by- 17th April 2013
If ever there were a need for religious literacy in world affairs, it is today with the passing of Lady Thatcher.
For if commentators don’t take her faith into the overall account of her political career, it is not possible to understand her.
People got hurt. But the country itself was dying. People have short memories. Or else they were cocooned from what menaced Britain up to the 1970s and beyond.
Edward Heath had declared a State of Emergency five times in three years.
The communist-inspired strikes that cost 22 million man hours in one year alone and prevented ordinary people from burying their dead, had nothing to do with concern for miners, and everything to do with the ideological destruction of Britain.
‘I am not interested in parliament. I do not believe that parliament can do anything for the workers. Capitalism has got to be smashed as it is smashed in Russia’, said the railwaymen’s leader C T Cramp the year he became Chairman of the Labour Party in 1924.
As late as 1950, before communism went underground, George Bernard Shaw boasted, blithely ignoring the gulags and mass exterminations: ‘What was it that saved Russia from ruin after 1917? – her adoption of British Communism. We are the spiritual fathers of modern successful Communism.’ (Shaw co-founded the London School of Economics.)
What is communism? Communism is totalitarianism, that subverts everything to the diktat of the State. It sought the destruction of capitalism and the hegemony of the proletariat by any means.
And the means were violent.
Said Lenin: ‘The murder of an incorrigible enemy of the revolution is a legal ethical murder, a legal death sentence, for communism does not recognize the metaphysical value of human existence.’
This led to the death of so many in Russia and Eastern Europe that figures lose their ability to command imagination – 50 million according to Solzhenitsyn.
It also led to the destruction – intentional destruction – of half a civilization.
‘In their drive for power, the Bolsheviks, their East European acolytes and their imitators further afield attacked not only their political opponents but also peasants, priests, schoolteachers, traders, journalists, writers, small businessmen, students and artists, along with the institutions such people had built and maintained over centuries,’ writes Anne Applebaum in Iron Curtain, published last year.
She adds pointedly: ‘Their success reveals an unpleasant truth about human nature: if enough people are sufficiently determined, and if they are backed by adequate resources and force, then they can destroy ancient and apparently permanent legal, political, educational and religious institutions, sometimes for good.
‘And if civil society could be so deeply damaged in nations as disparate, as historic and as culturally rich as those of Eastern Europe then it can be similarly damaged anywhere.
‘If nothing else, the history of post-war Stalinization proves just how fragile “civilization” can turn out to be,’ she writes.
The destruction Applebaum documents began with the people’s religion. From 1948, the communist parties began a very long-term effort to corrupt the institutions of civil society from within, especially religious institutions.
‘The intention was not to destroy churches, but to transform them into "mass organizations", vehicles for the distribution of state propaganda.
'The idea was to "penetrate it on the inside, divide it into squabbling factions as much as possible ... and weaken its authority on the outside"’ (p. 286).
Marx himself wrote: ‘We shall do well if we stir hatred and contempt against all existing institutions: we make war against all prevailing ideas of religion, of the state, of country, of patriotism. The idea of God is the keystone of perverted civilization; the true root of liberty, of equality, of culture, is atheism.’
Lenin was even more florid: ‘Every religious idea, every idea of God, even flirting with the idea of God, is unutterable vileness.’
British socialists took this up with relish. ‘Religion has always been the instrument of the possessing class by which the dispossessed have been reconciled to their fate’, says the leader article in the Journal of the Independent Labour Party in January 1929.
Thatcher who first stood for parliament as MP for Dartford the year Shaw made his famous boast, took all this at face value. Fighting back was inevitably a religious issue, because the ground had been staked out in religious terms by her foes.
Determined to hand back to working people the means of changing their own fate (‘there is no such thing as society’ regains a certain coinage in this context), she dismantled the vested interests of the establishment, like any good Marxist, only without the guns and lies: through home and share ownership, through the rolling back of the state’s stifling, atheistic and economically catastrophic embrace.
What communists said could only be done by violence, Thatcher had the faith and courage to do by other means.
For example, in the course of tackling the inner cities which were imploding through the left’s staggering inarticulacy in the face of religious populations there, Thatcher helped through the recovery of a new religious discourse. She set up the Inner-City Task Forces and the Inner Cities Religious Council, respectively under two Christians, one a civil servant who was also a Non-Stipendiary Anglican minister, Douglas Hollis.
The general loathing of the church for Thatcher, evident even this morning as the new Dean of St Paul’s spoke on the Today Programme as if teetering around the facts of the life of a moral delinquent, was indicative.
‘For a nation to be noted for its industry, honesty and responsibility and justice, its people need a purpose and an ethic. The State cannot provide these - they can only come from the teachings of a Faith. And the Church must be the instrument of that work’, she had said when Shadow Education Minister in 1978. Alas, in vain.
Yet, the subverted church hierarchy shunned her completely, even as she united the deepest intuitions of vastly diverse others who craved freedom: hippies, Essex boys, German economists, even a Muslim Brotherhood leader I once met.
Lady Thatcher viewed her task not as a career move, but as a matter of life or death for the country.
Had she failed, she knew the consequences did not bear thinking about.