On March 30, 1982, in response to Argentina's deepening economic crisis, and the repression of General Galtieri's military-police dictatorship, the workers had taken to the streets of Buenos Aires. The regime was staring overthrow in the face. It responded - as has so frequently happened in history - by starting a war. One of the principal aims of the junta in invading the Falkland Islands was to distract the attention of the masses.
In all wars the policy and analysis of every organisation is put to the test. Twenty years ago every trend in the Labour movement except the Marxist tendency, at that time represented by Militant (now Socialist Appeal), failed that test. The analysis made by the Marxists, on the other hand, remains as valid as when it was written. Unlike other tendencies we can reproduce everything we wrote twenty years ago in relation to the Falklands war without changing a single word.
Trotsky explained many times that foreign policy is just an extension of home policy. The Marxist approach in either case is based on the interests of the working class. In order to determine what our attitude would be to this war, it was necessary to ask: what was the real content of the war? What interests were involved? What class would benefit from it? There is no doubt about the answers to these questions. A victory for Galtieri would have strengthened the dictatorship and prolonged it for a temporary period. Without bringing any benefit to the Argentine people, it would have placed the Falkland Islanders under the jackboot of the Junta. How anyone could view this as a progressive development, it is impossible to see.
On the contrary, this war unleashed by the Argentinean dictatorship contained not a single atom of progressive content - and certainly nothing in the interest of the working class. It had nothing in common with a war of national liberation against British imperialism as some pseudo-Marxists claimed at the time. It was a counter-revolutionary adventure, reflecting the expansionist ambitions of the Argentinean capitalist class and its desperation to avoid overthrow.
Marxism and war
Clausewitz long ago explained that "war is the continuation of policy by other means." Marxists do not have one policy for peace and another completely different policy for war. At all times and in all circumstances we must maintain a revolutionary, internationalist and class position.
The position of the reformists of right and left on the Falklands war was hopeless. They either cheered on the Tories, or adopted a pacifist stance and appealed to the United Nations to intervene. This was the position of the Stalinists of the Morning Star and of the Labour Left. Labour leader Michael Foot got himself tied up in knots with his pacifist approach. He ended up calling for the fleet to be sent but not used!
Meanwhile, those who called for the troops to be withdrawn, had no serious idea of how this was to be achieved. In reality, to achieve that would have required a general strike. At that time, on that issue, there was no mood for such action. There would have been little support for such a proposal amongst the activists let alone the broad layers of workers. An anti-war campaign based on this slogan would naturally leave workers asking what would happen to the Islanders and what about this dictatorship that we were meant to be fighting? The reformists of left and right had no answer for this.
On the other hand, the small grouplets claiming to be Marxists, or even Trotskyists, argued that, since Argentina was a colonial country, it should be supported in the war. Thus, they showed not the slightest understanding of the method of Marx, Lenin or Trotsky. Their ultra-left madness was perfectly summed up in the hare-brained slogan "Sink the fleet!"
The ultra-left sects always succeed in getting it wrong, especially when there is a war. They make every mistake imaginable, and some that are not. Their usual mistake is to adopt a crude caricature of Lenin's position of revolutionary defeatism. This boils down to the abandonment of a class position and support for the bourgeoisie of the enemy camp - that is, inverted chauvinism. In the case of the Falklands war, this expressed itself as - support for the Argentinean junta! Needless to say, with such an approach, they could never win over workers. On the contrary, their demands played right into the hands of the Tories and British imperialism.
The sects repeat like parrots the ABCs of Marxism, but it never enters their heads that after the ABC there are other letters in the alphabet. That it is obligatory for Marxists to oppose imperialist war is an elementary proposition that a child of six could tell you. However, as Trotsky explained at great length in 1939-40, it is also necessary to explain this to the workers in language they can understand, taking into consideration all the concrete conditions.
Our slogans must find an echo in the working class, or else they are completely worthless. The purpose of advancing slogans is above all to educate the working class, beginning with its vanguard. The slogans advanced by the reformists, the Stalinists, and the ultra-left sectarians at the time of the Falklands war could only serve to confuse and disorientate the workers and therefore assist the ruling class.
