It took nearly one hundred years after the passing of King Leopold II of Belgium for the atrocities committed by the Belgian King to come to the mainstream of European history. Adam Hochschild’s book, King Leopold’s Ghost: A story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa documented the brutal killing of more than 10 million Congolese and the crimes of the Belgian monarch and the Belgian state. Yet, compared to the British, the Belgians were novices as managers of the historical narrative. With their feudal monarchy as the anchor for power, exploitation and violence, the British had practiced the arts of pillage, kidnapping, slavery, genocide and colonialism much longer and more efficiently than the Belgians or the Portuguese. It was British historians who honed the propaganda machinery to spread jingoism among the British workers, utilizing the monarchy as the foil for stability and continuity.
In the last chapter of the book, Hochschild wrote of the “Great Forgetting”, the campaign undertaken by state historians to promote the view that monarchs such as King Leopold led the selfless mission to spread democracy and civilization. In the case of King Leopold II, a very large museum was built to commemorate the civilizing work of Belgium and how the Congo was transformed into a “model colony”. The current historical evidence of the state of the Congo is the best testament to that falsehood about the civilizing mission. Queen Victoria and 19th century liberal historians had already perfected the story of spreading Christianity, civilization, and commerce.
It was significant that Hochschild was not an academic historian, because the mainstream historians continued to produce books that showed how colonialism with royal patronage was progressive for the Global South. This scholarship on the “high moral purpose” of the civilizing mission of Europe was especially robust in the analysis of the relationship between Britain and Africa. From 1672 to 1752, the Royal Africa Company had the monopoly over the slave trade. The RAC shipped more enslaved Africans to the Americas than any other company in the history of the Atlantic slave trade and was owned entirely by the British Crown. It is this history that ensured that the history of the British monarchy in the past 400 years cannot be separated from the Atlantic slave trade and the impact on humanity.
On the cover of the book Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide by Sir Hilary Beckles, there is a picture of Queen Elizabeth II touring a plantation in Barbados that was in her family for more than one hundred years until the second half of the twentieth century. Queen Elizabeth walked around with jewels plundered from South Asia, Africa and the Americas. The estate worth more than a billion dollars bequeathed to King Charles III represents a legacy of stolen wealth.
The Global Reparations movement has brought a new urgency to the study of history by exposing the criminal past and present of racial capitalism. Walter Rodney, Priya Satia, Caroline Elkins, Hilary Beckles and Gerald Horne are among the historians who have exposed the criminal linkages of the British monarchy. It is from this corpus of historians that the weight of history is coming down on the legacy of Elizabeth Windsor. The overwhelming accounts from all sectors of the world point to the reality that no institution obscured the crimes of empire and buttressed class rule and white supremacy as effectively as the British monarchy. The movements for reparative justice all over the world have made it more difficult for historians of the left to relegate reparative history to the column of “identity” politics.
Where the Belgians failed to stifle the weight of history, Britain had been far more successful in sugar coating the colonial crimes with jingoism, propaganda and patriotism. With its developed university and media infrastructure and schools of history associated with Oxbridge traditions, Britain had been able to represent colonialism and empire-building as emanating from a “high moral purpose” where Britain carried out “progressive constitutional freedoms and the rule of law, along with free trade and free labor, among the less fortunate barbarians”.
It is from this corpus of historians that the weight of history is coming down on the legacy of Elizabeth Windsor.
No individual personified this high moral purpose of British imperialism more than Queen Elizabeth II. In the 70 years that she served as Britain’s monarch, the media remained in effusive praise of her quiet dignity and grace. However, the media barrage about her compassion and astuteness could not survive the pent-up flow of information on the legacies of the violence of British imperialism and the role of the monarchy in inventing and reinventing itself to conceal the crimes of empire. The weight of the historical evidence of the crimes associated with the House of Windsor could not be hidden with ritual, archaic pomp and ceremony so, even before the burial of Queen Elizabeth II, the outpouring of calls for reparative historical rendering had unleashed the call for a full reckoning of British imperialism and the end of the imperial monarchy. As one commentator noted, “Those who heralded a second Elizabethan age hoped Elizabeth II would sustain British greatness; instead, it was the era of the empire’s implosion.”
