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Socialism Today 108 - April 2007

Falklands war: what lessons for the labour movement?

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS ago Britain fought a five-week war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands or Las Islas Malvinas. The war was precipitated by the occupation of the islands by the military regime of general Galtieri, who launched the ill-prepared military adventure in a desperate attempt to escape from internal economic and political crisis. Galtieri had been shaken by general strikes and mass protests.

The conflict was prepared, however, by a series of blunders by British imperialism. Despite Argentina’s long-standing claim to the islands and recent threats from Galtieri, in 1981 Thatcher’s government announced the withdrawal of the British naval warship, Endurance, from the South Atlantic. Her government took no action when scrap metal contractors landed on neighbouring South Georgia with an Argentinean naval escort in March 1982 – and Thatcher was completely taken by surprise when Argentinean forces occupied the Falklands/Malvinas on 1 April.

Then, acting decisively to defend the prestige of British imperialism and save her own political neck, Thatcher ordered an improvised naval task force to sail to the South Atlantic, announcing this to a special sitting of parliament on Saturday, 3 April. The Labour leaders endorsed the sending of the task force, a mobilisation for war, and Thatcher had a free hand to conjure up latent reserves of patriotic prejudices and chauvinistic jingoism among many layers in Britain, with plenty of help from the tabloid press.

The war was ‘a close run thing’ (as Wellington said at Waterloo) but, with the help of Reagan in the US and Pinochet in Chile, British forces re-took the Falklands/Malvinas on 14 June.

The ranks of the armed forces on both sides paid a heavy price for the reckless militarism of their rulers: 258 British forces killed and 777 wounded; 649 Argentineans killed, 1,068 wounded. One incident stands out as an undoubted war crime: the sinking by a British nuclear-powered submarine, ordered by Thatcher, of the decrepit Argentinean warship, General Belgrano, when it was sailing away from the Falklands and posed no threat to British forces: 368 sailors drowned.

The Galtieri junta was forced out by mass protests and thrown into prison. Thatcher’s mistakes, on the other hand, were brushed under the carpet. Military victory transformed her position. During 1979-81 the Tory government was deeply unpopular, as its monetarist economic policies aggravated the recession and attacks on jobs and trade union rights sent unemployment soaring. Thatcher’s own poll ratings slumped. But the ‘Falklands effect’, the mobilisation of buried patriotic sentiments apparently vindicated by military victory, dramatically lifted the level of support for the Tories and for Thatcher in particular.

The Labour leaders under Michael Foot supported the sending of the task force – effectively approving the voyage to war. As a consequence, they were incapable of countering the Falklands effect (concentrating their energies during 1982-83 on attacking the Marxist wing of the party, expelling members of the Militant editorial board in 1983). Thatcher surfed to a landslide victory in the 1983 general election. She increased her majority by a hundred seats, to 144, though this actually concealed a decline in support for the Tories, who received 700,000 fewer votes than in 1979.

What position did we take on the war? We opposed both British imperialism and the Argentinean military dictatorship. Both sides were fighting a capitalist war contrary to the interests of the working class.

We opposed the seizure of the Malvinas by Galtieri as a military adventure. If the junta had successfully taken long-term possession of the Malvinas, the dictatorship would have been strengthened for a period, which would have worsened the position of the Argentinean working class. At the same time, we opposed the sending of the military task force, which was to defend the power and prestige of British imperialism. It was predictable that a British victory would strengthen Thatcher and embolden her attacks on the working class at home.

Moreover, we opposed the class collaborationist role of the Labour leaders, who abjectly failed to oppose the war, instantly clearing the way for Thatcher to dispatch the task force. The Militant’s editorial on 9 April was headed ‘No support for the Junta – No support for the Tories’.

"Workers can give no support whatsoever to the lunatic adventure now being prepared by the Thatcher government…" it declared. "The Labour Party and the trade union movement could stop Thatcher dead in her tracks. The labour movement must declare that it has no confidence whatsoever in the policies or methods of the British government…

"Labour must demand not just the resignation of Defence Minister Nott, but the entire Tory government… Labour must demand a general election in order that a Labour government can support and encourage workers’ opposition in Argentina".

The pages of Militant during the conflict make clear our opposition to the capitalist war over the Falklands/Malvinas. (See also Peter Taaffe: The Rise of Militant, Chapter 20) Some of our critics, however, claimed at the time, and probably continue to claim, that we did not oppose the war. According to such ultra-lefts, only those who called for the defeat of the British task force and victory for Argentina really opposed the war. Their approach, in our opinion, is a ludicrous caricature of a Marxist policy on war; an approach that is guaranteed to cut its proponents off from even the most politically conscious workers.

Our strategy and tactics on the Falklands/Malvinas war, and our answer to ultra-left critics, were explained in an article by Lynn Walsh, Falklands war: what lessons for the labour movement?, published in Militant International Review (Issue 22, June 1982), as the task force sailed towards the South Atlantic. We believe that the programmatic and theoretical issues raised at that time remain important issues for Marxists today.

