Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Interview for Ogonyok (Soviet magazine)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Mr Korotich, Ogonyok magazine
Editorial comments:


Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 5375
Themes: Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Economic policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Conservatism, Leadership, Industry, Autobiography (childhood), Autobiography (marriage & children), Autobiographical comments, Foreign policy - theory and process, Environment, Defence (general)


You know, maybe, that you are the most popular Western politician in my country now and really popular as a human being and now being here I simply want to write something about you and to give this interview because of its real pretext and processes which are going now in my country, you know them, and Mikhail Gorbachev will be in Great Britain soon and please if you think that processes that are going on in my country - glasnost, democratisation - are connected in your life with the life of your country and with all European life. What do you think about this? Are our internal Soviet processes connected with the processes which are going on in Europe and which are going on in your country, our glasnost, our democratisation are changing something? [end p1]

Prime Minister

Yes, I think that they will change the whole world as well as the kind of life in the Soviet Union. You are trying to do in a comparatively short time some of the changes that we have had to do over the years and therein lies some of your difficulties. We have gradually over the years come to democracy as first your Barons limited the powers of the King, then the people limited the powers of the Barons and then gradually the vote extended to every single person in the country, one person one vote. And of course the number of parties for which they could vote was not limited, you can vote for one way of running a country or another.

But that took quite a long time to grow and it came because the people really wanted it and of course you cannot have that kind of democracy or that kind of prosperity unless you also have quite a lot of freedom, freedom to start your own business, subject to a certain amount of licences and planning, but only a limited amount.

And of course in this country we had something for years which you have not had in the Soviet Union, was of your farmers owning their own land. They decided what they could plant or what they grew or the animals they had on their land, whether they were dairy, whether they had sheep, and so on. And so they were used to making their own decisions, they were used to then selling the goods in the market place and they were used to having other farmers to compete with, shops, all this combination of shopkeepers where your shopkeepers always ensure that they purchase the very best goods to put in their own shop window to sell. [end p2]

And they have to give good value for money because in the next street or in the next small town there are other shops also doing the same thing and competing with it. But it is this capacity to make decisions because the land belonged to you, the shop belonged to you, and you did not stay in business unless you pleased your customers. If your prices were too high they went to another shop. If your produce was not good they went somewhere else.

This is the essence of what we would call a market. A market is a place where people meet together, they look at what is in the shops, they look at the price of it, and your farmer only continues in business and your shop only continues in business provided he is giving good value for money and what they want.

But this has grown up for years in the Western world. I always thought it was a great pity that when the Tsars enfranchised [sic] the serfs, they did not give them enough land, each one on which to live, each one on which to build his house, his life, enough land to grow food for himself, his family, and enough to exchange the food for someone who did something else, maybe someone who wove the wool from the sheep to do the textiles, made the clothes. Then it would have grown and you would have had a fantastic number of people used to making decisions and taking responsibility and saying: “This is my land for my family and I have certain customers to satisfy”. [end p3]

You see, ours has grown up. You had a different political system where generally people were told what to do. You will have in your country, indeed you have in your country, an enormous number of people with great talent and ability who will be able to exercise their own responsibilities, make their own decisions, but they are not quite used to the change yet, that is the difficulty.

People are always a bit fearful of change and also you are a very very large country. We have no difficulty in ordering raw materials. You set up in business on your own, you know where you order your raw materials from and you know that they will arrive more or less on time or there will be trouble if they do not. You have no difficulty about finding the currency to pay for them because over the years our currency is freely exchanged. You know how many skilled people you need and of course you come to a contract with them. If they are very skilled they will demand quite a lot of money to work for a certain business, employer. That employer may well say: “Now look, the amount that you are demanding means that I could not sell this at a price people are able to afford so I am sorry I cannot pay that”.