Death of a queen and crowning a new king
Elizabeth Windsor had ascended the British throne in 1952 and was formally crowned with pomp and pageantry in 1953. She was Britain’s monarch for 70 years until she departed this earthly life on 8 September 2022 at the age of 96. Her first son ascended as King Charles III of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth on 10 September 2022. She was buried at Windsor Castle on September 19 after a choreographed period of national and international mourning that mobilized all the media resources of Western imperialism.
The death of Elizabeth has ignited a substantial conversation about the British imperial past, the role of the British monarchy providing the cultural cover for genocide, enslavement, colonialism, imperialism, war and fascist ideas on planet earth. For 70 years, Elizabeth had been one of the principal props for the culture of capital. Her service to empire coincided with the explosion of film and television so the world could follow very closely the newsreels and films about her life, palaces, jewels, travels, her horses, and her dogs. The same media and film industry blurred, distorted, and not infrequently falsified criminal acts that were being committed in the name of the monarchy.
Anti-communism after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 and the overthrow of her cousin Czar Nicholas II rendered the Queen an enormous supporter of anti-communism and other degenerate monarchs in Europe and all over the world. The British monarchy was descended from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in Germany but after World War I started, King Edward VII discarded the German ancestry and focused on the British heritage, the British royal family becoming the House of Windsor. The House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in Germany and the last of the Romanovs were related through many ties, especially through Queen Victoria who had been deemed the Queen of Europe. Hence, after the Bolshevik Revolution and the war of the White Russians to return the monarchy in Russia, the British monarch was at the centre of the fund-raising and mobilizing of sympathy for anti-communist forces in Europe. Elizabeth II became the monarchs’ monarch and titular leader of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPS), especially following the decolonization processes after the second imperialist war.
Elizabeth matured in Britain when the anti-communists and the aristo-fascists supported Oswald Mosley of the British Union of Fascists (BUF). The mainstream media had diminished the overt racist orientation of Queen Elizabeth’s uncle, King Edward VIII, who had been a Nazi sympathizer. His abdication in 1936 paved the way for Elizabeth’s father to become King, being crowned George VI. He was the King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 11 December 1936 until his death in 1952. He was concurrently the last Emperor of India until August 1947, when the British Raj was dissolved. The Indian people robbed Queen Elizabeth of the opportunity to become Empress of India by fighting for their independence.
Queen Elizabeth had, however, ensured the continuity of white nationalist ideas in Buckingham Palace by marrying the Greek prince Phillip, a known fascist sympathizer. The racist statements made by Prince Phillip in the 99 years that he lived offered a clear window into the racism of the royal family. For more than 40 years prior, his racist, sexist, or degrading statements were brushed off as “gaffes”. Elizabeth worked hard throughout her life to ensure that this link of the family to racism and xenophobic ideas did not discredit the monarchy. Within the Anglo-American world, the racism of the Anglo-Saxon media treated Phillip and Elizabeth as celebrities, supporting the hagiographic stories about the House of Windsor that came from British tabloids. The British media was outraged when Prince Harry, the grandson of the queen, married Meghan Markle, a non-white woman. Both Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stated clearly that they were driven from the royal family because of racism. The racial politics of Queen Elizabeth’s family, and their relation to public life had been cleverly covered up by the media and historians but the robust Black Lives Matter movement brought anti-racism to the forefront of the international agenda. This social movement debunked the mythology of royal blood and lineage.
Queen Elizabeth and the British working class
Phillip and Elizabeth were conscious of their place in Britain and the responsibility of the monarchy in preserving social and political stability, especially in times of heightened crises for British imperialism. Elizabeth was born in the year of the largest industrial dispute in Britain’s history; the general strike of the British miners in 1926. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) had called the general strike to prevent wage reduction and worsening conditions for coal miners. It took place over nine days, from 4 to 12 May 1926. Elizabeth grew up overseeing successive governments unleash all the power of the British state to weaken the workers up until the era of Margaret Thatcher when the neo-liberal turn demanded the crippling of the autonomy of the British working class.
The Indian people robbed Queen Elizabeth of the opportunity to become Empress of India by fighting for their independence.
Sixty years after the great general strike, when Elizabeth II was in her prime and taking tea with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the British Trade Union movement was being squeezed. Using the legal façade of the constitutional monarchy, Thatcherites orchestrated laws to restrict the right of picketing, prevented unions from bringing their members out in support of other unions and introduced fines and asset seizures for unions that struck without a ballot.
