Some reflections on the left and the Falklands war

Submitted by sm on 29 May, 2007 - 10:14 Author: Sean Matgamna

By Sean Matgamna

The two month "Falklands War" between Britain and Argentina in 1982 was a freak event. It was part of no larger conflict; no issue other than possession of the islands was involved.

Both Argentina and Britain were bourgeois states. Neither of them oppressed, and neither of them was trying to conquer the other, or likely to, as a result of the war.

The Falklands Islands were not a base from which Britain oppressed others in the region, and never had been. The only issue between Britain and Argentina, the cause of the war, was the fate of the Falklands Islands and their inhabitants.

Living 400 miles across the South Atlantic from Argentina, the Falkland Islanders were British. In identity, desired international affiliation, language and culture, they were British. The islands had been British since the 1830s, when the modern Argentine state had not yet emerged.

Argentina's claim to the Falklands rested on a few years of formal possession by Argentina's predecessor state, a century and a half in the past, and on their comparative geographical proximity to it.

Against that stood the wishes of the inhabitants to remain British and their no less strong desire not to be subjected to Argentine rule.

In addition to that, Argentina's rulers were then, under General Galtieri, a murderous, unpopular military junta. By invading the islands, they sought to make themselves less unpopular at home and rally the forces of Argentine chauvinism behind them.

Margaret Thatcher and her government, though their political standing in Britain would improve greatly as a result of the war, were at that point very unpopular at home too.

On the merits of the issue, right lay with Britain, defending the Falklanders. To recognise that did not imply support for Thatcher's war, and we did not support it: indeed, we ran the slogan "The Enemy is At Home" above the masthead of the weekly paper, Socialist Organiser, throughout the war.

On the other side, nothing but Argentine chauvinism could lead socialists, if they were capable of registering what was happening in the world around them, to support Galtieri's invasion and occupation.

In fact a fantasy "let's pretend" "anti-imperialism" could and did lead many not only (rightly) to oppose Thatcher's war but also (wrongly) positively to back the fascistic Galtieri junta. Many socialists, and not only the "revolutionaries", became honorary Argentine chauvinists for the duration of the war. Why? How?

On the grounds that its opponent was Britain, sections of the left cast Argentina as the hero in a drama that was going on nowhere else except in their own heads. They lost themselves in a delirium of "anti-Imperialist" political fantasising.

The fact that there was nothing "anti-imperialist" in the Argentine seizure of territory 400 miles from Argentina, inhabited for generations by people who did not want to be part of Argentina and had done Argentina no harm, did not faze them at all. Your "Anti-Imperialist", when desperate for a "fix", tends to be impervious to reason and arguement.

All the activist left opposed Thatcher's war. Beyond that, the left divided into two groups. That time round the SWP was on the side of sanity and rational politics. Along with "Socialist Organiser" (what is now AWL), it refused to support Argentina, its military rulers, or the occupation of the Falkland islands.

(Militant (now the Socialist Party/ Socialist Appeal) had a bizarre approach all of its own, declaring that the alternative to the war was "a Socialist Federation of Britain, the Falkland Islands, and Argentina".)

The other main group in the left consisted of a large part of the softer Labourite left, around Labour Briefing (The Argentinians were fighting Thatcher, weren't they? What more did we want?); the Mandelite Fourth International, then a sizeable organisation, the International Marxist Group; the Workers Revolutionary Party, crazy as a bed-bug; Workers' Power; and the other half of the organisation to which the tendency which is now AWL then belonged, the Workers' Socialist League.

The pro-Argentine part of the WSL was led by Alan Thornett (now of the ISG).

The story of what happened in the WSL, and how Thornett's section made themselves the pioneers of what today is the "anti-Imperialist" politics of the kitsch-left in Britain, including the SWP, has a lot of light to shed on the current dispute between the "anti-Imperialists" and ourselves.

(Some of the documents of that dispute can be found in Workers' Liberty 2/3.)

The WSL of 1982 was the result of the fusion, in July 1981, of the forerunner of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, Socialist Organiser, and a group that had separated from the WRP seven years earlier, called the WSL. In the fusion, we took the name Socialist Organiser for the joint paper and WSL for the joint organisation.

After nine months, the unification began to break down around the Falklands war. The organisation divided into warring and, as it proved, irreconcilable, factions.

We all agreed on opposing the war, and at the start all of us had rejected positive support for Argentina and declared ourselves in principle for the right of self-determination for the Falkland Islanders.

