CURRENT POLITICS - Thatcherism
Thatcher: silver bullets, garlic and a wooden stake
Thatcher was never more than the chair of one executive committee of monopolising capitals. Like Howard, Killard presides over a branch office.
Delightful as is it to chorus ‘Ding-dong, the witch is dead’, Thatcher’s viciousness was not the result of her personality. Similarly, Howard did not serve up WorkChoices because he was a nasty man. He is, indeed, a nasty man but he was serving the needs of capital. Killard continues to do the same with un-Fair Work Australia. Small wonder that Thatcher looked on ‘New Labour” as her greatest achievement.
Shouting abuse at the TV screen might make us feel good. But it ain’t Marxism. Science begins from the need that capital has to expand. Capital flows to where the money is. The biggest chance for profit is at home or in the other metropolitan markets. The 1980s provided lessons around the globe.
To understand Thatcherism we need to go back to the collapse of the post-war settlement. By 1945, the big winners had been the US monopolising capitals. They came out of the Bretton Woods negotiations that year with three instruments to dominate their allies and enemies alike. Those enforcers were the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation. Lurking behind that trio was the dollar standard. Henceforth, other economies could exchange US dollars for gold. For this to work, they had to earn US dollars.
This arrangement worked well enough for US capital until the mid-1960s. In 1967, the Wall Street Journal warned against the costs of the Vietnam war. To finance the war, the US was inflating its currency. That meant that its trading ‘partners’ were not getting the full value from their purchases of US dollars. Germany and France led the way in refusing to be short changed. In 1971, Nixon announced the end of convertibility. We are still living under the shadow of the implosion of the post-war settlement.
The biggest losers out of the fiddling with the US dollar had been the oil producers. They got together to win back some of what they had lost. The result was OPEC and the two oil price shocks. The higher petrol prices nearly bankrupted the US makers of gas-guzzlers. Massive re-tooling and devalorisation followed.
Everywhere, the agents of capital scrambled to survive. Nixon declared a trade war against Japan. The aim was to make Tokyo to revalue the Yen, which was giving its exporters a vast advantage and blocking imports. At the same time, the creepy David Rockefeller – Standard Oil and Chase Manhattan Bank – set up the Trilateral Commission. This body had twin aims. One was to bring Japan into the fold alongside the expanding European Community and the US economy. The other was to put a stop to the participatory democracy that had burst out in 1968. One recruit was Jimmy Carter.
Under Carter’s presidency, the head of the Federal Reserve threw the switch for Reaganism by driving up the value of the US dollar. The aim was to purge the US economy of its inefficient manufacturers. The result is the rust-bucket of Detroit.
Meanwhile, under Fraser, Australia was being driven down side roads towards the same goal. Tariff walls no longer promised the highest return on capital for GM and Ford. They had to find a way to beat the Japanese makers. So we got the world car. Parts were made in several countries and shipped here to be assembled. Today, we are staring into the next stage of that solution with the total closure of car-makers. Fraser also set out to break the power of the unions. The O’Shea strike had broken the penal powers of arbitration. The new fetter was the Trade Practices Act and the busting of secondary boycotts. Today, even primary boycotts are illegal.
One more fact shows how late Thatcher or Reagan was in joining the fray. In February 1979, Fraser appointed the Campbell Committee to report on how to regulate the financial sector. US agent Hawke implemented the findings. The most important switch was floating the Australian dollar in December 1983. The currency traders took off. Today, the value of the Australian dollar is so high because those parasites can earn a higher rate of return here than almost anywhere else on the planet. Real interest rates are higher and the economy is more stable. The flow-on is that Australian producers are locked out of export markets. Bye-bye the car-makers and anyone else you care to name.
The need that capital has to expand also found expression in the pressure from the traders to financialise every sphere of life. The sale of government- controlled assets was one example of colonising the home market. Hawke-Keating handed QANTAS and the Commonwealth Bank over to corporates under the lie of ‘privatising’. Now the traders want to get their claws deeper into education, health and retirement funds.
Woven through these drives to restore the rate of return on investment is the ideology of the market. But let’s be clear. The ideas serve the needs of capital to expand just as did Thatcher’s vindictive personality. Her ideas and viciousness were not the cause for ruining the lives of millions.
We must push back against capital at every level. Marxism is our weapon to vanquish bourgeois ideology. For it to work, we have to rise above capitalism’s supersaturated solution of sociological bull-dust. One example is the tut-tutting against Thatcher’s assertion that there is no such thing as society; there are only families and individuals. Marxists spurn waffle about ‘society’. We start from the power structures that exist above and through individuals and households. Thatcher knew there was much more. After all, she presided over the state machinery to promote the welfare of corporations. They are the substance of capitalist ‘society’.
Our world will not be free of Thatcher until we have driven a stake through the heart of capitalism. That will be a day to rejoice. That is the grave to dance on. ‘Ding-Dong, the boss class is dead’.
See also Post-War Australia
|See also Political Economy