Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Lecture for the Ozaki Yukio Memorial Foundation ("Democracy - the new dawn")

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Ozaki Yukio Memorial Foundation, Tokyo
Source: Thatcher Archive: press release
Editorial comments: Exact time unknown.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3036
Themes: Civil liberties, Conservatism, Defence (general), Foreign policy (general discussions), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Media

Democracy in Japan

It is a great honour to be asked to speak to you today. And the subject you have chosen—democracy—would be my choice too. And it is right in the news in a way we could not have foreseen a few weeks ago.

It was close to the heart of Ozaki Yukio whose high idealism, extraordinary courage and dedicated service to his country's true interests your Foundation commemorates. Ozaki Yukio lived to see the secure establishment of democracy in Japan. And modern Japan is indeed a living demonstration of the benefits which democracy and capitalism can bring.

Japan's stability, prosperity and progress are an example not just to developing countries which wish to enjoy the freedoms and living standards of the West, but also to the rest of the developed world. For the people of Japan understand that political and economic success can never be taken for granted: they have to be worked for.

Characteristics of Democracy

Every country should be prepared to adapt institutions to suit its tradition and culture.

But whatever the country of the continent, democractic freedom in its fullness will satisfy three broad conditions. First, government will be through the consent of the majority—expressed in free elections, which must take place regularly within a specified period. And let us remember, for a true democracy, there must always be a party or a combination of parties in opposition which, if the electorate so decides, can replace the government of the day.

Second, freedom requires a fair and just law which applies to everybody—rich and poor, citizens, politicians and government alike.

It must uphold fundamental rights.

It must set a framework within which enterprise can operate. And it must be enforceable by an impartial and independent judiciary.

Third, there has to be a free economy based on free enterprise and private property, in which state ownership, intervention and controls are minimised. [end p1]

Democracy and Capitalism

But, some may ask, is it right to describe free enterprise as essential to democracy? Yes, it is. And consideration of what free enterprise capitalism truly is and of the political changes it brings with it will prove the point.

Free enterprise works because, like democracy, it gives real power to the people.

In even the most active form of political democracy, individuals are not asked to cast their votes on the performance of politicians more than once or twice a year locally, or after a period of years nationally. Yet in the market place men and women are making their economic choices every minute of every day through the goods they buy.

Free enterprise capitalism is economic democracy.

It limits the power of government by maximising the power of the people.

Free enterprise capitalism is a necessary—though not a sufficient—condition for political democracy itself.

Once you permit personal choice to rule through the market, it will in time extend to the ballot-box too.

That has been the pattern from Latin America to South Korea. In the Soviet Union, political democracy came first, economic democracy is now following.

Free enterprise and democracy go together.

You cannot long enjoy the benefits of one without tasting the fruits of the other.

And you cannot attack the one without endangering the other.

Democracy and Capitalism Work

All this may seem very obvious to us today. But the history of our world ought to remove any trace of complacency.

Only in quite recent times have we come to expect that our living conditions will steadily improve. For many centuries in the West and for far longer in the East even the idea, let alone the reality, of progress was simply not contemplated. [end p2]

Of course, over the centuries the civilizations of the world have generated great art, music and literature, high culture and scientific scholarship. But only the civilization which put science, technology and free enterprise to work for the benefit of ordinary people—[that modern civilization of which your country and mine are part]—has created economic growth. And sustained growth alone is what allows us to hope for and expect a better way of life.

The secret of our success can be summed up in just one word—enterprise.

The states and empires of bygone eras did not lack natural resources.

They lacked the capacity to put them to good use.

So too, the successful economies of the world today are not only those distinguished by possession of great mineral wealth or by their favourable geographical location. The Soviet Union is perhaps the most resource-rich state in the world: yet her economy produces only a poor standard of living.

By contrast, here in the Asian Pacific region small states with few resources are achieving rates of economic growth which noone else can match.

The Advance of Democracy

Today political and economic freedom are advancing across the world.

Not at a uniform pace.

And not at a predictable rate.

But the direction is clear.

However, the August coup in the Soviet Union provided us all with a sharp, unwelcome but salutary reminder that there is nothing inevitable about democracy's advance. [end p3]

True, Communism is discredited as a political creed.

But when was it not discredited?

Its economic failure had been demonstrated by the time of Lenin 's death.

And under Stalin the Communist Party became the Party of the vested interests, the privileged nomenklatura, the internal security apparatus and the military machine. It was not the enslaved population of the Soviet Union or the captive nations of Eastern Europe who needed to be convinced of Communism's failure.

They knew it.

It was the rulers of these people, the privileged class of Top Communists, who needed to understand that socialist economics could never work, that Western military defences could not be crushed and that our democracies' resolve could not be weakened.