The first task of the Marxists was to expose the lying hypocrisy of the propaganda spewed out by the ruling class. Therefore, we pointed out that the Argentinean junta had been a good friend of British imperialism. Not only did the British imperialists sell arms to the junta and remain silent about its murderous activities, but they were also quite prepared to settle the disputed question of the Falkland Islands - before the junta invaded. In reality, the two sides accidentally came into conflict over the Falklands. From the point of view of both ruling classes, the islands themselves were largely irrelevant to the conflict that followed.
The attack on the Falklands was not at all directed against imperialism, as some have falsely maintained. As a result of the signals given to him by Lord Carrington, Galtieri miscalculated. He did not think that the British would fight over the Islands. This was a serious mistake. In an incredible military adventure, Thatcher sent the British navy halfway across the world, without air cover, to retake the Islands. The junta's gamble had not paid off
The real reason why Britain decided to go to war over the Falklands was not defence of the rights of a handful of Islanders. Nor was it, as many have supposed, the oil and fishing riches of that area. Indeed, twenty years later the British have done nothing to develop the economic potential of the Islands. This fact proves beyond the shadow of a doubt what we said at the time. The real reason for the war was that British imperialism could not accept the seizure of the Islands by Argentina because it would have undermined its prestige on a world scale.
When the Argentine army captured the Islands, British imperialism was humiliated before the entire world. The photographs of British soldiers lying on the ground - having been taken prisoner by the Argentineans - placed a question mark over every treaty signed by Britain with countries in the Middle East and elsewhere. It could never be accepted.
Overnight the attitude of London to the junta changed. They suddenly "discovered" that the regime in Buenos Aires was "fascist". As The Guardian recently pointed out: "The fact that we'd traded with the junta, welcomed its leaders and sold arms to them but now realised that it was a filthy dictatorship after all, was swallowed without a burp." (The Guardian, February 25, 2002)
Although the junta did not intend to enter into a serious struggle with imperialism, its actions did cause problems for the imperialists and initially provoked frictions between them. The invasion of the Islands was as unwelcome in Washington as in London, but not because it was a threat to imperialism. The Americans did not want a war between two allies, and tried to avoid it. US imperialism found itself in a quandary, Galtieri, in common with many other dictators, was a good friend of theirs - as he had been of Britain before the invasion of the Falklands. At first they hesitated, as Thatcher herself explains:
"I sent a message to President Reagan urging the US to take effective economic measures but they were not prepared to do this. They had stopped arms sales. But they would not 'tilt' too heavily against Argentina. To do so would deprive them of influence in Buenos Aires. They did not want Galtieri to fall and so wanted a solution that would save his face." (Margaret Thatcher, The Times, March 11, 2002)
However, in the end they were forced to support British imperialism. The fate of the Islanders was no more a consideration for US imperialism than it was for the ruling classes of Britain and Argentina.
Lenin explained that Marxists should defend the right of self-determination of small peoples. One element that the sects completely overlooked in this conflict was the fate of the people of the Falkland Islands. Yet this was the main argument used by Thatcher to justify the war to the British people. Of course, it was false. Like the people of any small nation, the Islanders were destined to play the role of pawns in the conflicts between rival imperialist powers. Such people have never been a concern to the ruling classes. On each occasion what has been at stake is a combination of profit, power and prestige.
Naturally, the defence of the Islanders was not a consideration for the British ruling class, despite all their hypocritical propaganda. This has been admitted in the British press recently: "The fact that we'd been trying for decades to offload the islands, with the ardent Thatcherite Nicholas Ridley presenting a leaseback solution to the House of Commons only two years previously was forgotten." (The Guardian, February 25, 2002) Their overriding concern was the maintenance of the power and prestige of British imperialism.
Our attitude to the British ruling class is only one side of the coin, of course. What about the other side in the conflict? What is our attitude towards Argentina's historical legal claim on the islands? In the first place, the British working class has absolutely no interest in maintaining a single inch of foreign territory. At the same time, the claim of the Argentinean bourgeoisie to possession of the Malvinas on the grounds of self-determination has no basis. Lenin put forward the demand for the right of self-determination, not for rocks and land, but for people. Therefore, we must first of all ask what is the nature of the population of the Falkland Islands?
