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In time, every worker a capitalist': accumulation by legitimation and authoritarian neoliberalism in Thatcher’s Britain

Da Costa Vieira, Thomas ORCID: 0000-0001-7895-3838 (2023) In time, every worker a capitalist': accumulation by legitimation and authoritarian neoliberalism in Thatcher’s Britain. Competition and Change, 27 (5). 729 - 747. ISSN 1024-5294

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Identification Number: 10.1177/10245294231153028


In this article, I show that current literature on authoritarian neoliberalism has not only overlooked the crucial role of legitimation in authoritarian neoliberal regimes, both pre- and post-2008, it has also failed to properly conceptualise it. While existing scholarship mainly pictures neoliberal governments as pursuing legitimation to ensure accumulation remains unopposed, I instead argue that neoliberal governments see legitimation as an instrument of, and precondition for, accumulation – as directly feeding into it. Indeed, my contribution shows that governments aim to transform citizens into neoliberal subjects that actively and willingly participate in neoliberal accumulation. I call this project, which relies on state-driven mass behavioural change, a strategy of ‘accumulation by legitimation’. The article illustrates this with the case of Thatcherism, analysing newly released governmental archival sources through a Marxist-Foucauldian framework. I unearth the Thatcher government’s propaganda campaign and employee involvement policy, which were a combined effort to influence the British people through governmental education, share ownership as well as communication and consultation in industry. The objective was to turn British workers into self-identifying capitalists that would willingly support the market order and accept its imperatives by themselves, such as the need to moderate their own wage demands. Thatcherites saw this as a prerequisite for their employment and counter-inflationary policies to work. This far-reaching strategy however faced significant obstacles, both from inside government and from British capital, illustrating key contradictions in neoliberalism. While neoliberal ideas endure, this sheds light on the incomplete and fragile character of neoliberal hegemony up to today.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2023 The Author
Divisions: International Relations
Subjects: J Political Science > JC Political theory
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN101 Great Britain
Date Deposited: 17 Jan 2023 15:15
Last Modified: 26 May 2024 05:33

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