All of these things you see we are used to. It has grown up over the years and of course in your country, in everyone's country there are quite a lot of people who are not the sort of people who can start up business on their own, they rely on other people starting up the businesses to go and get a job with them. [end p4]

We set the law as to the basic conditions of a contract between master and servant, he must be paid in cash, he cannot be paid in kind. He has got to be paid a proper wage in cash and if he is dismissed without cause then he can go to a court for unlawful dismissal. The employer has to pay what we call National Insurance contributions in respect of his employee, that is not only the wages but something that will eventually give him a pension and so on.

You will have quite a lot of people who I think would like to start up but do not know quite how to do it and so you need training and in some ways we can help with that. Usually it is easier to start up in exchange of goods and services in shops and small business, rather than it is in manufacturing. But it is exciting.

Can I put it this way? We are prosperous because we have freedom and we have had this freedom to start up and to compete. Competition means, well you know, if you run a race it is not how fast you run, it is how fast your competitor can run. In business it is not only how well you are doing, it is whether your competitor can do it better and get a better price for people or better value for money. Because at first people will want the cheapest price. The next thing is they will pay value for money for better quality. [end p5]

But we have come to it over a time and we got the attitude changes as people themselves were demanding more freedoms because they wanted to use them. You are trying to telescope it. It will work. Just look, in some of the countries on the borders, in the Warsaw Pact countries, Hungary is already going ahead quite fast. When I visited Hungary there have been far many more goods in the shops than there were in the Moscow supermarket and of course there are far many more again in ours.

So it can be done. What I am saying is this. You can come from a rather rigid communist system where you cannot do anything until you are told to do it. You can come out of that into a much freer economy which is very much better in terms of goods and services, very much better for the people. It is possible and you have to be a little bit patient to give it a chance to work, but it is possible, it is being done on your borders.

Czechoslovakia you know used to be one of the highest standards of living in pre-war days in Europe. Now they have gone into a not such good standard of living because of this communist system, you do not do anything unless you are told what to do. Look at all the talent and ability that that stifles and suffocates. [end p6]

We say the strength of a country, its reputation really depends upon the talents and abilities of its people. If you suffocate those by saying: “No you cannot do this, this, this, you cannot do that that and so on.” Yes you can do it but you have got to have health and safety at work. You have got to make certain the goods you sell are safe and reasonable and you do not have a monopoly anywhere because monopoly is bad, it is inefficient, you have competition. You say: “Yes you can do it”.

Then in fact you get a much higher standard of living and you get people much more satisfied, it is much the most satisfying thing to do and create something for yourself and to consider what steps you should take, what is the product you are going to sell next year? It is a much more enriched life, not in the terms of material, although it is that too, but much more satisfying in the same way as a ballet dancer who goes through all the difficult periods of learning and training but knows the joy when she alone can produce the flawless performance.

You have to do that to be extremely good, translate that feeling over to the trade and commerce. I am sorry that is a long time. But it is exciting, it is in tune with all that is best in human nature, it is taking the very best in human nature and bringing it out and by your general regulations, having regulations. We have certain weights and measures, you know that if it says it is a pound or kilogram, it has to be a pound or kilogram. It has to be safe. [end p7]


And you show that it is possible to reach something when people are really free and working free and in my country we have different traditions, different ways, different possibilities, we try to do something. At the same time we are in the same Europe, on the same earth, we are living here. You are one of the most experienced leaders in Europe now, during your being in office you met leaders of the Soviet Union and now you meet Gorbachev. This conduct of personalities is very important for us and when I think about this I think that you have here in April an international congress about information such as Vienna's agreements, you have it in April in London and the process of democratisation, process of openness, is it important? Do you think it possible, having so different a tradition that we have, is it possible to live and be closer and closer in common Europe, on common Earth? [end p8]

Prime Minister

Oh yes, it is.

Why Mr. Gorbachev and I get on very well together is because immediately one recognised a person of immense courage and vision for the future of his country and immense powers of analysis to know what it was that was wrong and needed changing.