In 1982 there were about 1,800 Falkland Islanders. Today there are maybe 2,300. However, the size of a population has never been a deciding factor for Marxists when dealing with the question of the right to self-determination. Regardless of their number, these people are entitled to their own language, control, and autonomy. They have a right to decide whether they wish to live in a particular state. What position should Marxists - above all Argentine Marxists - have adopted in relation to the rights of these people? They should have opposed the invasion and annexation of their home by the Argentinean capitalist dictatorship.
The question would have been posed differently if there had been a population on the Islands composed of Argentines, oppressed by the British and fighting to unite with Argentina. In that case, we would be duty bound to support them in their struggle against British imperialism. Even if there had been a small minority of Argentines, things would have been different. But there was not a single Argentine living there. Not one! For the population of the Islands - all of them English-speaking - the conquest of the Falklands by the Argentine army was not an act of liberation but an act of violence against them.
The idea that Marxists should support the forcible annexation and conquest of a piece of land against the will of the people who live there is a violation of the most elementary democratic principles. Before the invasion the population of the Falklands had enjoyed the same democratic rights as people in Britain. The Argentinean junta, having destroyed all the rights of its own people was now trampling underfoot the rights of people that had nothing to do with them. We therefore condemned the invasion of the Islands as reactionary. But in so doing we did not offer one ounce of support to Thatcher and the British ruling class, who only yesterday wanted to get rid of the Islands.
The national question is a minefield. If you do not maintain a firm class position you will inevitably end up in a mess. History provides us with many instructive examples from which we can learn a great deal on this question. For example, following the first world war, the Saarland was placed under the administration of the League of Nations. A referendum was to be held in the Saarland in 1935 to decide whether the French should gain complete control (they already had control of the lucrative coal mines); or the Saarland should return to German rule (the majority of the population were German-speaking); or be granted some form of autonomy.
Trotsky could not possibly support bringing the people of the Saarland under the iron heel of Hitlerite fascism. Despite the historical claims of Germany - which, in formal terms, were well-founded - Trotsky argued for autonomy and forcefully against the idea of German annexation. The idea that some legalistic claim should be more important than the real interests of the people affected was ludicrous mysticism. "To rally to Hitlerite Germany," he wrote at the time, "in practice, i.e. through the referendum, means, theoretically speaking, to put national mysticism above the class interests and psychologically to conduct a real 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."
These words are very appropriate in relation to the Malvinas question. Like Hitler, the junta tried (with some success) to rally the Argentinean people on the basis of "national mysticism", to persuade them to put aside their hostility to the reactionary generals, the murderers and hangmen, and support "national unity" and the invasion of the Falklands. In relation to the Saarland, from a purely formal standpoint, the nazi regime would appear to have a point. The majority of its inhabitants were Germans and spoke German. Moreover, the question of the Saarland's relation to Germany was to be settled by a referendum. Nevertheless, we endorse the position adopted by Trotsky on this question one hundred percent.
The case of the Falklands was completely different. The people there were not Argentineans, had never been Argentineans, and did not even speak Spanish. There was no question of a referendum, or any other democratic consultation. They were to be annexed to Argentina by military force. So if Trotsky was opposed to the incorporation of the Saarland to Hitler's Germany, how much more would he have been opposed to the forcible annexation of the Malvinas by the Argentinean junta?
The argument that the majority of Argentineans were in favour of this action is no argument at all. The masses are in favour of many things, especially in times of war, but that does not determine the position of a revolutionary tendency. The majority of Germans were also in favour of the Saarland rejoining Germany. That did not determine Trotsky's position either.
The Bolsheviks and war
The Marxist view of war is not based on a superficial or formal view, such as democracy versus dictatorship, but takes as its starting point the class content of these forces, the interests of the working class and of the revolution. It is not simply a question of applying an old "principle", or supporting the poorer country against the more powerful. Nor is it a matter, as the reformists often maintain, of "who started it" - who is the aggressor. This would be to fall into the trap of diplomacy, the whole purpose of which is to obscure the real content of war by putting the blame on the other side.
We stand at all times and circumstances on the basis of the complete class independence of the workers and their organisations from the bourgeoisie. This policy is just as important - if not more so - in a backward country.
Just look at the position of the Russian Bolsheviks. In 1904-5 Tsarist Russia was at war with Japanese imperialism. At that time Russia was undoubtedly a semi-feudal and semi-colonial country. The objective tasks of the revolution were of a bourgeois-democratic character. One of the key slogans of the Russian Social Democrats at that time was the Constituent Assembly.
