by George Laver
On Wednesday 18 May, the ceremonial state opening of parliament accompanied by the Queen’s speech took place. Pomposity and excessive grandeur aside, what it meant for the radical mind was something altogether divergent from the norm; a fresh load of unpicking and semantics in which to delve in order to blow away the proverbial smoke from the mirror. The point of interest, however, came with the Queen’s declaration – without a hint of irony – that we all must “live within our means”. Undoubtedly, this opened up a lot of questions to be answered – whose means? what is this statement saying? why are we to live within them? – within the broader context of class society.
The first question that should be answered is this: why was the statement the epitome of irony? And the answer is simple, because it came from the mouth of a woman who has the privilege of living out her days in superfluous luxury, as all monarchs do. The proportion of expenditure of the national income for her upkeep stands at no less than £334 million , a figure which accounts for all of the undeclared and hidden expenditures in governmental accounts. Her Crown Estate is one of the most lucrative property regimes in the country, standing with a capital income of approximately £11.5 billion – and that is just one of her properties, excluding all else.
Any defence at this point, such as, “but this forms a minimal cost per person per day!”, is to disregard the nature and purpose of questioning regimes that predispose somebody to a royal lifestyle, including entitlement to property empires all through a luck of the draw at birth. Some simple facts have been laid on the table, and on top of this the same figurehead has the bravado to declare that we must all “live within our means”. Her statement in this light is nothing but a gentle nod to the elite who are perfectly content with people being refined to the constraints of their wage packet and those hit by welfare sanctions to accept the shafting that the government ecstatically provides.
What further issues are raised by this? First of all, it is critical to remember that the system in which we live is one of tripartite character: property, wage-labour, and the state. All three of these move in ultimately contradictory and frictional motion, particularly in the relations between property and wage-labour. The statement that we must “live within our means” is one that ultimately concerns wage-labour, and so that is the one which must be answered.
Until then, “our means” will be the remains of a skeleton from which we are demanded to acquire meat.
If by “our means” we imply that predisposal to access of goods and services is correspondingly established by our wage packet (or, for those on welfare, what they are left with), then the argument will stand to reason. As such, if we are to “live within our means”, it implies that we cannot but consume within the parameters of what is left once income has been pulled apart: secretly by indemnities to the employer (surplus value, to which we aren’t entitled), secondly by the state in tax, thirdly by rent to any landlords, and finally by payments owed to utility companies and food stores. The latter three things – a roof, utilities, and food – are really, once the superfluities of landlord, politician, and employer have been removed, the most basic things required for survival. Knowing that we consume before we produce, it remains to the absurd that we are automatically expected to owe the proprietor and statesmen for our survival.
This is a portion of the legacy left by the “social contract”, and it largely denies two things: a) that people are entitled to all that they produce, and b) that the cost of “protection” afforded by the state is paid for too dearly. As Rudolph Rocker quite rightly said, ‘[…] there can be no talk of a “right over one’s own person,” for that right ends when one is compelled to submit to the economic dictation of another if he does not want to starve.’ This is quite the state of affairs in which we find ourselves, economically dependent on the will of the proprietor, accompanied by a state which preys open-eyed on the miseries of a population that is compelled to surrender a hundred different fragments of the product of their work to but a few thieves and usurpers. How are we, then, to “live within our means” when our means are dissected by predators that have not the right nor the virtue to govern and demand from us before we have taken our first steps? It would be quite a different state of affairs first if those who produced were enabled the entitlement to the full value of it and secondly if parasites were removed in proper fashion and consigned to history. Until then, “our means” will be the remains of a skeleton from which we are demanded to acquire meat.
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