Now that is not altogether rare in politics, but it is perhaps the mark of a person who has more influence on the future than other people, because he has come to believe this is right and he has the courage to do it and to carry through with it until the task is complete - for one reason and one reason only: because he is convinced that that is a far better life for the people of his country as a country and a far better life for them as human beings, each with a certain dignity, each with a certain talent, each with certain rights. [end p9]

The other thing which I have to say is this:

When you are building pictures and visions for the future, for the longer-term future, as I was and as he is, you have to stick to the road however hard because what will happen is the moment, for example, you insist that the quality of goods which come out in factories is much better and in fact you will reject the ones that are not high enough quality, you will say: “Look! The consumer must have high quality!” Then, I am afraid, the obvious thing happens, that the production figures go down because you have had to reject those things below quality and it takes a time for people to know how to run their own concerns, where to buy their own raw materials, what to produce and at what price they should sell it.

I had to do certain things. We were spending too much as a country, not on the right things. We had far too many controls. And so we had some difficulties, because some people interpret “democracy” as saying: “I voted for you Mrs. Thatcher or your Party; now you must do something for me!” If ever democracy consists of: “In return for my vote, you have got to give me something!” it will not work! It will not work!

Democracy is not so much about getting things from Government as saying: “I want a Government that in fact enables me to do things for myself and my family and our standard of living and in doing that will create the wealth of the country because we shall be [end p10] responsible and independent, and then out of a very modest amount of taxation on the wealth we have created, there will be money to do the other things the country needs; more money because we have each of us created money, to build the roads, to build the hospitals, to look after the poor!”

Democracy is not about taking but about what can we do by our own efforts for our own families, being responsible for them ourselves as well as for our country, because if each country starts to create its own wealth, then it is responsible for itself and you will also find that a family that is responsible also for itself will want to live in a community where they have a good school, so part of it will come from the taxation on the family, part because we perhaps give more money for the good school; part will come from taxation for the hospital and then perhaps we will be friends of the hospital and add to it. And then the people will say: “Well, life is not only about working; we must have a library, a public library, so that anyone can go and read those books and learn from them and have the opportunity!” Opportunity is what matters in a democracy. To better himself, to improve himself, by reading, so that he might learn to be an engineer, he might learn the scientific wonders of the world, he might learn the great literature, the great arts. So your people want to build a library. [end p11]

Then, they will want to see some of the great pictures of the world, and so you get the community spirit. If you get a society of responsible people, you will get a responsible society understanding that in order to do well for yourself there is only one way you can do it: that is by pleasing the customer by the goods you sell and so it comes back to you again and again. You are either good at the way you repair shoes, you are good at the way you make clothes, you are good at the food you produce, so you do well for yourself by doing well for others. It is very much a reciprocal business.

Mr. Gorbachev has seen the much higher standard of living of everyone because you see, if your creative people do well &dubellip; we cannot all start up a big business, but when people do start it up the rest of us go to work for them, and so it goes through the whole of society. He has seen what a combination of personal freedom, the political freedom of democracy, backed up by the economic freedom, can do both for the standard of living in the material sense and also that really, having that freedom is the only thing which brings dignity and meaning to the life of each individual person, and he knows that the difficulties will show through but he has that faith in human nature that once they really begin to see the opportunities and take advantage of them, then it will change. [end p12]

It is starting to change quite fast in Hungary because they were already doing it as far as they could do, allowed a little bit of extra freedom in Mr. Brezhnev's time, a little bit extra in Mr. Andropov's and they are much more ready to take off - but it can be done and it is right and it will mean that the Soviet Union becomes a super-power not merely by virtue of its military strength but by virtue of the talents and abilities of its individual people, and he is trying to give - as I tried to give - opportunity.

I say now I want every man a capitalist, each person to own something - it may be their land, it may be their house - own some shares in their factory, in their business, or in someone else's or in another country, because we are living in a global world and we must trade more, we must have more cultural contacts so that we can teach one another and there are some most beautiful, wonderful things in the world people will want to see: the wonderful gardens, the wonderful natural things, the wonderful buildings; they will want to travel.