One of the cardinal principles of liberal democracy in Britain was the right of the worker to assemble and make decisions about collective bargaining. This had been one of the major victories of the British working peoples after three major reform bills of the 19th century had sought to weaken the monarchy and the hereditary House of Lords. Under the reign of Elizabeth II, Thatcher and the scavenger capitalists joined hands together to lull the workers into celebrating a monarch who actively worked for their oppression. Liberalism had been refined in the 19th century by historians and legal experts with virtuous sounding ideals like freedom, the right to strike, reformism, and the rule of law. The Anglo-American academy bought into this liberalism as justification to wreak devastation while seeking to bind the white working classes in Europe and North America to the ideas of right-wing neo-fascist populism and nativism. These ideas of global apartheid did bring some material comforts to workers in the metropoles, but the national liberation struggles, and the anti-imperialist struggles smashed the gilded cage of the monarch and her servile prime ministers.
Historians such as E.P. Thompson had sought to intervene to provide an alternate view of empire and the place of the monarch in relation to the British worker. The weight of the official and sanctioned historians drowned out the contributions of historians critical of the monarchy and empire. Queen Elizabeth and Britain were represented by historians and by the media as symbols of modern Western civilization, the defenders of democracy. When the anti-racist and anti-colonial historians emerged out of the former colonial societies, there were historians who asserted that the monarch and colonialism were, “on balance”, good for humanity. From the era of the imperialist partitioning of the world and the imperial wars in Africa, British historians had weighed in on the humanitarian goals of Britain and the monarch. In their book Africa and the Victorians, Ronald Robinson and John Andrew Gallagher now stand out in the long tradition as the historians who established this practice of rendering British imperialism as being guided by strategic considerations and high moral ideals.
Under the reign of Elizabeth II, Thatcher and the scavenger capitalists joined hands together to lull the workers into celebrating a monarch who actively worked for their oppression.
A generation later, those who mechanically understood Marx to mean that capitalism represented a progressive period of human history argued that, despite its “crimes”, colonialism was good for the Global South. Some Marxists like Bill Warren of the United Kingdom argued, on what were purportedly Leninist grounds, that capitalist imperialism, even in the form of direct colonial rule, performed a historically highly progressive role in non-European societies, economically, culturally, and politically: through capital exports it, laid the foundation for the development of the productive forces and of a vibrant, indigenously rooted capitalism. In the 21st century, some Marxist formations still claim that the anti-racism programme is based on “identity politics” and that the pursuit of an anti-racist agenda divides the working class in Europe and North America. This left is prostrate as the forces of white supremacy gain political ground in all parts of the white world.
Queen Elizabeth and the royal family played to the song that British imperial expansion and slavery had been good for humans. All over the Empire all subjects were brought up singing, “Rule Britannia, Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves, We Britons will never be slaves.”
The British worker in turn consumed the writings of media barons such as Lord Beaverbrook who also doubled up as a historian. Lord Beaverbrook and Winston Churchill were two favourite historians of British imperialism. The media drubbed the ideas of Beaverbrook and Churchill down the noses of the British workers, mobilizing them to be accessories to the crimes of imperialism. As a young person in Jamaica, I remember being wheeled out as a primary school pupil to wave to the Queen as she travelled to Beaverbrook’s Fairfield property in Montego Bay. Winston Churchill was a regular visitor to that property.
Winston Churchill was prime minister when Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1952. He had been the most vibrant of imperialists, fighting in the Sudan and South Africa for British colonial interests. At the height of the struggle for the independence of India in 1942, Churchill had stated clearly that “I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.”
All over the Empire all subjects were brought up singing, “Rule Britannia, Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves, We Britons will never be slaves.”
The liquidation of the empire was a long, brutal and painful exercise. From the first Elizabethan era, the British Empire, as one of the cradles of racial capitalism, had spread across the entire globe. By the start of the 20th century British imperialism dominated and exploited humans in 57 colonies, dominions, territories or protectorates from Australia, Canada and India to Ghana, Nigeria, Jamaica, Fiji, Western Samoa and Tonga. From London, the British extracted wealth from approximately 20 per cent of the world’s population and governed nearly 25 per cent of the world’s land mass. The British East India Company had presided over the destruction of Indian industry while the British imposed opium on the Chinese people purely to extract drug revenues. One of the first acts of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 was to personally shore up the spine of the Shah of Iran so that the British/US coup d’état against the Mossadegh government could proceed. The declassification of the role of the “Queen and the Coup” in Iran is one of those areas of historical research that needs to be undertaken.