What policy did the Bolsheviks adopt in relation to the war? Did they express solidarity with the Tsarist regime? On the contrary, they adopted an implacable stance towards the autocracy. They stood for a policy of revolutionary defeatism. That was the position not only of the Bolsheviks but also of the Mensheviks. As a matter of fact, it was even initially the position of the bourgeois Liberals.
For the sects this is a book sealed by seven seals. They do not adopt a dialectical approach. Instead of maintaining a position based on the interests of the working class, they immediately spring to the "defence" of one side or another in the war - as if this were something obligatory for Marxists!
War is a concrete situation involving real forces and interests. In taking a position it is necessary to weigh all the consequences. The first principle upon which we base ourselves in every question - whether in home policy or foreign, in peace time or in war - is the interests of the working class.
Lenin on war
In 1914 Lenin had indeed argued that the best outcome of that war would be the defeat of Russian Tsarism. The imperialist war he argued should be transformed into a civil war. He also said that, for revolutionaries, the defeat of one's own bourgeoisie was "the lesser evil". This was now seized upon by the ultra-lefts and applied to the Falklands in 1982. But in order to understand Lenin's method, it is necessary to take into account the whole of his writings - not just those of the period 1914-16.
The sects have never understood Lenin's position in the first world war. In fact, they have not got the slightest idea what he was driving at. This is not the place to examine in detail the concrete reasons why Lenin adopted this position at the outbreak of the first world war (which we have dealt with elsewhere). In brief, the main reason was that the war had taken everyone by surprise (including Lenin and Trotsky), and caused tremendous confusion in the ranks of the movement internationally. In order to straighten things out, Lenin laid heavy emphasis on one side - the question of defeatism.
However, it is necessary to understand that at this time Lenin was not writing for the masses but for the cadres. He was laying down a general principle - not writing a cook-book with recipes for all occasions, as the ignorant sectarians imagine. As a general proposal, one can agree with what Lenin wrote. As a matter of fact, from our point of view the defeat of Britain would have had the advantage of bringing about the fall of Thatcher. From the point of view of the Argentinean Marxists, on the other hand, the defeat of their side could - and did - signify the collapse of the junta and the opening of a revolutionary situation.
All this is true, but does not begin to exhaust the question. If we wish to reach the masses, it is never sufficient to go to them with general principles. These principles must be translated into slogans that concretely reflect the real situation and take into account the existing level of consciousness. Lenin understood this better than anyone. That is precisely the meaning of transitional demands, which, setting out from the real level of consciousness of the class, raises it to the level of the socialist transformation of society. A stupid slogan such as "sink the fleet" - apart from lacking any real content - does not educate the British workers. It "educates" them backwards. It reinforces all the prejudices of the workers, discredits Marxism and actually assists militarist reaction. This is the kind of childish nonsense which passes for "r-r-revolutionism" among the ultra-lefts.
In the first world war Lenin was completely isolated from the masses. He was in exile in Switzerland where he was in contact with at most a couple of dozen people, and many of them were confused in their attitude to the war, the question of self-determination and so on. That is why Lenin used such uncompromising language. He was trying to educate the cadres by hammering home the fundamental ideas. To repeat, the point is he was not writing for the masses. If he had been, he would have used an entirely different way of expressing himself. Thus, when he returned to Russia in March 1917, he modified his stand - not the basic position, of course, but the way in which he expressed it. He had to take into consideration what he called the "honest defencist mood of the masses".
At the Third Congress of the Comintern, in 1921, in answer to the German ultra-lefts Lenin outlined the way his attitude changed between 1914 - when it was a question of educating the cadres who were surrounded by the abject betrayal of Social Democracy - and his return to Russia in March 1917. Lenin never abandoned his opposition to imperialist war, but understood that the key question was to win over the workers, and to do so it was necessary to understand and distinguish between their "honest defencism" and the deceit of the bourgeois and reformist leaders.
In the same way, Lenin understood more than anyone the need to overthrow the Provisional government, but was implacably opposed to a putsch or coup. It was a question not of conquering power but of conquering the masses. For this skilful slogans and propaganda are necessary, not hysteria and shrill denunciations. The majority of the workers were won over, not by "revolutionary defeatism", but by slogans that expressed their immediate needs: "peace, bread and land" and "all power to the soviets". Not a word of this is understood by the ultra-lefts, who have read a couple of lines Lenin wrote in 1914, and therefore imagine themselves to be great geniuses.