This online version is the original article in full. The version published in Socialism Today, Issue No.108, April 2007, has been slightly shortened for reasons of space. Some explanatory footnotes and subheadings have been added to the original.


WAR IS RAGING in the South Atlantic. By the time this journal appears, the outcome of the conflict will probably be decided. Most likely, the Junta’s forces will suffer a defeat, given the superior military and economic resources of British imperialism. This would open up a new revolutionary crisis in Argentina, which could trigger movements of the working class through the crisis-ridden states of Latin America. [1] But whether or not the military conflict is as yet resolved, the war has important lessons for the labour movement. What were the real causes of the war? All the political, economic and class forces must be analysed concretely. And what policy and tactics should Marxists adopt in opposition to capitalist war? In the next period of intensified class conflict and national antagonisms this, even after the Falklands war, will remain a vital question for the labour movement.

Galtieri seized the islands in a desperate attempt to save his dictatorship from the threat of revolution. [2] Success would extend the Junta’s lease of life, reinforcing temporarily the totalitarian oppression of the Argentinean people. Success for Galtieri would also mean that the Falkland Islanders would be brought under the jackboot of the dictatorship, which socialists cannot condone.

But what confidence can we have, from the point of view of the interests of the working class, in the Tory government’s moves to solve the crisis? For the Tories and for their big-business pay-masters the Islanders are just pawns in the game. [3] Thatcher has sent the Task Force to war to defend the prestige, power, and ultimately the world-wide profits of British capitalism.

The first casualties of the war are the workers in uniform. In Argentina, the young conscripts of the army and navy have been pressed into service by a military police dictatorship. The sailors and soldiers of the British Task Force are ‘volunteers’, but volunteers who have mostly been pushed into the forces by mass unemployment and poor prospects in ‘Civvy Street’, a form of ‘economic conscription’. The fighting has already claimed many lives, and thousands more may be slaughtered or wounded in the battle for the Islands.

Whatever the outcome, the arms dealers, the merchants of death who equip both sides (10% of Argentina’s arms purchases are from Britain), will increase their profits. On both sides, it is the power, prestige and profits of the capitalist class which are at stake. The survival of Galtieri’s Junta and Thatcher’s government also hangs on the outcome. Once Galtieri embarked on the Falklands adventure and once Thatcher embarked on massive retaliation, neither could back down without losing power.

Reagan [4] viewed with dismay the conflict between the two allies, in reality two client states. Ultimately, it was inevitable that US imperialism would side with British imperialism, a major ally and the linchpin of the NATO alliance. However, it was with great regret that Reagan abandoned support for Galtieri, once the futility of Haig’s shuttle-diplomacy became clear. [5] Not only has a southern picket of American imperialism been thrown off balance, but the Junta’s role as surrogate policeman in Central America – vital for Reagan after Congress’s refusal to sanction direct intervention in El Salvador – has been put in question. [6]

Above all, however, the representatives of US imperialism fear that the Falklands adventure will lead to Galtieri’s fall – opening the door to a new revolutionary crisis in Argentina, with all the consequences that would have for Latin America.

Galtieri’s motives for war…

THE IRONY OF the situation is, however, that Galtieri embarked on the invasion of the Falklands precisely to head off the imminent threat of revolution. A few days before the invasion, on March 30, thousands of workers and youth defied the military on the streets of Buenos Aires, protesting against massive impoverishment and unemployment and against the brutal suppression of the trade unions and all democratic rights.

The ‘strong state’ of Videla, Viola and Galtieri has failed to solve the country’s deep economic crisis. On the contrary, production has slumped while the wealth of this potentially rich nation has been shamelessly squandered in an orgy of speculation. Under the mismanagement of her voracious financiers and businessmen, Argentina, with a population 9 million smaller than Poland, has run up $5,000 million more in foreign debts, which now total $30,000 million (£18,000 million). The working class, together with the unemployed, the rural labourers, and sections of the petit-bourgeoisie, have been devastated by wage freezes and soaring prices. The monetarist policies of Galtieri’s finance minister, Alemann, far from curing inflation, gave a new twist to Argentina’s notorious hyper-inflation.

On top of this, amplifying all the economic grievances, is the workers’ burning anger at the suppression of democratic rights and the military’s brutal policy of kidnappings, assassinations, and torture. Over 20,000 people have ‘disappeared’, murdered or jailed by the Junta’s official murderers and torturers. After six years of a bonapartist regime which uses fascist methods against its opponents, a new generation of class fighters were beginning to lead the workers into action. This is why Galtieri activated the state’s 150-year-old claim to the ‘Malvinas’, using this national talisman to whip up all the most reactionary, chauvinist sentiments among the petit-bourgeois and sections of the working class.

Despite their bloody hands, the Junta – temporarily – have managed to divert the anger of the masses away from the dictatorship and turn it against British imperialism. Nevertheless, even the demonstrations of support for the seizure of the Islands have manifested opposition to the repressive policies of the Junta.

The working class has nothing to gain from the taking of Falklands. If the Junta succeeds in holding them and its adventure appears a success, the dictatorship would be reinforced, prolonging the military-police oppression of the Argentinean people, at least for a time.

