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More on Thatcher, life and death.

When it comes to deaths, the balance of the universe has always been askew. Kind, generous and honest people I’ve known have died well before their years. Some years ago, my best friend – a brilliant and gentle socialist – died at age twenty-seven.  Meanwhile, the paladins of the right – Ronald Reagan, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush Senior – seem to go on and on. Admittedly, Reagan – that second-rate actor who championed the blacklisting of leftists in Hollywood and became the belligerent governor of California before rising to the office of President – died some years ago, but he lived to a distinctly unfair age of ninety-three.

Finally, after hanging with her cold, grim vampiric hands for years beyond a morally just departure date, Margaret Thatcher is dead. She was eighty-seven. It’s paradigmatic of the hypocrisy of liberal democracy that when a former mainstream leader dies, all sides of politics come to offer platitudes about this great ‘statesperson’, talking about how well they ‘served the country’. On the days following their death, consensus rules in the papers, on the television, and between the major parties. Everyone, it seems, ‘respects’ the fallen, even when at earlier times they were vicious enemies. British Labour leader Ed Miliband has begun this process, avoiding controversy by noting that, ‘David Cameron, Nick Clegg and myself were all shaped by the politics of Lady Thatcher and the way she defined the politics particularly of the 1980s.’ Like others, he politely avoided judgement of Thatcher’s political record.

On the Left there has been more than the usual triumphalism at Thatcher’s passing. My own Facebook feed is filled with crowing that ‘The Witch is Dead’, the modern version it seems to me of medieval dancing in the streets. I must admit, I find it all a bit grisly, not because I have any sympathy for Thatcher – God knows, she was an awful woman – but that it individualises a figure who was much more than simply an individual. In a sense, this crowing is a descent into the very individualism that Thatcher herself championed.

The political point is that Thatcher was one of the chief representatives of an entire political project now known as neoliberalism. There’s something misleading about the way the term is understood, for it is more than an economic doctrine of the free market, but includes an entire political project founded in virulent nationalism and consolidated by the destruction of democratic liberties and working class institutions. The Falklands war, the destruction of the miners and their unions, support for the nastiest dictatorships across the globe (Chile, Indonesia, South Africa), the destruction of the Eastern Bloc and its opening up to market relations – these are the things which Thatcher championed. They are all part of the neoliberal project, each a precondition and complement to the other.

We would do well to remember that this very project still lies in the center of power, in the US, in Britain and in Australia, we’re about to face a new wave of Thatcherite attacks by an incoming Liberal government, right in the heels of the neoliberalism kindly meted out by the Gillard government.

Indeed, there is another connection between Thatcher and Gillard. Before I go on, I should perhaps note that we shouldn’t conflate the two, for their aims and methods are distinctly different: Thatcher a belligerent Cold War warrior, Gillard the applier of ‘Third Way Labourism’. Still, that both Thatcher and Gillard are (in Thatcher’s case, were) women highlights the erroneous nature of those strains of liberal feminism that claim we need are more women in office. Obama himself represents this trend when he says that Thatcher ‘stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered.’  The unintended irony here is that Thatcher showed us that women can be just as heartless as any man – the point is not the gender of the person, but their political program and subject-position.

I won’t be grieving Thatcher’s death any more than I will be celebrating it. Rather, I will be remembering those who struggled so bravely against her. The miners at the Battle of Orgreave and elsewhere, the Poll Tax strikers, the hunger strikers (Bobby Sands among others) at Long Kesh prison. It seems to me that the most important task is to remember the fallen heroes of the left, and to draw what lessons we can from their victories and defeats – to honour their memory at this time.

Rjurik Davidson is a freelance writer and Associate Editor of OverlandUnwrapped Sky, was published by Tor Books in 2014. Sci Fi Now claims it can 'go toe-to-toe with China Miéville’s best.' Kirkus Reviews calls it “Impressively imagined and densely detailed.” PS Publishing published his collection, The Library of Forgotten Books, in 2010. Rjurik’s screenplay 'The Uncertainty Principle' (co-written with Ben Chessell) is currently in development. He can be found at rjurik.com and tweets at @rjurikdavidson

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  1. those are good points. I reacted with joy on hearing of her death, partly because of having family and friends living in the UK during the Thatcher years, and I certainly sympathise with people who want to dance on her grave, because of all those destructive actions and policies that you mention.
    but you’re right, we’d do better to honour the people who fought Thatcherism, those who survived it and those who didn’t.

