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From The Socialist newspaper, 5 April 2002

Thatcher - Destroyer of industry and champion of the rich

"THE QUEEN is dead; long live the King". Not one but two political departures and obituaries have been accorded Thatcher, hated initiator and symbol of the capitalist counter-revolution against the rights and conditions of the working class in Britain and worldwide in the last two decades.

Peter Taaffe, general secretary, Socialist Party

The first was when the mighty anti-poll tax revolt in Britain, with 18 million non-payers and led by Militant (the bulk of whom are now members and leaders of the Socialist Party), consigned her to political oblivion in 1990.

On that occasion the mood was ecstatic amongst working people who believed that the political "Dark Ages" had finally come to an end. At London Bridge Station, the tannoy announced that she had resigned and people "danced down the escalators"!

There was spontaneous cheering, and nearly a party on the platform. Workers held meetings and walked out of factories, while Glasgow students walked out at dinnertime to hold a party outside the local Tory offices.

Press commentators speculated that it was Europe and any other number of issues that toppled her. But Thatcher, in her memoirs of her last years in power, acknowledged that it was the poll tax that did for her.

She wrote: "[We] did not believe that Europe was the main [issue]: it would not be crucial in a general election. Most people were worried about the community charge and that something substantial could be done about that.

"I intervened to say that I could not pull rabbits out of a hat in five days. John MacGregor supported me: I could not now promise a radical overhaul of the community charge, no matter how convenient it seemed." Facing an electoral massacre if she remained, Tory MPs plunged in the dagger and she was gone.

But, it seems, not completely as she continued on the 'fringe' to haunt Tory conferences and the Tory leaders that followed her. Now the 'Mummy' will never return; doctors have instructed her to give up all speaking engagements and any lingering hope of a further 'political life'.

And yet, like John Brown's body, her body may be a-mouldering in the grave but her spirit lingers on. What is Blair and his policies but Thatcherism with a grimace?

Thatcher came to power not to 'modernise' Britain, but in order to redress the class balance of forces in the 1970s in favour of the rich, the bosses and the capitalists. Never again, reasoned the capitalist leaders of Britain, would they experience the humiliation they felt at the hands of the miners in the 1972 and 1974 strikes. They got their revenge in the defeat of the miners' strike of 1984-85.

However, that was not preordained. Thatcher was lucky in her opponents; Galtieri, the Argentinean general who invaded the Falklands in 1982, led an even more incompetent dictatorial regime than her own.

In Britain she also confronted the trade union leaders, 'generals' of the working class movement, whose idea of giving battle to the capitalist enemy was from the outset to raise the white flag.

Class brutality

THATCHER WAS determined to defeat the miners as a means of cowing the British working class. The struggle of the miners between 1984 and 1985 was of epic proportions. If only these lions had not been let down by the right-wing donkeys of the TUC.

Thatcher, to paraphrase the Roman historian Tacitus, "created a desolation and called it peace". The pit villages of Yorkshire, South Wales and Scotland, with the guts torn out of them, plagued by unemployment, drug addiction and social disintegration, are still monuments to the defeat of the strike.

On a national scale it was as if an invading army had left in its wake an industrial wasteland, unprecedented social turmoil and the ruined lives of millions.

The brutal treatment of the miners was followed by the smashing of the printworkers at the behest of press baron Murdoch, the abolition of the Greater London Council and effective local government, the isolation, defeat and disqualification of the heroic 47 councillors in Liverpool, the banning of trade unions at GCHQ and the introduction of the most repressive anti-union laws in the whole of the industrialised world.

These arose in the main not from any 'personal' qualities or lack of them by Thatcher but were determined by the decline of ailing British capitalism. Capitalism as a whole approved of what she was doing. The 'liberal' capitalist critics of Thatcher objected more to her 'tone' than the real content of what she did to the British working class.

Thatcher invested her measures with a brutality and class venom that enraged working-class people and continues to do so to this day. Moreover, the capitalists paid a heavy price for Thatcher's preoccupation with mad monetarist ideas, strict control of the money supply, no subsidies to industry, etc.

The consequence was the collapse of manufacturing industry by 14% in the crisis of 1981-83. British capitalism has never recovered from the blows that she inflicted.

There was an aroused, and deep-seated hatred, not just of Thatcherism but of the Tory party and all that it stands for. Its last two leaders have been joke figures. Its current leader IDS is more of a stand-up comedian than a serious politician as he seeks to convince us that the Tories now "represent the poor"!

Blairism

THATCHERISM, AS personified by Thatcher and her heirs in the Tory party, is utterly discredited. However, Thatcherism in the form of Blairism is the major vehicle of the British ruling class.

Blair has transformed the Labour Party into a capitalist party. He has gone much further than Thatcher herself in privatising industries she dared not touch, for example air traffic control.

Rather than abolishing Thatcher's iniquitous anti-union laws the Blair government if anything, has reinforced them.

It is no accident that Blair has joined hands with the hated right-wing prime ministers of Italy and Spain, Berlusconi and Aznar. Italian workers refer to Blair as "Blairsconi" and his party as "Forza Blairi". Berlusconi wants to abolish article 18 of the labour laws, which gives Italian workers the right to go to tribunal against 'unjust' sackings and get them overturned.

The "Anglo-Saxon model" of neo-liberalism is the one first introduced by Thatcher. Blair is the high priest of this credo in Europe and throughout the world at the present time.

Just as the author of these ideas earned the scorn of the British people Blair, a second edition of Thatcher, is well on the way to receiving the same kind of treatment. In the last opinion poll 54% of the population believe that he is a "disappointment" as prime minister. He is an unapologetic, blatant spokesperson of capitalism.

The Italian workers in mighty demonstrations, such as the three million that engulfed Rome on 23 March, showed the mass rejection of Thatcherism and its modern exponents Blair, Berlusconi and Aznar. This movement, which is only in its first beginnings, will shatter the present phase of capitalist globalisation and the neo-liberal policies that go with it.

Under the impact of a worsening economic crisis and a mighty re-emerging working class, even the capitalists will be compelled to search for 'reformist' alternatives, going back to the pre-Thatcher period, of "managed capitalism", for solutions to the insoluble contradictions of capitalism.

Thatcher herself is utterly discredited and in the next period any lingering support for her ideas will meet a similar fate. The ruling class can twist and turn, searching for an alternative within the confines of their system.

For the working class however, the solution lies in breaking out of the framework of capitalism and opening up the road for a new society, a socialist society. Once this is achieved, as it will be, monuments to Thatcher and Thatcherism will be put in a museum of antiquities alongside other examples of capitalist barbarism.

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In The Socialist 5 April 2002:

New Labour: The Bosses' Friend

Hands Off the Post Office

Sharon Escalates War Against Palestinians

Thatcher - Destroyer of industry and champion of the rich


 

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