Falklands Balance Sheet

What we said at the time... - From Workers’ Voice 8 (second series) August 1982

The re-taking of the Falkland Islands was a major military and propaganda victory for the British ruling class. The victory was also achieved without damage to the interests of US imperialism, which at first seemed threatened by the conflict with Argentina. The latter remains a member of the US bloc, chastened for its attempt to break the rules of bloc behaviour and as militarily and economically bound to the US as ever. Despite some wild talk by Galtieri and the Junta, there was never a prospect of Argentina moving towards Russia. The Russians themselves were so clear on this that they used the conflict to try and force down to their advantage Argentina’s asking price for its grain, rather than trying to make practical capital out of their verbal support for Argentina’s “rights”.

Militarily the whole operation was a success for Britain, and in the first naval battle since World War II many lessons were learned which will be of great use when the “real thing” comes. For example, the vulnerability of ships to missiles like the Exocet was dramatically revealed. The need for a massive combat fleet was shown and in future arms spending will undoubtedly be directed by all the NATO allies towards this away from the single-minded concentration on massively costly projects like Trident.

In propaganda terms, also, the ruling class achieved some success. There is little doubt that, after initial hesitations, the policy of Thatcher and co was seen by the mass of the population, including the working class, not as a transparent move to deflect attention from the economic crisis, but as a legitimate defence of democracy against fascist aggression.

Although some workers refused to call off their struggles (e.g. Hawker-Siddley workers in Bristol), these were minor problems for the ruling class. And although the Falklands mood of national unity began to evaporate once the war was over and reality began to intrude (e.g. rail and health strikes), the ease with which the ruling class mobilized for and carried out the war was a significant, though not final, setback for the working class, and a step towards World War III.

The war posed great problems and responsibilities for communists. The biggest political crisis in the UK for 25 years, it proved the validity of everything the CWO has said about the course of capitalism towards war as a solution to its crisis, and the role which the various parties and trades unions would play If it was a dress rehearsal for the ruling class it was also one for the CWO, which responded to the war by our most sustained campaign of action against the capitalist war via our press, leafleting, fly-posting and public meetings. The slogan was for class action against the capitalist war. The CWO took a consistently revolutionary defeatist position on the war, calling for opposition to both regimes in Britain and Argentina, and for working class unity and action against the war.

Social chauvinists to the fore

Communists haven’t always opposed all wars conducted by capitalism. Our attitude has been defined by the world interests of the working class in particular historical situations.

Marx and the First International supported the Northern capitalists in the American Civil War, because they were progressive - that is, their victory would lead to the abolition of slavery in the Southern states. But after the formation of the major capitalist states in the nineteenth century, as capitalism began to develop towards imperialism and to show that it was no longer a progressive social system, communists began to evolve a position of “revolutionary defeatism” in opposition to all sides in any capitalist war.

It was the Bolsheviks who first put forward the position of “revolutionary defeatism” in opposition to the prevailing mood of patriotism among the European socialist parties in the First World War. This means that socialists under no circumstances defend their own country, but work for its defeat by encouraging strikes and revolution against the ruling class, paralysing its ability to make war.

It was left to the left wing of the Communist International to continue this revolutionary tradition. The total opposition of the Italian fraction of the left led to its unique opposition to Stalin’s policy of forming a Popular Front with the bourgeoisie in Spain. In the Spanish Civil War, defence of democracy was the prelude to the anti-fascist crusade of WorId War II, in which the “communist” parties helped to mobilise the workers behind US, French and British Imperialism on the pretext of fighting fascism. Again, the remnants of the Italian Left took a revolutionary defeatist position and with the formation of the Internationalist Communist Party in 1943 the tradition of opposition to both imperialisms and internationalist revolutionary defeatism was carried on.

Today we can see clearly the signs of the build-up to World War III, just as the Spanish CiviI War was part of the preparation for the last imperialist massacre. We must prepare by opposing all the war preparations of the bourgeoisie of every country, whether under the banner of fighting fascism or anti-colonialism. Tomorrow, chauvinism of the right and left will be used to mobilise workers for World War III.

