Thirty years on from the imperialist adventure against Argentina that became known as the Falklands War, the British establishment prepares – amid renewed tensions over the status of the islands properly called the Malvinas – to celebrate their subjugation of the semi-colonial country that dared to challenge them.
In this reprint of a Workers Power Q&A from May 1982, many important arguments are presented which provide not only interesting historical reading, but also real and lasting lessons for socialists struggling against imperialism to this day.
You socialists talk a lot about “democratic rights”, but what about the rights of the Falkland Islanders? Don’t we defend their right to live where they are and under what regime they choose?
The Falkland Islanders are not a distinct nation with their own culture, tradition and language. Their hold on the Falkland Islands depends on the power and commitment of British imperialism to hold on to these South American islands. In fact, they are all British settlers who were moved into the Malvinas after they was seized by the British from Argentina in 1833.
They have never expressed their desire to exercise any “rights of self-determination”, i.e. to become an independent state. Of course, in practice this would be impossible for 1800 people on an isolated island. Their practical dependence on Argentina has already been demonstrated. It was the soldiers of Argentina who built the only airstrip on the islands, which has now been blown up by the British. It was the Argentine air force which provided the only air services to the islands, Argentine hospitals which provided for the seriously ill, and Argentine colleges which provided the only route to higher education for the islanders.
What the islanders have declared in favour of is remaining part of the British Empire. Socialists can have no truck with this desire. To do so would allow every group of British settlers, or British citizens who benefit from imperialism to continue to occupy someone else’s territory.
The Malvinas are South American islands, claimed by Argentina as early as 1820 after her struggle for independence from Spain and settled by her.
The British settlers have two choices: either to live under Argentine rule and – we would hope – join with their fellow Argentinian workers and small farmers in the fight to overthrow the dictatorship; or to leave the islands for somewhere of their own choosing.
But doesn’t support for Argentina mean supporting a fascist junta that is an even more ferocious enemy of the working class than Margaret Thatcher?
Not at all. We support the demands of the Argentinian people against British imperialism, not the junta that is trying to solve its own crisis by fighting for those demands.
The blood-stained junta hoped it would deflect attention away from the 13 per cent unemployment and 130 per cent inflation through a diversionary action that was certain to be popular with the masses. They hoped that exercising their rights over the Malvinas would head off mounting opposition from the working class.
However, the junta has met with resistance. Its invasion of the Malvinas was popular, but it has not made the tyrannical junta itself popular with the masses.
Demonstrations in Buenos Aires have called the anti-imperialist credentials of the junta into question. Peronist forces in the unions have openly taken to the streets with their own banners and slogans. The left has been able to distribute leaflets and papers against the junta and for Argentina’s right to the Malvinas.
Under pressure, the junta, which is committed to the imperialists’ stranglehold over the economy, was forced to block the repatriation of foreign profits and halt the removal of foreign investments on 21 April.
The nationalist sentiments of the masses, which the junta is trying to exploit, are rooted in the imperialised status of Argentina. The flag waving patriotism of the British, to the extent that it is not a media creation, is rooted in Britain’s imperialist past – and present. The task we set ourselves is to drive a wedge between the workers and the junta, not to deny the rights of the Argentinian people, even if these happen to be advocated by he junta at the moment.
The Argentinian workers can break with the junta by developing and extending the struggle against imperialism, including the struggle for the Malvinas. Anyone who say the Argentinian masses only have the right to fight British imperialism once they have dumped the junta is, whatever their claims, siding with the imperialists against the Argentine workers.
The workers of Argentina must take the opportunity to army gives them to take up arms and be trained in their use. They should take advantage of the present situation to strengthen and extend their own organisations. They should refuse to relinquish their arms when the junta feels its adventure has gone too far.
Against the ‘anti-imperialist’ junta of Galtieri, which is selling off state industry to international capital, they must fight for all imperialist holdings to be nationalised under the control of the workers themselves.
Of course, it is possible that the junta might win a victory in the Malvins over Thatcher and leave Esso and Royal Dutch Shell unscathed. Such a victory would not be a lasting one for the workers of Argentina. It would still leave them under the heel of imperialism. But a defeat for Thatcher would weaken one of the major props of the junta and its like throughout Latin America. It would have served to arouse the workers themselves and weakened the base of the Galtieri regime.
But wouldn’t a defeat for Argentina serve to weaken and undermine the blood-stained regime far more immediately and dramatically?
By no means. Firstly, it would be a significant and potentially highly demoralising defeat for the oppressed Argentinian masses themselves. Secondly, there is no shortage of potential pro-imperialist right-wing dictators to take Galtieri’s place should the masses be demoralised and beaten back by Thatcher’s imperialist war machine.
Neither can we guarantee that the outcome would not be the chance for a Peron-type populist demagogue to come to power. Such a figure could use injured nationalism to further enslave the working class. A victory to Thatcher could even serve to tie the masses to the Galtieri regime.
Whatever the outcome of such a defeat, the oppressed masses of Argentina have nothing to gain from British victory. In fact, the whole question of the credentials of the Argentinian regime is a complete red herring from the Labourites.
There was no dearth of opportunities for Labour’s leaders to attack the regime before the Malvinas crisis. But the last Labour government was supplying 30 per cent of the juntas’s arms between 1974 and 1976. Diplomatic relations were only broken because of friction over Britain’s colony in the Malvinas – not because of Labour’s anti-fascism.
Imperialism will always declare that its wars are directed against tyranny. Doesn’t it claim that its nuclear arsenals are directed against the Russian dictatorship’s threat to the ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ of the capitalist world? Didn’t it claim that the Allende regime in Chile was undemocratic and unrepresentative? Wasn’t the Vietnamese regime portrayed as being despotic and totalitarian when it took on the armed might of the US forces occupying Vietnam?
Supporting imperialism in the name of democracy pits Labour’s anti-fascists behind the murderous Reagan/Thatcher war drive and against those struggling against oppression and exploitation at the hands of imperialism.
But wouldn’t the best solution be to hand the question over to the UN? That way it would be out of the hands of both Thatcher and Galtieri?
No, it wouldn’t be out of the hands of British imperialism. The UN was formed after the Second World War to replace the previous ‘world organisation’, the League of Nations, which Lenin described quite rightly as a “thieves kitchen of the imperialists”.
The great imperialist powers, Britain, France and the US, together with the USSR and China, all have a complete veto over any actions that they think affect their direct interests. The Stalinists participate in the UN as part of their pursuance of a modus vivendi with imperialism, and are quite willing to sell out the interests of the oppressed nations if it suits their own purposes.
The history of the UN confirms that its major role has been settling disputes in the interest of imperialism.
In 1947/8 it played a major role in the setting up the imperialist settler state of Israel, with the USSR voting in favour. In 1950, it acted as the collective armed force of western imperialism in the Korean War, at one time advancing across North Korea almost to the Chinese border, while its General Assemblies called for the unification of a capitalist Korea.
In 1960, the UN was used to intervene when Belgian imperialism was threatened in the Congo. It played a devious role in the secession of Katanga, a copper mining area of the Congo, only moving to end the rebellion when the Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, who was seeking aid from the Soviet Union, was removed and murdered. By the time UN forces left in 1964, the Congo was once again safe for imperialism, having been re-divided between Belgians and the US.
To hand over the Malvinas question to the UN would be to let the imperialists barter for which of them should have the biggest slice of the cake. The future of the Malvinas question is one for the Argentinian people to decide, not the collective arm of imperialism.