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Editorial: Funerals, bank holidays and collectivism: for a socialist approach

ON MONDAY much of Britain will shut down for the state funeral of the late monarch.

Establishment eulogies have been suffocating: the daily front pages on trivia like King Charles’s sons appearing together at Windsor are either overestimating public interest or an attempt to browbeat it into line.

Yet significant numbers are mourning: or at least expressing a need to feel part of a shared experience. It is visible in the huge numbers queueing for days on end to view Elizabeth II’s lying in state.

The left is right to object to the way this rigmarole is being used to promote Britain’s anti-democratic state, park political questions at a time of acute social, economic and ecological crisis and celebrate an institution enmeshed with imperialism and war.

But we shouldn’t confuse public displays of affection for Elizabeth II with intrinsically reactionary political outlooks, and should recognise the instinct for community and belonging which can be channelled along these lines.

Ridicule has been poured on some of the odder expressions of patriotic duty: injunctions not to cycle during the funeral, or Morrisons’ decision to lower the volume of beeps at its tills.

These reflect a country that has lost community cohesion and a sense of what is expected at moments of “national unity,” as well as a 24-7 online participation culture in which every business, association or council feels it has to announce something.

But people do wish to participate, and socialists should look at the reasons why.

King Charles has announced a bank holiday. While republicans might object to the occasion, there is no sense in objecting to the holiday — after all, TUC policy is that we don’t have enough.

Nor should we join choruses of individualist outrage at decisions by retailers like McDonald’s or Greggs to close on the grounds that we might fancy a Big Mac or a vegan sausage roll. 

Retail union Usdaw has campaigned against the tendency of shops to open on public holidays, arguing correctly that workers deserve the time off.

We can add as socialists the inherent value in a shared day off, one the whole community takes together that can be used to socialise with our friends and neighbours.

Because the workforce is afflicted by casualisation and zero-hours contracts, it is important that workers do not lose out and businesses which close their doors pay their staff for the holiday. But that does not mean opposing the closures themselves.

Socialists must be collectivist. Consumerist and individualist ideology has sunk deep roots in the left because the ruling ideas of any society are those of the ruling class. So we might object to a store being closed on grounds that do not meet our personal approval, like the queen’s funeral.

But the market is too sovereign already and we don’t challenge that by plumping for the market’s priority over politics. We object to monarchy because it is a political institution that affects us all: it should be overthrown and cannot be opted out of.

This is why, while the motives — and, given arrests, the courage — of many sporting the placards saying Not My King should be applauded, it is not a socialist slogan. 

Like “Not My President” in the United States, it expresses a refusal to endorse something but can also imply a rejection of the legitimacy of majority opinion itself.

Socialists know majority opinion is not necessarily correct, but our task is to win it to support for socialism — not set ourselves up as self-righteously independent.

When rejecting the British state’s version of the national story, we should fight for our own proud narrative: the Britain of the peasants’ revolt, the English revolution, the Diggers and Levellers, the Chartists, the shipbuilders, the miners: and the workers of every trade and sector who are now taking strike action to protect themselves and the people they love. 

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