The death of Margaret Thatcher provides an opportunity to reflect on how she managed to pull British politics to the right and force through policies which increased inequality, militarism and created a more centralised state. We’ve put together a reading list organised thematically of some of our most relevant Pluto books, on which we are providing a 25% discount (and free UK P&P) for the next week. To access this special offer enter the code ‘PLUTHATCHER’ here.
The dark side of Thatcher’s legacy
1. State Violence, Collusion and the Troubles, by Maurice Punch
In this chilling account, Maurice Punch documents collusion between the British state and paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. Punch notes that Thatcher attended meetings of the Joint Intelligence Committee on a weekly basis, although it is not mentioned once in her memoirs. Punch argues that “law breaking by the authorities was not incidental, individual and sporadic but prolonged, routine and systemic”.
Counter Insurgency, Government Deviance and Northern Ireland
Documents in chilling detail how the British government turned to violent and illegal measures in its fight against Irish Republicanism.
“State Violence, Collusion and the Troubles brings to bear a mature, discerning and knowledgeable mind on a vexed area and the results are disquieting, fascinating and provocative.” – Paul Rock, Professor of Social Institutions, Mannheim Centre for the Study of Criminology and Criminal Justice, London School of Economics and Political Science
“A very insightful and close examination of what Britain did in Northern Ireland used to understand what states do elsewhere when dealing with insurgent violence. Punch has been exhaustive in his research and even-handed on a fraught topic. My earnest hope is that the book will be read by a wide audience.” – David Bayley, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University at Albany, State University of New York
2. Bobby Sands: Nothing But an Unfinished Song, by Denis O’Hearn
Bobby Sands was elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in 1981 whilst on hunger strike in the Maze prison for political prisoner status. Thatcher refused to negotiate, saying after his death, “Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organisation did not allow to many of its victims”.
Nothing But an Unfinished Song
Published on the 25th anniversary of Sand’s death, this powerful biography illuminates his life and political impact.
“The life of a truly remarkable young man: Bobby Sands … how he grew from a plucky lad into a deeply committed, sensitive, anti-imperialist revolutionary, and how he, in turn, transformed the Nationalist Movement into a deeper, broader one. … The life of Bobby Sands shows development, growth, maturation, and a profoundly humanistic internationalist flavor, in the midst of a bitter, ugly struggle that can purge the humanity out of anyone. The work also presents us with a picture not merely of the armed combatant, but of his love of music, and stories, and how he used these gifts to lift the spirits of his mates in the darkest of days. Nothing But An Unfinished Song is the story of how Irish nationalists battled British occupation, sectarian violence, and broken spirits. It has a message that will find interest everywhere.” – Mumia Abu-Jamal
“Denis O’Hearn in his gripping, heart stopping, exhilarating sometimes sad book, Bobby Sands, tells an extraordinary story of life, love and noble death…A grand and inspiring book by a grand and inspiring writer.” – Malachy McCourt
3. Murdoch’s Politics: How One Man’s Thirst For Wealth and Power Shapes our World, by David McKnight
McKnight shows how Thatcher forged a close political alliance with Murdoch, helping him to crush the print unions at his Wapping plant and blocking challenges to his media empire. McKnight records how Thatcher overruled her own ministers who had doubts about the expensive police operation required to break the print workers strike at Wapping. McKnight writes, “Murdoch received a personal assurance from Thatcher that she would ‘squash’ any weakening by her ministers.”
How One Man’s Thirst For Wealth and Power Shapes our World
David McKnight. Foreword by Robert W. McChesney
Searching analysis of Rupert Murdoch’s impact on politics, media and culture. Includes the fallout from the Leveson inquiry.
“An anatomy and record of the reign of Murdoch which is brave and valuable. One day, when Murdoch is gone, it will help explain why so many obeyed him.” – The Guardian
“A timely and hard-hitting account of the career of the world’s first and greatest global media baron, from one of Australia’s leading academics in the field of journalism studies. A former journalist himself, McKnight’s account of the Murdoch empire should be read by all who are interested in the relationship between media and political power in our time.” – Brian McNair, Professor of Journalism, Media & Communication at Queensland University of Technology, author of News and Journalism in the UK (2009)
The society Thatcher created
1. The Rise and Fall of the Welfare State, by Asbjørn Wahl
Wahl shows how the ideas of Thatcherism spread across Europe, encouraging governments to attack the idea of universal welfare. Inevitably, inequality and social polarisation have increased. However, welfare has not ended. It has simply been increased for the rich through subsidies and tax breaks, whilst restricted for the poor.