In World War I Lenin denounced those socia1 democrats who supported the war and who told the working class to fight for the aims of the bosses. He called them social chauvinists: socialists in words, chauvinist in deeds. When the war between Britain and Argentina broke out over the Falklands all sections of the left in Argentina played a chauvinist role, showing that they were simply left varieties of Argentine capitalism. A statement from the main Trotskyist group in Argentina stated:

The war, if there is one will mean more hunger for the workers and the people. However, this will not deter the Argentine workers and ourselves ... Without giving the slightest political support to the government, we will form part of the military camp of the dictatorship in the fight against the British Imperia1ists.

Published in Socialist Organiser, 6th May 1982

But Galtieri’s gamble was not an attack primarily on British imperialism, but against the working class of Argentina, which in the spring had begun to organise strikes and demonstrations against the Junta. To support the military camp of the dictatorship can only mean proclaiming “social peace” for the duration of the war - in other words, supporting the interests of the ruling class. This was exactly what the Argentine CGT (equivalent of the TUC) did when they called off all strikes and proclaimed their support for a regime which was soaked in workers’ blood. These chauvinists were not alone: the Argentine Communist Party supported the Junta, touring Europe to organise support, while the Monteneros guerrilla group volunteered to come back from Cuban exile and fight for the Junta that had all but exterminated them!

The British left was not to be outdone in chauvinism by the Argentine left, though some of them disguised their chauvinism with “internationalist” rhetoric - by supporting Argentina! The British trades unions loyally supported the war effort, as did the Argentine CGT. COHSE called off their industrial action in the hospitals for a week as a “mark of respect” for the dead. The T&GWU called off a national dock strike due to begin on 10th May to aid the war effort. The NUS encouraged seamen to volunteer for active war service, and jingoistically called for the Tories to “finish the job” quickly. Other union leaders went on record by denouncing the stupidity of the Tories - since they had not armed Britain well enough and cut too many jobs in the arms industry! The pacifism of the Labour Party also quickly evaporated, and it supported the British war effort, as it had done in World Wars I and II, and in subsequent occasions.

Foot and Co’s criticisms of the Tories were that they had not acted quickly enough or built enough warships to nip the Argentine fascist aggression in the bud. The Labour lefts’ opposition to the war was nothing but spurious pacifist phrase-mongering illusions that “negotiations” in the UN can remove capitalism’s drive to war. And Benn himself made clear his defence of capitalist society when be said,

... the nation will respond to a call to arms to defend a foreign invasion, or repel those who have successfully occupied a part of our country.

The Times, 29th April 1982

This was echoed by the pacifists of CND who had recently called out 250 000 people to demonstrate against Trident. They were conspicuous by their absence on the tiny demonstrations against the Falklands adventure. Their pamphlet Beyond the Cold War in fact echoes current Pentagon/Kremlin thinking in favour of conventional weapons against nuclear ones. “We are the real patriots” says Bruce Kent and their lack of opposition to the Falklands war lines up CND with the social patriots of the Labour Party and Trades Unions.

Most of the far left in Britain, particularly the various Trotskyist groups, noisily announced their support of Galtieri - the WRP, RCP and others all took this line. Workers’ Power, for example, in their statement of 4th April 1982 revealed their anti-working class chauvinism clearly,

In a conflict over the islands we are for the victory of the Argentines despite their political regime... and despite the fact that this clash... is undertaken for demagogic reasons, i.e. to head off mass revolt against the dictatorship.

In other words, they are for the crushing of the Argentine working class. Some groups like the SWF, after an initial flirtation with support for Argentina, moved towards a pacifist position, i.e. of being opposed to both sides, but without calling for any working class action against the war, and while chiding the CND and Labour left for their inactivity and failure to “give a lead”.

The total inability of these groups to adopt an internationalist perspective on such a stupid little war, confirms that when a real war comes along, they will be at best useless and irrelevant, and at worst active supporters of one or other group of capitalist hangmen.

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