It is the most exciting thing. It did require immense courage. There will always be people who are fearful of change - they are fearful of change sometimes here - but you only keep up your standard of living, you only keep up the excitement, by constantly reaching out to the future and taking advantage of change and I am sure people would not like to go back to an era where there was no radio and no television, where they could not fly from one place to another. [end p13]

It required the analysis, the vision, the courage. Now, it requires people staying with it long enough because they, too, have faith in it, and this after all is what life is about isn't it? Each of us is different, each has talents and abilities and it is bringing that out.


But the main part of your life - everybody's life - is to fulfil what you can do, it is to do something and, of course, each system gives possibilities to its citizens but the personalities of writers, of ballerinas is one thing, but the personality of the politician … it is easy to be the leader of one of the greatest &dubellip; on this earth than to be a human being and to be at the same time a woman whilst mother.

I think about Gorbachev too, who is a human being, who is a personality, but in the same time he must be leader of the system.

Prime Minister

Yes, Mikhail Gorbachevhe is and sometimes - I can tell you exactly what happens - the greater your vision, the greater the things you want to do in partnership with your people, because no general can fight a battle on his own - he has got to be able to enthuse his people and they have got to be able to know that each one of them counts. It is just the same in politics. [end p14]

I often think myself: well, how would I feel if that happened to me? And this is the way I just choose and sometimes people hear me say: “No, no, no! You cannot do that!” and then I will have to think out: “Now why have I said that?” Because it is a deep instinct that you cannot do that because it would be difficult to get across and it would not work.

But you see, some people will go in business. Others &dubellip; you need teachers, you need doctors, you need people to administer a Civil Service very well … so there is something for everyone, but you only achieve your maximum when the people who have this enormous talent and ability to create industry, to create commerce, are allowed to do it because they create the jobs and the wealth for the rest of us and we are able to go along and join a business and then the success of that business matters to us as well.

It so happened Alfred Robertsmy father would have found it very difficult to work for anyone else so he started up his shop on his own. Beatrice RobertsMy mother was a dressmaker. They were the kind of people who would not have found it easy to work for anyone else, so they had to start up in business on their own. It was not a large business, it was a small one. Others go on building bigger ones.


But your personality and your political position, you being leader of this Government; in your simple, human life, is it possible to be happy everywhere in the same time? Is it possible not to destroy yourself being leader and human being? [end p15]

Prime Minister

I think it must be because our family, although we are half-way across the world, we are a very closely-knit family and our greatest joy is all to gather together for Christmas or for the great festivals and see and meet one another. We all have a lot of interesting things to say and we are constantly interested in what now can we do for the future.

We live here. You come to No. 10. People think No. 10 is the home of the Prime Minister, which it is, and you have been in the rooms where we do official entertaining. We live in an attic flat upstairs. It is quite a nice flat, but it is not elaborate at all. We have no domestic staff except someone who comes in - a marvellous person without whom we could not do - to work for us every morning and do some of the cleaning and she knows what to do and we could not do without her.

But if I am in the evening and Denis ThatcherDenis is in in the evening, we come in late, I have to dash into the kitchen and cook something and it is no trouble at all. It keeps one's feet on the ground.

I know the shops. I go out and about constantly.

I have a constituency. This is a great joy about a democratic system. I shall be in my constituency all day Friday. I shall do eight or nine engagements. It will be going round factories, it will be going round offices, it will be going to old people's homes, it will be going to see young people. I have what we call an “Interview Evening” where people from the constituency [end p16] can make an appointment to come and see me to say: “Look, we do not think we are getting a fair deal from the Government over this. We have paid our contributions to such and such a scheme!” And someone has to look into these individual cases. That keeps one very much on the ground always.

Another Friday, I will go out and do a regional tour to different parts of the country, again so that I am constantly in touch with the people who are doing the work.

The worst thing you can do is to get entrapped in government like a kind of capsule without contact with people from outside, because everything you are doing is contact with people outside and even when you go overseas too. There used to be times when people would say: “Foreign Affairs? That does not affect us!” Of course it does! We have known enough wars in the world to know that, my goodness me, it affects the life of the people of every nation, the greatest distruptive, tragic factor you can have. So of course, from behind a strong defence you try to make certain that no-one ever dared attack you again. So that way you build peace and so you negotiate.

