NDP and Québec solidaire leaders greeted the death of Queen Elizabeth II with an outpouring of tributes to the late monarch. At a time when the majority of Canadians oppose their country remaining a constitutional monarchy, left party leaders sought to outdo one another in their obsequious praise of the Queen, representative of one of the most reactionary institutions in human history. Abandoning basic principles of the workers’ movement, this bending to patriotism, class collaboration, and bourgeois public opinion must be fought tooth and nail.
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh set the tone with his bland and meaningless response after the Queen’s death on Sept. 8. “Queen Elizabeth II lived a life of history and duty,” he tweeted. “She was also a mother, grandmother and great grandmother. My thoughts today are for her family who have lost a pillar of strength in their lives.” Missing here is any sense of what the reality of the Queen’s reign meant for millions around the world, and the class interests she represented.
Provincial NDP leaders went further in their lauding of the dead Queen. “The Official Opposition sends our deepest condolences to the family of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and to all who mourn her,” interim Ontario NDP Leader Peter Tabuns tweeted, praising Elizabeth’s “lifetime of public service”. We ask: what “public service” did the Queen perform that entitled her to billions of dollars from the public trough, billions of acres of land, and anti-democratic powers that can override the will of elected representatives including in Canada?
Rachel Notley, leader of the Alberta NDP, aligned herself with class enemies like despised UCP Premier Jason Kenney and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “Alberta’s NDP Caucus joins the Premier, the Prime Minister, and all Canadians in mourning the passing of Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II,” she tweeted. Is it true that “all Canadians” mourn the Queen? Polls suggest otherwise. A survey by Leger and the Association of Canadian Studies found only one-quarter of respondents said they had been even moderately personally impacted by the Queen’s death. Meanwhile, almost 75 per cent said they felt little to no impact at all, while 77 per cent said they felt no attachment to the monarchy.
“Queen Elizabeth II earned the love and respect of generations of Canadians,” Notley went on. “From her dedicated service in WWII to her heartfelt message of strength during the pandemic, the Queen was a unifying source of comfort, stability and hope through many trying times and historic moments.” Perhaps some of the workers forced into unsafe workplaces during the pandemic, or patients dying of COVID-19 in overcrowded, understaffed hospitals, drew “hope” from the words of the Queen, comfortably ensconced in Buckingham Palace. Aforementioned polls indicate the majority of Canadians did not.
Notley concluded with a suggestion that the “stability” of the current order represented by the monarchy would continue: “We know [Elizabeth] will continue to be honoured and remembered fondly for years to come,” Notley said. In a revolutionary epoch marked by popular uprisings around the world, we have our doubts Elizabeth will be remembered as fondly as Notley imagines.
“British Columbians are deeply saddened by the passing of Queen Elizabeth II,” Premier John Horgan of the B.C. NDP government said in an official statement. He praised the Queen’s “full-hearted service to her people, and her steadfast commitment to her duties as the sovereign and head of the Commonwealth.” On each of her several visits to the province, he said, “the Queen brought British Columbians together in common purpose.” Class divisions and the irreconcilable interests of workers and the capitalist class are erased. Instead Horgan paints a picture of all classes united in “common purpose”, of unity between workers and bosses, which is the same as the unity between horse and rider. Horgan’s statement ends: “God save the King.” The most backward institutions used by the ruling class to secure its domination, religion and monarchy (the British monarch is also supreme governor of the Church of England), are glorified by the leader of B.C.’s mass labour party.
Québec solidaire co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois also paid tribute to the British monarch. “Queen Elizabeth II will have marked her era,” Nadeau-Dubois tweeted in French. “I would like to offer my condolences and wish a peaceful mourning to her loved ones.” We should stress that Nadeau-Dubois offered his condolences as a leader of the main left-wing party in a province where historically, a majority have long opposed the monarchy. “In Quebec, [the monarchy] appears to be a vestige of a colonialist era that we thought had disappeared,” historian and sociologist Gérard Bouchard told the CBC. “In Quebec, the majority of people would say, ‘we don’t know why this continues in Canada and we don’t know why this has been imposed on Quebec.’” An August poll by Leger/IRAI found that 61 per cent of Quebecers think it would be a “good idea” to abolish the monarchy.
