Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 15, 2008

Why Third Way politics refuses to die

Filed under: economics,financial crisis,Obama,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 4:38 pm

(Swans – December 15, 2008) In 1997 Tony Blair became Prime Minister of Great Britain ending eighteen years of Tory rule. For left-leaning Britons, the 1979-1990 rule of Margaret Thatcher and her successor John Major easily rivaled George W. Bush’s as an odious symbol of class injustice. When she was not embarking on foreign imperial adventures in the Malvinas, Thatcher was attacking the working class at home. Her most notable victory was in defeating the coal miner’s strike of 1984, an achievement that was as effective as Reagan’s assault on the airline controllers in preparing the way for a neoliberal economic regime.

When Blair was elected, the sense of relief evoked this “Wizard of Oz” ditty sung by the Munchkins:

Ding Dong! The Witch is dead. Which old Witch? The Wicked Witch!
Ding Dong! The Wicked Witch is dead.
Wake up – sleepy head, rub your eyes, get out of bed.
Wake up, the Wicked Witch is dead. She’s gone where the goblins go,
Below – below – below.
Yo-ho, let’s open up and sing and ring the bells out.
Ding Dong’ the merry-oh, sing it high, sing it low.
Let them know The Wicked Witch is dead!

However, British voters did not get exactly what they voted for. As soon as the euphoria wore off, it became clear that Tony Blair was no friend of working people, as Thomas Friedman observed in an April 22, 2005, New York Times Op-Ed:

The other very real thing Mr. Blair has done is to get the Labor Party in Britain to firmly embrace the free market and globalization – sometimes kicking and screaming. He has reconfigured Labor politics around a set of policies designed to get the most out of globalization and privatization for British workers, while cushioning the harshest side effects, rather than trying to hold onto bankrupt Socialist ideas or wallowing in the knee-jerk antiglobalism of the reactionary left.

Blair demonstrated that he was no slouch when it came to sending British troops abroad, joining the U.S. in imperial aggressions against the Serbs and the Iraqis. Indeed, one would be hard put to really tell the difference between the Tories and New Labour other than the rhetoric.

Although the eight years of George W. Bush was a lot shorter in duration than Tory rule in Great Britain, it did manage to do as much violence to working people at home and abroad. Bush was notoriously lazy but he did have a kind of zeal for punishing those not fortunate enough to be born with a silver spoon in their mouth.

With the election of Barack Obama in November, the same pattern seems to be unfolding as it did with Tony Blair’s prime ministry. Both Blair and his American counterpart Bill Clinton sought to govern through the “Third Way,” a philosophy that permeates Obama’s “Audacity of Hope.” For those who have been surprised by Obama’s apparent determination to serve in the capacity of Bill Clinton’s third term, the evidence for such a proclivity was there all along for those with the patience to read through his gaseous prose. Obama wrote: “In his platform — if not always in his day-to-day politics — Clinton’s Third Way went beyond splitting the difference. It tapped into the pragmatic, nonideological attitude of the majority of Americans.”

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art14/lproy51.html


  1. They ain’t about “to die” a natural death. Besides the bourgeois mass media and academia, the mainstream liberal-left “progressive” milleau will be helping to keep them alive as long as they can get away with.

    Comment by MN Roy — December 16, 2008 @ 3:13 am

  2. Margaret Thatcher ceased to be of concern to the British people when her own party, the Conservatives, ousted her from public office in November 1990 in a behind closed doors, Julius Caesar style bloodless coup. By the time of Blair and the New Labour party’s victory in 1997 she had disappeared from the UK political scene almost entirely. The British people did celebrate the ending of 17 years of rule by the Tory party that had come to power under her leadership and the party’s fall from power represented a challenge to her legacy, which, as you point out, Blair then continued. However, Blair didn’t begin the transformation of the Labour Party into a neo-liberal institution. It started with his predecessor Neil Kinnock in the 1980s under the pressure of continued electoral failure and a resolutely hostile right wing press. Even before his efforts the Labour government of the late 1970s, under Jim Callaghan (Prime Minister) and Denis Healey (Chancellor of the Exchequer), the government pursued rigorous monetarist and neo-liberal economic policy at the behest of the IMF. At the time of the Falklands (Malvinas) War in 1982, Michael Foot, who replaced Callaghan as the leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party after the electoral defeat of 1979, actually supported her use of military force to recover the islands from the Argentine.

    Comment by Fellow Traveller — December 16, 2008 @ 7:49 pm

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