But then there is a lot more to foreign relations than that. You constantly have to buy goods from other countries which they have or raw materials which you have not, so of course the trade matters and it matters that you have fair competition there. [end p17]

You constantly exchange; you want to see their wonders of the world; you want to travel. This is part of the thing. Young people want to travel. They know that we are citizens of this planet and they want to see what happens; they want to talk with other young people.

We could not travel in my young day, there were not the facilities, there were not the resources. I came up during the very very difficult time. It was the rise of Hitler. We gradually heard what was going on and even in a small town - Alfred Robertsmy father was passionately interested in world affairs - we used to talk about all of these things and when we had to go to war we had not the slightest shadow of doubt that we were absolutely right to do so - otherwise that tyranny would have spread the world over.

And if I might say so, we knew that we were right to do the fundamental scientific research because if Hitler had got that atomic weapon before we did, liberty would have been extinguished from the world, instead of which I sometimes say to Germany: “Freedom in Germany began the day the war ended in 1945!”

Now, we have the whole environment of the world to consider. There are so many more people now. In my lifetime, the world population has doubled. It has doubled because between us, we have done medical research. I am fascinated. The Chairman of your Academy of Sciences is an immunologist. He has been here, he [end p18] has been to our Royal Society, he has talked to me. We talk about the scientific research. I have been to your Centre for Crystallography because I did crystal graphic research. We work together. Medical research enabled us to conquer some of the diseases; to keep far many more people alive; to open up the tropical areas of the world.

Agricultural research enabled us to grow enough food the world over, whether it is in rice, whether it is in wheat, whether it is in meat, to sustain not one billion people in the world, but now something like seven or eight billion people. That has produced problems with the world's systems.

And the new, advanced technology has enabled us to conquer all sorts of things, not only in space but we have great electricity, we have the great chemical industries. We are using up the oil and coal which have been there for billions of years. We are using them up in a matter of a few decades and a couple of centuries and that, too, is having an enormous effect on the world's atmosphere and on pollution, so we have to get together on these things.

We are very lucky in way - may I put it this way? - we are very lucky to be living at this time. It is a time of enormous personal opportunity to use our own talents and abilities. It is a time to bring the peoples of the world much closer together in great [end p19] schemes of cooperation, which means a much better life not only in the material sense but in terms of personal satisfaction and doing things together.

It is a great constructive time, a time when I believe passionately that the overwhelming majority of people in the world are decent and honourable and like to feel at the end of a day they have done something that is good and done a good day's work for a good day's pay, you feel far better when you have done that because you believe the overwhelming majority of people are good and all will work in that direction. That is why democracy matters so much: because the overwhelming majority are good, it should be able to deal with those who are undoubtedly, some of them, evil and want to do bad things for themselves. But you do it by taking the very best out of the individual and not stifling it.


And having those hopes and those possibilities, it is very important maybe such a traditional thing to have peace. I am a war-child too and I think that our Ambassador told me that he saw Gorbachev's speech in the United Nations in your office the day after. [end p20]

Prime Minister

Oh yes, always.


Do you believe it possible to reach peace, possible to reach peace together? [end p21]

Prime Minister

Yes I do. Now I believe, again being a child of wartime, I will never forget that we let our defences go down after the First World War. I was not alive then but those people thought that World War I was so terrible, and it was, the number of people killed during that war in the trenches in that kind of conventional warfare, was terrible, in hand-to-hand, well you had some of the terrors in the last war too. It was so terrible that the world would know that we should never have it again.

And we let our defences go down. Hitler came to power and he was building it up and building it up and we thought that the rightness of our cause maybe would be enough and then we came to it much later and had to get up very fast. [end p22]

But had we rebuilt our defences sooner and had we all stood together and said to Hitler: “If you start a war we shall all gather together and we shall fight you and we shall win”. But we did not. He picked us off one-by-one until eventually we had to say this man will take one after another. First he took Austria, then he went into Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia and that was going to be all that he wanted, then he marched into Prague and still we did not go to battle, and then he went into Poland and we said: “Enough”.

