Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Paul Foot on Margaret Thatcher (1985)

[The news that Gordon Brown is considering splashing out, not of course on public sector workers pay or on pensions, but on a state funeral for Margaret Thatcher of all things has prompted the bourgeois media to engage in another bout of beloved nostalgia towards the former Tory Prime Minister and her reign in power. Simon Jenkins in the Guardian for example praised Thatcher as a 'revolutionary'. Given this, I thought it timely to remind ourselves of the reality of what Thatcher 'achieved' - which was of course if anything closer to a counter-revolution in Britain than a 'revolution', by reposting extracts from an article written by the late revolutionary journalist Paul Foot from Socialist Worker in February 1985, entitled succinctly 'Thatcher: class warrior']

Thatcher-worship, which goes on all the time in a continuous Mass in T, will rise to a crescendo in the next few weeks. A new excuse to sing the praises of the Prime Minister in otherwise difficult times comes with the tenth anniversary of her becoming leader of the Conservative Party.

A suitable prelude is an article in the Mail on Sunday's colour magazine by the reactionary critic, Anthony Burgess. His piece, gloriously entitled 'The Sexuality of Power', ends by comparing Margaret Thatcher to Venus de Milo. He makes the subtle point that whereas Venus had no arms, Mrs Thatcher has plenty.

Grateful and sycophantic press barons will be eager to impress on their readers that Mrs Thatcher is a wonder woman, her political intelligence and grasp far greater than anything else seen in Britain (or any other country) in the postwar period. Above all, she will be heralded for her convictions and her passions, which, it will be argued, contrast magnificently with the dull pragmatism of her two predecessors, Heath and Macmillan...

Mrs Thatcher's real skill comes from her deep sensitivity to the ebbs and flows in the fortunes of her class. She is a class general, who knows no sentiment in the struggle.

The old aristocratic leaders of the Tory Party believed they were superior to the lower orders chiefly through divine intervention or God's will. They were therefore inclined to dilute their class passions with occasional bouts of compassion, doubt or hesitation.

Margaret Thatcher and her arrivistes, people whose parents had to hang on by their fingertips to stay in the ruling class at all, believe that they are superior because they are superior. There is, therefore, in their class war strategy not a hint of doubt or guilt. They have a better sense of the state of the battle, and a stronger will to win it.

Unlike Macmillan, Thatcher was deeply suspicious of the Keynesian economics and full employment of the postwar years. She sensed that although these things could not be reversed at the height of the boom, they were fundamentally corrosive of her class. Long before most Tory leaders she sensed an ebb in that confidence, and she seized the time.

She knew that mass unemployment breeds despair in workers, and that that despair would breed its own confidence among her people. She knew that trade union leaders were only powerful as long as they were allowed to seem so. She sensed the union leaders' special weakness, their suspension between the two classes, and their unwillingness to side with either. She reckoned that if the union leaders were expelled from the corridors of power, they would be reduced to pleading to be allowed in again.

Mrs Thatcher is not an intellectual giant, nor has she risen to such heights through her beauty or her oratorical skills. She is a new-fashioned two-nation Tory who understands the simple truth, which evades far too many of us: that class confidence comes out of class strength, and that her class can win only if the other class loses.



At 5:38 pm, Blogger Gajendra said...

To be honest I don't even understand the liberal-bourgeois rationale for Thatcher being given a state funeral.

1) She's not actually dead (unfortunately).

2) No one can say that she was a figure that united the political elite, let alone the country at large.

3) She may have won 3 elections, but Harold Wilson won four. So she fails to pass muster even on that count.

4) As a chap on Mock the Week said last week, there's no need to waste the millions it would take to stage a funeral for her. Give one Scotsman a shovel, and he'll gladly dig her path straight to Hell.

5) See No. 1 above.

At 6:00 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

I see your point(s), but in liberal bourgeois terms it does I think count for something that she was the first woman PM in Britain.
I can't see anything else going for her, though New Labour have clearly long admired her for her fighting spirit in waging class war...

At 6:33 pm, Blogger Gajendra said...

That's true I suppose. But just as Michael Moore termed Condi Rice 'an honourary stupid white man' so one can regard Thatcher in the same terms. She presented herself as a figure that was more masculine than the men around her, and so I don't think even the wooliest feminist would regard her as one of their own. (I may be wrong on this, so if you are a wooly feminist, feel free to correct me. ;) )

I suppose the real reason why Brown is so keen on granting her a state funeral is that she is the Guru of the New Labour project. Fidel Castro remarked (after reading Giddens) that 'there is no third way only the way of the apostate.' While I'm not Castro's biggest fan I tend to agree. There's no greater apostasy than for Brown to journey from venerating James Maxton to making obeisance before Thatcher.


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