It was in Africa, however, where the ideas of eugenics, white supremacy and the necessity for British charity had been refined. Be it the Boys Scouts, the Girl Guides, or the Salvation Army, the British monarch was always a supporter of Britain’s military-structured, organized youth. Queen Elizabeth II was only one of the monarchs who hid the wealth of the royal family behind garden parties and ceremonies as the patron of hundreds of charities. The modern humanitarian/military lobby depended on Queen Elizabeth to be the patron of their enterprises. This humanitarian industry is one of the principal branches of imperial capital with international non-governmental agencies being the foot soldiers of modern imperialism.
Queen Elizabeth’s assent was needed to enact the laws that restricted the right of picketing, prevented unions from bringing their members out in support of other unions, and introduced fines and asset seizures for unions that struck without a ballot. Racism, chauvinism and the support of racists from Enoch Powell to Liz Truss were needed to divide the British working people. Even the main voice of the US bourgeoisie, the New York Times, commented on the continuities of racism in Britain two days before the announcement of the death of the queen, writing, “The British Empire may have all but ended 60 years ago, but the country’s next prime minister is still in thrall to its legacy.”
A day after Queen Elizabeth asked Liz Truss to form a government as her 15th prime minister since Winston Churchill, she expired.
The Queen as a celebrity in the tradition of Hollywood
The American Revolution of 1776 had attempted to make a decisive break with the dynastic rule of the British monarch. After the War of Independence and the War of 1812, the US dropped its nomenclature as a British diaspora. However, after the economic crises of 1870 and 1913, when the British pound crashed, the alliance between Wall Street and the City of London rehabilitated the British monarchy in the eyes of US republican citizens. Hollywood and the Anglo-American media gave a new lease of life to the monarchy and one of the primary beneficiaries of this media alliance was Elizabeth who ascended the throne in 1952 after the debacle of the Second World War. This City of London/Wall Street alliance supported the exorbitant privilege of the dollar so that the US could pursue the military management of the international system. Together with the costume-dressed military guards of the royalty, the British military was a useful prop for US and British militarism in the era of “the special relationship”. Scholars who have studied this special relationship spell out five areas of cooperation between Britain and the USA: currency; nuclear cooperation, especially Trident and Polaris; joint signals intelligence (SIGINT) and communications intelligence (COMINT) manifest in global surveillance programs jointly operated by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ); joint military aggression as manifest in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan; and collaboration in media propaganda and disinformation. The Queen of England was a central prop for this media and propaganda alliance for over 70 years. One columnist, Karen Attiah of the Washington Post, condemned the “propaganda, fantasy, and ignorance” that have portrayed the Queen as a “symbol of decorum and stability” during her reign.
The alliance between Wall Street and the City of London rehabilitated the British monarchy in the eyes of US republican citizens.
That section of the US ruling elites whose roots go back to Ireland had opposed the propaganda and disinformation that was inscribed in the special relationship. In 2011, Elizabeth journeyed to the Irish Republic to conciliate the very strong Irish lobby within the US political circles. The struggles for national liberation in Ireland had been long, brutal and bloody so that by 1949 the Irish Republic did not want to be associated with the British, and hence Ireland is one of the ex-colonies of Britain that is not a member of the Commonwealth. While Britain and the US identified freedom fighters from Africa and Asia as terrorists, the British were never able to make the terrorist label stick to the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The Irish needed to be bound with global white supremacy in the era of anti-imperialism and anti-racism. Irish historians and playwrights were being wooed by Queen Elizabeth to erase the crimes of Empire and encourage the Irish to integrate into global whiteness, part of a long effort to make the Irish white.
Queen Elizabeth and the independence movements around the world
From the moment of her accession, Elizabeth was faced with the realities of the national liberation struggles. The mainstream historical record is replete with the stories of a beneficent queen granting independence to subjects in far-flung realms. The reality was very different. From her accession to the end, Elizabeth had to act as the titular Head of State to conservative and imperial prime ministers, from Winston Churchill to Liz Truss. The relationship between Britain and India is one of fierce contestation as contemporary barons of capital from India seek an alliance with the most racist sections of British capitalism. In the recent competition for the position of prime minister, Rishi Sunak represented that section of global Indian capital entwined with British capital that wanted to take the premiership of Great Britain. But the British conservatives were not ready for a brown person to be their constitutional leader. Queen Elizabeth’s last public act was to hand constitutional power to Liz Truss to be the Head of Government.