Trotsky's military policy
The Marxist position on war was brilliantly explained by Trotsky in his writings on the eve of the second world war. At that time also there were "Marxists" who simply wanted to repeat Lenin's slogan of 1914. In his article Bonapartism, Fascism and War Trotsky explained that while the second world war was a continuation of the first, a continuation meant a development not just a repeat performance. Therefore, the Marxists' slogans could not simply be repeated, but would need to be deepened and developed in relation to the concrete developments:
"The present war, as we have stated on more than one occasion, is a continuation of the last war. But a continuation does not signify a repetition. As a general rule, a continuation signifies a development - a deepening, a sharpening. Our policy, the policy of the revolutionary proletariat toward the second imperialist war, is a continuation of the policy elaborated during the last imperialist war, primarily under Lenin's leadership. But a continuation does not signify a repetition. In this case too, continuation signifies a development - a deepening and a sharpening.
"During the last war not only the proletariat as a whole but also its vanguard and, in a certain sense, the vanguard of this 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. 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...
"'It is possible, however, that five, ten and even more years will pass before the beginning of the socialist revolution.' (From an article written in March, 1916, Lenin's Collected Works, vol. 19, p. 45, Third Russian Edition.) 'We, the older men, will perhaps not live long enough to see the decisive battles of the impending revolution.' (Report on 1905 Revolution delivered to Swiss students, January, 1917, idem, p. 357.)
"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 it 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. This purely negative answer served as the basis for propaganda and for training the cadres, but 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 defencists, the Mensheviks and the SRs. 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 not played 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 never could have won the overwhelming majority of the people to the side of the Bolsheviks. In all other belligerent countries, with the exception of Russia, the revolutionary wing toward the end of the war all still put forward only negative slogans...
"The second world war poses the question of change of regimes more imperiously, more urgently than did the first war. It is first and foremost a question of the political regime. The workers are aware that democracy is suffering shipwreck everywhere, and that they are threatened by fascism even in those countries where fascism is as yet non-existent. The bourgeoisie of the democratic countries will naturally utilise this dread of fascism on the part of the workers; but, on the other hand, the bankruptcy of democracies, their collapse, their painless transformation into reactionary dictatorships compel the workers to pose before themselves the problem of power and render them responsive to the posing of the problem of power."
Our position in Britain has always been based on Trotsky's military policy. There is little more to be added.
The situation in Britain
The British Marxists did our duty in opposing the war. We characterised it as a reactionary war, waged for the interests of British imperialism. We combated the lying propaganda to the effect that this was a war to defend the rights of the Falkland Islanders. We opposed the poisonous anti-Argentinean chauvinism of the yellow press. We pointed out that Galtieri and the Argentine junta were the enemies of the working class. The Argentinean workers are not our enemy, we said. Galtieri was the common enemy of both Argentinean and British workers.
But how could the Tories be entrusted with the defence of the Islanders? We explained that the Tories and the British ruling class had previously had excellent relations with the junta. How could they wage a serious struggle against their friends in Buenos Aires?
The Tories are attacking workers at home, we said. The Tories have sent in the fleet for their own ends, therefore the first task was to get rid of the Tories. In other words we said to the British workers: Our main enemy is at home. Let us deal with this enemy first, then we will talk about Galtieri.
We posed this class line in terms the British workers could understand. We demanded a general election to get rid of the Tories. The Labour leaders should drop their quasi-coalition of silence over the action in the South Atlantic, and take up the struggle for socialism at home and abroad. Let Labour take power and implement a real socialist policy. Then we could wage a revolutionary war against Galtieri, combined with a class appeal to the workers of Argentina, to overthrow the dictatorship.
As a solution to the problem of the Falkland Islands we raised the idea of a socialist federation of Argentina, Britain and the Falkland Islands. The latter could have full autonomy, language rights and so on, in the context of a socialist federation, based not on forcible annexation but on fraternal relations with the people of a free socialist Argentina.