Six weeks after the British fleet set sail, the Thornett group decided that we should back the Argentine military junta against Britain. Soon they claimed that backing Argentina was a principle of "anti-imperialism".

First, without any prior warning, they tried a small coup, changing our position by a vote of five to three on an Executive Committee whose full membership was 12. After the National Committee majority rejected and overturned that, they started to reconstitute the old WSL and counterpose it to the rest of the organisation.

From then on, the new WSL unravelled, and within it the Thornett section itself unravelled even faster, scattering their supporters out of the organisation in all directions.

The late Alan Clinton, a Thornetteite who would become Labour Leader of Islington Council some years later, coined what then became the response of the Thornettites to all talk of the rights of the Falkland Islanders: "The Falkland Islanders? They wouldn't populate two streets in Islington!" That disposed of their rights!

They denounced us as "pro-imperialists" because our attitude, "defeatist on both sides" implied that we wanted the fascistic military government of Argentina overthrown by the Argentinian workers during the war. They insisted it was the duty of "anti-imperialists" to support the Argentinian military forces against Britain, to be "revolutionary defencists" for "anti-imperialist" Argentina and its military dictators.

I responded to their bizarre solicitude for the Argentine military with the statement that I'd be happy to see the whole military apparatus of the Argentine state, whose sole function in history — apart from extirpating the native Amerindian population of the country — has been internal policing, sunk to the bottom of the South Atlantic. They went into shock; and when they came out of it some of them denounced me as "an agent of British imperialism".

We on our side of the common organisation, thought of the Thornettites as hopelessly disoriented people, politically drunk on foolish, self-indulgent fantasy politics; and as people who were shamefully ignorant of the Trotskyist political tradition in which they claimed to stand.

"Revolutionary defencism" for Argentina was political nonsense; but leave that aside. They understood it to mean that socialists should "subordinate" class struggle within Argentina to the potential good effects of an Argentine victory, "even if it strengthens Galtieri", on "the international balance of forces". That had nothing to do with Trotskyist politics or the Trotskyist tradition.

Trotsky, for instance, being entirely on China's side against the Japanese invaders in the 1930s, advocated a war of national defense. Nonetheless, he advocated a working class revolution against the Chaing Government, during that war.

Their joke-shop, buffoon-fantasy "anti-imperialism" was no harmless bit of inconsequential nonsense, though: it led them to an all too real support of the foul Argentine regime and its mini-imperialism in the Falklands.

Today the biggest forces on the left, in the first place the SWP, have the politics, or very close to them, that the Thornettites had then. Their "anti-Imperialism" is no less empty.(Alan Thornett can rightly claim to have been the Copernicus of this sort of anti-imperialism", and for all I know, he does!)

They don't just oppose our own government - they back some of the foulest regimes on Earth, on the sole criterion that they oppose the British and US governments.

The SWP's descent into such politics did not start with Iraq. It started with their switch in 1987 to support Iran in the Iran/ Iraq war, on the grounds that the USA was backing Iraq. (It had been doing that for the previous seven years.) Until then, the SWP had opposed the Iran/ Iraq war on both sides.

The SWP's descent from Marxist-socialist politics first reached its present level of political dementia in the Balkans War of 1999. They tried to build an "anti-war movement" in support of a Serbia which was engaged in attempted genocide against the people of its "internal colony", Kosova. Serbia's activity in Kosova was the sole issue in the war, which stopped when the Serb Army withdrew from Kosova.

The SWP learned nothing from that experience. Then came 9/11.

The New Anti-Imperialism identified itself, so to speak, to the kitsch left by Bin Laden's great blows for human liberation in New York and Washington.

There was a new and vigorous "anti-Imperialism loose in the world.

But this was a comprehensively reactionary "anti-Imperialism"? It was not "anti-Imperialism" in any sense in which socialsits and consistent liberals are anti-Imperialist? Don't be silly, comrade!

Nothing is or ever could be more reactionary than America, Britain and their allies and stooges. History moves in strange and unexpected ways. The Islamic clerical fascists are against America, and that's all that matters now.

This was a stark change for the SWP in more ways than one. In the mid-1990s, when Muslims in Bosnia were being butchered, the SWP kept strictly aloof from any hint of supporting them, or denouncing the international arms embargo which hindered them in defending themselves.

They were still remiss in their Islamismophilia during the Balkans war, when they sided with Serbia, which was slaughtering and driving out Muslim Albanians.

