By Julie Hyland and Chris Marsden, wsws.org
Margaret Thatcher, the friend of Chile’s fascist dictator General Augusto Pinochet and supporter of the apartheid system of racial discrimination in South Africa, has died of a stroke at the age of 87.
Neither the media’s eulogies to Thatcher as a great stateswoman, nor the staging of a day of national mourning complete with military honours, can conceal the fact that she died arguably the most hated figure in British politics.
Most working people will have greeted the announcement of her demise with cold indifference, contempt, and, in some cases, celebration. Impromptu street parties were underway in several cities within hours of her death.
Comparisons have been made repeatedly between Thatcher and Winston Churchill. They are inappropriate. A right-wing defender of British imperialism, not even Churchill’s opponents would deny his obvious political stature. At a time of acute crisis, he was able to invoke history and make an appeal to social layers far beyond his natural constituency in the ruling elite. In contrast there is not a single intelligent remark that can be cited as coming from Thatcher, only inane sound-bites tailored to a supportive press such as “The lady’s not for turning.”
Margaret Hilda Roberts embodied everything that is narrow-minded and philistine in the English middle class. She was preoccupied solely with self-advancement and enrichment, owing much of her success to having secured a rich husband. Her political talents, such as they were, consisted of the nasty cunning and ruthlessness of the social climber.
Of far more interest than her personal biography are the historical circumstances that enabled such a relative non-entity and political sociopath—epitomised by her declaration, “There is no such thing as society”—to rise to such a position of prominence.
Thatcher’s ascent to the leadership of the Conservative Party in 1975 expressed the right-wing shift in British and international politics that developed with the receding of the wave of explosive class struggles that had wracked Europe between 1968 and 1975. She was the chosen vessel of the most corrupt and reactionary elements within the British ruling class—those most bitter at her predecessor Edward Heath’s defeat by the miners’ strike of 1974.
Thatcher is indelibly associated with the presidency of Ronald Reagan—with her espousal of the monetarism of Milton Friedman complementing the pursuit of “Reaganomics” in the United States. Aimed at removing all limits on private wealth accumulation, her premiership (1979-1990) was conducted under the banner of “rolling back” the frontiers of socialism. By this was meant the overturning of all the social gains won by the working class in the post-war period.
Her political appeal, such as it was, was directed primarily to a section of the upper middle class who were promised a get-rich-quick scheme to be funded by tax cuts, a fire-sale of public assets, and a speculative boom. The destruction of industry and deregulation of the City of London was accompanied by union-busting, attacks on welfare and an aggressive assertion of the interests of British imperialism. The result was mass unemployment and violent class conflict.
Among Thatcher’s crimes now being airbrushed from the historical record by the media was her key role in the death by starvation of Sinn Fein MP Bobby Sands and nine other prisoners of the British state in Northern Ireland in 1981. One year later, she launched, for electoral advantage, the war against Argentina over the Malvinas/Falkland islands, during which the retreating ARA General Belgrano light cruiser was deliberately sunk outside the exclusion zone arbitrarily imposed by the UK, at the cost of 323 lives. Thatcher’s South Atlantic adventure led to 900 deaths and forever scarred the lives of many more.
Portrayed as the “Iron Lady”, Thatcher’s great advantage, which accounted for all her much vaunted victories, was that she only ever confronted enemies that were determined to lose.
This was certainly the case with the Argentine Junta. And most important of all, her assault on the working class enjoyed the active support of the labour and trade union bureaucracy. Electorally she relied on the formation of the Social Democratic Party by a section of the Labour Party to stay in power, but above all she depended on the systematic demobilisation of mass opposition to her government by Labour in alliance with the Trades Union Congress.
This reached its climax in the isolation and betrayal of the year-long miners’ strike in 1984-85, during which some 20,000 miners were injured, 13,000 arrested, 200 imprisoned, almost 1,000 summarily sacked, and two were killed on picket lines.
The miners’ defeat was the signal for the open abandonment by the trade unions and Labour of any defence of the social interests of the working class. “New realism” became the code-word for renouncing any notion of class struggle and workers’ solidarity, the embrace of the “free market” and Labour’s transformation into an overt right-wing party of big business.