  2. I really don’t get the tut-tutting from the “there’s nothing to celebrate” corner. Of course Thatcher’s policies are alive and well. Of course her passing is no victory on any level. But bloody hell, what’s wrong with people being *happy* that somebody they had ample reasons to genuinely hate has carked it? What’s wrong with medieval dancing in the streets, even? What’s wrong with grisly? Why be sombre? I don’t get it.

    (I flipped a coin whether to post this here or in Jeff’s post. I say pfui to the both of you.)

  3. Well, as I said above, I don’t feel happy not do I feel sad. I don’t think there’s anything ‘wrong’ with people who feel happy about it any more than there was anything ‘wrong’ with photographing Mussolini’s dead body after he died. It’s just not a political question, for starters – it’s apolitical. Our task is to point out those ideological and political structures that still exist and which she was a representative of. The focus on the individual tends to obscure these, to see neoliberalism as emerging out of Thatcher (of fascism out of Mussolini), which is a liberal view. Indeed, the focus on the ‘leaders’ of the fascists allowed most of the structure of fascism in Italy to survive after the war – it was something that the left should have struggled much more strongly against.

    • Ah, no, but see, I must take strong issue with this. The ‘problem’ with the people who took turns kicking Mussolini’s corpse on 25 April 1945 – to the extent that there was one – is that at least some of them, probably many, were likely the same people who had been vocally supporting him until two, three, five years earlier, when the majority of the crimes of Fascism had already been committed. Whereas I suspect few or none of the people who spontaneously took to the streets to celebrate Thatcher’s death last night would have been erstwhile supporters of hers. As for the political content of the revels, I think it is reasonable to say that these people still saw in Thatcher – in spite of the many reasonable points you and Jeff have made – a powerful symbol of class hatred, more specifically of hatred of their class. Their message would have rung loud and clear in Britain just as the country goes through the latest round of Thatcherite reforms. I see nothing inappropriate or misguided (or ‘individualising’) in any of this.

      • Well, I think that you have to take people where they’re at. And yes, if they are happy that Thatcher is dead, that is a starting point to have the political discussions with them, but I think as a starting point it’s probably a reflection of the defeats they suffered and their still low level of political analysis. Is it better that they are anti-Thatcher than pro-Thatcher? Of course. But the left’s task is to take them beyond that instinctual, spontaneous, antipathy to a deeper political analysis, where they understand that Thatcher was only a symbol for a class project (one we have here too). So – as you said earlier – her death isn’t a “victory” as such. If it’s not a victory then what is it? A chance to talk about these things. That’s not something that has me dancing in the streets really. If I was in Brixton or Glasgow, I’d be in the streets, but I wouldn’t mistake that spontaneous action for something it’s not – a systemic political analysis.

        • I don’t think anyone is calling it a systemic political analysis. It is not devoid of political content though. And I don’t find it counter-productive or inappropriate on any level. If only because it gets people together in the name of something that still has meaning.

          • I am totally with Giovanni here. I’d have no problem with millions cheering in the streets at Thatcher’s demise. That would be (a) a sign of sanity (b) a revolution in itself (c) a welcome antidote to people weeping at the death of Steve Jobs and sundry other celebrity persons (d) Immensely satisfying.
            It doesn’t need to replace political analysis, because it IS political analysis.
            It’s hard to know whether to play ‘Stand down Margaret’ or ‘Ding dong the witch is dead.’ Maybe I’ll do both.

  4. I dunno. A community in Brixton having a party is one thing. But Lefties here getting so excited about a death just seems … kinda creepy. Does the left really want to be seen as the kind of people who get over the moon about someone popping off like that, particularly when, as the writer says, it’s not really very political? Doesn’t it have unpleasant connotations given the grisly record of some on the left in the c20?

    • I suppose I’m thinking about the people in Brixton more than the people on the internet. But I’m okay with the latter too, give or take some expression that have been used.

  5. The queen is dead, but a certain brand of flat-taxed, socio-economico-cultural policies, first ironed out by the lady who was not for turning (even in her grave?) live on, like soft serve icecream: all political items on my agenda.

  6. Thatcher’s Britain was a cruel and heartless place that destroyed lives and livelihoods. While I find it hard to celebrate anyone’s demise, I totally get why those affected by her vicious policies and the fallout from them, celebrate. But the real celebration will be when the policies, power and influence of the neo-liberal agenda pass away too. But at this moment in history, that seems like a long way off.

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