Then came 9/11. In the Afghan war the SWP jumped "on board" — and with all the shamelessness of old-time Stalinists shuffling when their "line" switched.

In the Afghan war, Socialist Worker went so far in "supporting" the enemy of our British and American enemies as to attempt to explain away the horrendous treatment of women by the Taliban regime (Socialist Worker, 6 October 2001).

At the heart of all such thinking is the syndrome where the left defines itself largely in negative terms - by what we are against, not what we are for.

The moral, political and intellectual crisis of the left today takes the form of a comprehensive collapse of positive norms. But it is cumulative. It has been going on a long time. The Falkland War is now a quarter of a century in the past.

You can trace the present state of the left back to the attitudes which the once-very influential Stalinists, and some of the "orthodox Trotskyists", cultivated towards the USSR and other Stalinist regimes. They were unconditionally on the side of those regimes against "Imperialism", by which they meant the advanced capitalist countries of the west.

I was shocked into the awareness of something qualitatively new during the Balkans war of 1999. We did not support NATO, but we emphatically refused to do or say anything which implied support for or complaisance towards the primitive ethno-imperialism of the Serbian regime. Serbia had launched a genocidal drive in Kosova which NATO - in its own way, for its own interests, and after over a decade of complaisance towards Serbian imperialism - was attempting to check for the sake of regional stability. (See the dossier on Kosova in Workers' Liberty 2/3).

Yet the kitsch-left and in the first place the SWP created a one-sided "anti-war" campaign which in fact was so designed as to give maximum support to Serbian imperialism.

"Anti-war"? The Serbian government could at will have "stopped the war" by withdrawing from Kosova (as eventually they did). If NATO had abandoned its action without Serbia withdrawing, then war would have continued - one-sided war by Serbia against the Kosovars.

The SWP indulged in a fantasy of anti-imperialism as bizarre as, and greatly more irresponsible than, that of poor old Alan Thornett when he passionately championed the anti-imperialism of the murderous Argentine junta in the Falklands war.

Or take another measuring rod. Repeatedly in articles and speeches over many, many years, I have used an incident in the history of the French Communist Party to illustrate the moral and political degeneracy of Stalinism.

In 1938, the leader of French Stalinism, Maurice Thorez, publicly proposed that the catchment-area of the "Popular Front" should be extended to include "patriotic", that is anti-German, French fascists.

I can still recall how shocked I was when, young and naĂŻve, I first read about this.

The PCF never achieved a popular front with patriotic fascists. I have lived to see people who say they stand in Trotsky's political tradition realise something very like it - the SWP's "popular front" in the "anti-war" movement with the obscurantist authoritarians of the Muslim Brotherhood - MAB - who advocate the creation of Islamic dictatorships all across the Muslim world.

You could quibble that they are not quite fascists, but it would be only a quibble.

They rightly opposed the 2003 war, but did it by lining up squarely with the Saddam Hussein Regime. They used Saddam's long-time British Stooge, George Galloway, as the face and voice of the pro-Saddam "Anti- war" movement.

They have given abject and uncritical support to the Sunni supremacist and Jihadist "resistance" in Iraq against the bourgeois-democratic — more or less — forces in Iraq.

This "Left", this kitsch-left, is far gone in political corruption, disintegration and decay.

In this situation, the first responsibility of honest socialists is to tell the truth. Describe things as they are. Only in that way can socialists prepare the future.

Click here for more notes on the old Workers' Socialist League


Submitted by paulm on Thu, 12/04/2007 - 20:37


If you don't want to debate the AWL, what are doing here?

Actually I've seen Bill do his stuff for Workers Power on Ireland vs the AWL and believe me, he's made the right choice to decline.

Submitted by Jason on Fri, 13/04/2007 - 06:01

Arthur, what is the point of all the insults?
Where does 'kitcsh', 'idiot' , 'inability to understand' get us?
There's no point at all.

You say we should start from a concrete assesment of reality not mantras- couldn't agree more.

In much of the world the imperialised world or semi-colonies ('the third world' or 'developing countries') the working class is dominated by the local bourgeois acting on behalf of the ruling class from US, Britain, France, Germany etc.imperialist nations ('the West', 'the developed world').

That means that the stuggle for working class emancipation in those countries will immediately come up against the arms and almost immediately the armies of imperialism. That is why in those countries we must stand for the military defeat of imperialism and organise here for all action that hastens that end- a direcxt action mass movement and movement in the trade unions to build strike action, blockades and refusal to handle/ transport armaments.