Even as Labour was busy adopting “Thatcherism”, however, her perspective was unravelling.
In the absence of any opposition from the Labour Party and the unions, it was left to her own deeply-divided party to unceremoniously dump her in 1990 in order to stave off electoral disaster. By then, the socially destructive consequences of Thatcher’s retrograde economic and social nostrums were all too apparent. In little more than a decade, the conditions of the working class had been sharply reversed in the interests of the financial aristocracy. Whole areas of the country had been turned into industrial wastelands, scarred by poverty and low-wage employment. Britain was well on the way to being transformed into a global centre for the criminal activities of the super-rich—a haven for the likes of Rupert Murdoch and innumerable Russian oligarchs.
Intellectual and cultural life was degraded almost beyond recognition.
In the ensuing years, the unstable foundations of the Thatcherite economic model—the massive accumulation of fictitious capital, unrelated to any development of economic production, and an explosion in credit-fuelled debt—were to produce a series of crises on the global stock markets. Nonetheless, Thatcher’s policies were continued and deepened by Labour under Tony Blair, her self-proclaimed political heir.
Much more can and will be said. But five years on from the 2008 financial crash, with mass austerity the order of the day, any objective appraisal makes clear that Thatcher’s real legacy is the greatest economic and social crisis wrought by capitalism since the first half of the 20th century.
Nothing whatsoever remains of her stupid and wholly insincere promises of “popular capitalism”, of Britain as a “home-owning democracy” with prosperity for all secured through the “trickle-down” of wealth and the “miracle of the market.” Posterity will record her as having presided over the initial stages of an on-going putrefaction of bourgeois social and political life.
Julie Hyland and Chris Marsden are political analysts with wsws,org, information arm of the Social Equality Party.
by Stephen Lendman
Thatcherism represents Chicago School fundamentalism writ large. She’s gone. She won’t be missed. She launched a corporatist revolution. She headed Britain down a slippery slope toward unfettered predatory capitalism.
She transferred public wealth to private hands. She privatized British Telecom, British Gas, British Airways, British Steel and other state enterprises.
She force-fed deregulation. She cut social benefits. She enacted corporate-friendly tax cuts. She cracked down hard on non-believers. She waged war on labor.
In 1984, she unleashed thousands of truncheon-wielding riot police against striking coal miners. Doing so sent a message. Worker rights no longer mattered. “New realism” became code language. Free market fundamentalism was policy.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron twisted truth saying:
“Margaret Thatcher’s government was defined by taking the side of the people against the powerful, the vested interests – those whose survival depended on keeping things as they were.”
Wall Street Journal editors called her “Maggie the great….The woman who save Britain with a message of freedom.”
New York Times editors said she was “a pathbreaker from the moment she took office.” She “sparked” a “capitalist revival.”
According to Washington Post editors, she was “in every sense a leader.”
John Pilger was right saying:
“Margaret Thatcher’s government was defined by overseeing the greatest ever transfer of wealth from the bottom of society to the top.”
“In the name of little people, she handed billions to the richest in tax cuts and de-regulation, a theft from which Britain has never recovered.”
Indeed not. Millions of ordinary Brits today are worse off than ever in modern times. What Thatcher began, Tories and New Labour continue. Robbing poor Peter to pay rich Paul is policy. So is allying with America’s imperial wars.
In 1975, Thatcher rose to Conservative Party leadership. She was prime minister from May 4, 1979 to November 28, 1990. She was Britain’s longest-serving PM. She was the only woman to serve in that capacity. She waged war on social democracy.
She was called “The Iron Lady” for good reason. On October 10, 1980, she told parliament:
“To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the ‘U-turn’, I have only one thing to say: “You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.”
Saying it defined her ideological harshness. It became a Thatcherite motto. She never looked back. She was unapologetic. She cared little about ordinary Brits. It showed and then some.
On January 31, 1976, she said:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you tonight in my red chiffon evening gown, my face softly made up, my fair hair gently waved – the Iron Lady of the Western World.”
