Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Thatcher legacy

So former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is dead. 

Like many others I won't be mourning her passing. It is more important to acknowledge and remember all those who suffered because of her policies and all those who resisted and opposed her.

Film Director Ken Loach sums it up well:
"Margaret Thatcher was the most divisive and destructive Prime Minister of modern times, mass unemployment, factory closures, communities destroyed — this is her legacy. She was a fighter and her enemy was the British working class ... How should we honour her? Let's privatize her funeral. Put it out to competitive tender and accept the cheapest bid. It's what she would have wanted."
Writing on the Overland Blog Jeff Sparrow reminds us that we should never forget many of Thatcher's political positions:
How to remember Margaret Thatcher? Shall we recall the friend of Augusto Pinochet, the woman who protested bitterly about the arrest of Chile’s murderous dictator, a man to whom, she said, Britain owed so much? What about the staunch ally of apartheid, the prime minister who labelled the ANC ‘terrorists’ and did everything possible to undermine international action against the racist regime? The anti-union zealot who described striking miners defending their livelihood as an ‘enemy within’, hostile to liberty? The militarist who prosecuted the Falklands war, as vicious as it was pointless? The Cold Warrior, who stood by Reagan’s side, while the US conducted its genocidal counterinsurgencies in Latin America? The British chauvinist who allowed Bobby Sands to slowly starve to death?
Both Jeff Sparrow and Rjurik Davidson writing in Overland reminds us that Thatcher's political legacy is very much alive and grows stronger here in Australia . Davidson makes the connection between Thatchers political and economic agenda and Julie Gillard and the Australian Labor Party's embrace of market fundamentalism.

In his piece Margaret Thatcher and the Misapplied Etiquette  Glenn Greenwald challenges those who demand respectful silence in the wake of a public figure's death, arguing that such silence is not just misguided but dangerous. He writes:
But the key point is this: those who admire the deceased public figure (and their politics) aren't silent at all. They are aggressively exploiting the emotions generated by the person's death to create hagiography. Typifying these highly dubious claims about Thatcher was this (appropriately diplomatic) statement from President Obama: "The world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend." Those gushing depictions can be quite consequential, as it was for the week-long tidal wave of unbroken reverence that was heaped on Ronald Reagan upon his death, an episode that to this day shapes how Americans view him and the political ideas he symbolized. Demanding that no criticisms be voiced to counter that hagiography is to enable false history and a propagandistic whitewashing of bad acts, distortions that become quickly ossified and then endure by virtue of no opposition and the powerful emotions created by death. 

When a political leader dies, it is irresponsible in the extreme to demand that only praise be permitted but not criticisms. 
Greenwald concludes that:
There's something distinctively creepy about this mandated ritual that our political leaders must be heralded and consecrated as saints upon death. This is accomplished by this baseless moral precept that it is gauche or worse to balance the gushing praise for them upon death with valid criticisms. There is absolutely nothing wrong with loathing Margaret Thatcher or any other person with political influence and power based upon perceived bad acts, and that doesn't change simply because they die. If anything, it becomes more compelling to commemorate those bad acts upon death as the only antidote against a society erecting a false and jingoistically self-serving history.
In the New Left Project Tom Mills has written an excellent piece The Death of a Class Warrior in which he reviews Thatcher's political career and political legacy. Mills argues that Thatcher provided:
a sustained, violent assault on British society launched on behalf of big business in the name of ‘strong government’ and cloaked in the rhetoric of national renewal. 
Mills argues that Thatcher was able to appeal to and draw on a range of impulses that had developed during the 1970's and had coalesced into a coherent political ideology (often called neoliberalism  or market fundamentalism).  She did this by using the coercive powers of the state to: 
  • portray markets as a moral force
  • bring about mass support for big business 
  • champion markets as an empowering democratizing force
  • portray certain forms of state and Government intervention as hampering Britain’s economic effectiveness and corrupting its moral character.
  • attack the social basis of collective action and collective ideas
  • emasculate those institutional forms that could build an alternative to neo-liberal/ market fundamentalist regimes (such as trade unions, public ownership of public assets and services and  civil society)
  • fusing neoliberalism (market fundamentalism) with the moralistic, reactionary politics of ‘Middle England’ and tying the interests of capital to the bigoted preoccupations of their political base.
This sounds awfully like the political agenda of Tony Abbott and the Liberal National Coalition here in Australia.

In their piece in Counterpunch The Queen Mother of Global Austerity and Financialization Michael Hudson and Jeffrey Sommers make the direct link between Thatchers economic and political policies and the current economic and financial crises gripping the UK and Europe.
Mrs. Thatcher became the cheerleader for what became the greatest giveaway of the century as the City of London’s gain became the industrial economy’s loss. Britain’s lords of finance became the equivalent of America’s great railroad land barons of the 19th century, the ruling elite to preside over today’s descent into neoliberal austerity............The Iron Lady was convinced she was rebuilding England’s economy, while in reality it was only getting richer from London’s outlaw banks. Throughout the world, the damage wrought by this financialized economy has been immense.
Hudson and Sommers also point out that one of Thatcher's greatest effects was on the British Labor Party:   
As the uncredited patron saint of New Labour, Mrs. Thatcher became the intellectual force inspiring her successor and emulator Tony Blair to complete the transformation of British electoral politics to mobilize popular consent to permit the financial sector to privatize and carve up Britain’s public infrastructure into a set of monopolies. In so doing, the United Kingdom’s was transformed from a real economy of production to one that scavenged the world for rents through its offshore banks. In the end, not only was great damage inflicted on England, but on the entire world as capital fled developing countries for safe harbors in London’s banks. Meanwhile, governments throughout the world today are declaring “We’re broke,” as their oligarchs grow ever more rich.
And then there is music. Here are 21 Incredibly angry songs about Margaret Thatcher

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