In Palestine it means supporting the Palestinian working class democratic rights not just in West Bank and the occupied territories but throughout 'Israel' supporting the right of immigration and armed resistance to Israeli and settler agression. We should be for maximum unity with the Jewish working class who recognise and support these things whilst recognising that the main support is likely to come from the wider Arab working class. Of course the working class should be for complete political and social equality between Jew and Arab (and other ethnic groups such as Ethiopian, Fillipino, Rumanian and other migrant workers in the region)

In Iraq it means arguing for the working class to come to the fore of the resistance movement, supporting workers in struggle such as the Basra oil workers and fighting here for troops out now and solidarity in the British trade union movement with these objectives.

In Argentina it meant being for the military defeat of imperialism. Actually this case which started tthis debate clearly shows that the victory of 'our' bourgeois led directly to the major defeats on the working class from the defeat of the miners.

Finally, on debate with the AWL- I see no problem with debates such as this online etc. However, in terms of priorities in the working class movement here we should be both for building rank and file actions in workplaces and communities that strengthen the working class- unity in action (if the awl join or are active in such campaigns then good) and re-elaborating socialist theory - I'm afraid I don't see specially seeking out debate with the awl (pleasant though it is) as a major route forward to this goal. However, where it should arise I'm all for it. And if there is a wider debate on the left bringing in all sorts of currents including ourselves and the awl as part of a movement committed to action as well as theoretical reformulation then again excellent.

Submitted by Jason on Sat, 14/04/2007 - 11:07

Arthur, you say using the term 'semi-colony' is a mantra. Actually it's not but it is a technical term not in common use which is why, if you read what I wrote, I also used neo-colony 'Third world' and 'developing world' the last two though are inadequate particularly the last as it obscures the way in which capitalism forcbly under-develops.

You ignore the lived experience of hundreds of millions of workers and small farmers in the underdevloped world. You ask:

"What is a semi-colony? Is it like being half pregnant? In what way was the Argentine local bouregoisie acting on behalf of Britain??? If they were then surely the British ruloing class would have welcomed them invading the Falklands wouldn’t they. Haven’t you put yourself in a clear logical contradiction. The fact is that very few states in the world have comprador bouregoisies that act on behalf of some foreign imperialist power. Some, the more undeveloped do, but the majority of states in the world, particularly those with developed economies such as that of Argentine do not fall into that category. Nor do most of the states in the Middle East. The local ruling class does not exploit its working class on behalf of foreign Capital, it exploits its working class on behalf of itself. That is why socialists should oppose them rather than attempt to form Popular Fronts with them."

Basically, the bourgeois anywhere tries to maximise profits, itw own self-interest. If it can it will do so at the expense of anyone else, primarily the workers it exploits but will certainly act in its own interests not on the instructions of others.

Of course the local bourgeois don't directly follow orders for the sake of it.So how does my argument add up?

Because international trade agreements enforced at gunpoint mean that through Stuctural Adjustment Programs, through debt relief, through aid from the IMF and World Bank, through having their economies forcibly opened to mulitnationals sometimes with accompanying armies and miltia (e.g. Congo) it becomes in th eimmediate self-interest of the local bourgeois to comly. If they don't there's always gunboat diplomacy- assasinations, economic sanctions, funding and arming of militia and rebel armies, aerial bombardment and direct invasion. This system is pretty monolithic and most of the time the threats work- the West turns a blind eye as workers' organisations are smashed as long as its interests are served-but on occassions of course military force is used.

We don't at all advocate a 'popular front' with the bourgeois but the independent action of the working class against imperialism which may at times include temporary military alliances with bourgeoisw or petit-bourgeois forces fighting imperialism.

So in Iraq we recognise that Sadr is a threat so that is why the working class must come to the fore of the resistance to win workers and small farmers away from the reactionary forces and be armed against them. Why don't you read our piece on Iran on the front page of the website or just do a simple search?

The truth is always concrete- there may be times, the Taliban for example, where even a temporary military alliance is not possible.

But read what we write - in no way should the reactionary politics of Hisbullah etc be supported but independent working class action against imperialism.

You ask for specific examples:
“That means that the stuggle for working class emancipation in those countries will immediately come up against the arms and almost immediately the armies of imperialism. That is why in those countries we must stand for the military defeat of imperialism and organise here for all action that hastens that end- a direcxt action mass movement and movement in the trade unions to build strike action, blockades and refusal to handle/ transport armaments.”