Moreover, if Argentinean big business were to try to develop the Islands, and from there the wealth of Antarctica, the financiers and speculators would be the only real beneficiaries. Far from ‘strengthening the nation’, the development of the Falklands, if Argentina’s profligate capitalists were to attempt it, would only increase the country’s dependence on foreign capital. Possession of the Islands will not halt Argentina’s catastrophic economic degeneration. Only a socialist Argentina, with planned production under the control of the working class and links with the rest of Latin America through a Socialist Federation, could develop the plentiful natural resources of Antarctica. Then, too, the problem of the Falklands could be resolved. The Islanders would have no fears about a Socialist Federation which guaranteed their democratic rights and autonomy, and assured them comfortable conditions of life.

Annexation by the Argentinean dictatorship, however, is an entirely different question. Marxists cannot be indifferent to the fate of the Falklanders. Although they have dwindled to about 1,800 – hardly a nation in the classical sense – they have the right to enjoy their own language, culture, and autonomy. We cannot condone their subjection by the dictatorship, represented on the Islands by the new military governor, General Menendez, veteran of the Junta’s ‘dirty war’ of extermination against the guerrilla groups who took up arms against the regime.

… and Thatcher’s

BUT WHAT CONFIDENCE can we have in the Tory government’s moves to resolve the crisis? The Task Force has been sent, if we are to believe Thatcher, to safeguard the Falkland Islanders’ rights and defend British democracy against ‘fascist’ Argentina. Yet before, the Tories were quite happy to sanction arms sales to the Junta, and were silent about repression.

Thatcher’s, moreover, is a Tory government which at home has declared war on the living standards and rights of the working class. If the Tories are prepared to dispatch a mighty war fleet – boasting that it is ‘regardless of cost’ – it is not to defend the rights of Falklanders, but to defend the power and prestige of British capitalism.

Before, they had little regard for the Islanders. Britain’s refusal to develop the Islands’ services had already made the Falklanders more and more dependent on Argentina, for the air service, supplies, education and medical treatment. The Islanders had their own way of life, but the place was run more like a feudal fiefdom than a modern democracy. Most of the Islands’ economy is dominated by a single company, the Falklands Islands Co, recently bought by Coalite Ltd, no doubt with an eye on the region’s mineral resources.

Neglect of a dependency is one thing. But when it was seized by armed force the power and prestige of British imperialism was put on the line.

At least one letter to The Times (14 April) cut through the hypocrisy. "Sir", wrote a certain Hedley Bull [7], "It is not the case, as is now so widely asserted, that Britain’s chief interest in the present crisis is to safeguard the rights of Falklanders, important as these rights are. Britain’s paramount interest is to show that, contrary to what the Argentine government has believed to be the case, she is able and willing to defend British territory when it is attacked". Any negotiated settlement, he concluded, "which... involves a derogation from British sovereignty... will demonstrate... that Britain is no longer a power whom anyone need take seriously". The real standpoint of British capitalism – usually concealed beneath hypocritical expression of concern about democratic rights – could hardly be put more clearly.

The point was reinforced, perhaps more diplomatically, by David Watt, director of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. "The trouble", he wrote in The Times, "is that we, a supposedly major power, have been outwitted by a tinpot regime... Mrs Thatcher is right in saying that Britain’s reputation is at stake". It was not simply Thatcher’s credibility but the country’s that was at stake. "Credibility", Watt conceded, "is of course a hard concept to pin down... But the fact remains that the protection of British interests in a very uncertain and unstable world depends considerably on exploiting our past reputation for (a) relative honesty; (b) skill and resolution in protecting our interests; and (c) possession of real, though limited power".

As far as the representatives of British imperialism are concerned "honesty" has indeed always been highly "relative". The Tory and Foreign Office blunders which encouraged Galtieri to invade the Falklands, moreover, indicate an undermining of their "skill and resolution", reflecting the decline of British capitalism’s world power. [8] But, of course, ultimately the ability to uphold its interest through armed force is vital to British imperialism, to preserve the vestiges of its world power.

If it had simply relinquished the Falklands, bowing to "irresistible force", British imperialism would, in the next period, have suffered a drastic undermining of its economic influence. This is why the Tories sent the Task Force, and why the representatives of British capitalism are prepared to commit enormous resources, and, if necessary, to sacrifice the lives of thousands of workers to recover the Islands.

Mobilising mass opposition

THE TASK OF Marxists is to explain the real reasons for the war, laying bare the class motives of both the Junta and the Tories, exposing the real war-aims of both Argentine capitalism and British capitalism. We are against this capitalist war. But it is a question of how to oppose the war, how to appeal to the majority of workers in order to mobilise effective mass opposition to the war. Mere denunciation of the war and calls to withdraw the Task Force will neither be listened to by the capitalists nor will they get a response from the majority of workers.

