imperialist battlegrounds, so this “suspension” of the class struggle is in no way an exception.
Likewise, the Labour Party, from the right to the left, has always sworn its allegiance to the constitutional monarch. The left-wing former leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn - who was avidly supported by the Trotskyists and other leftists - declared that in 2017 that “the abolition of the monarchy was not on his agenda”, and he reappeared a few days ago to attend one of the official tributes to the Queen.
The bourgeoisie never misses the chance to benefit from a crisis and is hoping that the hymns and sermons, the processions, the gun salutes, the moving tributes, will instill, in a combative working class, the importance of giving up everything for the national interest, that is, for profits and imperialist wars.
And while the ruling class seeks to use this campaign to hide the class divisions upon which this society is founded, it also aims to paper over some of the deep cracks in its own imperialist position - cracks amplified by the rise of populism and the Brexit disaster, which threatens the existence of the United Kingdom itself. No accident that, faced with the threat of Scottish independence and the disintegration of Britain’s relationship with Norther Ireland, the somber ceremonies of the week of mourning began with the parade the Queen’s coffin through the streets of Edinburgh, and that the first task of the new King was to visit Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland.
But what of the world bourgeoisie, that is the ruling class of those nations in deadly competition with Britain, why are they also joining in this masquerade of mourning and flying their own flags at half-mast? Even Vladimir Putin has sent his condolences.
The answer is that the Queen not only represented national continuity, stability and longevity for the British ruling class, but also for world capitalism as a whole, for every bourgeoisie faced with its class enemy, the proletariat. She and the British royal family was the human, relatable facade of bourgeois order everywhere, obscuring but silently justifying colonial atrocities, imperialist carnage, devastating economic crisis, the exploitation and the pauperisation of the working masses everywhere in the name of unity and service to the “community of nations”.
In a time when world capitalism is collapsing, the reign of Queen Elizabeth was used to symbolise the pretence of fundamental bourgeois order and continuity, the illusion that the present mode of production could continue through thick and thin. But her death in turn is symbolic of the reality of the worsening instability of world capitalism, of the avalanche of catastrophe at all levels.
Feudal remnants in the service of capitalism
When the British bourgeoisie came to power during the English revolution, King Charles 1st, representative and defender of the absolute monarchy, was beheaded in 1649 by the revolutionary parliamentarians. But the ascendant British bourgeoisie subsequently realised that its rule could not be maintained and stabilised through a completely new state machine. The monarchy had to be brought back, along with the long established diplomatic, political and military experience of the aristocracy, but this time limited constitutionally and subservient to bourgeois parliament.
If the bourgeois state rules in the interests of the capitalist ruling class, it nevertheless has to appear as the representative of the whole population, and to pretend that it has always been there since the dawn of time, rather than, as in reality, coming to power relatively recently through a violent revolution. The state must therefore appear as elevated above the interests of the rival classes, in order to prevent society tearing itself apart. The exploiters and war-mongers must not appear as such to the exploited and butchered but ultimately as a family, as flesh and blood, with human feelings, just like you and me. This is where the preservation of feudal institutions, like the monarchy, have had their importance because in capitalist society, where “callous cash payment” rules, wage slavery can be assuaged by the illusion that even they, the exploited, are part of a national family.
The constitutional monarchy of Britain has been perfecting this facade of patriarchal unity for over three centuries. But the contradictions of world capitalism are reaching the level at which even the facades are threadbare. The fawning commentators on the demise of Queen Elizabeth IInd recognise that her heirs will not be able to replicate the illusions of her reign. The new King, who as Prince of Wales was always prone to meddling in politics, has never been popular with certain parts of the bourgeoisie and will thus find it much harder to pose as a symbol of unity above political divisions.
The present carnival of national unity occurs when the inter-capitalist carnage in Ukraine, in which imperialist Britain is an enthusiastic player, has revealed the hypocrisy and anachronism of all national defence and patriotic pride. The future lies with a class with no national interests, an international class: the world proletariat.
 We shouldn’t forget however that the capitalist religion of national unity is not solely based on the manipulation of ideas and sentiments. It is never slow to call on the assistance of the police. Two protestors attending ceremonies in London and Edinburgh were arrested for holding up placards bearing slogans such as “abolish monarchy” and “Not my king”. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which severely limits the possibility of demonstrating in the streets, was invoked to justify the arrests.