Tag Archive | thatcher

This Film Needs Watching: Still The Enemy Within




I really felt the need to write a few thoughts on finally getting around to watching the 2014 film Still the Enemy Within. An Owen Gower documentary that tells the story of the Miners’ Strike from the perspective of the miners. Something that you suddenly realise is criminally lacking. How can one ever again swallow another BBC standard-issue ‘Remember-The-80’s’ sort of program after watching this? Their so-called neutrality is exposed for what it is: the winner’s attempts at ‘reality management’.

The former striking miner from Frickley (a village on the South/West Yorkshire border) was far from wrong when he said that if the Miners had won the world would have been better for everybody today – the conclusive moment of the film. But even if it was more-than-likely that the capitalist class would have found another way of crushing worker solidarity, the fact remains that this was an obstacle to the implementation of market fundamentalism (usually called ‘neoliberalism’) across the globe. The footage of events both fire me up and make me equally sad: thousands and thousands of unhappy aspects that make up our current age, only ever describable in broken up trains of thought, become self-evident in the fact that something, something more than what can be explained, has been smothered in the silent-sickness of the times we now inhabit. An energy, visible in that footage that saddens us, moves us, scares us, but now always seems to evade us.

Born in 1984, in an area of Yorkshire very much caught up in the conflict, something is certainly stirred in me; maybe it’s the voices passionately crying out for justice in my mother tongue whilst enduring state-sanctioned brutality, whilst the Orwellian doublespeak of Thatcher in her interviews, claiming to be on the side of democracy and decency (in 2015, how could anybody argue that the market fundamentalism she helped brutally impose is on the side of democracy and decency?); or maybe it’s that these places I know too well, are so unfamiliar to me in the context of world where people still believed they could fight for a better world? (something that also captivated me in David Peace’s fact/fiction novel GB84). People often ‘condescend’ Barnsley (for example) by saying “everyone looks to have given up, I find it a depressing place”. There is truth in this, but they’ve come at from an angle skewed by an age of ‘capitalist realism’; the 1984 footage shows very homely places fighting for a world that has now been made to look impossible. Through the cobwebs of malaise and depressive episodes of the last few years, the recent Tory victory should be a call to arms to challenge the idea that there is no alternative to this utterly shit and shitter social reality.

What else is their left for me to say? One thing’s for sure: I’m convinced that the more people who are encouraged to watch this film, the more people there will be up and down the Country, standing up to these 21-century-cyberprick-Tories, and their  current assaults on democracy and living standards. I think it is possibly even more important to us right now that Ken Loach’s The Spirit of ’45.

I can’t abstain OR join in, I’m sat in the middle, waiting (OR can we view the death of Thatcher as anything other than an argument based on personaility?)

I decided that I would express my thoughts on hearing about the death of Margaret Thatcher before I had the chance to be reconnected (to be a forced witness, forced commentator, and forced debater) onto the social media networks that dominate our current times – luckily (in this case) I work in a building that has very little reception to the outside (cyber)world.

The first sensation I had on hearing the news was an anxious one; a knowing that I must have an opinion, being so blatantly oppositional to the impacts on society (and eventually the world) made under her rule. But this is because the legacy of these impacts is a constantly expanding legacy; she had a large part to play in letting a very big genie out of a bottle. For this reason the destructive processes she instigated in areas very local to me are best left for someone else who could write about them far better than I could. This is exactly what the titles says it is: a need to write something, without it resulting in the inevitable Facebook-slanging match.

Belief, and (more importantly) emphasis and decisions based on the notion that we were progressing towards an ever better world for all humans (ideas that constituted the modernist project) had been dealt some great blows in the 1970’s, but both the election of the conservative government, led by Margaret Thatcher, in the UK (in 1979) and the Republican Government (Led by former film star Ronald Reagan) in the USA (in 1981) more than escalated the feeling that the future wasn’t progressing in this direction, and helped to entrench the belief that a better world wasn’t possible at all, that we had reached the end of the road to a social utopia (now only room for private – ‘ensuite’ utopias); the postmodern condition was forced upon us. The entrenchment was caused by coupling the assertion that ‘there was no future’ with the assertion that there ‘was no alternative to capitalism’, and they oversaw the inauguration of global capitalism, governed by the insane logic of a financial system made possible by newly emerging computer technologies. This logic of there being no alternative precipitated, especially after the fall of the Soviet Regimes, until, after tragedies and disappointments with the outcome of this new reality,  we arrived in our desperately fearful and denial-fuelled present times.