Democracy in the Soviet Union

We all rejoiced when the coup failed.

And we must all now work to back the new democracy and help build up an enterprise economy.

We must learn the lessons both of the coup itself and of its failure.

First, how was the coup possible?

The plotters believed that they could succeed because so much power—over the security apparatus, the armed forces, the bureaucracy and the economy—was still centralised.

The Communist Party, though highly unpopular, was still strong.

Its continued influence was always incompatible with political freedom, fundamental economic reform—or indeed, sound administration, since that is impossible without an impartial professional civil service. [end p4]

The Soviet Union did not yet have a true rule of law or an independent judiciary, to which people could appeal against oppression.

Only limited progress had been made towards ownership of private property and independent enterprise.

And there was no proper federal banking system to ensure sound money.

The authors of the coup acted because they feared that all of this was about to change—and in particular, that power was to be fundamentally and irreversibly devolved to the republics and the people—and that of course would spell the death of Communism.

Events have since confirmed the plotters' worst fears. For the question in these republics is no longer to be whether Communism has any role to play, but rather whether even the mildest kind of socialism has any relevance to the people's needs.

Second, why did the coup fail?

The coup failed because: though people had but recent experience of democracy, they wanted more and were prepared to fight for it; they wanted a Western standard of living and they knew they must be prepared to face up to economic realities in order to secure that goal.

Finally, it failed for the very reason the authors of the coup moved when they did—it failed because the Russian people rallied around their own national institutions and leaders. And in Mr Yeltsin they were led by one of those towering figures who have changed the course of Russia's history: he is a true hero of democracy.

Third, what is the way forward now?

Last week, the People's Congress in a remarkable session under the highly skilled chairmanship of President Gorbachev set up a State Council consisting of the President and the top leaders of [end p5] the Republics, to co-ordinate domestic and foreign policies.

Its first act was to recognize the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—a sure sign of a change of governments and a change of heart.

The world's welcome followed within hours as fifty nations said they would establish diplomatic ties with the three states.

We all wish them well.

Devolution of power to the Republics which will now take place is a necessary condition for successful economic reform.

Of course, the power of government at every level has to be limited.

But there is far more chance of that happening if political decision-making is close to the people.

In the West, we have a vital interest in seeing that military risks are minimised under the new arrangements. The new law called for the conclusion of a Treaty for a collective security system to maintain a single Armed Force and unified control of the nuclear arsenal.

Clearly the new arrangements must honour the arms control agreements which have been reached and must provide for them to be verified.

Mr Chairman, it is not for us to try to decide the future shape and pattern of the Soviet Union.

And were we to try we would certainly fail.

They will have to accept their share of the overseas debt accumulated by the Soviet Union. They will also need to make it clear to all those who have entered joint ventures and other business relationships with the Soviet Union that these will be honoured. The sooner the heated political argument about the future of the USSR and the republics comes to an end, the sooner the many layers of government will get down to the hard practical problems which are waiting to be resolved.

But none of this should lead us to view the different independence movements in the republics with hostility. It is not for us to try to decide the future shape and pattern of the Soviet Union. And were we to try we would certainly fail. [end p6]

The consequences of past Western attempts to draw convenient boundaries in Africa and the Middle East, with little respect for popular aspirations and traditional loyalties, should surely induce some caution and humility in us now. Our interest—and indeed our principled duty—is to help create the conditions for the peoples of that vast territory to live under institutions with which they are happy and which command their loyalty. Only that will bring security for the rest of the world.

The main question now for the West is how to help the newly democratic peoples of the USSR along the path to prosperity.

We were not to blame for failing to agree to earlier Soviet requests for almost limitless credits.

They would merely have prolonged the old system and postponed the necessary fundamental changes.

Now circumstances have changed so very much.

The people have clearly shown the direction in which they wish to go.

And the power of those who sought to block reform has been broken with the ignominious failure of the coup itself. It is alleged that they can only be helped when the structures of liberty have been put in place.

But that is absurd.

What they need is our help to put those same structures in place: they do not know how to do it.

So we must now take a fresh look at what needs to be done.

A greater proportion of our assistance—technical help, help with new structures, and selected credits—should now go to the republics rather than the centre.

Above all, we must ensure that the Soviet people, who have suffered so much and so bravely, do not go hungry this winter.

Defending Democracy

In the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa democracy is making progress and Communism is in retreat. Even those countries where non-Communist authoritarian regimes once held power are, in large part, now embracing democracy because the [end p7] threat of Communist subversion has diminished.

None of this would have happened unless the West had kept its defences strong to ensure that any challenge to liberty in our territories would be defeated.

