Friday, May 27, 2016

Greasy Pole: Thatcher: the voice is stilled (2002)

The Greasy Pole column from the May 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Thatcher: silenced at last
The nation did not mourn at the news that Margaret Thatcher had been forbidden by her doctors to make any more public speeches. There was no sense that something we all valued will now be missing from our lives. Of course the nation might have marvelled at the bravery of those doctors, doing something her political colleagues never managed – stopping her making those drawn out, haranguing monologues for which she was once so notorious. Thatcher herself probably mourned; she was never averse to the sound of her own voice and then there is the effect of her silence on her income. All those after dinner speeches and so-called lecture tours (she was due to embark on one in America when the doctors intervened) yielded staggeringly generous fees for the regurgitation of some assorted delusions and prejudices.

When she won power in 1979 Thatcher promised a revolution – a word often misused by politicians when what they intend is to re-arrange some of capitalism's shortcomings. Outside Number Ten, glowing with her triumph, she quoted St Francis of Assisi:
"Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope".
That just about covered everything, except that Thatcher had already indicated how she saw things as far as harmony, truth and faith were concerned. “As Prime Minister,” she had said a little before she got the job, “I could not waste time having any internal arguments”.

Like most new governments, the Tories had encouraged the assumption that their “revolution” would succeed because it was based on principles which had somehow eluded all those in the past. In fact things went on much as before and Thatcher's ministers quickly found that they were as tightly in the python-like grip of events as their predecessors. British capitalism was in economic crisis; the chairman of the Confederation of British Industry economy committee revealed the flavour of a current survey of business optimism – or rather the absence of it: “As gloomy a picture as it is possible for anyone to paint and I fear things will get worse before they get better”. But Thatcher had to insist that her policies were effective and needed only time and patience. At the 1981 Tory conference that year she made her famous “The lady's not for turning” speech, which had the grassroot Tories convulsed with obsequious laughter – and Ted Heath, who accepted it as a sneer at his government's embarrassing change of tack when under pressure, reacting grumpily: “it was an absurd caricature to describe the limited policy changes which had to be introduced between 1970 and 1974 as a 'U-turn”.

The revolution was not, so far, working. Unemployment was rising and expected to reach three million in the near future. In February 1981 Thatcher received a memo from Ian Gow, her Parliamentary Private Secretary and most devoted acolyte, telling her that there was “a noticeable deterioration in the morale of our back benchers” due partly to “increasing concern about the extent of the recession and unemployment”. He said nothing about the effect of unemployment on the morale of the people who were actually experiencing it, floundering in the deeper poverty it imposed on them. To some extent they had their say later, in the riots that year in Brixton, Toxteth and Moss Side. The Tory leadership was anything but united; on 23 July 1981 the Cabinet had what Thatcher later described as “one of the bitterest arguments on the economy, or any subject, that I can ever recall taking place at Cabinet during my premiership”.

Ministers like Heseltine, Walker, Pym, Gilmour, Hailsham and Soames made a formidable opposition. Hailsham, to show that he was a Fellow of All Souls, took an historical stance, reminding everyone that in the 1930s unemployment had been effectively exploited by the Nazis and had severely damaged the Republican Party in America. Soames, Leader of the House of Lords, was a particularly grand landed aristocrat who lived by the principle that everyone had their place and should learn to keep it – it was just a matter of chance that his place was somewhere near the top. He had emerged from Thatcher's first Cabinet meeting in a state of shock: “I would not” he confided to another minister “even treat my gamekeeper like that”. He was angry, in a grand kind of way, when Thatcher sacked him; her impression was that “he felt the natural order of things was being violated and that he was, in effect, being dismissed by his housemaid”.