We approached the question in a way that took into account the concrete conditions, and in such a way that we would gain an echo in the working class. In Britain in 1982, unemployment was topping three million. The hated Thatcher government was only in its first term of office, and was at an all-time low in the polls. Thatcher saw that a "small" war would help them out. Her reasoning was the mirror image of that of Galtieri.
From a military point of view, the British action was an adventure - and one that could have ended badly, and nearly did. Thatcher and her clique were quite prepared to cause the deaths of thousands of young Argentinean conscripts and British soldiers, many of whom were working class kids who had joined the army to escape from unemployment. They showed cold indifference to the fate of those involved.
Neither Argentinean nor British workers had anything to gain from this conflict. A victory for either side would mean the strengthening of their own ruling class, and all the while the Falkland Islanders were mere pawns in the imperialist game. Thatcher's foreign policy, like that at home, was that of the interests of British capitalism. This was not a war as they claimed of democracy versus "fascism", but a war to defend the power and prestige of British imperialism.
Before 1982, as we have seen, they were quite prepared to give, or more accurately, sell, the Falklands to Argentina. But they could not allow them to be taken from them by force. That would have dealt a mortal blow to Britain's prestige and interests on a world scale. Along the way the blunders of Ridley, Carrington and co. made matters worse for them by suggesting to the junta that they would not mind if the Islands were put under Argentine control. Such blunders were themselves an accurate reflection of the waning power of British imperialism, which Thatcher and co. were determined to try to bolster.
The Tories were exploiting the sympathies of the masses for the islanders, telling them it was a war "against fascism" and so on. The filth flowing from the gutter press into the sewer sank to all-time lows during the Falklands war. Papers like The Sun used disgusting anti-Argentine demagogy verging on racism in an attempt to whip up a jingoistic nationalism. With their customary cunning, the Tories appealed to the natural sympathies of the workers towards their brothers in the armed forces, and the Islanders. The reformists did nothing to oppose them. Despite this, however, there was no great enthusiasm for the war among British workers. The prevailing attitude was one of reluctant acquiescence. A clear campaign around a class analysis could have begun to win over the most advanced workers and even broad layers to opposition to the war, and for a socialist transformation of society.
Trotsky and Brazil
The ultra-lefts, meanwhile, demonstrated that they understood as little of Trotsky as they did of Lenin. In an attempt to justify their incorrect stand, the sects dragged out of context something that Trotsky had written in 1938. He had remarked that in the event of war between Britain and Brazil, "I will be on the side of 'fascist' Brazil against 'democratic' Great Britain."
These remarks have been taken entirely out of context. At the time, the Stalinists were advocating the counter-revolutionary policy of the popular front - a policy of alliances between the workers and the "liberal" bourgeoisie that had the most pernicious consequences in the colonial countries. The Stalinists subordinated the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat to the "defence of democracy". This was partly determined by Stalin's attempt to appease the imperialist democracies - Britain and France - against Germany.
This treacherous policy led, on the one hand, to the defeat of the Spanish revolution of 1931-37, on the other to the subordination of the proletariat of the colonial countries to their own bourgeoisie. The revolution was postponed indefinitely. Trotsky's emphasis on the terms "democracy" and "fascism" was intended to counter the Stalinist line that the struggle in defence of some abstract "democracy" against "fascism" was more important than the revolutionary struggle against imperialism.
In the context of a war between an imperialist country and an oppressed colony fighting for national independence it is self-evident that the Marxists of the imperialist state will support the colonial slaves against their masters. What Trotsky was referring to was a hypothetical war between Britain and Brazil, in which imperialist Britain would attempt to enslave Brazil. Let us look at what Trotsky said about this hypothetical war between Brazil and Britain:
"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 in 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."
It is clear that Trotsky had in mind an imperialist attack on Brazil with the aim of subjugating Brazil to Britain. The war in the Falklands had absolutely nothing to do with what Trotsky was writing about in 1938. Had there been an attempt on the part of Britain to invade and subjugate Argentina, the nature of the war would have been entirely different, and so undoubtedly would have been the outcome. The Argentinean masses would have fought like tigers to defend their country. As it was, the Argentinean invasion force in the Falklands did not offer serious resistance to the British - who, from a military point of view, were in a very vulnerable position and could have been defeated.
