By Ameen Izzadeen
So Maggie Thatcher the milk snatcher is dead. But her paradoxical legacy lives on. The former British Prime Minister will be remembered as the woman who by promoting unbridled capitalism sowed the seeds of a social revolution that is not so far away in Britain.
In 1991, when Communism as a state ideology lost its credibility in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union finally disintegrated, not many academics or political theorists asked whether the capitalist state ideology would also suffer the same fate. If socialism was the antithesis of Capitalism, both systems should fail and what should prevail is the synthesis – the good of the both systems. This system is widely known as the welfare state where the state’s primary duty is to ensure that its citizens are fed, educated, employed and liberated from fear – fear of hunger and fear of being oppressed. Although the ideal welfare state is yet to come, some form of welfare state existed after World War II in Britain. But Margaret Thatcher had the heart to kill the caring state and the womb to deliver the heartless capitalist system that came to be known as Thatcherism.
As Education Minister in the Edward Heath Government, she stopped the glass of free milk given to schoolchildren. For many children who came from the poorer segments of society, it was their breakfast.
One of these children was Britain’s Respect Party Leader, firebrand George Galloway. In an article he wrote on the death of Thatcher, he said:
“On one of my first political demonstrations – against the Conservative government of Edward Heath (1970-74) the slogan of the day was “Margaret Thatcher- Milk snatcher”. It was the first but not the last time I spat out her name in distaste. Before Thatcher, every primary school pupil received 1/3 of a pint of milk every morning. For some it was the difference between breakfast and no breakfast. I was sometimes one of those. I grew up in a brief period of social democracy in Britain, being dosed by the state with free cod-liver oil, orange juice and malt to build up my strength. Having been born in a slum tenement into a one-room attic in an Irish immigrant area, I needed all of that and more. And like millions I got it, until Thatcher took it away.”
That is one of Thatcher’s legacies – hitting the poor in the stomach as she continued with her new economic vision that allowed the capitalist rogues to rob the poor, though she believed that unbridled economic freedom was the only way to achieve high economic growth. But the trickle-down effect which she spoke of only came as crumbs from the master’s table to the poor working class.
Having set the foundation to wipe out the welfare state, she turned her attention towards trade unions, which were traditionally the vote base for the Labour Party, the political nemesis of the Conservative Party which she led. She brutally cracked down on the miners’ strike from 1984 to 1985, during which some 13,000 miners were arrested, two killed, 20,000 injured, 200 imprisoned and hundreds summarily sacked.
It was a victory of the witch, and a death knell for trade unionism. As she crushed Britain’s working class, Thatcherism became popular not only among billionaire bankers and captains of capitalism but also among dictators, authoritarian regimes and corrupt government leaders around the world.
Thatcherism claims to promote low inflation, the small state and free markets through tight control of the money supply, privatisation – including the privatisation of utility services such as water and electricity — and constraints on the labour movement. In other words, Thatcherism promotes the freedom of the individual and the corporate world — and the government‘s job is to get out of the way. But there were few checks and balances. Workers’ rights and welfare had little place in Thatcherism. It had initial success but the eventual damage was incalculable. Thatcherism was tantamount to the worship of Mammon, and the Bible says that one cannot worship God and Mammon, a person who worships Mammon hates God.
A community progresses, thrives and maintains its social cohesiveness only when its collective rights supersede the rights of the individual. For Thatcher, the collective rights of the community were nonsense. So she infamously declared that “there is no such thing as society … only individuals.” The remark drew a sharp retort from the then Labour leader Neil Kinnock. He said: “No such thing as society? Only individuals? No such thing as honouring other people’s parents? No such thing as cherishing other people’s children? No such thing as us and always? Just me and now? Me and now?”
Such was the myopia with which Maggie Thatcher tried to change the world, little realising she was only sowing the seeds of destruction of the very capitalism she was trying to promote and empower. She failed to realise that unbridled capitalism sustained selfishness and greed and was evil-incarnate. She failed to understand that when selfishness and greed became the core of the economy, there was little place for values which are vital for the progress of society and the human race. For Thatcher, community was only a market.
Thatcherism found its partner in crime in Reaganomics – an economic policy adopted by President Ronald Reagan in the United States. Like Thatcherism, it called for widespread tax cuts for the corporate world, decreased social spending, increased military spending, and the deregulation of domestic markets. Together, Thatcher and Reagan virtually removed all restrictions on wealth accumulation by the so-called one per cent who controlled 80 per cent of their nations’ wealth.
The ill-effects of Reaganomics haunted the United States and the rest of the world in 2008 in the form of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the late 1920s. The main reason for the 2008 crisis was Reaganomics and its deregulation policy.