The representatives of British capitalism will not abandon the armed defence of their vital interests on the world arena. They are just as ready to sacrifice workers in war as they are to exploit them in peacetime. Thatcher will brush aside calls to withdraw the fleet. Nor will the Tories be prepared to accept the arbitration of the United Nations. The inability of the UN to act on the Falklands crisis in any case confirms the impotence of the dis-United Nations. Any diplomatic compromise which threatened to cut across the interests of British imperialism would be vetoed by Britain in the Security Council. [9]

To force the withdrawal of the Task Force would require a general strike, with the workers taking power into their own hands. While the capitalists retain the power, they will use it to defend their class interests, whether at home or abroad. But in the present situation a call for a general strike to end the war would get no support, even from the advanced sections of the working class. Even the ultra-left sects who, all forlorn, cry ‘Stop the war!’ have not had the temerity to call for a general strike. Such a slogan would be hollow through and through. It would immediately be shown to be completely unrealistic. Nor could the call to stop the war or withdraw the Fleet provide a basis even for a mass campaign of demonstrations, meetings, and agitation – because it leaves unanswered, in the eyes of workers, the vital question of the rights of the Falkland Islanders and the question of opposing a vicious military-police dictatorship in Argentina.

Only the bringing down of the Tory government can clear the way for ending the war and a solution to the Falklands crisis. At the moment, the Tories have the backing of the right-wing leaders of the Labour Party and the trade unions. Without it, they could not have gone to war. The opposition of Michael Foot, the Labour Party leader, and some of the other Parliamentary lefts has been completely inconsistent and ineffectual. Foot supported the sending of the Task Force – but on the eve of the first engagement argued that it should not be used! As if the Tories sent a war fleet 8,000 miles across the Atlantic merely as a diplomatic display!

Their refusal to criticise the class aims of the Tories make the opposition of the Labour Party leaders seem like inconsistent, carping criticism. Labour’s ranks must therefore demand an end to the bi-partisan policy on the Falklands, an end to the unofficial coalition that exists between Labour’s right wing and the Tories on this issue.

The Falklands war is not a reason for calling off the struggle against the Tories – on the contrary, the slaughter of the war and the additional drain on British capitalism, for which big business will try to make the workers pay, underlines the urgency of stepping up the struggle to bring down the Tory government.

The labour movement should be mobilised to force a general election to open the way for the return of a Labour government to implement socialist policies at home and abroad. [10] Victory of a socialist government in Britain would immediately transform the situation in relation to the Falklands. The Junta would no longer be able to claim to be fighting British imperialism.

A socialist government would make a class appeal to the Argentinean workers. A Labour government could not just abandon the Falklanders and let Galtieri get on with it. But it would continue the war on socialist lines. First, a socialist government would carry through the democratisation of the British armed forces, introducing trade union rights and the election of officers. Working class interests cannot be defended under the direction of an authoritarian, officer caste, which is tied to the capitalist class by education, income and family and class loyalties. The use of force against the Junta, however, would be combined with a class appeal to the workers in uniform. British capitalism will probably defeat the Junta, but only through a bloody battle and at an enormous cost in lives. Using socialist methods, a Labour government could rapidly defeat the dictatorship, which was already facing a threat from the Argentinean working class when Galtieri embarked on his diversionary battle with British imperialism.

A Labour government would give support to a struggle to overturn the Junta and end the rule of capitalism in Argentina. A socialist government in Britain would make it clear that, while defending the rights of the Falkland Islanders, it entirely repudiated the neo-imperialist interests and aims of British capitalism. It would support the expropriation of British banks and businesses in Argentina, along with the nationalisation of Argentinean big business and finance capital.

A Labour government would propose a Socialist Federation of Britain and Argentina, including the Falkland Islands. Under capitalism, the two countries have been linked to a considerable extent by investment and trade. A Socialist Federation, which would have world-wide ramifications, would end neo-colonial exploitation and open up planned development of the economies, which would have enormous advantages for the workers of Britain, Argentina, and the Falklands. [11]

It is vital to oppose the capitalist war with a clear policy on these lines. Such a policy can win the support of the advanced workers, and also wider layers of the working class, countering the lying propaganda of the capitalist class. In the course of the crisis, the television and especially the press have sunk to new depths, attempting to whip up vile chauvinist and warmongering sentiments. In attacking its sleazy rival, the Sun, the Daily Mirror said that it had sunk from the gutter to the sewer – a description which also fits the Mirror and the rest of the capitalist press!

The Tories are hypocritically exploiting the workers’ instinctive hatred of the Junta, which they see as a blood-stained fascist regime. The Tories are also attempting to exploit the workers’ feelings of solidarity with their brothers and sisters in the army, the navy, and the merchant navy. Only a clear Marxist policy, which takes all the factors of the situation into account, can win mass support and mobilise effective opposition to this war of rival capitalist classes.

Lenin’s approach

THE POSITION TAKEN by some of the ultra-left sects, who actually came out in support of the Junta, could only play into the hands of the Tories and British imperialism. Fearful that they would be diverted by the pressure of patriotic, bourgeois sentiments, they tried to insure themselves against opportunism by subscribing to an inflexible policy. The only way consistently to oppose the British bourgeoisie, they claim, is to support the enemy of the British bourgeoisie – even if this happens to be Argentina’s military-police dictatorship! From the correct starting point of opposition to capitalist war, the ultra-left sects (who claim to be Marxists) hared off down a dead-end street.

