Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of Britain from 1979 to 1990, died on April 8, 2013. As Prime Minister, on behalf of Britain’s biggest monopoly capitalists, she presided over a fierce offensive against the rights of the working class and working people, which pushed up unemployment, poverty and inequality in Britain to levels not seen in decades. Together with the then US President Ronald Reagan, she came to symbolise on a global scale the program and philosophy of neo-liberalism and virulent anti-communism. She also tried, through her launching of the war against Argentina over the Malvinas (Falkland) islands and her policies towards the European Union, to revive the declining clout of British imperialism.
Thatcher came to power at a time of deep crisis of the British monopoly bourgeoisie, which was concerned about low growth rates and Britain’s declining global status. The strategy which Thatcher adopted was for the state to unabashedly favour the capitalists in the name of ‘freeing up the economy and encouraging growth’, while launching a no-holds-barred offensive against the working class and trade unions and drastically cutting back on the social benefits and rights that Britain’s working people had won through decades of hard-fought struggles.
Thatcher knew that to implement this program, the British working class and its trade unions had to be fiercely attacked, because they had a long tradition of organising to fight for their rights and those of the working people. The draconian 1982 Employment Act was just one step in this direction. Despite a fierce fightback by unions and their members, the Thatcher government ruthlessly and systematically eroded their powers to defend the interests of the class.
Reorientation of economic policies under the Thatcher regime resulted in the collapse of the manufacturing and mining sectors in Britain. This had devastating consequences for millions of working families and whole communities and areas which depended on these sectors for their livelihood. In the name of ‘freeing up the markets’, including the labour markets, the capitalists were allowed to close down enterprises as they pleased and shift them to other places with no regard for the livelihoods of those who worked in them. As a result of all this, unemployment shot up. The gap between the rich and the poor widened to its highest levels in the post-war period, with the real incomes of those in the bottom 40% of the population falling significantly.
Over a number of decades, the working class and people of Britain had fought for and won access to state-subsidised health and education facilities and other social welfare measures. Under Thatcher, these were attacked as a ‘drain’ on the economy. This led to serious social consequences, including deteriorating schooling and lack of proper medical care, which the people of Britain are suffering to this day. At the same time, tax cuts and financial support was directly given to the biggest monopolies in the name of giving a boost to the economy.
Thatcher justified her attacks on the organised working class and people in the name of helping ‘small business’, which she declared was the cornerstone of British democracy and liberal values. In actual fact, under her rule it was not at all small business that benefited, but the biggest capitalist monopolies.
The philosophical underpinning given to Thatcher’s pro-capitalist and anti-worker offensive was the neo-liberal notion that the ‘individual’ must be given free rein to pursue his or her own interests and that the state and society should not be allowed to interfere. Thatcher famously remarked that “there is no such thing as society”. This is a fraudulent notion that hides that in the present-day conditions of increasingly socialised production, there is no such thing as an individual being ‘free’ to pursue his or her own interests. The British state is firmly under the control of the monopolies, and these monopolies determine the orientation of the economy to serve their imperialist interests. The slogan of withdrawing state intervention was used to on one hand to unabashedly justify the state intervening in favour of the monopolies, while at the same time launching the fiercest attacks on the working people and their rights.
The philosophy of neo-liberalism and the program of privatisation and liberalisation championed by Thatcher have been aggressively pushed by the biggest capitalist monopolies throughout the world over the last few decades, particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is the program and philosophy of the monopoly bourgeoisie in India and its political representatives too. The Indian working class and people must draw lessons from the devastating consequences of this program and philosophy in Britain and other countries where it has been implemented.
The Thatcher-Reagan combination was at the forefront of the global anti-communist offensive that saw the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Thatcher championed the revival of aggressive British imperialism in alliance with US imperialism. In 1982, she fought a war with Argentina over possession of a set of small islands off the Argentine coast, thousands of kilometres away from Britain, in an absurd effort to revive the colonial glory of the former British empire. The war was also designed to whip up British chauvinism and jingoism that would cover up the deep class divisions in Britain. The Anglo-American imperialist alliance, which Thatcher helped to strengthen, has been the backbone of numerous aggressive imperialist ventures in the last two decades, as in the Balkans, the Persian Gulf, North Africa, Afghanistan, and so on.
Because of her zealous efforts on behalf of British and world imperialism, the ruling bourgeoisie in Britain and the monopoly bourgeoisie throughout the world sang Thatcher’s praises when she died. However, the working class and working people in Britain and throughout the world cannot forget the extremely harmful consequences of her policies and programs.