It was fortunate for Thatcher that early in 1982 the Argentinian scrap dealers should choose to start their work on South Georgia, which provided justification for a good, old fashioned colonial war. The upsurge in hysterical patriotism was a convenient diversion from the damaging fact of unemployment. At the time the war was hailed as a triumph of British professional militarism. Now, twenty years after, there has been a more sober assessment, a recognition that it was a close run thing and that many of the more romantic accounts of the campaign were myths. For Thatcher it was crucial; if the British Task Force had failed to re-take the islands she would probably have gone down as well.

Having seen off General Galtieri and the Belgrano and some hundreds of soldiers and sailors Thatcher could turn her attention to her other enemies. First there was the 1983 general election, when the so-called Falklands factor was so favourable to the government. She seemed unstoppable, invincible and the voters agreed. An election majority of 144 wiped out anachronistic Michael Foot, not just as hopeful Prime Minister but as Labour leader as well. Then it was time to take on the coal miners, who had forced her into a strategic retreat in 1981 over the issue of pit closures. The intervening years had been well used by the government, to build up coal stocks at the power stations and to organise a more effective strike-breaking force in the police, who had been outflanked in previous disputes by the flying pickets. There was also the fact that demand for coal was down by a third since 1973/74 and that a breakaway union, the UDM, kept some pits working during the strike. The NUM under Scargill held on grimly until they were forced back to work; their struggle went some way to make the name of one Kim Howells, who is now an ardent Blairite minister and, even for New Labour, a notable traitor to what he once called his principles.

It was after the 1987 general election, when Neil Kinnock was added to the list of miserably beaten Labour leaders and Thatcher gave the impression that she intended to live, and be Prime Minister, for ever, that the Tories began to have doubts again. The poll tax was widely unpopular, the stimulant to serious public disorder short of riots. There were some spectacular by-election defeats and damaging resignations – like Lawson (who told the queen that his 1988 Budget would have to be his last because Thatcher “was making the conduct of policy impossible”) and Howe (who had once told a Tory MP that “I would draw my sword for” Thatcher).

Turfed Out 
Some of this dissent was to do with the fact that she was too preoccupied with her concept of her own invulnerability to notice that she was autocratic and out of touch with her Cabinet. Much of it was to do with the growing realisation that she had become an election liability. Nothing concentrates an MP's mind so much as the fear of losing their seat. Late in 1990 it was time for her to go and the men in grey suits lined up to tell her so. She never got over the fact that after winning three elections she was turfed out of office by her own party. She applied her talents to sniping at her successors—Major (who, she said, was “grey” and had “no principles”) and Hague, who she derided for his juvenility. Now, after the intervention of her doctors, if she wants to let us know what she thinks of Iain Duncan Smith it will have to be in writing.

With her going there was something like a sigh of relief in the parliamentary Conservative Party. No longer would ministers be physically sick before seeing her for what promised to be one of her handbaggings. No longer would they be so overshadowed by her that the very name “Maggie” was synonymous with their party. We had eleven years of her premiership and then another seven of her party in power. So we had her revolution and the end effect was no different from the experience of all the other capitalist parties. In 1997 millions of people were so dispirited with the Tories that they turned to the alternative capitalist party of Blair's New Labour. When Thatcher was at the height of her power there were psychiatrists who assessed their patients' contact with reality by asking them who was prime minister. If they named someone other than Thatcher the psychiatrist knew they were a difficult case for treatment. It says something about Thatcher's brand of capitalism, that her very name was used as a measure of insanity.

Hiroshima & Nagasaki—The Background (1959)

From the September 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

“We take no pride in being able to massacre millions of our fellow human beings, to poison the air, to cripple the children of the future. We find no safety in weapons designed only for wars that nobody can win. . . "

These words from the leaflet announcing the second Aldermaston March, expressed the feeling of the idealistic element of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Heard above the suave evasions of politicians, and the arrogant threats of generals, this call, to those enchanted, seemed the golden echo of truth itself; promising in victory, a finer and happier life for Man.

How and why did this protest arise? What has it achieved? Will it set the foot of Man on the long-sought path of Peace and Happiness?

To answer these questions one must go back to see how it came into being and how it has grown.