Unflinching survey of the state of welfare systems across Europe today, as they struggle in an age of government austerity and neo-liberal reform.
“With his focus on the shift in the balance of power behind the flourishing and now the destruction of social democracy Asbjørn Wahl has produced one of the best analyses of the politics of the welfare state. He also draws on ideas from struggles across the world for building a new power for democratic ownership of the economy – the only basis on which our social rights can have a future.
“This scholarly and thoughtful yet accessible book is relevant to the whole of Europe and the world. The social model of the Welfare State is one of the greatest conquests in the entire history of human emancipation and the ongoing attempt to destroy it is a crime against humanity. We should read it, learn from it and organise so as to fight back with all our strength.” – Susan George, President of the Board of the Transnational Institute
2. Idiotism: Capitalism and the Privatisation of Life, by Neal Curtis
Curtis describes Margaret Thatcher’s phrase ‘there is no such thing as society’ as the ‘founding axiom of Idiotism’. In this powerful book he shows how the neoliberal society spawned by Thatcher has made us more isolated and alienated than ever before.
Capitalism and the Privatisation of Life
Examines the condition of society in late capitalism where market logic has become the new ‘common sense’.
“Neal Curtis boldly confronts the disturbing trap of contemporary democracy: its promises of diversity and plurality are undone by capitalist enclosure. Those brave enough to acknowledge not just capitalism’s idiocy but the way it makes idiots of us will be grateful for this provocative, unyielding, and immensely readable book.” – Jodi Dean, Professor of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and author of Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies (2009)
“Neal Curtis’s book describes how the spread of privatised stupidity, economic fanaticism and the cuts in education are provoking a rise of barbarianism and laying the foundations for a dictatorship of ignorance.” – Franco Berardi, author of The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy (2009)
3. Bleakonomics, by Rob Larson
Thatcher famously entered office declaring, “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope”. Rob Larson shows how in the 21st century her economic policies have created the exact opposite – discord, error, uncertainty and despair.
A Heartwarming Introduction to Financial Catastrophe, the Jobs Crisis and Environmental Destruction
Short and darkly humorous guide to the three great crises plaguing today’s world: climate change, inequality and financial crisis.
“I have been reading Rob Larson’s columns for some time, with great profit and appreciation. His work is not only solidly grounded but also lucid and accessible, a most valuable contribution to public understanding and vitally needed action.” – Noam Chomsky
“Larson adds a critical component to the policy debate about financial reform by explaining why the systemically dangerous institutions (SDIs) — the “too big to fail” banks — imperil our democracy as well as our economy. They are ticking time bombs certain to cause great damage unless we follow Larson’s advice.” – William Black, Associate Professor of Economics and Law, University of Missouri-Kansas City, author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One
1. What We Are Fighting For, edited by Federico Campagna and Emanuele Campiglio
However Thatcher powerful was, she could not completely crush opposition to her ideas and policies. In the 21st century new movements are emerging which challenge her argument that ‘there is no alternative’ to the free market. This collection brings together leading and cutting-edge voices from those movements, reinventing collectivity, community and equality for the contemporary era.
A Radical Collective Manifesto
Edited by Federico Campagna and Emanuele Campiglio
Visions of a different society run in the interests of the 99%. Leading activist voices answer the question the media loves to ask the protesters.
“Here are the first flowers of spring: the beginning of an epochal dialogue about the human future. Inspired by the Occupy movements across the world, What We Are Fighting For should inspire all of us to join the conversation.” – Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums and City of Quartz
“This collection provides a rallying point for all those who resist the dogmas of contemporary politics and seek a fresh set of alternatives. What We Are Fighting For is a manifesto full of urgent, articulate responses to the current situation.” – Simon Critchley, Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy at the New School, New York, and author of The Faith of the Faithless (2012).
2. Ramparts of Resistance, by Sheila Cohen
Did Thatcher fatally undermine the trade union movement? In this sober but inspiring book, Sheila Cohen argues that the trade union movement can be rebuilt from the grassroots, bringing in new workers from the private sector.
Why Workers Lost Their Power, and How to Get It Back
A critical history of grasssroots labour struggles from the 1970s to today that calls for a new politics of trade unionism.
3. Marx’s Ghost, by Charles Derber
Thactcher’s ultimate nightmare…the ghost of Marx returns to haunt capitalism. According to a recent Time article, this is already happening. In this book Charles Derber imagines meeting Marx’s ghost and what he would say about the modern world. Derber concludes that the old ghost still has much of relevance to say.
Midnight Conversations on Changing the World