In support of this crazy logic, which has led the sects into giving uncritical support to the Junta, they claim Marxists must always adopt a ‘defeatist’ position. They cite Lenin’s revolutionary defeatism of 1914, when the Bolshevik leader said that, for Russian Marxists, the defeat of the Tsarist autocracy would be the most favourable outcome of the imperialist war and when Lenin put forward the slogan of ‘civil war’. The sects, however, have picked up Lenin’s slogan of 1914 without bothering to examine the circumstances and without understanding Lenin’s thinking.

Every situation must be analysed concretely, and there are enormous differences between the imperialist war of 1914-18 and the present armed conflict between Britain and Argentina. But the sects have not even understood Lenin’s position in 1914-18. If we were to accept their view, the leader of the Russian revolution would appear as little more than a dogmatic fool. In a discussion at the third congress of the Communist International in 1921, in answer to ultra-left ideas being put forward by some of the German Communists, Lenin explained his tactics during the war. "At the beginning of the war we Bolsheviks adhered to a single slogan – that of civil war, and a ruthless one at that... But when we came back to Russia in March 1917 we changed our position entirely". At the start of the war, Lenin explained, because of the depths of the betrayal by the Social Democratic and Labour leaders, who patriotically fell in behind their own capitalists, it was necessary to inoculate the advanced layers of workers against patriotic, capitalist ‘defencism’. "It was important then to form a definite and resolute core".

However, in 1917 Lenin rejected the slogan of civil war and an immediate move to overthrow the Provisional government of Kerensky. "Our subsequent stand was correct too. It proceeded from the assumption that the masses had to be won over". In 1917 the Bolsheviks had to take into account the "honest defencism" of the workers and peasants, not support for the Russian ruling class, but solidarity with their class brothers in the army and defence of a homeland identified with the interests of ordinary workers and peasants.

Not for a moment did Lenin abandon opposition to the imperialist war. The Bolsheviks opposed the new offensive in 1917, when the Russian armies, under the direction of the Provisional government, renewed the war effort on behalf of the ruling class. But crude antiwar slogans and the call for civil war could not have won the support of a majority of workers.

Never did Lenin doubt the need to overthrow the Provisional government, which was incapable of ending the war and, despite depending on the support of the workers’ Soviets, was attempting to save the rule of the capitalists and landlords. But unless the Bolsheviks were to attempt to overthrow the Provisional government through the action of only a minority of the working class – an idea Lenin rejected as ‘Blanquist’ (putschist) [12] – they had to campaign to win over the majority of the working class. Would the sects of today say that Lenin was ‘opportunist’?

The October revolution, which overthrew the Provisional government and put power in the hands of the workers’ and peasants’ Soviets, demonstrated the correctness of Lenin’s strategy and tactics. Arguing against ultra-left ideas in 1921, Lenin said: "Our sole strategy now is to become stronger, hence cleverer, more sensible, more ‘opportunistic’". Lenin was using "opportunistic" ironically, to underline his rejection of an ultra-left approach based on the mechanical repetition of "left" slogans regardless of their effect on the majority of workers. Lenin’s speech on this question is printed in his Collected Works, volume 42, pp324-328.

Trotsky’s attitude

LEON TROTSKY ALSO took up the Marxists who, on the eve of the Second World War, wanted to repeat Lenin’s slogans of 1914. The Second World War, Trotsky explained, was a continuation of the first imperialist world war – but not a repetition. Similarly, the slogans of the Marxists were a continuation, but not a repetition. They had to be worked out and deepened in relation to the concrete situation in the Second World War. Trotsky explained this in his article ‘Bonapartism, Fascism and War’ (Writings 1939-40, p411).

"During the last war not only the proletariat as a whole but also its vanguard and, in a certain sense, the vanguard of the vanguard was caught unawares. The elaboration of the principles of revolutionary policy toward the war began at a time when the war was already in full blaze and the military machine exercised unlimited rule. One year after the outbreak of the war, the small revolutionary minority was still compelled to accommodate itself to a centrist majority at the Zimmerwald Conference [the 1915 meeting of internationalists in Switzerland – Ed].

"Prior to the February revolution and even afterwards the revolutionary elements felt themselves to be not contenders for power but the extreme left opposition. Even Lenin relegated the socialist revolution to a more or less distant future... If that is how Lenin viewed the situation, then there is hardly any need of talking about the others.

"This political position of the extreme left wing expressed itself most graphically on the question of the defence of the fatherland.

"In 1915 Lenin referred in his writings to revolutionary wars which the victorious proletariat would have to wage. But was a question of an indefinite historical perspective and not of tomorrow’s task. The attention of the revolutionary wing was centred on the question of the defence of the capitalist fatherland. The revolutionists naturally replied to this question in the negative. This was entirely correct. But while this purely negative answer served as the basis for propaganda and for training the cadres, it could not win the masses, who did not want a foreign conqueror.