On July 16th, 1945, in the New Mexico desert, the Los Alamos scientists successfully exploded the first atomic device. Reports of this were hurried to President Truman at the Potsdam Conference. After consulting his advisers he gave authority to an air force group, in special training since the autumn of 1944, to prepare to use the atomic bombs.

In the early days of August, from a warship in mid-Atlantic, Truman gave the final order to begin the atomic bombing of selected Japanese cities. At the earliest indication of clear weather over Hiroshima, a B-29 was dispatched. A uranium bomb, assembled in the air on the way to the target, was dropped. Hiroshima on the morning of August 6th, 1945, became the first atomic crematorium. The “new weapon of special destructive force” which Truman had casually mentioned to Stalin, was a secret no longer.

The Russian government, fearing a belated American attempt to deprive it of some of the spoils of Yalta, hastened to declare war on Japan. A right to participate in the final share-out of the Far Eastern loot; a desire to safeguard their sphere of influence, these were the main concerns of the Russian rulers. No protest at a sickening outrage. No sorrow expressed at the agonies of the Hiroshima victims, the seared, stunned survivors; the radio-active remnants of what had been men, women and little children! So much for the party of Lenin and Stalin in the glorious fight for Peace!

Truman's other allies, the British ruling class, their interests now in the care of a Labour Government, watched, from afar, the results of their joint scientific and industrial enterprise. Three days after Hiroshima, Attlee’s representative, Group Captain Cheshire, was present at the bombing of Nagasaki, where a plutonium bomb, operating on a new principle, was used.

Public awareness of the circumstances in which the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan has always been limited by the facile myth that these bombs were necessary to break the back of Japanese resistance, thereby saving Allied lives. Japan was, in fact, on the verge of collapse.

Was the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, towns on a carefully selected list of possible targets, a gruesome experiment? A callous scheme of sections of the American military, designed to discover the respective merits of different kinds of atomic bombs when used against densely-populated industrial centres?

Was the atomic bombing a practical demonstration of American technical superiority in warfare to warn the Russian rulers against expansion which might further encroach upon American spheres of influence?

Whatever answers posterity may yield, however intricate the web of truth, to Socialists, there is no word, no line, to justify this deed. Nothing can excuse the roasting of the newly-born or the incineration of infants at play, the slaughter of thousands.

Whatever may have been the reasons, political, economic, military or personal, that may have moved the principal actors to speak the lines and play the parts they did, to Socialists one thing is the essential point. This war and all its misery and fire, was rooted in capitalism.

It is not the villainy of militarists, the schemings of armament kings, the bellicosity of dictators, the ineptitude of statesmen, that is the cause of war in the modern world. It is not deceptions practised upon honest by dishonest politicians.

It was not the manoeuverings of Roosevelt and Churchill nor the embargo placed upon raw materials for Japan in 1941 and all the machinations on both sides of the Pacific leading up to the “surprise” attack on Pearl Harbour that were the causes of war in the Far East.

Basically, the cause of the war, which led to the bestiality of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was the conflict between the different national groups of capitalists, each aiming to improve its position in the relentless struggle to maintain or expand its control over markets and sources of raw materials. Little territory or resources, easily exploitable, remained to the nations such as Germany, Italy and Japan which had come late to the table.

To satisfy their growing appetites, arising from industrial and commercial expansion, the senior predators, they thought, must yield to them a large share of the economic fruits of earlier piracy.

The Japanese forces slowly advancing into Indo-China were a menace to American, British, Chinese, and Dutch interests in the islands and archipelagoes of South East Asia, fabulously rich in raw materials. Rubber, tin, nickel, oil and the like were never absent from the calculations of all concerned. The Japanese sought to control the Chinese mainland and to bring all South East Asia under their economic and cultural sway, by force of arms, if necessary.