“Me? A Cold War warrior? Well, yes – if that is how they wish to interpret my defense of values of freedoms fundamental to our way of life.”
On March 31, 1982, she said:
“I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.”
To this day, she remains a polarizing figure. She was hardline, unbending, divisive, bellicose and heartless. She influenced South Africa’s Nelson Mandela.
After release from prison he said:
“I am a loyal and disciplined member of the African National Congress. I am therefore in full agreement with all of its (social justice) objectives, strategies and tactics.”
“There must be an end to white monopoly political power and a fundamental restructuring of our political and economic systems to ensure that the inequalities of apartheid are addressed and our society thoroughly democratized.”
He quoted his own 1964 words, saying he was prepared to die for “a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.”
On May 10, 1994, two weeks after taking office, he addressed parliament. He endorsed ANC Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP) socioeconomic issues.
They included democracy, growth, development, reconstruction, redistribution and reconciliation. Specific concerns were housing, healthcare, land reform, jobs, education, public works, clean water, and electrification.
He called RDP principles the “centerpiece of what this Government will seek to achieve, the focal point on which our attention will be continuously focused.”
As president, he reneged. He surrendered to finance capital. Thatcherism became policy. Promised social reforms were abandoned. Long-suffering apartheid victims were spurned.
Thatcher’s Britain became a cutthroat capitalist laboratory. She believed markets work best unfettered of rules, regulations, onerous taxes, trade barriers, and human interference.
The best government is none at all. Whatever it can do, business does better so let it. Public wealth should be in private hands. Profit-making should be unrestrained.
Corporate taxes should be cut or abolished. Social services should he curtailed or ended. Economic freedom is an end in itself. It’s indispensable toward achieving political freedom.
Union busting became policy. Waging war on labor followed. She called unions “the enemy within.” She revived jingoism. She waged war to control Argentina’s Las Malvinas.
She championed colonialism. She supported apartheid. She called the African National Congress a terrorist organization. She supported Chilean despot Augusto Pinochet.
She unleashed death squads against Northern Ireland’s Republican separatists. She let hunger striker IRA activist/British MP Bobby Sands and nine other prisoners starve to death. She didn’t give a damn if they lived or died.
She launched a neoliberal revolution. She began what’s now broken. She turned Britain into an industrial wasteland. It became deindustrialized. She helped financialize it. She initiated a process of transforming it into a low-wage service economy.
Britain today is troubled. It’s headed for tyranny and ruin. It’s a testimony to her legacy. Her ideological extremism caused widespread human wreckage.
She opposed market-interfering democracy, egalitarian principles, government-provided social services, workers free from bosses, citizens from dictatorship, and countries from colonialism.
She endorsed economic freedom as a be-all-and-end-all. She believed limited government and unrestrained profit-making refects the essence of democracy.
She called social democracy, collectivism, socialism, and welfare state economies the road to serfdom. It produces “bondage and misery.” It’s “coercion,” not “freedom.”
It was hokum. It’s what today’s ideologues profess. Exploitation is the price of “economic freedom.” It’s the flip side of unfettered capitalism. It creates horrific human wreckage.
Living standards are lowered. Vital benefits are lost. Poverty and unemployment rise. So does human misery.
Thatcherism is unforgiving. Corporatism subverts democracy. It’s the best money can buy. It’s more fantasy than reality. Free market fundamentalism alone matters.
Social decay follows. So does growing human need. Rule of law principles, human rights, and other democratic values erode. Wealth extremes become unprecedented.
Poverty, unemployment, hunger, homelessness, and deprivation grow. Out-of-control militarism rages. Corporate and government corruption flourish. Ordinary people lose out.
Checks and balances are abandoned. Money power rules. It’s unchallenged. It has final say. Media scoundrels don’t explain. They substitute managed news misinformation for truth and full disclosure.
Thatcher remained unapologetic to the end. Never have so many suffered from the ideological flimflam she endorsed.
Neoliberal poison ravages world economies. It’s globalized injustice. It reflects capitalism’s dark side. It’s worse today than ever.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.
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