But should it be the head of Thatcher that we hold up on banners when we witness the diabolical mess we are in? Unfortunately it’s hard to avoid getting involved in the nitty gritty of such debates where blaming the individual for world is demanded; just recently, on Facebook (where else?) I reposted an image thread that challenged the current Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith to live up to his claim that he could survive on the £53 a week benefits handout, that many do indeed have to survive on. I questioned whether it was the right thing to share this image/ that it may “do some good”, or that it will merely contribute to the difficulty of communication on a tool that it supposed to there to make communication easier (like fuck it does). But there’s often no way around it; I would feel guilt not to make a noise, because it may appear that I’m simply not bothered about the bleak changes being bullishly enforced onto the poorest people in society. But sometimes the noise comes out wrong, and havew the wrong effect. On my own blog I feel like I can at least explain all this without this pressure.

I’d like to think that there can be a response to this event that has no need to cause offence to relatives, or then try to console her grieving relatives, but sees her legacy/the actions that engraved themselves into her image as the sole thing to concentrate on. Her death demands a debate about where we are now and what we want to moved beyond, but it is useless if it’s a slanging match between those who are celebrating her death and those who talk about her as a human being with children. What makes Margaret Thatcher such a big deal, isn’t her big personality,her ruthlessness and often nasty actions. It is more that, in our society of the individual, her image has come to embody the vast changes that she had great influence in inaugurating; but the changes are far more than her and Reagan put together; The ‘Red Labour’ Facebook page sighted this moment as a ‘Berlin Wall Moment for the left‘, and I believe this to be the approptiate outlook. Before the Thatcher and Reagan government’s there was no certainty of what kind of social system we would arrive at – there was still a future. What happened afterwards was self-fulfilling feeling that there was no alternative to capitalism; and as the dynamics of capitalism ate away at the social, political and environmental networks, that inability to picture a different future became more and more the inability to picture a future worth living in. 

“the leaders of men, born out of your frustration” Joy Division, a band the spanned this late 70’s/early 80’s watershed

The world often makes the figures that its unconscious drives wish for. Was Adolf Hitler the real evil, architect of Nazi Germany, or was he merely a porous vessel for the collective drives, that was sucked into is place above the obedient masses? I’m obviously not making direct comparison with Hitler and Thatcher/Reagan here; but in the late seventies, there were many sentiments, albeit disparate, from workers wishing for more flexibility/freedom from the rigid/yet secure old production-line capitalism (not yet aware of the new forms of repression about to emerge), to big business desires for overseas expansion, to an emerging computerisation of technology, that were ready to pounce on opportunities opened up with the freeing up of the economy (a neoliberal counterrevolution). Like the fall of the Berlin wall, can a death be a symbolic opening to a new era, that helps us mode beyong the aspirationalism that was enbedded into our souls by the dynmanics of the new capitalism she had such an important part in bringing about?

Will it make many of us reflect on what has come of the dynamics set in motion over 30 years ago? Will it further divide society; aggravating some and further (re)patriotising others? (as we begin to see the formation of another flag-waving frenzy). If we are to disagree with the call to celebrate her demise, then we should merely treat her as a mere mortal who deserves no more media attention that my grandad (who died two years ago, and was the same age as Thatcher), and most certainly reject the softening-of-blows benevolent ‘humanising’ of her that the BBC, and (no doubt) SKY and ITV are already doing, and merely focus on the symbolic: like with the effect of the Berlin Wall; as a calling into question of the neoliberal system we are all currently being dragged along by.