Mrs Windsor’s sixty bloody years

image2012 will be the year of austerity and circuses in Britain. David Cameron used his New Year’s message to say as much:

“"As we welcome the world to the best Olympics ever – and, as in the 60th year of her reign we honour our Queen as the finest and most famous example of British dedication, British duty, British steadiness, British tradition.”

The Sun helpfully added that he will also be “cracking down on benefit cheats”.

In this survey of the sixty year “career” of the largest recipient of state handouts in Britain Patrick Scott reminds us that for six decades mass murder has been carried out in her name.

If 2011 saw the marriage of Wills and Kate as the year’s highlight in the real life soap opera that is the British royal family. 2012 will see an even greater celebratory frenzy amongst the bourgeois establishment when Elizabeth, the grand matriarch of the Windsor family celebrates her 60 years as Queen. In 2012 as in 2011 we will all be given an extra day’s bank holiday to join in the celebrations. All the better to divert the attention of working people, if only for a day, from all the doom and gloom of austerity and economic recession. No doubt throughout the bourgeois media much will be made about the political, social and economic changes in British society over the 60 years that Elizabeth Windsor has reigned over us. Undoubtedly this is true but not everything has changed for the better. With the emergence of the US as the world’s leading imperialist power after World War II, the decolonisation of the British Empire and Britain’s relative decline as an imperialist power the British ruling class has had to re orientate itself in a changing world. Firstly towards Europe, Britain joining the European Economic Community (as the European Union was then called) in 1973. Secondly towards functioning as a junior partner of US imperialism, most recently and very clearly demonstrated by Britain’s role in the US led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

By the time of Mrs Windsor’s coronation in 1952 the process of British decolonisation was in fact already well underway, India and Pakistan had already become independent in 1947 and the 1950s and 60s were to see Britain grant independence to all but its most minor colonies. Like other European colonial powers the British decolonisation process though had a lot more to do with the realisation that the growing national liberation struggles and demands for independence in the colonies meant that it could no longer rule in the same way as before. Invariably the political precondition for decolonisation was that political power would be handed over to stable bourgeois regimes. At the start of Elizabeth’s reign in 1952 British troops had already been fighting a war in Malaya since 1948 against the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA), the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party. Originating as a guerrilla army against Japanese occupation during World War II the MNLA had subsequently taken up the struggle against British imperial rule as well. Although Malaya became independent in 1957 this was only granted once the MNLA had been defeated militarily. 1952 also saw the beginning of the war waged by Britain and the immigrant white landowners in Kenya to suppress the indigenous Kikuyu based Mau Mau movement against British rule. In both Malaya and Kenya the British occupiers employed counter insurgency techniques which included the mass detention in concentration camps of entire communities suspected of supporting the rebel fighters. In Kenya especially the British counter insurgency was particularly brutal. Over a thousand Kenyans were hanged by the British authorities between 1952 and 1958 and virtually the entire Kikuyu population of about 1.5 million people was detained. So called screening teams were used to extract information from suspected members of the Mau Mau. In her seminal work on the Mau Mau insurgency the academic historian Caroline Elkins gives us a particularly graphic account of the fate awaiting many of those detained by the British.

Scores of former Mau Mau whom I interviewed offered similar recollections. Teams made up of settlers, British district officers, members of the Kenya police force, African loyalists, and even soldiers from the British military forces demanded confessions and intelligence, and used torture to get them. If the screening team was dissatisfied with a suspect’s answers, it was accepted that torture was a legitimate next resort. According to a number of former detainees I interviewed, electric shock was widely used, as well as cigarettes and fire. Bottles (often broken), gun barrels, knives, snakes, vermin, and hot eggs were thrust up men’s rectums and women’s vaginas. The screening teams whipped, shot, burned and mutilated Mau Mau suspects, ostensibly to gather intelligence for military operations and as court evidence.[1]

Whilst Britain in the 1950s was struggling to contain insurgencies within its Empire it was also intervening externally to protect its interests as an imperialist power. The post-World War II collaboration between Britain and the US bore its first fruit with the 1953 military coup in Iran engineered by the CIA and MI6 against the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh. A coup which transformed the Shah from a constitutional into a near absolute monarch. Mossadegh’s crime in British and American eyes had been to lead a government that nationalised the assets of the British owned Anglo Iranian Oil Company (forerunner of BP). Not surprisingly the coup saw the swift return of these nationalised assets to Anglo Iranian. If the Iranian venture turned out to be a success at the time this was hardly the case with the Suez Crisis in 1956. Acting in collaboration with Israel who invaded Sinai from the East, Britain and France occupied the Suez Canal by military force to wrest control from the Nasser regime in Egypt which had nationalised the largely French owned Canal. This venture though failed when the US flexed its muscles and refused to support Britain and France forcing both into a humiliating climb down.

Since Suez the only occasion in which Britain has taken a major independent military action (ie independent of US imperialism) was Margaret Thatcher’s jingoistic campaign to retake the Falklands or Malvinas from Argentina who had occupied the islands by force in 1982. The success of which helped an unpopular Conservative government turn the political tide in its favour on a wave on a wave of national chauvinism to win a general election the following year. One of the last remnants of the British Empire. The war to take back the Falklands was ostensibly because its inhabitants were subjects of Her Majesty whose interests had to be defended. Not necessarily true. The point is that they were white subjects of Her Majesty. In contrast to the Falklands the non-white inhabitants of another remnant of Empire, the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean were all expelled from the islands by Britain over a six year period between 1967 and 1973 to make way for a US airbase on the island of Diego Garcia. It is inconceivable that the Chagos islanders would have been treated this way if like the Falkland islanders they had been of white British descent.

There has been any number of atrocities that the British state has been involved in either directly or indirectly over the 60 year reign of Elizabeth Windsor. Including within the British state itself against the nationalist community in the six counties. The most notable being the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry by members of the Parachute Regiment. Continuing into more recent times the British state has the blood of many thousands of innocent Afghan and Iraqi citizens on its hands through British participation in the invasion and subsequent military occupation of these countries, still continuing in Afghanistan. To this total can be added the blood of many innocent Libyan citizens will have died as a consequence of recent imperialist air raids on the country in which the Royal Air Force has played a major role.

Whilst 2012 will be a year of celebration in for many in Britain to mark Elizabeth Windsor’s 60 years on the throne. For many more throughout the world who have suffered in various ways at the hands of British imperialism there will be nothing to celebrate. On a personal level Elizabeth Windsor cannot be held responsible for the misdeeds of the British state under her reign given that as a constitutional monarch she has no real power. Nevertheless all the reactionary wars and all the atrocities in which Britain’s armed forces were responsible for or participated in over the last 60 years were executed in the name of the Queen by those who had sworn loyalty to her. We must never forget that.


[1] Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya p66

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