That was this people's belief in liberty. We went to war for other people's liberty knowing that if we did not defend their liberty it would soon come to us. But we had let our defences go down. This is why I will never let our defences go down. There has not been a major conflict since World War II but there have been something like 140 other conflicts - Vietnam, Korea - 140 other conflicts between adjacent peoples.

They are evil people, there has been a lot of terrorism, who want to use the gun in order to further their own objective. The way to preserve peace is to make it quite clear that if anyone attacks you they will lose. That is why we have these great alliances because you cannot stand on your own and we have to go on with that for some time. But what we do say is if we negotiate we can keep our sure defence at a lower level of weapons than must otherwise be the case. [end p23]

But we have to keep that strength because if anything went wrong and someone who is a tyrant came back it takes much longer these days to build the modern weapons than it did in 1939 and you always have to watch that someone has not concealed some weapons that they could not use to great effect against us and that is why we have to have the verification.

So we use our past experience to move forward. As I say, we knew we had to go in and fight Hitler, then eventually he attacked the Soviet Union. We hung off, we saw all Europe fall to Hitler at first and we stood and we wondered whether he would attack us and we were all mobilised to make certain that if he put one foot on our shores he would have a terribly tough time. And he attacked by the air, we had not anything like his number of aircraft or pilots, My God, we had the bravest pilots in the world and we were able, I remember the service when we won what we called The Battle of Britain, we hung on long enough and then America came in and he attacked the Soviet Union. And still we had all to fight because the Germans had a lot of weapons and they were very good fighters.

But you never know where the next attack may come from. It may come from people who are interested in building chemical weapons in the Middle East, chemical weapons are devastating. You have to beware the whole time and you have to be strong and just negotiate so that you do not have to spend quite the amount on armaments that you would but that each of you is satisfied that your own country can be secure and that each of you have alliances in case attacked. [end p24]

So yes it is more hopeful but I can afford, and do gladly welcome and support the good things I see going on in the world, the visionary things, the bold things, knowing that the true politician is a man who has a long-term vision and steadily works towards it, but you have got to give it ten or so years you know to show. But knowing that all the time that our defence will be sure so that liberty will live in the countries that have it because you cannot have the bastions of liberty ever falling.


Liberty will live. It is very interesting that liberty and everything is connected with responsibility with your own feeling of it. It is all together.

Prime Minister

Of course, you know George Bernard Shaw: “Liberty incurs responsibility” and he went on to say: “That is why many men fear it” and that is true.

You see quite a number of your people are not used to responsibility and they are afraid of it. But there are some people who welcome it so you take the some and you always go forward because the great battles of the world, the great philosophies, the great religions of the world were always created by the few who gradually went ahead and they convinced the many and the many followed them. That is the way we have progressed. [end p25]


But you see I understand it. I think there remains terrible danger of problems, environment, arms, everything, but every perspective, what do you think, 21st Century, the century of our grandchildren, will it be better than this one?

Prime Minister

Yes I think it will be better. But can I put it this way? Throughout history there have been people who have been born who are tyrants, they have managed somehow to have a certain amount of magnetism, charisma, and get power and then they have used their power to subjugate people.

We have to make certain that no such person can ever succeed again and so we shall have to have a certain amount of strength to make certain he could never succeed again.

That is the true defence of liberty under a rule of law. It matters very much. Yes it will be more hopeful in the 21st Century but there really have been some absolutely bloody battles you know. There have been four, five Middle Eastern battles and you know when chemical weapons were used again in the Iraq&slash;Iran war, they were not used in the last war you know. It is very terrifying.

So we just have to make certain that if anyone ever starts he knows the price that he could not possibly win. [end p26]


Thank you, thank you for that.

Prime Minister

Hang on, just to continue with these exciting things that are happening through the difficulties because you will come out into what Winston Churchill said, you know in the middle of war, when he said: “We have these terrible difficulties, these terrible problems, but just sometimes lift up your eyes to the broad sunlit uplands”. That is what you have to do.


Thank you, Mrs Prime Minister.