Trotsky did not say what his attitude would have been if the hypothetical war had been started as a result of Vargas' imperialist aims in the region and above all a military adventure designed to cut across a revolutionary movement already breaking out on the streets of Rio. Nor is there is any mention in Trotsky's article of directly or indirectly supporting the Vargas dictatorship, or calls for the defeat and slaughter of the British troops involved.
As explained earlier, the victory of the Argentinean junta would have, temporarily at least, strengthened the regime as well as extending its stranglehold over the Falkland Islanders. Far from awakening a revolutionary struggle on the streets of Buenos Aires, the point of this war was to cut across that development, not to whip up a national and democratic consciousness but to undermine the revolutionary consciousness of the workers with nationalistic prejudices.
Is it defensible for Argentinean Marxists to support nationalism? We are well aware that there is progressive as well as reactionary nationalism. It is one thing to support the nationalism of a small oppressed colonial people, and another thing quite different to support the reactionary chauvinism of an imperialist state, which engages in wars of foreign conquest and annexations. However, in the first place, Argentina was not a colonial country and in the second place, this was not a war against an attempt by British imperialism to subjugate Argentina, as implied by the misuse of Trotsky's hypothetical example concerning Brazil.
Marxists have always given support to national struggles against imperialism. When Japan seized Manchuria from China, Trotsky supported China, even under the bourgeois bonaparte Chiang Kai-Shek. The struggle for national liberation, Trotsky believed, would arouse the worker and peasant masses, who alone could defeat Japanese imperialism and go on to abolish capitalism and landlordism in China.
However, in the first place, the support of the Marxists for national liberation struggles does not imply the abandonment of class politics and even less uncritical support for bonapartist dictators. On the contrary, Marxists call for the independent organisation and mobilisation of the working class. The task of the Marxists is to raise demands for the success of the struggle and in the interests of the workers, along with the call for the workers to take power into their hands. That is, to argue that the workers and peasants could have no faith in the bourgeoisie to conduct the struggle to a conclusion. What else is the theory of Permanent Revolution?
Not an anti-imperialist war
The actions of the junta were determined by their own interests, and by the imperialist aims of the Argentinean oligarchy. They were against the interests of the movement of the working class at home. By invading the Malvinas in 1982, the Argentinean junta was not conducting a war of national liberation against imperialism. On the contrary, they were launching a foreign adventure in order to disorient and deceive the masses at home. This was not a serious struggle against British imperialism, because the rotten and reactionary junta was organically incapable of carrying out such a struggle, the first step of which would have been the expropriation of all the property of the British and American imperialists.
Argentina is not a main imperialist power, on the scale of Britain and the USA. But neither is it a poor exploited colony, although one could argue that there are some semi-colonial features, particularly dependence on foreign capital. In reality, Argentina is quite a developed country. Not so long ago it was the tenth industrial nation in the world. It is still the second biggest economy in South America, after Brazil. The working class is the decisive majority of society.
Within South America the Argentinean bourgeoisie has imperialist ambitions. It would like to establish its domination of the region, although its pretensions have been cut down to size recently, and it has been forced into second place by Brazil. But the oligarchy in Buenos Aires has not abandoned its expansionist aims. It has designs not only on the Malvinas but also on the territory of its neighbour Chile. These ambitions have nothing progressive about them. They are the product of the greed of the Argentinean bourgeoisie which wants the opportunity to exploit the mineral resources of the region for itself.
The Argentinean bourgeoisie and also the middle class always considered themselves to be Europeans. They were proud to be different from their more backward neighbours, who in turn showed great irritation at these pretensions. They referred to Argentineans ironically as the "De-me-dos" ("give me two"), a reference to the tendency of Argentinean tourists to buy up everything in sight with their strong pesos. That was a few years ago, of course!
In more recent years the propagandists of the oligarchy have occasionally tried to present Argentina as a poor country, the victim of foreign aggressors, concealing the fact that Buenos Aires has some imperialist ambitions of its own. This demagogic propaganda is just a fig leaf. What is the real situation? The urban population of Argentina back in 1982 accounted for 82 percent of the total. True, there were high levels of unemployment and 57 percent of the workforce were engaged in the service sector; nevertheless 29 percent were employed in industry compared to 14 percent in agriculture. Industry accounted for a little under a half, 45 percent, of GNP, while agriculture made up just 13 percent.
