The death of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom set off a media-driven national and even international outpouring of sadness for the loss of this symbol of Britishness, stability, and tradition.
Queen Elizabeth’s and other royal families have ruled the United Kingdom for centuries. They did this first as the most powerful lords of the exploitative feudal system, then as powerful landowning nobles in an evolving capitalist constitutional monarchy, and more recently as wealthy figureheads living off the very people they once exploited, and still profiting off their titles.
Not only did these royal families exploit their own subjects (yes, that’s still the word they use) in the United Kingdom. Monarchs of England have ruled over colonies and imperialist outposts scattered from the far east in China, to South Asia in India, to huge swaths of Africa, to much of North America and the Caribbean. In all of those places the British used military force, then economic force to conquer, dominate and exploit indigenous peoples worldwide.
The royals oversaw two centuries of British involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade that brought at least 3.2 million enslaved Africans into the New World.
After Latin American nations gained their independence from Spain in the 1820s, the British dug their economic tentacles into the region, financially dominating the young nations and creating an economic dependence that lasted well into the twentieth century. In China they oversaw the Opium War in 1839 that forced China to open its ports to British commerce, especially opium, while the Chinese attempted to ban the destructive narcotic. In 1899, the British fought the brutal Boer War in southern Africa to subjugate not only the Khoisan and Bantu peoples of the region, but also the Dutch farmers who had settled there before the British arrived. They oversaw the British so-called “mandate” in Palestine, where they allowed European Jewish settlers to enter the region, sparking the occupation and conflict that continues today. In 1947 they engineered the Partition of India and then fled (almost literally) as millions died and were displaced during mass Hindu-Muslim rioting. And in the 1950s, when Kenyan independence fighters began picking up arms to win their independence, the British instituted a harsh counterinsurgency campaign to destroy the Mau-Mau Revolt. And throughout nearly all of that time they dominated Ireland, using a combination of settler colonialism, religious divide-and-conquer, and military force. We could go on.
More recently, even though the royals are now figureheads and have supposedly left behind that exploitative and violent history, they have remained among the wealthiest families in their nation. Recent reports show how the new King, Charles, has spent decades expanding the family holdings and capitalizing on their titles while his mother sat on the throne. The combined fortune of the family in 2022: at least $28 billion. So let’s not cry for the Queen or for the royal family. And let’s not idealize what she and they were and are. For centuries they have been the exploiters and dominators of peoples, enriching themselves and their political and economic allies along the way, all at our expense.
Let’s set our sights toward building a new world, one that we need and that will work for us. And let’s toss all the monarchies and the capitalism they helped create into the dustbin of history, where they belong.