In Britain, Thatcherism which was responsible for job cuts and trimming of welfare measures, exploded like a fire in an ammunition dump when the 2011 London riots broke out. Shocked by the degree of deprivation and depravity, Prime Minister David Cameron admitted there was something seriously wrong with society. But he failed to acknowledge that the fault lay in Thatcherism which his Conservative Party had embraced as economic gospel. This column, writing about the 2011 London riots had said:
“Thatcherism sowed the wind and Britain reaped the whirlwind with children as young as ten becoming looters. They did not loot book stores. Rather they targeted shops that sold items that guaranteed immediate liquidity. A photograph in London Daily Mail showed a ten-year-old boy carrying a bottle of wine which he had looted while another showed two teenagers running away with bottles of vodka. Perhaps, the difference between the Wall Street bankers and the British looters is that the former did not break windows.
“What has happened to Britain? Where are the values? Perhaps, a girl looter provided the answer. She told a BBC reporter that rioting and looting gave them an opportunity to show ‘the rich’ and the police that ‘we can do what we like’.”
The London riots were a mini revolt by the marginalised against the rich – against a state that protected the rich at the expense of the poor. The pro-rich, pro-capitalist and Thatcherist Cameron government may have succeeded in quelling the riots, but it has not addressed the root causes. The gap between the rich and the poor in Britain keeps widening.
Months after the London riots, a survey carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said the wealthiest tenth of society earned 12 times as much as the poorest. The disparity was eight times in the 1980s during which Thatcher was introducing her economic reforms favouring the rich. The survey also said the amount of total income taken by the top 1 per cent of earners — including bankers, managers and executives — had doubled to 14 per cent.
The mass-scale plunder by the capitalists continues with trade unionism in tatters while the poor and the marginalised are being dragged into drugs, liberal sex and pornography. Perhaps, her son, Mark Thatcher – sorry, Sir Mark Thatcher – epitomised her greed-driven economic policy when he was arrested in South Africa in 2004 for being a co-conspirator in a coup to topple the government of Equatorial Guinea, a country rich in oil and other minerals. The coup leaders wanted to topple the government and hand over lucrative oil contracts to the companies that were financing the coup attempt.
This is the legacy of Thatcher, a chemistry graduate who married a wealthy businessman and doled out an oxidised formula for economic cancer.
Her follies were not confined to economics. In foreign relations, she put money before principles. She was a friend of Augusto Pinochet, the ruthless dictator of Chile, and supported South Africa’s apartheid system, calling Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress a terrorist organisation. There were hardly any tears in South Africa when the news of her death reached there. Sensing the mood in South Africa, the visiting Manchester United football club had do shelve its plan to have a minute’s silence before they played their first match after Thatcher’s death.
Together with Reagan, Thatcher during her three-term premiership saw and worked towards the collapse of the Communist system in Eastern Europe.
Surviving an assassination attempt by the Irish Republican Army in Brighton in 1984, she was ruthless in her crackdown on the Catholic rebellion in Northern Ireland, which together with the Malvinas/Falkland Islands stands testimony to Britain’s imperialistic past. In 1981, she let Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein Parliamentarian Bobby Sands die when he together with nine others launched a hunger strike at the notorious Maze Prison. One year later, for her own electoral advantage, she launched a war on Argentina over the Malvinas/Falkland Islands. Victory was hers, with the United States covertly extending its full support to Britain. During this war, she committed a war crime by deliberately sinking an Argentinean warship that was retreating from the exclusion zone arbitrarily imposed by Britain. Some 323 Argentinian sailors died in the cowardly attack. Though the victory fanned nationalist passions in Britain and helped her to consolidate her hold on power, critics said Thatcher, known by the sobriquet ‘Iron Lady’, only chose enemies who were destined to lose. One such enemy was Saddam Hussein, when he invaded Kuwait in 1990.
She stepped down from the premiership following a party revolt in 1990. Her successors, Conservative Prime Minister John Major, and later Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair did not discard Thatcherism. Blair especially was more Thatcherist than the Conservatives were.
As Thatcher is laid to rest next Wednesday, Prime Minister Cameron said a fitting epitaph would be “she made Britain great again”. But little did he realise that behind the word “Great” lies Britain’s legacy of imperialism and colonial plunder. What Colonial Britain did openly, Thatcher’s Britain tried to do subtly – as Blair, the fanatic disciple of Thatcherism, proved with his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – imperialist wars that sought to strengthen war capitalists or disaster capitalists who increased their wealth at the cost of other people’s misery.
(This article also appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)