While leaders of the left parties went out of their way to salute the monarchy, Canada’s labour unions were notable for their lack of response. Neither the Canadian Labour Congress nor major unions such as Unifor, CUPE, the Teamsters, etc. released any statements on the Queen’s death. Compared to British trade unions who declared a one-sided truce in the class war and suspended strikes out of respect for Her Majesty, the tactful silence of Canadian unions is at least an improvement.
When an establishment journalist like Andrew Cohen, who wrote a Globe and Mail op-ed expressing support for Canada becoming a republic, is offering a more radical opinion on the monarchy than NDP and Québec solidaire leaders, something is terribly amiss in the country’s left-wing parties. Why are party leaders going out of their way to praise Elizabeth and the monarchy? Ultimately this trend represents a capitulation to bourgeois opinion and the intense propaganda offensive surrounding the Queen’s death, which is being used to cut across the tide of rising class struggle. In the absence of a revolutionary perspective of breaking with capitalism, reformists inevitably adapt themselves to the existing order and strive to present themselves as better managers of capitalism. Praising the monarchy is a way for party leaders to present themselves as “respectable” politicians who can be counted on to defend the current system.
We come to bury Elizabeth, not to praise her
Some readers might question what is wrong with merely offering condolences to the Queen, who was Canada’s head of state and a major figure in public life for more than 70 years. The question comes down to the monarchy and what it represents. Far from a merely symbolic institution, the monarchy is a defender of reaction that possesses reserve powers which can and will be used against the labour movement whenever the ruling class feels threatened. Leaders of working class organizations who publicly celebrate the Queen, in the last analysis, are expressing support for the class enemy.
The Globe and Mail in a recent editorial wrote with admirable frankness that the purpose of the monarchy is to serve as a bulwark against revolution:
Canadians tend to forget that our country is not, in fact, a new political entity. It is, by global standards, quite old; the same political order has been evolving in place since 1763. There are very few countries in the world that can say that. The supposedly old countries of Europe have been repeatedly and violently unmade and remade by the kinds of bloody upheavals – revolutions, invasions, foreign occupations, losses of territory, and tabula rasa restarts from crippling Year Zeros – that have not happened in Canada in 2 1/2 centuries.
The editors declare as reason to support the monarchy, “Our system works. It really does.” Yet the same editorial also puts forward the opposite argument: that Canada should retain the monarchy because the country has more pressing problems to deal with.
Don’t we have bigger problems to tackle? Inflation? Homelessness? COVID-19? A health care system in crisis? A housing shortage? The fact that we haven’t figured out how to balance dramatically lowering climate emissions with Canada’s need to take advantage of sitting on top of some of the world’s largest reserves of oil and gas? None of that can be solved by changing the head of state. It’s completely beside the point.
All of these are indeed real problems—and the Canadian state has proven itself utterly incapable of solving any of them. For the majority of Canadians struggling with the rising cost of living; for Indigenous people denied the most basic rights such as clean drinking water; with no end in sight for the COVID-19 pandemic and governments only worsening the climate crisis, the system is not working as well for most of us as The Globe and Mail claims. To solve these problems requires changing the very nature of the state. Contrary to liberal notions, the state is not a neutral entity. For Marxists, the state is an instrument for the oppression of one class by another. The capitalists, not the workers, are the ruling class of Canada and Britain, and the monarch is the head of this state which directly opposes the interests of the working class.
Working class parties and organizations who fawn over the monarch are saluting an institution that serves the bosses and oppresses the workers. The problems of Canadian society cannot be solved on a capitalist basis, but only by a workers’ state in which the working class democratically controls and manages production according to a rational socialist plan. Left parties should not pay respects to the head of a state designed to oppress workers. Rather, the workers’ mass organizations must make clear that the only solution to society’s problems lies in fighting for a workers’ government, a socialist republic.
The Queen is dead. Now we must consign the monarchy itself to the dustbin of history where it belongs.
Abolish the monarchy!
For a socialist republic!