Thatcher: a wound reopens

Thatcher Parties

Last night in Brixton, London, George Sq. Glasgow, Easton in Bristol, Derry in Northern Ireland, and in pubs and working men’s clubs across Britain, people cheered, raised a glass, partied, danced in the streets, to mark the death of Margaret Thatcher. Some people were shocked — young perhaps more than old — that in Britain people could actually overcome prevailing morality and mass in the open streets to drink champagne and sing the dozen or so songs written since the 80s in anticipation of this event. ‘Why?’, asked an Eritrean friend, who said she remembered Thatcher the international Cold Warrior and friend of ‘liberty’. ‘Why would some British people breach the frontiers of personal respect and invade the territory of grief?’

Because it was precisely this invasion of the person which defined the experience of Thatcherism. Whether it was the Maze hunger strikers, the miners, the Scots, the retreating sailors of the General Belgrano, it was not enough that Thatcher defeated you on the field of actual or figurative battle; it was only when defeat was assured that Thatcherism began, that the iron blade was thrust again and again into the rib cage. A pointless, gratuitous exercise against the flesh because the flesh did not matter — it was something to be stripped away to get at the very soul where the real punishment could be exacted.

It is commonplace to conceptualise Thatcher’s evangelical enaction of Friedmanite and Hayekian economics in the UK as a deliberate attempt to deny the existence of society and turn the populace into atomic entities defined only by the engagement in market activities. A kind of bad Hobbism where raw desire — the animal spirits —were unleashed by a creative destruction of legal and economic structures. But to regard Thatcher as someone who stopped at the atomic ‘shell’ of liberty would be a mistake, for whether by accident or design her policies could not even tolerate that some residue of a liberal subject in its ‘private garden’ could be left beyond the market.

There, in one’s inmost being, there remained some sense of self, some sense of community, the aggregated codes of social togetherness. For Thatcher the chemist that meant there remained a residual supply of potential energy locked up by centuries of sedimentation, which had to be driven out like tar from pine when placed under incredible pressures. It is no wonder the Iron Lady blew the riches of North Sea Oil so quickly as she papered over the cracks of her economic ‘revolution’.

Thatcher the arsonist or perhaps even Thatcher the logger. The 1980s were the social equivalent of Amazonian deforestation: faced with the apparent ‘inefficient mess’ of twisted rhizomes, arborescence, and all that thrived within Britain, Thatcher poured on the oil, tossed on a lighted match, and claimed credit for the spectacle of light and heat. ‘See the energies released by my philosophy!’ she might have cried as her easily caricaturable followers (think Alan B’Stard and Loadsamoney) raked it in from what they called the ‘Big Bang’. And then she, and her successors, handed over the flattened land to the cattle herders; land that produced profits for a couple of years before the remaining nutrients of the soil dried out and scrubland remained.

I am old enough just to remember little bottles of milk children received, which Thatcher took away. My family were reduced to a diet of baked potatoes when my father went on strike. This was important: the struggle did not stop at the workplace. Thatcher had to get at the dinner table, at the hearth of a social relation; she seemed to be obsessed with controlling what people and their children consumed. That was the way in, the way into the belly, and through the belly to the heart. Thatcherism was not something that happened to your country, it happened to you, to your inmost self, it was shoved down your throat. (I could go on with personal memories but it makes me so angry.)

You were forced to consume because that was your function now, to be a hyper-​consumer, to consume the fast food revolution, to consume the National Curriculum, to consume your family and cut them loose so you could enter the market where you consumed debt to buy real estate, consumed cars (if you were still using the bus at thirty ‘you had failed’, she said) — your soul had become obese, stretched beyond recognition by the early 80s feeding regime and now capable of absorbing unlimited quantities of shit. You were one of ‘Thatcher’s Children’, they said. I am one of Thatcher’s Children, and I saw my school teachers dance in the corridor when she was forced to resign in 1990.

Thatcher saw respect as a barrier to free trade. She saw empathy and grief as an untapped source of profit. And she mobilised every mechanism in her power to pursue a rigorous policy of primitive accumulation in the territory of the soul. Abuse as economic strategy. That is why we see British people holding what Twitter calls ‘Thatcher death parties’ — she caused wounds too deep and too foul to have healed in just 23 years.

  4 comments for “Thatcher: a wound reopens

  1. ecadre
    9 April 2013 at 3:21 pm

    Spot on, absolutely brilliant piece.

    I have not and will never forgive what she and the Tories did to this country, my home city and my friends and family.

    She deserves to burn for all eternity for that.

  2. alex
    10 April 2013 at 12:44 am

    what about the good things she did for Britain, i guess she didnt have it all wrong!!

  3. Benedict Thorn
    10 April 2013 at 8:24 am

    It is funny but some of the rightwing defenders of Thatcher in, say, the Daily Telegraph have adopted the view (tactic) that Thatcher had boundaries, that there were things she wouldn’t have done — e.g. privatising rail — which her successors did, and it is this that saves her.

    I would agree with that in the sense that Thatcherism was two pronged — it was authoritarian capitalism. Firstly, Thatch’s private army (aka the police) battered you into an amorphous mass of desire, and then secondly this mass was ‘free’ to gorge on whatever the market spewed forth. This internationally revered defender of freedom had no qualms crushing anyone who dared to other than meaninglessly ‘free’. She despised democracy and her former Conservative ministers happily admit as much.

    Allister Heath, editor of City A.M, says as much in his typical piece in the Telegraph: [after Thatcher] “greed was no longer balanced out by fear” (9.4.2013).

    This was Thatcherism — the dialectic of greed and fear, in which fear turned your being into a great Nothing which incessantly searched unlimited satisfaction (greed). If you weren’t with the programme, you were “the enemy within” and a “failure”.

    I think a lot of what Thatcher did that people call “good” was that which at the time appeared good to a section of the population (splurging on oil, closing the pits, financialising the economy, selling off council housing to tenants), but which in the years since have turned out to be false economies (the oil ran out, many coal pits are now flooded and useless so we import coal, the Global Financial Crisis, housing is now beyond the reach of even the middle classes).

    We are left nbow, in 2013, wondering what this great conflagration was for. Thatcher hoped the destruction would allow new economic activity to be created, but nothing but carrion-​devouring financialism ever materialised. She failed even on her own limited terms.

  4. Benedict Thorn
    10 April 2013 at 8:25 am

    That was a reply @alex

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