The relationship between Britain and India remains too toxic for British historians. Indian historians have been bringing down the weight of historical evidence to chronicle the crimes of Britain on the Indian sub-continent. Every major European country had established what they called East India companies. The Dutch East India Company, the French East India Company, The German East India Company and the British East India Company were all criminal institutions that orchestrated massive crimes in the world. It was, however, the British East India Company that stood out over the course of 200 years. The new historians from India have documented that the British siphoned off an amount of around US$45 trillion from India. Utsa Patnaik has documented historical evidence that the East India Company was formalized back in the early 17th century, enduring through the Raj from 1858 all the way to 1947.
The mainstream historical record is replete with the stories of a beneficent queen granting independence to subjects in far-flung realms.
Elizabeth had been vacationing in Kenya in 1952 when the Land and Freedom Army was fighting for independence from Britain. Most of the obituaries of Elizabeth sympathetically recounted how she went from being a princess on safari in Kenya to becoming Queen of Great Britain and the Empire. But the realities were very different. Before the anti-apartheid movement punctured the myth of white supremacy in South Africa, Queen Elizabeth had been the darling of the Cape Town set. Britain remained the primary international supporter of apartheid — in terms of investments, trade and military relations — of the apartheid governments from 1948 to 1994.
Queen Elizabeth and Africa
Looting Africa and kidnapping Africans had been central to the wealth and power of the British monarchy. In the present period of reparative history, economic historians of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in the USA have written long papers on whether British industrialization profited more from slave trading or from slave holding. Eric Williams, Oliver Cox, C.L. R James, W.E.B Dubois, Ed Baptist, Gerald Horne and Joseph E. Inikori are among the historians who have chronicled the foundations of racial capitalism and the reality that capitalism could not have triumphed without the racism that underpinned it through viciously enforced labour by the whip in order to produce the cotton, sugar and tobacco that spawned other industrial enterprises throughout Europe. In the main, European historians, both from the right and the left, remain uncomfortable with the proposition that it was not solely the ingenuity of British inventors that precipitated the industrial revolution and the capitalist mode of production.
Colonial historians from the London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) had covered up the intricate connections between slavery, capitalism and the monarchy. Walter Rodney’s book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa was a landmark text to implicate the imperial states in destruction, genocide and xenophobia. Hilary Beckles’ Britain’s Black Debt and his most recent book, How Britain Underdeveloped the Caribbean, have documented the role of the Crown and the British capitalist class in enslavement, colonialism and racism. That body of scholarship surged beyond the controlled output from mainstream historians.
Looting Africa and kidnapping Africans had been central to the wealth and power of the British monarchy.
Over the past several years, a series of books have reshaped how historians view the connection between the monarchy, empire, colonialism, slavery and capitalism. These texts have informed a younger generation of the crimes of the British and the complicity of the monarchy. While from Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria to South Africa and Uganda, news of Queen Elizabeth’s death was met with an outpouring of official condolences, mourning and recalling of memories of her frequent visits to Africa during her seven decades on the throne, there was an opposite response from the mass of the population. It was from social media that one got a sense of the overwhelming sentiment that was echoed by the Economic Freedom Fighters of South Africa. When she died, the EFF issued a statement declaring that Queen Elizabeth had been the “head of an institution built up, sustained and living off a brutal legacy of dehumanization of millions of people across the world”. The EFF noted that the death of Elizabeth was “a reminder of a very tragic period in this country and Africa’s history”.
This new history is now most vividly represented in the recent book by Caroline Elkins, Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire. In this book there is documentation of the legacy of empire “that left tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands dead”, and untold numbers of lives ruined by forced labour, starvation, torture and rape. In reprising the same depth of depravity that was revealed in King Leopold’s Ghost, Caroline Elkins documented how the use of violence was central to the spread and maintenance of the British Empire. Her earlier work, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya, documented the manner in which the national liberation struggles had been suppressed with mass internment and many executions. This exposure of British neo-fascism in Kenya comes after 70 years of British historical writing that represented Kenya as one of the beneficiaries of the rule of law and economic prosperity.
