The role of Margaret Thatcher as Britain’s Ronald Reagan — that is, as a reactionary head of state who unleashed an assault on unions and the working class in general — is widely understood.
Despite all the usual efforts made by the capitalist media to create an atmosphere of mourning when one of their own dies, the response from the British working class was underwhelming, to say the least. Many were unabashed in cursing her legacy and impact on working and living conditions.
However, one area of her political life has not received the attention it deserves in the progressive media. That is her role in the destruction of the Soviet Union.
Thatcher invited Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to London in 1984, at a time when the imperialists were still not sure of the new leader’s intentions. After their meeting, she told the media: “I like Mr. Gorbachev; we can do business together.”
From then on, Gorbachev was seen as a reformer with whom the autocrats of capital in the West could deal. Thatcher allayed any fears they might have had that Gorbachev’s pronouncements of “perestroika” (restructuring) and “glasnost” (openness) could lead to a restoration of the early, revolutionary period of vigorous participation by the masses in running the country.
For public purposes, the media were full of speculation on whether Gorbachev would make the USSR more “democratic.” In private, however, the political leaders of the capitalist world wanted to know whether their decades of pressure on the leaders of the USSR — from threats of nuclear war to economic sanctions — had worn down the leaders and would induce them to abandon the basic gains of the workers’ and peasants’ revolution of 1917: a planned economy based on state ownership of the means of production and the land.
What they wanted — and got — from Gorbachev was the abandonment of the political-economic structure that had held the Soviet Union together, in a bloc with its allied states in Eastern Europe. For this, the imperialists gave him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.
Gorbachev himself was ousted in August 1991, the Soviet Union was dismantled, and a thoroughgoing counterrevolution took over. The fruits of the workers’ labor — an immense and integrated industrial and agricultural complex built up after the horrific destruction wreaked on the USSR by Hitler’s armies during World War II — were auctioned off to corrupt and wealthy individuals, many with ties to foreign capital. Almost overnight they became millionaires and eventually billionaires, while tens of millions of workers were plunged into poverty.
All the indices that reveal the economic and social health of a society — infant mortality, life expectancy, preventable diseases, prostitution, addiction — dramatically worsened in the gravest blow ever suffered by a modern population during peacetime.
Thatcher and her fellow imperialist “statesmen” were jubilant. They had dealt a blow not only to the first workers’ state but also to the workers of the entire world.
They had opened up the present era of the world capitalist market, where corporations scour the globe for cheaper labor. What followed is typical when capitalism is free to be capitalism, with no restraints: reckless expansion, overproduction, crisis, layoffs and political instability.
In using an iron hand against Britain’s unions and national health system, as well as conspiring against the Soviet Union, Thatcher was only being true to her own class. And who are they? They are the fraction of 1% of society, mostly in the imperialist countries, who loudly proclaim their allegiance to “democracy,” who own and control the wealth and despoil the planet through the day-to-day exploitation of workers throughout the world.