"In Russia prior to the war the Bolsheviks constituted four-fifths of the proletarian vanguard, that is, of the workers participating in political life (newspapers, elections, etc.). Following the February revolution the unlimited rule passed into the hands of defensists, the Mensheviks and the SRs [the Social Revolutionary Party, based on the peasantry – Ed]. True enough, the Bolsheviks in the space of eight months conquered the overwhelming majority of the workers. But the decisive role in this conquest was played not by the refusal to defend the bourgeois fatherland but by the slogan ‘All Power to the Soviets’. And only by this revolutionary slogan! The criticism of imperialism, its militarism, the renunciation of the defence of bourgeois democracy and so on could have never conquered the overwhelming majority of the people to the side of the Bolsheviks..." [Our emphasis added – Ed]

Absurd positions

YET THE ULTRA-LEFT sects of today, determined to demonstrate their intransigent ‘Marxist’ approach, continue to advance slogans based on their misconception of ‘defeatism’. Even they – confused as they are – do not claim that they have the support of a majority of the working class. But how do they think they can win a majority to oppose the war aims of British capitalism, to force the Tories to abandon their military adventure? Apparently, they believe it can be done by support for the Junta, when most workers have an instinctive hatred for what they see as a ‘fascist’ regime, and an understandable desire to see it defeated. The Tories, of course, are cynically exploiting the workers’ anti-fascist feelings; but support for the Junta would put Marxists beyond the pale in the eyes of workers, leaving the Tories free hypocritically to capitalise on the ‘fight against fascism’.

The pseudo-Marxists also believe, it seems, that support for a socialist opposition to the war can be won through a policy which abandons the Falkland Islanders to the tender mercies of the Junta, writing off their rights in favour of the Junta’s legalistic claim to the land under their feet.

The most monstrous absurdity of the sects’ position, however, is the idea that workers can be won to a socialist position on the basis of calling for the defeat of the Task Force, calling literally – as representatives of the sects have stated in public – for "the sinking of the fleet"! They are in favour of the slaughter of workers in the ranks of the navy and army, and on this basis they will win mass support from the working class! This is a travesty of Marxism which, in so far as it has any effect at all, can only play into the hands of the Tories and Labour’s right, allowing them to portray ‘Marxists’ as idiots who support the Argentinean junta.

This is not all, however. Not content with distorting Lenin, the sects also drag Trotsky in to support their ludicrous position. Did not Trotsky say just before the Second World War – the sects argue – that, in the event of war between Britain and Brazil, "in this case I will be on the side of ‘fascist’ Brazil against ‘democratic’ Great Britain". Trotsky made this remark in 1938 in an interview with Mateo Fossa, the leader of Trotsky’s supporters in (as it happens) Argentina. (The interview is published in Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1938-39, pp31-36)

Again, the pseudo-Marxists have taken Trotsky’s remarks completely out of context, without analysing the situation or Trotsky’s reasoning. He was obviously dealing with a hypothetical case. But he formulated his position sharply in this way in order to counter the idea, then being peddled by the Stalinist leadership of the Comintern and the world’s ‘Communist’ Parties, that the struggle of ‘democracy’ against ‘fascism’ should take priority over a revolutionary struggle against imperialism. In the interests of the Russian bureaucracy’s diplomatic deals with the ruling classes of the capitalist democracies, the revolutionary struggle internationally was postponed indefinitely.

Trotsky explained that in the coming world war – which he clearly predicted from the middle of the 1930s – the capitalist class, if faced with an aggravated crisis and mounting opposition to their rule, could easily throw off its democratic mask and resort to totalitarian, fascist forms of rule. On the other hand, in colonial or semi-colonial countries, the war could stimulate revolutionary movements of the workers and exploited peasantry which could topple fascist regimes.

In the case of war between Britain and Brazil, "If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro, and will place double chains on Brazil. If Brazil, on the contrary, should be victorious, it would give a mighty impulse to national and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of the Vargas dictatorship. The defeat of England will at the same time deliver a blow to British imperialism and will give an impulse to the revolutionary movement of the British proletariat". (p34) Even in this hypothetical case, Trotsky clearly analysed the probable processes and the alternative perspectives which would be opened up. Yet faced with a real war in the South Atlantic at the present time, the pseudo-Marxist sects are incapable of analysing the actual class interests or processes involved.

Argentinean capitalism

THE JUNTA LAUNCHED its Falkland adventure under the social crisis – to head off pressure of imminent revolution. If they were successfully to hold on to the Falklands – which now seems unlikely – it could temporarily strengthen the military dictatorship, prolonging the totalitarian oppression of the Argentinean working class. Faced with the prospect of being overthrown, the Junta, by its military action, has brought dramatically to the fore the issue of the Falklands, a "national grievance" fostered by Argentina’s rulers for generations precisely to divert the attention of the people from economic and political grievances at home.