In the West, if Germany over-ran Europe, the American rulers would find their long-term interests threatened, by a collossus commanding vast technical and industrial resources. A bitter struggle therefore ensued. The bomb and the bayonet became the means to convince where the honeyed modulations of sleek and urbane ambassadors had failed.

The attack on Pearl Harbour, the possibility of which American admirals had been discussing since the early thirties, helped to persuade the ordinary American people, who like people everywhere else, had no desire to become involved in war, that war was necessary in the interest of the nation as a whole. The Pearl Harbour attack roused the American people to a fury; they were in the war before they knew what it was all about. To the American man in the street the atomic bombing was a justified reprisal for the Japanese attack four years earlier. Thus does violence breed violence.

It must not be thought that Russia comes into conflict with the other powers because of ideological reasons; because its social system is alleged to be “Socialist.”

Russia is a capitalist country. All the basic features of capitalism exist there; class monopoly of the means of production, backed-up by a powerful state apparatus, the dominance of commodity production and the profit motive, the subjection of the majority to wage-labour, the “anarchy of production” called “state-planning”; all are there.

All modern nations have these basic attributes. They may have particular features arising from the different national and economic backgrounds from which capitalism developed in each country. Each emerging capitalist class was born into a certain historical situation. The new industrial capitalists of England in the nineteenth century had the world at their feet; the later arrivals to the capitalist jungle, while having advantages in being able to learn and apply the latest techniques, found themselves surrounded by already entrenched rivals.

It is not what men think or say about themselves that is crucial to the analysis of a social system. It is how they are related to other men about the means of production, what role they play in the productive process, what, in fact, they do. In struggling with the traditional capitalist groups of the world, the top-ranking Communist Party bureaucrats, and politicians, the military, and industrial senior executives, in short, representatives of Russian capitalism, are different in no fundamental way. They are all as helpless to prevent war, and all as ruthless in its prosecution when diplomacy has failed.

Socialists want no part of this nightmare world. Socialists are opposed to war, whether nuclear or “conventional" weapons are used.

The solution however, does not lie in the banning of a specific kind of weapon. Weapons are only necessary in a world of capitalist competition. The real enemy is the social system that breeds it. Our task is to keep the issue clear. To insist on the need for a society without privilege, poverty, or war. We take our stand solely for socialism.

Appended at the bottom of this article in the original issue of the Socialist Standard:

Lord Attlee and the Bomb
"He [Mr. Truman] had to take the decision about the atom bomb. It is questioned sometimes. In my view, in the light of the knowledge we had at that time, he was absolutely right."
Lord Attlee at a Pilgrims' Dinner (July 21st, 1956) reported in "Daily Telegraph" (July 22nd, 1956).

Letter from Wales (1960)

From the December 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

"The fault lies in the system and it is natural that individuals should re-act as they do when such an occasion arises." I pricked my ears up. The speaker was one of a small group of men waiting in the local doctor's surgery.

It is always good to be in on any discussion about Capitalism and so it was not long before I found an opportunity to contribute. The topic that drew the above remark was actually concerned with Roy Paul, the Welsh international footballer admitting to having accepted a £500 bribe. From there on we continued to probe deeper into the “carryings on," the actions and statements of important people and organizations in the news.

For example, the Ebbw Vale Election. Though there are four contestants, two only—Labour and Plaid Cymru appear to interest the electorate. Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Nationalist Party, is being aided by its pirate radio station “The Voice of Wales." They are also introducing “ colour" in the form of music at their meetings—items on the harp. They continue—as in previous elections —to “harp on the theme" “ Ruddid i Gymru" (Freedom for Wales).

Another topic was the C.N.D. March. Cardiff was recently chosen as the venue for an attack. Much excitement prevailed, not the least being the closed doors of the Temple of Peace in the face of the marchers (which were later opened to allow them entry). A prominent Communist leader was roundly accused of attempting to make political capital out of the proceedings. This should be a warning to all that the true C.ND’er may be all for peace as long as you accept the view that the struggle against was has nothing to do with political ideology!
W. Brain