Could you give some examples. In Chile its true the CIA helped the coup against Allende, but by and large it was the forces of the Chilean state that suppressed the working class."

Examples? The DR Congo - over 100 British multinationals with their won militia in many cases, Ethiopia- the strikes and protests last year put down by soldiers firing from British donated vehicles, Venezuala the failed coup immeidately recognised by the US, sierra Leone, Britain invading a few years back, Chad a whole village massacred by French forces last month: corrupt dictatorships all over the world bank-rolled and feted by governments and companies from US, Britain, France, Germany.

It's not a big conspiracy- it is the global operation of the capitlaist market. It requires a gloabl working class response- support armed resistance and organsiation by the working class, for the military defeat of imperialism. It is on that that you and the AWL are on the wrong side- because sitting on the fence and refusing to actively campaign for and organsie for the military defeat of imperailism is playing into their hands and is part of a rightward trend in the working class and tremendously damaging.

You have begun to see the problems with the AWL on Impeiralism. There are good militants on bread and butter issues in the AWL but they are seriously misled and reactionary in refusing to stand with workers in the underdeveloped world (call it what you will) against imperialism.

Submitted by Clive on Sat, 14/04/2007 - 12:44

Of course the AWL 'stands with workers in the underdeveloped world' against imperialism - in the struggle for equality, social justice, trade union rights, and so on - and, of course, beyond that in the struggle for socialist - that is, international - revolution. What we do *not* stand with is the self-aggrandising posturing of local bourgeoisies - like military adventures to impose their will on small groups of people who don't speak the same language, etc - or nationalist mythologies they tell their workers to obscure the truth of the international system.

'Argentina' - as some classless entity - is not 'oppressed by imperialism.' Fighting for 'independence' for Argentina is pure mystification. Workers' rights, not to mention socialism, require a struggle against the international social and economic system, not 'independence'. 'Indpendence' can only mean, in practice, some sort of disconnection from the world economy (Argentina's had enough of that!). And *no* kind of independence is meaningfully expressed by the military seizure of islands in the middle of the sea where no Argentines even live.

The term 'semi-colony' (about which there has been enormous, critical Marxist literature since at least the late 1970s) is a confusing one in this context. There are meaningful contexts - for one example, Egypt from the 1930s to the fall of the monarchy, when it was a formally independent country with a huge - direct - amount of control from Britain.

But to define a country as a semi-colony by virtue only of the relative weakness of its bourgeois state and capital to other, bigger, states and capitals, is to collapse Marxist categories into populist ones. Your operational theory is 'dependency theory', developed by bourgeois economists to explain Latin American subordination to US capital, and then adopted by a certain type of radical anti-imperialist in the 1960s.

Submitted by Jason on Sun, 15/04/2007 - 09:43

Arthur, you seem to be denying that imperialism meaningfully exists. Is this what is behind your views?

But imperialism is first and foremost not to do with military hardware- it is to do with the scarcity of capital, the imposition of favourable terms for foreign capitalist investment, the ripping up of tariffs, the prevention of the formation of cartels- in short the imposition of the market on the underdeveloped world. This is then backed up by military intervention- from blockades, assasinations, funding of one side of the bourgeois, right through to aerial bombardment and miltary invasion.

You seem very dismissive of my examples- for example-
"Ethiopia – troops firing from British donated vehicles, come on please. "

What do you mean 'please'? That this is too small an example to consider? Yes it's a detail- a detail chosen as an evocative one by an Ethiopian Teachers' Association activist we interview in our current magazine. Imperialism in Ethiopia is to do with the way that there is comparitively very little domestic capital in Ethiopia, with coffee prices collapsing, and what capital there is is completely tied into to the world market. The government is largely dependant on aid, and meanwhile the fact that Britain and the US have supplied help, material and funds to the Meles regime- which recently sent Ethiopian soldiers to Somalia- is far from irrelevant. The ETA correspondant sees Ethiopia as being in effect a cleint state of the US.

In this context firing on demonstrators and trade unionists with US and British support and even hardware is not something to be met with your dismissive 'please' as if this is utterly irrelevant.

I lived in Ethiopia for two years and the majority of people I came into contact with from fellow workers to students ad small farmers understood imperialism- the majority for example supporting Iraq against the US.

