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Issue #1589      April 17, 2013

Culture & Life

Exit Margaret Thatcher – and good riddance

It is not considered seemly in our culture to speak ill of the dead. Like hitting a man when he’s down, it is frowned on in polite circles. The dead, we are told in explanation, cannot defend themselves. But if the dear departed’s actions in life were so sordid that their recital after death can cause embarrassment to their heirs, then the family should surely have spoken up and disassociated themselves from these actions well before the deceased shuffled off this mortal coil.

If they kept mum then, they have only themselves to blame now. In the case of the late Margaret Thatcher, her friends and relatives in fact not only did not keep mum, but instead expressed their support and admiration for her actions loudly and widely.

So they can have no legitimate complaint against the reception accorded the news of her passing. Were they surprised by the spontaneous celebrations in the streets at the news of the death of one of the world’s most prominent supporters of apartheid? Thatcher never tried to hide the fact that she sincerely believed that the ruling class had not only the right but almost an obligation to crush all political opposition no matter what the cost.

The oppression of the black majority in South Africa by a tiny white minority was fine by her. She was white, and as the daughter of a grocer, a man who made what money he had by “buying cheap and selling dear”, she had no sympathy for the poor and downtrodden. She had the shopkeeper’s hatred towards trade unions and anyone else that sought to put up wages or stop employers from lengthening hours of work.

The woman who put British soldiers into police uniforms so that they could attack striking coal-miners without causing a furore in the media saw nothing wrong with literally smashing your political opponents.

Thatcher was the bosom chum of Augusto Pinochet, the blood-covered dictator of Chile, murderer of not only democratically-elected President Salvador Allende but also of Chilean democracy itself along with thousands of the country’s best sons and daughters who perished in the torture chambers of Pinochet’s US-trained butchers, or were thrown from helicopters several thousand feet above the ground. When the body of the Minister for Education in Allende’s government was washed ashore, every bone in her body was broken. Margaret Thatcher never condemned this or any similar act.

But when a progressive Spanish judge issued a warrant for Pinochet’s arrest for crimes against humanity committed against the people of Chile, Maggie Thatcher very publicly rallied to his side, to show her support for a man who embodied everything the ruling class stands for, certainly everything Margaret Thatcher stood for.

She embodied the values of the class she aspired to and – eventually did – join: the exploiting, capitalist class. She exemplified that class’s contempt for working people, its contempt for the rule of law and its contempt for human life.

When the Argentine government rashly attempted to reclaim the Malvinas, which Britain had seized from them years before in order to enforce British domination of the South Atlantic, a British nuclear submarine torpedoed and sank the ageing and unsuspecting Argentine light cruiser General Belgrano with the loss of 323 lives.

The sinking of the Belgrano was highly controversial in both Britain and Argentina at the time and remains controversial to this day. The Thatcher government was accused of committing a war crime, which obviously annoyed Thatcher. She testily cut off reporters trying to question her about it outside Number Ten and told them instead to “rejoice in this victory!”

Her other mate – and strong supporter – Rupert Murdoch did just that, or at least his papers did. One of his British tabloids featured a front page comprising a large photo of the Belgrano and the headline GOTCHA! Tasteful, wouldn’t you say?

However, from the moment the news broke that Thatcher was dead, Western news media were hard put to find “opinion makers” willing to praise her (their lingering feeling that they should be “fair” meant that comments like “what she did to this town was irreparable” got though along with the bilge from right-wing politicians). Students staged celebratory rallies and demos in the streets or passed resolutions condemning her and her policies.

In Sydney, the “front page” placards promoting Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph were promptly improved by the spontaneous addition of anti-Thatcher graffiti. And former Prime Minister and fellow reactionary John Howard, doing his bit for right-wing politics with a glowing tribute to Thatcher, was interrupted by a reporter observing that “she was a supporter of apartheid” to which Howard masterfully replied “Well, nobody’s perfect, we all make mistakes”. The implication seems to be that if we sweep the “mistakes” under the carpet no harm is done.

The capitalist establishment in Britain especially and to a lesser extent elsewhere is busy trying to sanctify Thatcher, to rewrite history through their control of the mass media. But they are having a hard time of it. Too many people lived through the Thatcher years, and the scars are still visible everywhere.

The sorry state of British industry today, and of British social institutions and services, is an eloquent and constant reminder of the damage, destruction and social disarray that Margaret Thatcher’s term in office brought about in Britain.

The British ruling class is giving Thatcher a state funeral complete with Royal participation. She served their interests well, so it’s the least they can do, I suppose. And they probably hope that the pomp of such a funeral might serve to divert attention away from contemplating the misery of the Thatcher years and the enduring wretchedness for the British people that is her legacy.   

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