These figures are sufficient to demolish the myth that Argentina is a backward, semi-feudal country. However, they do not give the whole picture. In the modern epoch the world market dominates, and the big powers dominate the world market. So inevitably Argentinean capitalism was subservient to the main capitalist powers. Agricultural produce made up almost three times as much of the country's exports as manufactured goods, reflecting the weak position of Argentinean capitalism in the world market.
In that sense, and in that sense alone, it is possible to say that Argentina has certain elements of a semi-colonial country. Nevertheless, it remains at least a semi-industrialised country. It is, of course, in no position to play an imperialist role on a world scale - as the Malvinas adventure showed. But the Argentinean ruling class certainly had ambitions to play such a role on a regional level.
What is undeniably true is that in Argentina and in all Latin American countries the masses have a profound feeling of anti-imperialism. This is partly a heritage of the past, when they had to fight for independence against their old European masters, but mainly a recognition that these countries remain subordinated to imperialism through the mechanism of the world market.
The hatred of British and American imperialism among the masses is instinctively revolutionary. At bottom it is a class instinct. The Argentinean ruling class, by contrast, was never anti-imperialist, despite all their "patriotic" demagogy and flag-waving. They had excellent relations with the British ruling class right up to the Malvinas affair. The exclusive clubs in Buenos Aires were mostly English, pandering to the pretensions and servility of the Argentinean ruling class.
Therefore, it was understandable to a certain extent that the invasion of the Islands should spark off a wave of patriotic demonstrations by the masses. That was precisely the intention! Clearly, the Marxists in Argentina would have to take the mood of the masses into consideration, just as we did in Britain. One would have to pose the question skilfully. But the main thing was to oppose any tendency to collaboration with the junta, to expose its reactionary character and its total inability to wage a successful struggle against imperialism.
Was it permissible to call for support for the junta, for the regime that was murdering and torturing workers? Was it permissible to adopt an uncritical attitude to the war and present it as something progressive? Absolutely not. While taking into account the patriotic delusions of the masses, the Argentinean Marxists should have done everything in their power to expose the reactionary nature of the junta, its excellent relations with British and American imperialism, and raise the demand for the expropriation of all the property of the imperialists as a prior condition for a serious anti-imperialist struggle.
There should be no question of any truce or class peace during a war. The workers must not be sidetracked by Galtieri's adventure. Not only should they demand improvements in their wages and conditions of life, but they should also fight for democratic demands - freedom of assembly and speech, the right to strike, and also a democratic Constituent Assembly. At that time, this demand would have been appropriate.
Twenty years later
Twenty years have elapsed since the Falklands war and none of these lessons have been learnt by the sects, who repeat the same old errors. The world we live in today is even more turbulent and unstable, a world of war, revolution and counter-revolution. We must learn the lessons of all these events. The first lesson is the vital importance of Marxist theory and the method of Marxism, which always bases itself on a study of concrete conditions.
The great Marxist James Connolly explained long ago that we cannot accept capitalism's ownership of land whether the fields of a single farm or an entire country. Ireland, he explained, was not its earth and soil, its flag, or its title deeds, but its people. That is a good starting-point for the working-out of a final solution to the Malvinas-Falklands question, which can only be solved through socialist revolution and an internationalist policy.
The only way to settle the issue of the Falkland islands would be by revolutionary means. The first condition is that the Argentinean workers take power into their own hands. A workers' democracy in Argentina would appeal not only to the workers of all Latin America, but to the workers of the USA and Britain, to join them. The question of the Malvinas could be amicably resolved in the interests of both the people of Argentina and the islanders. They would soon be convinced of the benefits of linking up with a socialist Argentina. But under the rapacious and counter-revolutionary rule of the oligarchy, no solution is possible.
Now the Argentinean masses are moving to a decisive showdown with the oligarchy. The sympathy of the British workers is with the working people of Argentina. They are an inspiration to the workers of the world. The key to the situation is this: that the British workers must fight against their bourgeoisie and the Argentinean workers must do likewise. Let the capitalists and warmongers strive to divide the workers of different countries. The advanced workers of Britain and Argentina will strive for unity and class solidarity!
No confidence in the capitalists and their parties and politicians! No to imperialist wars! No "national unity" between exploiters and exploited! No false "patriotism" from those who have robbed and plundered their own country for their own selfish interests! Long live the united struggle of the working people! Long live proletarian internationalism!