Far from awakening the national and democratic consciousness of the country, the seizure of the Falklands has allowed the Junta to whip up all the worst nationalistic, patriotic prejudices of the middle class and sections of the workers. If it were a national war against an attempt of British imperialism to subjugate Argentina and its people – as in Trotsky’s theoretical example – it would be entirely different.

Marxists have always given support to national struggles against imperialism. Trotsky advocated support for China against Japan (after the seizure of Manchuria in 1931 and in the war that broke out in 1937), even under the bonapartist leadership of Chiang Kai-shek. A national struggle, despite bourgeois leadership, inevitably arouses the working class and exploited peasantry.

Similarly, in 1935-36 Trotsky supported Abyssinia against fascist Italy. A defeat for Mussolini’s army of invasion would have led to the overthrow of his fascist regime in Italy. Even so, Trotsky never recommended uncritical support for bonapartist, national-capitalist leaders. He always stood for the independent mobilisation of the working class on a socialist programme. In the course of a national struggle, Marxists should demand a radical land reform and the nationalisation of industry and finance, together with the formation of Soviets and a struggle to take the power into their hands. This is the only basis on which genuine liberation from imperialism can be achieved.

But the Argentinean Junta’s war over the Falklands is not a war of national liberation against imperialism. On the contrary, in seizing the Falklands the Argentine Junta is pursuing imperialistic aims on the part of Argentinean capitalism.

Galtieri invaded the Islands for political reasons, to head off revolution and save his regime. But in the background are the Argentinean financiers and capitalists who are eager to get their hands on the profits potentially to be drawn from Antarctic oil and other natural resources. Such a development of Antarctica, it is true, would almost certainly be in conjunction with the American multi-nationals, to whom the Argentinean capitalists would be junior partners. Argentinean capitalism is still subordinate to international big business, especially American capitalism, as its massive foreign debts testify.

Nevertheless, in the past period of world economic upswing, Argentinean capitalism developed a semi-industrialised basis of its own. It is ludicrous to portray Argentinean capitalism as a completely dependent, ‘comprador’ capitalism, dominated by the agents of foreign capital. This is the analysis offered by some of the sects in an attempt to justify their support for the Junta.

A few crucial statistics reveal the absurdity of this position. In 1979, industry accounted for 45% of GNP, compared to 13% for agriculture (and 42% for services). Manufactured goods, it is true, account for only 22.7% of the country’s exports, compared to 65.5% for food and agriculture, thus reflecting the weakness of Argentine industry on world markets. But the urban population now accounts for over 82% of the total population. Twenty-nine per cent of the active population work in industry, as compared to only 14% in agriculture (57% work in the enormous service sector). In other words, Argentina, despite its continued neo-colonialist subservience to American, West European and Japanese big business, nevertheless has all the characteristics of a semi-industrialised capitalist economy.

If there were an Argentinean population on the Islands, subjected to British rule against their will, the situation would be different. Then there might be a case for the "national liberation" of the Islands. But this is not the case. Apart from one or two Argentines married to Islanders, there have been no Argentineans on the Islands for 150 years.


ARGENTINA’S DICTATORS ARE following a well-trodden path. Mussolini, for instance, attempted to whip up nationalistic, reactionary fervour over "Irredenta", so-called "unredeemed national territory", calling for the return of Trieste to Italy. Hitler, similarly, mounted a nationalistic agitation campaign for the return of the Saar from France and the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. In these cases, however, the majority of the population had linguistic and cultural ties. In the Saarland and the Sudetenland the majority were German speaking. In these cases, however, Trotsky did not support the claim of ‘fascist’ Germany against ‘democratic’ France or ‘democratic’ Czechoslovakia.

Under the Versailles Treaty which followed Germany’s defeat in the First World War, the Saar was placed under League of Nations administration (with its valuable coal mines in the hands of France). Under the Treaty, there was to be a referendum in 1935 to decide whether the Saarland should be autonomous, come under French control or be handed back to Germany. Trotsky’s position was unequivocal: despite the historical and cultural links of the Saar population with Germany, he advocated that the Marxists should demand autonomy and fight the incorporation of the Saarland into Germany and oppose the bringing of the Saarland’s population under the heel of the Nazi jackboot. Initially, the Stalinist leaders of the German Communist Party favoured German annexation – a position denounced by Trotsky as "the cowardice of pseudo-radicalism".

Answering the idea that Germany’s national claim should take precedence over the political interests of the Saarland’s population, Trotsky wrote: "to rally to Hitlerite Germany in practice, i.e. through the referendum, means, theoretically speaking, to put national mysticism above the class interests and psychologically to conduct a really cur-like policy. Naturally, only traitors can demand annexation at present, for that means to sacrifice the most concrete and vital questions of the German workers in the Saar territory to the abstract, national factor".

In the event, Hitler managed to gain a big majority for incorporation into Germany – a Nazi success which Trotsky bluntly attributed to the bankruptcy and cowardice of the leaders of both the Communist Party and the Social Democracy, who, despite coming out in favour of autonomy, failed to win the support of the Saarland workers for a policy of opposition to the Nazis.

The Junta’s "abstract" national claim to the Falkland Islands does not even have the "justification" – in any case rejected by Trotsky – of an Argentinean population on the Islands.

