Judging by the current discussion about whether Australia should change its status from Commonwealth nation to republic, one can easily get the impression that such a change will either automatically solve the country’s problems or make them worse than they are at present.
The Times Atlas of the World (1989) lists 154 countries. Of these, 114 are republics. There are six, including Australia, listed as Commonwealth nations. Two, New Zealand and Canada, are dominions.
A question of flags
The Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is composed of the crosses of St George of England, St Patrick of Ireland and St Andrew of Scotland. The Union Jack is included in the flags of Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and Tuvalu.
The people of Scotland fought for years against the English invaders and when defeated were declared to be a part of Great Britain in 1707. Fairly recently, the Scots have, by ballot, declared their desire to be independent.
The people of Ireland fought against the English invaders but after defeat Ireland was declared to be part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain by the Act of Union in 1801. In the north, a struggle is continuing to force the English invaders to get out and to take the Union Jack with them. The flag of the Republic of Ireland (Eire) does not have any resemblance to the Union Jack Wales, after subjection by English landlords, was forcibly joined to England by an Act of Union in 1536.
Thus it is clear that the Union Jack never ever represented the real feelings of the people of Scotland, Ireland and Wales. It was a reflection of the brutal aggression of English invaders, aggression extending over its whole history and many parts of the world.
Not until 1833 did the British Government decide on the abolition of slavery. Under the Union Jack, millions were captured, torn from their homes and families, brutally treated and sold to foreign slave masters.
It is cheap rhetoric for those in Australia who claim that the fighting of the Australian army against the forces of Germany and Japan was stimulated or brought about by the presence of the Union Jack in the top left corner of the Australian flag.
The retention of the Union Jack in the Australian flag has come to symbolise in some measure the struggle over whether Australia should become a republic. Monarchies, world wide, have been almost entirely eliminated. The call for a republic in Australia is in line with that development.
What difference will a republic make?
The basic question to be asked, however, is: “If Australia becomes a republic, the 115th in the world, cutting its ties with the outmoded British monarchy, adopting a flag without the foreign Union Jack, what real difference will it make to the working people of this country?”
What is the difference, if any, between the present 114 republics in existence and the countries which are not republics? The cold hard fact is that there is no basic difference between them.
For example, what essential difference is there between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the republican United States of America? Both have the same economic and political system — capitalism. Both have masses of unemployment, people sleeping in the streets and large numbers living in dire poverty.
Indonesia and India, both republics, have endured massive poverty and suffering for many years. They are spoken of as backward countries. Republican status has done nothing to relieve their suffering.
The United States, a republic and generally regarded as the most advanced country, has huge unemployment, endemic violent crime, lacking affordable medical care for the bulk of the population. US military bases dominate countries throughout the world, including republics. The US blockades the socialist Republic of Cuba and restricts freedom of trade with the Republic of Vietnam.
The leading kingdom in the world, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, has its huge unemployment and poverty and has a history of dominating foreign people such as India, Egypt and other African states.
Clearly then the status of a republic in no way means that real democracy will be carried out. Throughout the capitalist world - kingdoms, dominions, emirates, confederations, sultanates or republics of varying titles - names count for little if anything. It is the system operating in the country that is the determining factor. The Queen, King or President do not determine whether the people will have a happy and fruitful life; the economic and political system determines that.
Should Australia become a republic?
The current question is “should Australia become a republic? This poses the question: should Australia become a nation in its own right, independent of the authority of any other country.
Concretely, should any externally appointed authority have the right to dismiss the democratically elected government of Australia as was the Whitlam Government in 1975 by the Queen of a foreign country?
All democrats will agree that such foreign domination must cease. Australia must decide its own destiny. A change from the status of a Commonwealth nation to a republic would be a step in this direction, a progressive step.
Australia today is a multicultural country, a rich blend of the cultures of many lands. The argument that it is populated by migrants from or descendants of the people of the United Kingdom has steadily lost strength with the inflow of migrants from many other countries. Arguments to retain the monarchy ignore the Aborigines who were here thousands of years before Captain Cook “took possession” of their land in the name of a foreign king.
There is therefore no logical reason, economic or political, why Australia should not sever outmoded relations with the United Kingdom by becoming a republic and there is every indication that the Australian people will follow the world example in throwing off the remnants of a bygone era and become a republic. That should be supported.
What kind of changes?
But will such a change automatically have a beneficial effect on the living standards of the working people? Some leading advocates of the republic maintain that it will. Will a republic automatically get rid of the unemployment and poverty that stalks the country?
While some leading advocates of the republic maintain that it will, in reality republicanism is only a tidying up. What will grow in place of the dead wood cleared away requiries other choices and actions.
Establishing Australia as a republic will not change the Labor Government’s economic policies, will not end foreign domination, will not break our military and political ties with the United States, will not remove the US bases or ensure our cultural independence.
A republic can be a first step towards these aims and lay the basis for them if — and only if — the struggle for an Australian republic is given a deeper social content, if it is turned into a battle for social justice for the democratic guarantees, for economic justice and so forth.
A socialist future
The country of Korea is divided into two republics, with the socialist republic in the north and the capitalist republic in the south. The same language is spoken in both. This division reflects the choice facing the whole world — capitalism or socialism. They are two systems that exist in the world today and from which the choice of the future has to be made.
When Australia gains the status of a republic, it faces the question of deciding on the way forward.
Life does not stand still and, in spite of local, even major, setbacks, shows that socialism, socialist ideas and parties campaigning for socialism are growing and that capitalism is declining.
Socialism is not yet on the agenda for Australia but every effort must be made to win the people to see that the way out of the crises that are endemic in capitalism can only be working for socialism.
This entails much effort in propaganda and organisation of the working class to fight for improvements in their present living standards. This activity against the class enemy will bring home to the working people that in unity lies strength and that struggle against capitalism and for socialism can be won only by united action against the class enemy.
The overriding idea to be worked for is to win the working people to become conscious of the need to change from a capitalist society to the future of a socialist Australia.