Notes on the News
By Gwydion M. Williams
Margaret Hilda Thatcher has now been marginalised by John Major and the New Grey Men. The debate over the Maastricht agreements was used very neatly to redefine her in the public mind as a sort of irritating “auntie” who should be treated with great politeness but not taken seriously. And she hasn’t been able to stop it happening – has perhaps not even fully understood it
The Thatcherite Old Guard tried to rally public opinion against the drift into a United Europe, and they failed dismally. Major’s tactics were cunning – he allowed the use of the word “federalism” to become a major issue, and his European colleagues were kind enough to give him a nominal victory on the issue. Knowing that the Euro-enthusiasts had no one but him to look to, he concentrated on muddying the issues and keeping the support of as many of the uncommitted MPs as he could. Thatcher was in no position to force a showdown – she would almost certainly have lost it.
Mrs Thatcher tried to rally the nation, but ten years of her rule hadn’t left all that much that could be rallied. She had abolished national economic planning, done her best to abolish national wage bargaining, sold off many of the nationalised industries, done as much damage as she dared to the national health service. All of this was tolerable because of the steady growth in working class living standards – the true basis for Thatcherism’s stability. But it all started coming unstuck in her later years, with many of the Thatcherite “entrepreneurs” going bankrupt and the British economy once again falling behind the rest of Europe. She tried to rally the nation for her own notion of British particularism, but the nation was no longer interested. She made self-interest the dominant force, and self-interest leads inexorably towards a United Europe.
[Sadly, Thatcherism made a come-back after Tony Blair surrendered to New Right economic fantasies.]
The British Establishment seem to think that they can redefine the truth just as the whim takes them. The Lockerbie bomb was almost at once identified as a Syrian operation – very probably carried out on behalf of the Iranians, in retaliation for the Iranian passenger aircraft that a US ship “accidentally” shot down during the Iran-Iraq war. But the Gulf War turned Syria into an important regional ally, so that they can no longer be deemed guilty of doing what they almost certainly did. Fortunately the Libyans are available as a substitute – not all that strong, somewhat isolated in Third World circles, undoubtedly involved in some other terrorist incidents. Even though Lockerbie was almost certainly not their handiwork, they are a suitable case for framing.
[Assad Senior let sectarian hatreds between rival branches of the Baath movement mislead him. He helped the US campaign against Iraq. This was the start of the process of intervention on various pretexts that has seen Syria vastly damaged after his time. (He died in 2000 and one of his sons succeeded.]
As was Winston Silcott in the Blakelock affair. The police urgently needed to be seen to be dealing with the matter. Silcott was already out on bail after an earlier unconnected murder. So he was “fitted up” for the Blakelock killing, along with a couple of other plausible suspects, one of whom may indeed have been on the fringes of the crowd that did the killing.
The British legal system used to be run by people who really cared about justice in the abstract. The present crowd have traded on that reputation, and utterly destroyed it. As part of our integration into a United Europe, we will probably move towards something much more like the continental system.
Separate nationalities can co-exist quite happily for centuries, for as long as each side trusts the other. Once distrust starts, it can easily escalate, with each side deciding to “get them before they get us”. Thus it was in Croatia. Thus it could easily have been in the Ukraine.
Boris Yeltsin acted wisely and responsibly in agreeing to a Commonwealth ruled from Minsk, once the Ukrainians had shown that they were no longer willing to be ruled from Moscow. The division between Russians and Ukrainians is not all that sharp, and it is in everyone’s interest to keep it blurred. While minorities feel that they are part of some larger structure, not wholly at the mercy of the regional minority, peace is much more likely to be preserved.
It took Mikhail Gorbachev just 6 years to tum a crisis into a total disaster. Some people expressed the hope that he would be given some job in the new Commonwealth structure: I am very glad that he seems to have got nothing. Having disrupted everything and reconstructed nothing, he tried briefly to undo Yeltsin’s good work and deny the Ukrainians self-determination. Thankfully the military refused to support him, and his power is at an end.
[Ukraine did indeed work smoothly with Russia till 2004, with the first Orange Revolution. An incompetent and corrupt government was replaced by an alternative incompetent and corrupt government that also encouraged the public to blame Russia. This did so badly that in 2010, the voters returned the man they had rejected in 2004. But since he did no better, there was enough for a second Orange Revolution that took the country still lower. With active support from neo-Nazis, the legally elected President was illegally chased out. For details, see Ukraine – Kiev’s Five-Day War Machine and Ukraine Illegally Removed Its Elected President.
Gorbachev was never serious about reconstruction. Everything was to change, but everything was also to stay just the same – it was never likely to work, and several of us said at the time, flying in the face of conventional wisdom. Now Gorbachev is a leader without a state. Perhaps he and the heir of the Tsars can work out some sort of double act for the benefit of the tourists.
The saddest thing about the death of Marxism Today is that it didn’t happen years ago. Like Gorbachev, that whole wing of the CP managed to undermine what existed without putting anything else in its place. Marxism Today subverted hard-line self-confident opposition to capitalism. But it also balked at following through the logic of this undermining and advocating serious reform within the existing framework. It was no longer Leninist, but it could not become “post-Leninist” either – its jargon could never stretch to saying such a thing. It didn’t like what it was, but lacked the guts to become anything else.
“Marxism Today lived gloriously. And now it dies gloriously.” said its editor in its last issue. But where is the glory in shooting yourself in the foot, and then leaving the wound untreated so that you finally die of it? Where is the glory in being the tail-end of a Communist Party that wrecked the chances of social justice through incomes policy; that helped block workers control when it was a very real possibility; that led the unsuccessful resistance to integration with Europe? Did Marxism Today ever expect a revival of traditional Toryism in opposition to Thatcher? (as this magazine did). Did Marxism Today ever call perestroika a hollow sham? Did they point out the utter incompetence of Arthur Scargill’s leadership during the miner’s strike, when it was still possible that the struggle might have been won, or the damage at least limited?
What the hell did Marxism Today ever do that anyone could be proud of?
Is it admirable of them to abandon ship when the ship seems in danger of sinking, when they stuck with it through all the good times and took all of the good things that were on offer?
Marxism Today goes down into silence, proudly listing the praise it has received from Chris Patten and Paddy Ashdown. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that being praised by the enemies of socialism is a very dubious recommendation for what was supposed to be a socialist journal. They seem happy for any nice thing that important people. Marxism Today ends its days as a collection of ex-Marxist toadies, a bunch of worthless sycophants.
This article appeared in January 1992, in Issue 27 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs. You can find more from the era at https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/very-old-issues-images/.