In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

What did Thatcher achieve?

Posted by seumasach on April 9, 2013

Cailean Bochanan

9th April, 2013

The amazing thing about all the discussions about Margaret Thatcher’s legacy is the insistence of so many that Thatcher revived Britain. Yet we are living through the Thatcher legacy now and it looks very much like a nation falling apart: to the spectacle of de-industrialization, which she pioneered, we now have the dismal and depressing sight of the collapse of the high street and the return of begging as a livelihood. What can explain this contradiction?

What Thatcher revived was not Britain as a nation but Britain as an empire as a component of the Anglo-American imperial project. This is reflected in the fact that the core of her “achievement” was in foreign policy, especially the Falklands war but also her deliberate fuelling of the flames of the Irish conflict, at least, in the early years of her reign. But as well as restoring “national prestige” she did a Galtieri on the labour movement, notably in provoking and then defeating the great  miner’s strike of 1984-85. Taken as a whole this was an extraordinary transformation: she simply dismantled the British national project which was initiated by Disraeli and culminated in the post-war consensus and restored the open oligarchy, the Venetian system, as Disraeli called it, of 18th century imperialism. The City of London and Wall Street resumed their place as the core institutions and the pound sterling took it’s place alongside the dollar as a global, fiat trading currency. This was the new form of imperial privilege that everyone missed, except Professor Michael Hudson, and the key to a strange contradiction: how could Britain destroy its own productive base and yet remain “an advanced economy”?

Her hostility to the labour movement and the welfare state was glaringly obvious but it went well beyond that- there was “no such thing as society” remember and her deep-seated anarchism, even nihilism, meant she had a whole range of targets in the wider establishment from the monarchy and the Tory wets to, if she was to be honest, parliamentary democracy itself- if she could have purged it Cromwell-style she would have.Through a series of reforms such as the sale of council houses she unleashed, with the help of her kindred spirit, Rupert Murdoch, a feral individualism which could only be fatally subversive of the body politic.

The deconstruction of Britain went hand in hand with an incipient, reckless new imperial project “for a new American century”. The Falklands War had a surreal air about it as if we were revisiting the 18th century but this was no anomaly and soon we were getting used to the bombing and subversion of all and sundry “regimes”. The imperial agenda was back because it had never gone away, only been held up for a while by the need to see off Germany and then the Soviet Union which the imperial elite already knew to be on its last legs, at least, if they had anything to do with it, which, judging by the strange intimacy between Thatcher and Gorbachev, they presumably did.

So we must judge Thatcher’s achievement by the success of the project she initiated. How has it gone? On one level it has surpassed expectations. She united British politics, left and right, behind “the project” with the emergence of Blair, her true heir, as the leader of the Labour party and then prime minister. With the complete absence of an anti-imperialist movement in Britain we can almost say that “we’re all Thatcherites now”. It’s all very well for the left to take to the streets now to celebrate her death but this merely confirms their time-warp. The horse has already bolted. They are certainly not the grave-diggers- the project has floundered on the resistance of the people of Iraq, of the “regimes” of Assad, Chavez and Putin and the BRICS and the Global South.

What about Britain? Well, having sacrificed national development for the chimera of global hegemony, as J.A.Hobson would have understood, regrettably not much remains. We’ve still got the pound but it’s less than sterling. We’re still “a nation of shoppers”, to paraphrase Napoleon, but the old élan has gone. Britain as we have known it scarcely exists. No one wants to know us as we stare into the abyss.

One Response to “What did Thatcher achieve?”

  1. jon said

    It is just the law of the jungle. And she was queen of the big cats who beat everybody who crossed her path. To say she provoked the unions is wrong. She did prepare for the miners strike since Scargill wanted to bring down her government. Both of them screwed up the miners, in their egotistic war to the death. As for the falklands, what was she supposed to do after the fascists landed on that island that since 1833 they had no interest in, but sudeenly because of oil they decided to invade. As for your idea she kept the Northern ireland troubles brewing is ridicolous. She signed the anglo-Ireland agreement to the anger of Unionists. The republican propagandists, the best in the world, claim she killed the hunger strikers, I would argue against that since in recently released papers she offered the strikers the rights to wear their own clothes but the IRA refused. It was the IRA that killed those strikers, because if any had pulled out their families would have been ostracised which was a tactic besides terror that the IRA employed against their own people. Interesting historical analysis though, but too many generalisations and not enough analysis or close reading.

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