The British royal family is up in arms – excuse the pun – over old video footage that shows the young Queen Elizabeth giving a Heil Hitler salute. A photograph published on its front page by British tabloid newspaper The Sun has caused a storm of controversy, with the British monarchy denouncing it as an invasion of privacy. But the real significance is that the image shows how Western so-called democracies were – and still are – so close to embracing fascism.
The video in question is believed to be dated around 1933, when the present British head of state was then a six-year-old princess. She is seen apparently playing with her family in the monarchy’s Balmoral estate, Scotland. With her right arm outstretched, the young Elizabeth is pictured giving the infamous Heil Hitler salute. At that time, Adolf Hitler had just ascended to power to become Chancellor of Germany and was already implementing his repressive regime. The Nazi Reich would in a few short years annex neighbouring European countries and ignite the Second World War. In 1933, the Nazi Reich was also embarking on its genocidal programme of mass extermination of peoples designated as «untermenschen» (sub-human).
Defenders of the British monarch have dismissed the grainy images of the young queen giving a Nazi salute as «horseplay». They point out that the princess and her mother and sister are smiling while performing the salute, and therefore the image could be understood as a parody of Herr Hitler.
A royal spokesman said of the images: «This is a family playing and momentarily referencing a gesture many would have seen from contemporary news reels. No one at that time had any sense how it would evolve. To imply anything else is misleading and dishonest. The Queen is around six years of age at the time and entirely innocent of attaching any meaning to these gestures».
That explanation is only partially mitigating. Yes, it would be misplaced to condemn a young child for making the gesture. She would obviously not have been aware of its vile significance.
Nonetheless, it is important to understand the image as more than a mere historical oddity, as British royalists and the British mainstream media would have us believe.
What the 82-year-old footage betrays is the sinister close association that the British ruling class engaged in with fascism. And this was not some aberrant association pertaining to the distant 1930s. The fascist tendency of the British state is still very much alive today. And not just in Britain, but right across so-called European democracies, and indeed in the United States.
We only have to look at how the present European Union leadership – dominated by Germany – is meting out wholesale economic destruction and plundering of Greece over the «debt crisis». Greece’s democracy is being vanquished under the dictate of European and global finance capital. The country’s national assets and resources are being expropriated by foreign powers with absolute contempt for the democratic mandate of the Greek public.
We can also look at how Britain, the EU and Washington are sponsoring a Neo-Nazi regime in Ukraine, plying it with diplomatic, financial and military support to wage a murderous war of aggression on an ethnic Russian population.
Back in Britain, Queen Elizabeth, now aged 89, just recently passed into law the economic program of the Conservative government. Prime Minister David Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne – both millionaires and the embodiment of the British ruling class, like the queen herself – are forcing a draconian austerity regime that will cut public services, wages and social welfare way beyond what has prevailed over the past five years. The British government’s economic policy – or perhaps the more appropriate word is «onslaught» – has been condemned by trade unions, human rights groups and charities as a vicious attack on an increasingly impoverished British society.
Cameron’s government – which was re-elected in May by only 24 per cent of the voting electorate – has been described as a «parliamentary dictatorship» whose over-riding objective is to siphon off even more national wealth to the richest top one per cent, while driving the majority into deeper poverty. Cameron is also now legislating to outlaw public sector workers from being able to hold industrial strike action to defend their dwindling livelihoods.
Meanwhile, it emerges that the British government has been secretly ordering its military air force to carry out bombing raids on Syria, along with American warplanes. The British move is not only in contravention of international law, it upends a prohibition from its own parliament on any such military intervention in Syria – a sovereign country that has not attacked Britain.
So add it up. A British ruling regime that has dubious democratic mandate, which is pulverising the majority of workers, unemployed, pensioners and poor for the enrichment of a tiny social elite, and which is at the same time bombing foreign countries at will in violation of international law –that is surely a sign of the real despotic nature of political power operating in Britain.
To get back to the Nazi-saluting British royals. Also pictured in the images is the young queen’s uncle, Edward. Three years after the images were taken, he was crowned King Edward VIII in 1936. But after less than a year on the British throne he was forced to abdicate over his scandalous affair with the American divorcée Wallis Simpson. (She wasn’t divorced at the time and was legally still married to her estranged husband.)
It is well documented that Edward VIII was a fervent supporter of Hitler and German fascism. He engaged in correspondence with the Führer, and in 1937 following his abdication he travelled to Germany where he was given a guard of honour by Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and other SS commanders. Edward – by then relegated to the status of a British duke – was photographed giving Nazi salutes. At a further meeting with the Führer at the latter’s mountain fortress at Obersalzberg, the British royal guest plotted with the Nazi leadership to reinstall him as Britain’s king if Nazi Germany succeeded in defeating England in an eventual war, according to The Independent.
The disgraced British aristocrat was by no means a maverick. There was a consensus among Britain’s ruling class during the 1930s that quietly but enthusiastically endorsed Hitler and fascism as a bulwark against democracy and socialism in particular. Hitler’s rabid anti-communism and pathological hatred of the Soviet Union was seen as a strategic weapon by not only Britain’s rulers but also by American and other European capitalist elite.
Only days before the latest uproar over the British royal Nazi salute, the monarchy was embroiled in another public relations gaffe. The queen’s husband, 94-year-old Prince Philip, while on some public engagement last week, met a group of community workers from a rundown London district. The politically incorrect prince quipped to the female group: «So, who are you spongeing off then?» Spongeing is a derogatory British colloquialism for people who scrounge money off the state.
That gaffe says everything about the pervasive and contemptuous attitude among Britain’s rulers towards the ordinary public, as seen most graphically in the brutal economic austerity policies being imposed by the incumbent Conservative government. The public, in their elitist view, is simply a mass of people that must be crushed to serve the privileged interests of the elite.
But this superior – supremacist – British attitude and its total disdain for the wider population is extant elsewhere in Europe, the US and increasingly across the so-called democratic Western world. As with Greece, democracy is being crushed in order to serve an elite financial oligarchy; while in the US, foul-mouthed, warmongering multimillionaires backed by Wall Street capital are the only ones who have the exclusive privilege of running for president.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth’s fascist salute as a young princess is not just a sign of historical times in the distant past. It is a sign of the present times where fascism is the ideology lurking behind the facade of Western democracy.