We cannot know precisely at what point the Communist masters of the Soviet Union truly grasped that their economic boasts were a sham and that socialism had been out-performed by liberty and free enterprise economics. But certainly for many years afterwards the Soviet Union attempted to win by military might—[sometimes directly as in Afghanistan, sometimes by proxy as in Africa]—that supremacy which their own crumbling economic and social system could never give them.

Let me add this. Here in the Asian Pacific region, where Communist aggression was halted in Korea and Malaysia—and where so many tragically died in attempting to halt it in Indo-China—democracy and free enterprise can now advance because the military commitments of Western nations held back the Communist tide long enough for the qualities of freedom to prevail.

Japan's role in all this has mainly been to achieve such astonishing economic successes at home, that she constituted a persuasive example of their potential abroad.

She is also playing an increasingly effective part in international economic cooperation.

I do not believe that Japan should become a substantial military power.

This is not wanted either by her or by her neighbours. But, in view of the strengthened authority and wider role of the United Nations since the crisis in the Gulf, it ought to be possible for Japan to play a larger role in peace keeping, for example.

The principal means by which freedom in the world is defended will continue, however, to be NATO.

I hope that Western Governments will not press ahead with our planned defence cuts unless and until we are confident that the risks to our security have truly diminished. [end p8]

Defending Truth

Yet the defence of freedom and democracy requires continuing struggle and successive victories on another battlefield—that of ideas.

We must continue to proclaim the practical and moral case for that economic freedom which capitalism brings to support the political freedom of democracy.

We must do so in good times as well as bad, knowing that the gains of civilisation all imperilled by complacency as much as by fear.

We must make our case: in the media where the censorship of fashion must not limit the arguments that are deployed; in universities where, to our shame, free speech is not always easy; in international gatherings, where the truth must be told about the misdeeds of tyrants—so that their subject populations know that the world's conscience will not be silenced.

The old saying has it that the first victim of war is truth. But it is more accurate to say that the first victim of totalitarianism is truth. And truth is what Communists have always feared the most.

In 1917 when Lenin and the Bolsheviks performed their coup in Russia, once they had taken over the telegraph offices, they were able to begin that substitution of lies for truth which characterised communications in Communist countries for seventy years. This August, Lenin 's successors were less fortunate. They could not prevent the truth about their actions and the truth about Mr Yeltsin 's heroic resistance from getting to the people. The advance of the technology of communications has thus helped produce an advance of democracy: the truth can no longer be kept from the people. [end p9]

Defending Nationhood

The third way in which we must defend democracy is to make it run with the grain of natural sentiment—and that often means national sentiment.

Some people associate nationalism with anti-democratic impulses.

And it is certainly true that demagogues and dictators have exploited xenophobic prejudice in the past—just as they have exploited every other kind of prejudice.

But in a democracy national pride becomes a force which does not erode liberty, but preserves it.

It is also true that the great advance of liberal democracy in the 19th Century was accompanied by a growth of national consciousness—just as it is true in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe today that the strongest advocates of democracy are passionately patriotic.

The fact is that people will not take an active part in defending or engaging in democratic politics unless they feel committed to the identity and interests of their own political community. And the deeper that commitment is the more they will be prepared to make sacrifices for the common good.

Of course, inter-nationalism is not only valuable but necessary—international cooperation to defend the rule of law against aggression, international effort to relieve hunger and disease, international resolve to ensure that free trade through the GATT prevails. But there is a perverse and foolish internationalism which seeks to suppress national identity and ignore national loyalties.

This is a force which will threaten democracy if it is not checked.

Now that the Cold War has ended, we should be allowing greater national self-determination.

Earlier, I mentioned the case of the Soviet Union and its component nationalities. But let me also draw attention to Yugoslavia—an artificial state put together with little regard for the wishes of many of its people and subsequently held together by dictatorship and now by violence. [end p10]

If the Slovenes and the Croats wish to exercise their right to national self-determination—while clearly guaranteeing the rights of individuals and minorities within their borders—then I believe they should be allowed to do so. The tragedy which is unfolding in Croatia today is not an indictment of nationalism but of Marxism and militarism.

Far away from these events, you in Japan have managed to create your strong democracy and your vibrant economy for many reasons: but among them is certainly the fact that Japan is a nation state which attracts the loyalty and effort of her so talented people.

Democracy—A New Dawn

Ladies and Gentlemen, never in my lifetime have the prospects for democracy been so good.

And never have we seen a younger generation as committed to the rights and responsibilities of freedom as ours.

We are witnessing a new dawn for democracy which will enlighten even the darkest corners of our world.

We seem almost to hear the “dawn wind” calling in the new day—the dawn wind of which Rudyard Kipling wrote:

“So when the world is asleep, and there seems no hope of waking Out of some long, bad dream that makes her mutter and moan, Suddenly all men arise to the noise of fetters breaking, And every one smile at his neighbour and tells him his soul is his own!”