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Theories of Thatcherism by Peter Kennedy

Theories of Thatcherism by Peter Kennedy

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Published by xram933
A CRITIQUE OF EXISTING THEORIES OF THATCHERISM AND A CONTRIBUTION TO A MARXIST THEORY OF CAPITALIST DECAY by PETER KENNEDY
Making sense of Thatcherism' has preoccupied the Marxist left in Britain
for the past decade or more. Much has been written on how 'Thatcherism's'
'authoritarian style populism' has swept the 'hegemonic' board in terms of
ideology, politics and culture.1 As Andrew Gamble observes:
The term 'Thatcherism' was widely adopted and used to indicate
the style of Thatcher's political leadership, the new ideology
which she endorsed, and the policies of the Thatcher Government.
All these elements are important, but Thatcherism is best
understood as a specific political project, not just of Thatcher
herself, but of an important current within the Conservative
Party.
A CRITIQUE OF EXISTING THEORIES OF THATCHERISM AND A CONTRIBUTION TO A MARXIST THEORY OF CAPITALIST DECAY by PETER KENNEDY
Making sense of Thatcherism' has preoccupied the Marxist left in Britain
for the past decade or more. Much has been written on how 'Thatcherism's'
'authoritarian style populism' has swept the 'hegemonic' board in terms of
ideology, politics and culture.1 As Andrew Gamble observes:
The term 'Thatcherism' was widely adopted and used to indicate
the style of Thatcher's political leadership, the new ideology
which she endorsed, and the policies of the Thatcher Government.
All these elements are important, but Thatcherism is best
understood as a specific political project, not just of Thatcher
herself, but of an important current within the Conservative
Party.

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Published by: xram933 on Jan 28, 2010
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A CRITIQUE OF EXISTING THEORIES OF THATCHERISMAND A CONTRIBUTION TO A MARXIST THEORY OFCAPITALIST DECAY
PETER KENNEDYMaking sense of Thatcherism' has preoccupied the Marxist left in Britainfor the past decade or more. Much has been written on how 'Thatcherism's''authoritarian style populism' has swept the 'hegemonic' board in terms of ideology, politics and culture.
1
As Andrew Gamble observes:The term 'Thatcherism' was widely adopted and used to indicatethe style of Thatcher's political leadership, the new ideologywhich she endorsed, and the policies of the Thatcher Government.All these elements are important, but Thatcherism is bestunderstood as a specific political project, not just of Thatcher herself, but of an important current within the ConservativeParty.
2
To Andrew Gamble's credit he has at least attempted to provide astructural explanation for the emergence of so called 'Thatcherism' (see A.Gamble 1990). As he acknowledges above, however, his concern has been primarily with a wholly politically based structural analysis. He has placedThatcherism within the Right wing tendency which has emphasised thetwo-fold need for 'a free economy/strong State' and a rejection of 'collectivism' and 'social Democracy'. At this political level, questions of what exactly constitutes a 'free economy' or 'collectivism' are never discussed. In other words a wholly political account generally rests uponthe acceptance of the empirically given and so by-passes, or takes for granted, the all important social categories of explanation that could be
1 See in particular Marxism Today throughout the 1980s.2 Social Studies Revue, VoI6 No3 Jan 1991, p 88.
95
 
 provided by Marxism. In this sense a Marxist
political economy
of 'Thatcherism' is still required.Marxist categories must surely be the basis upon which to construct theoriesof ideological and political hegemonies. More importantly, a Marxist political economy may well lead one to re-examine and place in a newcontext the whole concept of a 'Thatcherite hegemony'. Looked at fromthis point of view, it will hopefully become clear that present day Marxismhas surely been running before it has learnt to walk. Confirmation that thisis the case comes easily to hand. For example, we know that 'Thatcherism'emerged out of the ashes of 'Labourism' but Marxists have yet to explainthe full implications of 'Labourism'. How then can they possibly offer anadequate explanation of 'Thatcherism'? Certainly, no one denies the link  between the two.There are two main strands to current Marxist theory on the subject of Labourism. On the one hand, Labourism is reduced to two amorphousconcepts which have preoccupied the minds of the left: 'Fordism' and'Keynesianism'. As such, Thatcherism then becomes aligned with theemergence of an equally ambiguous concept, 'Post-Fordism'. On the other hand, Labourism is linked to the failed project of halting capitalist decline.Thatcherism is then aligned with the emergence of a new capitalist strategyto halt the process of decline. The latter point of view offers most potentialfor both an understanding of Thatcherism and Labourism. However, todate, Marxists have failed to adequately explain what exactly capitalistdecline means. These criticisms will be taken up further in section 1 below.There it will be argued that the ambiguities of'Fordism/Post-Fordism'" areso profound that they cannot be used as the political economic basis of either Labourism or Thatcherism. Following this, in section 2, a brief outline of Marx's labour theory of value is provided. Here the emphasis is placed on the contradiction
within
labour. It is this contradiction and morespecifically, its negation, that lies at the heart of a Marxist understandingof Labourism and Thatcherism. This latter claim will be taken up andexpanded on in section 3. In section 3 we are specifically interested withthe emergence of "Labourism" and 'Thatcherism'; the article does
not
concern itself with a detailed analysis of the two social categories onceconsolidated. To understand why they emerged is the key to understandingthe nature of capitalist decay in Britain, which is really the central concernof this article. The argument in this section is as follows. Firstly, Marxismmust come to terms with 'Labourism' as a social category which itself 96
 
emerges out of a
decaying form of capitalism
and which extendscapitalism's life beyond its years. Secondly, the emergence of 'Thatcherism', for all its minor successes, has served only to escalatecapitalism's decay and so bring closer the day when workers must takedemocratic power into their own hands, as capital wanes and consciousregulation of social labour becomes a political necessity. The subjectivefactor now becomes
the
important question.
1.1: THE AMBIGUITIES OF 'FORDISM/POST-FORDISM'
For Stuart Hall, who has written extensively on the topic, "Thatcherism's project can be understood as operating on the ground of longer, deeper,more profound movements of change". These longer deeper, more profound movements turn out to be a loose ensemble of technical changesall and sundry have termed 'Post-Fordism'. Given 'Post-Fordism's'apparent importance for understanding 'Thatcherism', it is essential todefine it. Unfortunately 'Post-Fordism' has evaded all attemptedexplanation. As such it has remained a catch-all phrase for every passingflight of fancy in society in the past 15 years. Hall and most others whoadhere to this ambiguous concept are at least certain about one thing:'Post-Fordism' is no "epochal shift, of the order of the famous transitionfrom feudalism to capitalism"; it is merely another onward and upward phase in the life of capitalism, or, as Hall puts it: the transition "from oneregime of accumulation to another, within capitalism".According to Hall anyone expecting a precise definition of such animportant social category is simply misguided. As Hall would have it, "Thisstand and deliver way of assessing things may itself be the product of anearlier type of totalising logic which is beginning to be superseded. In a permanently transitional age we must expect unevenness, contradictoryoutcomes, disjunctures, delays, contingencies, uncompleted projectsoverlapping emergent ones". One response to this might well be to ask 
3 S Hall and M Jaques, New Times, p126, 1990, Lawrence and Wishart4 Ibid. p 127 (emphasis mine).
97

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