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A Rabid Cold War Warrior
IF YOU believe the eulogies from Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, the Pope and Tony Blair, then Ronald Reagan, who died last week, was 'a man of peace, of vision, a freedom fighter who liberated the 'communist' world, and a friend of Britain'.
In reality, the former two-term US president - who starred alongside a chimpanzee in the 1951 film Bedtime for Bonzo - was a rabid, cold war warrior and a servant of the capitalists, who through his 'voodoo economics' of the 1980s enriched themselves at the expense of the working class.
Here's a potted history of the counter-revolutionary.
IN 1980, before his election, Reagan wrote to the air traffic controllers' union PATCO saying how much he looked forward to working with the union.
In 1981 the union took strike action. Air traffic had risen by 20% between 1978-81 without any increase in staffing or equipment. Now president, Reagan responded by sacking the entire 11,000 members of PATCO and its leaders were hauled off to jail, literally in chains.
EMULATING MARGARET Thatcher's 'monetarist' or 'supply side' economics Reagan's administration set about destroying welfare, job security and the trade unions, to boost the profits of big business. Like Thatcher, Reagan used high interest rates to engineer an economic recession and create an army of unemployed in order to squeeze wage rates.
Between 1979-82 the real average weekly wage fell by 8%, which didn't recover for five years. By 1982, 44% of new work contracts resulted in wage freezes or wage cuts. In the same year welfare spending was slashed by 24%. Some 2.3 million manufacturing jobs disappeared for good. Homelessness soared as did the prison population.
Reagan argued that by making the capitalists even wealthier, through deregulating financial markets and slashing top rates of income tax, this wealth would 'trickle-down' to the working class who too would benefit.
By 1987 Reagan had delivered the richest 1% of the population a net tax saving of 25% creating 5,000 new millionaires, while the poorest tenth of workers saw 20% more of their incomes swallowed in taxes.
In fact his presidency saw a massive transfer of wealth from the poorest to the richest in society. At the same time, booming stock markets created a new breed of swindlers epitomised by Wall Street dealer Ivan Boesky and junk bond king Michael Milken. These crooks, who were lionised by Reagan, ended the 1980s in jail convicted of insider dealing, fraud and racketeering. The decade also ended with a collapse in share prices around the world.
Reagan had boasted of reducing federal government spending. However, by undertaking a massive re-arming of the American military, as part of US imperialism's attempts to reinforce its global superiority, the federal deficit more than doubled from $73 billion in 1980 to $155 billion in 1989.
The US national debt also rocketed skywards as a result of the expansion of credit and underwriting $1 trillion collapse of the savings and loans (building societies) industry which resulted from government deregulation.
HAVING ARMED to its teeth the US military to face down the "evil empire" of the Soviet Union, Reagan's administration embarked on a new round of global 'muscle flexing'. His first port of call was the Lebanon. Under the guise of a multinational peacekeeping force US marines, backed by warships, moved into Beirut. Reagan admitted that the invasion was "central to our credibility on a world scale".
Moreover, the US military intervened in support of Israel who had earlier invaded the country and the right-wing phalange militia of Gemayal who were fighting the Russian-backed Syrian army, the PLO and the various Muslim militias. The invasion incurred the hatred of many Lebanese, and a suicide bomber blew apart US marines HQ, killing 241.
In October 1983 Reagan pulled the troops out and in a parting gesture allowed the world war two battleship New Jersey to blitz populated areas outside Beirut. The ship's captain said: "I hope we have made some impact on bringing peace to Lebanon."
Next was the tragi-comic invasion of the Caribbean island of Grenada in late 1983. This served the US administration as useful distraction to the deaths of the marines in the Lebanon.
It was also intended to show any radical/nationalist movements in the neo-colonial world that the US wouldn't tolerate them.
BUT THE bigger target in the US's 'backyard' was the left-leaning Sandinista government in Nicaragua. The Sandinistas had come to power in 1979 after a lengthy guerrilla struggle and a general strike movement in the capital, Managua, which had ousted the former US-backed dictator of Samoza.
Direct military support for the US-backed Contra guerrillas fighting the Sandinistas was banned by the US Congress. To circumvent this ban Reagan got CIA director George Bush senior, who sent colonel Oliver North, to secretly sell arms to Iran (a "terrorist nation") in 1985 and then traded them for hostages held in the Lebanon by pro-Iranian militias. They used the profits to supply the contras with arms. This scam was unearthed and became known as Irangate, echoing Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal.
The subsequent congressional inquiry into Irangate dragged on for years and cost $35 million. In 1993, the final report concluded that Reagan and Bush senior were fully aware of the scam. Neither were prosecuted.
Champion of the 'free world'?
ABOVE ALL, Reagan is praised by right-wing politicians and media as the man who single-handedly destroyed the "evil empire" of the Soviet Union.
That claim is nonsense. The decades-long contradiction between the socialised economy of the USSR and its control by a bureaucratic caste of party and state officials had already produced a sclerotic state. Nonetheless, an unintentional consequence of Reagan's 'star wars' rearmament programme overstretched the resources of the Soviet military to keep pace, hastening the USSR's decline.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and its eastern bloc allies occurred at the same time as the Reagan stock market boom went bust, pitching the US economy into a new downturn. Ironically, the collapse of Stalinism further reinforced the false prophets of "turbo-charged capitalism" who repeated many of the disasters of Reagonomics in the 1990s.
In The Socialist 12 June 2004:
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