British historians working through Commissions and through foundations unleashed reams of texts and reports documenting the role of Britain in expanding the rule of law in Africa. Now, after the death of the Queen, hundreds of younger Africans from the Rhodes Must Fall generation draw attention to the regalia of the Queen and the linkages to the plunder of African minerals. Most of the youths across the planet would agree with the observation of Chris Hedges that,
Colonial historians from the London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) had covered up the intricate connections between slavery, capitalism and the monarchy.
“[The] Monarchy obscures the crimes of empire and wraps them in nostalgia. It exalts white supremacy and racial hierarchy. It justifies class rule. It buttresses an economic and social system that callously discards and often consigns to death those considered the lesser breeds, most of whom are people of color.”
Supporters of the Queen remarked in the period of the choreographed mourning that the Queen did not know about the crimes committed in her name. The media moguls wanted to have it both ways, representing the Queen as being astute and following details of the budgets and plans of successive prime ministers, but not being fully aware of British crimes under her reign.
King Charles III and the burden of historical crimes
At the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, the international tune noted that it was the end of an era. But the question needs to be posed: The end of what kind of era? Over the 70 years of the reign of Elizabeth II, British capital limped as the national liberation and decolonization forces limited the power and reach of the Crown. Chauvinism, white nationalism and xenophobia surged in Britain with a UK Independence Party emerging in the society. That formation could not thrive because the monarchy represented the same values that UKIP were championing. The conservative political leadership mobilized the British workers into a frenzy of nationalism to the point of leaving the European Union (BREXIT) and becoming the special partner of the United States in warfare.
With the duplicity of the British conservative forces, the elements that surged to the surface under Boris Johnson promoted the idea of Global Britain. According to the Tories, “Global Britain is about reinvesting in our relationships, championing the rules-based international order and demonstrating that the UK is open, outward-looking and confident on the world stage.” The management of “Operation London Bridge is down” was supposed to be one other moment to showcase Global Britain. However, the planners of the period of mourning and rituals of burial did not reckon with a mobilized anti-racist youth internationally. The Queen’s Global appeal and her longevity were presented by the media as the depiction of Global Britain. Global Britain replaced the concept of Great Britain. It is now clear that Britain is neither global, nor great, and as Stuart Hall has noted, “The very notion of Great Britain’s ‘greatness’ is bound up with empire.”
The planners of the period of mourning and rituals of burial did not reckon with a mobilized anti-racist youth internationally.
Scholars such as Caroline Elkins and Hilary Beckles are in the vanguard of a new reparative history. Britain is a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious and diverse society. It is not clear whether King Charles III and the monarchy will survive this new era of reparative healing and social justice. The survival of the 315-year-old United Kingdom itself is not necessarily assured. In the period of COVID, inflation, energy crisis, warfare, and the cuddling of billionaires, it could be said that the presence of Queen Elizabeth II had spared Britain the possibility of the emergence of a right-wing politician such as Donald Trump in the US or Victor Orban in Hungary. King Charles III has acceded to the throne at a moment of the deepest collapse of living standards for the British working peoples since the Great Depression. It is not clear that King Charles III as a member of the billionaire class can reinvent the role in preserving social and political stability, especially in this time of decline of British capital. The important lesson from Belgium and King Leopold is that the absence of reparative history sent the society down the road of right-wing nationalism and irreconcilable divisions between the Flemish and French-speaking sections of the population.
When he was Prince Charles of Wales, he stated at the Commonwealth conference in Kigali in June 2022 that,
“The roots of our contemporary association run deep into the most painful period of our history. I cannot describe the depths of my personal sorrow at the suffering of so many as I continue to deepen my own understanding of slavery’s enduring impact. If we are to forge a common future that benefits all our citizens, we too must find ways, new ways, to acknowledge our own past. Quite simply, this is a conversation whose time has come.”
Was this a speech written for him or did he mean what he said in Barbados and Kigali about the deep personal sorrow? As King, Charles is now the head of the House of Windsor; he can go beyond “personal sorrow”. The presentation in Kigali suggests that he has recognized the poisoned legacy of the British Royal family, of which his mother, Queen Elizabeth II was the most determined and astute defender.
King Charles III must come clean and offer genuine apology to all those that suffered under British slavers, colonizers and economic criminal exploiters. This apology will be an important step in the direction of reparative justice, demilitarization and racial healing.