What can we learn from a ‘royal’ death?

September 14, 2022
Image: Dave Riley/Ratbag Media

Queen Elizabeth may be dead, but the wailing, the gnashing of teeth and the rending of garments is by no means over.

The bourgeois media tell us that we are sharing a great national and international grief: having been told, it has become the truth. If we needed reminding of the power of the capitalist state, the death of the Queen is that reminder.

The media, an essential arm of the state, has proven its credentials. Public opinion has been manipulated in a way that would have made Adolf Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels proud.

A month ago, the monarchy — including the Queen and her indulged family — barely rated a mention. Today, it is near to an act of treason not to be a whole-hearted supporter of British royalty.

But it is even more than that. If an opinion poll were taken, the vast majority would speak with one voice in favour of this historical anachronism and they would, at least at that moment, actually mean it.

Such is the power of the media: thought can be and is being controlled.

The capitalist state has, with its media, worked to build a sense of unity between classes. It is that “unity” that ships workers off to fight workers from another country.

Friedrich Engels described it as “false consciousness”. The ideas of the ruling class are taken on, willingly, by the working class. Antagonisms between the classes become increasingly masked until they “seem” to vanish.

We end up with the unemployed, poor and homeless believing their interests are the same as those running the system that has made them unemployed, poor and homeless.

The effectiveness of state control and its ability to evoke a feeling of willing acceptance among the working class has been extraordinarily successful.

Decades of incessant propagandising has led sections of the working class to believe that the Twiggy Forests of this world have the same interests and outlook as you or I.

It can mean accepting poor wages as a “sacrifice” for the greater economic good, or to have the lives of working-class youth destroyed on battlefields to support imperialism.

The state and the media exercise a power that can turn people’s opinions quickly and in any direction. The first Gulf War in 1991 led to George Bush snr’s approval rating reaching 74%.

Australian media have manipulated sentiment to the extent that now only 12% “trust” China to “act responsibly”.

On the back of racist, anti-refugee rhetoric, the same media won John Howard an election. The same media vilified “African gangs” in Melbourne’s working-class suburbs.

While families remain homeless more than three years after the Grenfell fire in London and life expectancy in some working-class cities in Britain is significantly lower than those of the ruling class, Britain is still weeping for the dead Queen and protesters are arrested for not being suitably royalist or pro-state.

Why has the life and death of the Queen become such an issue?

It has nothing to do with a need to maintain the monarchy. For the ruling class, it is fundamentally linked to maintaining an economic system that simply does not work, and to dampen down dissent. Strikes in Britain have been called off: national unity has trumped class unity.

No amount of pomp, ceremony and confected tears can alter the fact that poverty, inequality, homelessness and despair are on the rise and visible everywhere.

As the system’s veil of legitimacy is being shredded, despite the state’s best efforts, in moments such as these, it has to exercise more control — emotional, intellectual and physical.

Harsher anti-democratic laws are being enacted and enforced across the capitalist world. Greater force is required to keep people doing what the system requires.

We are moving beyond what Aldous Huxley described in Brave New World: “A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.”

Love of servitude, so much a part of false consciousness, will only last so long as those in servitude believe it is worthwhile.

This is a problem for the state. The mass hypnosis, the group hysteria that has been stirred up over the death of the queen, is temporary and the collective attention span is short.

Amid a lunatic, fantasy world of bread and circuses, people remain unhappy and restive. The message for those who cling to any belief in the bourgeois system is that democratic freedoms are not set in stone and ideas can be shut down.

Ray Bradbury wrote in Fahrenheit 451 of a dystopian future where ideas were not only dangerous, but impossible to hold. The “fire-chief” makes the point that “if you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none”.

The state is seeing the wisdom of that argument. The working class must learn it as well.

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