There is not a grain of genuine Marxism in the position of the ultra-left sects. They have come out in support of the Junta. They are indifferent to the rights of the Falkland Islanders. They are indifferent to the fate of the workers in the ranks of the British forces, even welcoming their defeat at the hands of the Junta. Not only will this position fail to win the support of workers, but it will play into the hands of the Tories and British capitalism.

Only a campaign based on a clear, concrete analysis of all the factors involved in the Falklands crisis and based on the clear policies we have outlined, will be effective in mobilising opposition to the Tories and British imperialism.



[1] After the surrender of Argentinean forces on 14 June 1983, Galtieri was forced out by mass protests. Elections in 1983 were won by the Radical, Raul Alfonsin, who defeated the Peronist candidate, promising to curb the power of the military.

[2] A military junta, led by general Jorge Videla, seized power in 1976. Videla was replaced by general Roberta Viola, who in turn was ousted by general Leopoldo Galtieri, who favoured a nationalistic foreign policy.

[3] Shortly after becoming prime minister in 1979, Margaret Thatcher approved a plan, drawn up by her foreign secretary, Nicholas Ridley, to open negotiations with Argentina. The proposal was that sovereignty of the Falklands/Malvinas would be conceded to Argentina on condition of an immediate long-term leaseback of the islands to Britain. This met with a storm of opposition from right-wing Tory MPs, and was abandoned. In June 1981, announcement of a round of defence cuts included the withdrawal of the naval survey ship, Endurance, from the South Atlantic.

[4] President Ronald Reagan, right-wing Republican president of the US, 1981-89.

[5] Alexander Haig, Reagan’s secretary of state, who attempted through shuttle diplomacy to broker a peace agreement between the Thatcher government and the Galtieri junta.

[6] The Argentinean junta backed the Bolivia coup of 1981 and supported the military-backed governments of Paraguay and Uruguay. The US was also grooming the Argentinean military to play a ‘counter-insurgency’ role in Central America, including against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua and the opposition forces of the FMNLF (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front) in the El Salvador civil war. (See: Lynn Walsh, US Latin America Policy Goes Up in Smoke, Militant, 28 May 1982)

[7] A professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and Oxford University.

[8] The announcement of the withdrawal of the British naval ship, Endurance, in June 1981 appeared to signal to Buenos Aires that Britain was no longer committed to defending the Falklands/Malvinas. When Argentinean scrap metal merchants landed on South Georgia Island with a small Argentinean naval force on 19 March 1982, the Thatcher government protested to Buenos Aries but took no action. This contrasted with the immediate dispatch of a small naval task force by the Labour government under James Callaghan in 1977, when a group of Argentinean ‘scientists’ landed on South Thule Island. Later, the Franks Committee catalogued a whole series of blunders but, in a typical official whitewash, concluded that no one in the British government could be blamed for the Argentinean invasion – and the war.

[9] To appease public opinion in Britain and internationally, the Thatcher government went along with a number of peace initiatives, calculating that the Galtieri junta would not accept them. But any further peace talks were effectively ruled out with the sinking by a British nuclear-powered submarine of the ageing Argentinean battleship, General Belgrano, when it was sailing away from the Falklands and British naval forces. This atrocious action, which resulted in the drowning of 368 Argentinean sailors, was personally ordered by Thatcher.

[10] The way our demands are formulated in this section reflects the fact that at that time Militant was a Marxist tendency in the Labour Party, which we still characterised as a bourgeois-workers’ party (bourgeois leaders, but with workers within its ranks and drawing on mass working-class support), though the leadership was moving rapidly to the right at that time (conducting an offensive to drive the Marxists out of the party). The "return of a Labour government to implement socialist policies" was based on the idea of a transformation of the party from below on the basis of mass working-class mobilisation and the adoption of a socialist programme. In fact, Thatcher’s Falklands victory, facilitated by the Labour leaders, reinforced her attacks on the British workers (eg the defeat of the 1984-85 miners’ strike), which in turn accelerated the metamorphosis of the Labour Party into a capitalist party. Militant became Militant Labour in 1992, contesting elections under its own banner, and subsequently launched the Socialist Party in 1997.

[11] In retrospect, the call for "a Socialist Federation of Britain and Argentina" may appear somewhat abstract. Before the collapse of the Stalinist states, it is true, there were close economic, military, and political connections between Cuba and the Soviet Union, though not a formal federal structure. Today, there are proposals for closer links between Venezuela and Cuba. In the case of links between countries on different continents, the call for a ‘Socialist Alliance’ might be more appropriate. At the time of the Falklands/Malvinas war we had no contact with Marxists in Argentina, and it was therefore inevitable that our programme to end the war and transform both Britain and Argentina in the interest of the working class was of a general character. A more concrete programme, especially in relation to Argentina, could only have been worked out through collaboration between Marxist forces in Britain and Argentina.

[12] August Blanqui (1805-81) was a French socialist who advocated revolution through insurrectionary uprising, organised secretly by a devoted band of revolutionaries.


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