Monday, 22 November 2010

Reflections on the past and hopes for the future

Via Enemies of Reason, I'm reminded of what happened 20 years ago today;

The sight of Margaret Thatcher crying on that day no doubt cheered those who had fought so vigorously against her in the previous decade. Seeing it today certainly gave me pause to smile - and may do the same for others.

But it's worth reflecting, especially now, where we've actually gotten to since then.

The trade union movement is immeasurably smaller and weaker, even if some portions of it retain a commendable willingness to fight. Permanent, secure employment has been steadily eroded by casualisation. New Labour rose from Thatcher's ashes to continue her legacy for thirteen years. Likewise, council tax took over when the poll tax was defeated.

And we once again face a Conservative administration, weilding the axe to make the working class pay for the crisis of the ruling class. Everything has changed, yet everything remains the same.

Ask any 20-year-old for a Thatcher slogan and they will tell you, "She said there's no such thing as society." We understand, and painfully so, that we now live in a country where community has been replaced with an image of community that can be broken up and sold back to us at a profit.

This is what the "big society" is all about: not cuddly One-Nation Toryism, but the logical conclusion of Thatcherism, with the corporate iconography of society replacing the social even as the welfare state is destroyed. It is no accident the Camerons have employed a stylist and a photographer at public expense, while it has been decided that "wasteful" quangos such as the Youth Justice Board ought to be axed. In personality politics, image is everything.

We may be too young to remember Thatcher high-heeling it out of No 10, but our leaders still dance to the rhythm of her politics and our aspirations are still dominated by her project. The mythology of Thatcherism is more than mortal. When Elton John is called upon to sing her eulogy, he will no doubt conclude that the country burned out long before her legend ever will.
I don't point this out simply to put a downer on the anniversary of a moment that can force a smile from the most cynical of working class activists. I'm not writing this with a feeling of despair or futility. Indeed, since Millbank I've been more optimistic than ever about our chances in this class war.

But we cannot be blind to the fact that, especially now, changing the government will not solve our problems. As long as the same ruling class are maintained in profit and property, and the same mechanisms givern how power is exercised, we can expect nothing more than different faces in front of the same programme. The last two decades should have taught us that.

They should also have taught us that the one thing those at the top genuinely fear is the anger and disobedience of the working class. Poll tax collapsed because 17 million people refused to pay it, and grassroots organisation and class solidarity remain our greatest weapons.

That's why Thatcher succeeded by picking off her adversaries one at a time - and why the universal attack in the form of poll tax was her greatest folly. It's why the present government, using their austerity budget and comprehensive spending review to go after everybody at once, has met with a level of anger after six months that it took the last Tory government a decade to stir up.

The task now is not to get Labour ready for a fight, or build a new workers' party. It is for the working class to build upon this explosion of anger and organise to fight for and defend ourselves.