When we as communists seek to intervene in the class struggle we must recognise that the military defeat of the imperialist troops is a good thing- in the semicolonies or underdeveloped world that would mean arms to the workers who or may not enter into a tactical alliance with anti-imperialist bourgeois or petit-bourgeois forces (as you acknowledge it';s a tactcal question)but to withdraw from the antiwar movement here is damaging and therefore it is not a 'lie' to say that the AWL is a rightward and damaging trend in the labour movement on these issues (actually it's an opinion so could hardly be a'lie'- that just seems designed to malign- but it is an opinion based on reasons).

Clive you may or may not be right about the term underdeveloped coming from dependency theory and you may also be right it is a flawed theory. I don't know the theory- but I was using it simply in terms of meaning that capitalism now by imposing terms of trade favourable to the multinationals operating out of the industrialised countries and backed up by the military might of those countries does in fact underdevelop large parts of the world.

As for Argentina- a miltary defeat for Britain and a victory for Argentina would have damaged British imperialism and the ruling class in Britain at the time. Similarly in Iraq now- the working class and small farmers are not served at all by the US-led occupation and puppet government and therefore they should organise and fight against the occupation and if class conscious workers and communists could come to the fore they could both lead Iraqi workers and small farmers away from the poisonous reaction of the petit-bourgeois (clothed in the garb of radical islam) and organise and arm themselves against clerical reaction.
This from over here though can only be sketchy- we should seek to find out more and lend practical assistance e.g. to Basra oil workers.

However, what is concrete and definite is the AWL's refusal to even participate in the antiwar movement and the blocking of motions calling for it- this is in practice pro-imperialist whatever your subjective intentions.

Submitted by Jason on Mon, 16/04/2007 - 06:11

Arthur you don't even seem to try to read what I wrote- I clearly wrote relative weakness of domestic capital which is perfectly consistent with the presences of surplus capital from the imperialist heartlands.

On th resistance in Iraq we have claerly said from the start we advocate the working class coming to the fore of the movement- arming the working class to defeat imnperialism and to defeat the local bourgeois. Do we though support Iraqis who whatever their politics fight directly against the US or British occupation forces? Yes we do- directly against imperialism (not in sectarian killings or anything else that plays into the hands of imperialism and is anti-working class). The question is do you?

Here do we support a militant direct action antiwar movement to organise in the workplaces and on the streets, to organise mass protests, strikes etc in order to directly impede the imperialist war effort? Yes. Arthur claims he also calls for Troops Out of Iraq and the whole of the Middle East (presumably he means imperialist troops or US/British). Good. He also claims the AWL are in the antiwar movement. I don't know Arthur- may be he does take an active part in his local antiwar group. I do know the AWL- they don't play any role in the antiwar movement in Manchester and their position on the war means they don't call for troops out now or mobilise around that. If any member of the AWL can point to an article where they do call for that then fine we'll debate it from there.

Submitted by martin on Mon, 16/04/2007 - 07:28

Go back a few posts, and we find this key thought:

"The only outstanding [issue?] is was Argentina an oppressor nation? i.e. an imperialist nation. Clearly not on the basis of an assessment of its economy, the only decisive criterion for a Marxist".

So from some measure of Argentina's economy - GNP per head, percentage of foreign ownership, size of foreign debt, I don't know - it follows that Argentina is an "oppressed nation" and therefore in any conflict with Britain, about anything, we must positively support Argentina...?

How was the settler community of Argentina oppressed by another settler community of different European origins living on small islands about two thousand miles away from Argentina's main population centres? In Galtieri's conquest of the Falklands, wasn't the actual "oppressed" community the islanders subjected to foreign conquest? No need to puzzle about that. Just get out the yearbooks of economic statistics, and the case is proven!

On such measures, Tsarist Russia and the Ottoman Empire were not imperialist. Trotsky was dead wrong when he described Serbia's conquest of Kosova in 1913 as "Serbian imperialism". When Trotsky, on the eve of World War 2, described Czechoslovakia as "imperialist" because of the subject nationalities within its borders, he was in error in not instead consulting its yearbook of economic statistics. Etc.

Obviously, all other things being equal, richer nations are more likely to be able to dominate and conquer than poorer nations. But you can't read off politics directly from economic statistics.

Especially not in the post-colonial era. Since 1975 the rich countries of North America and western Europe have had no colonies beyond insignificant specks. They have the clout and the confidence to exert their world power through economic mechanisms, backed up (mostly in the case of the USA) by episodic military actions.

Weaker powers do not. They are more likely to resort to attempts at outright colonial-type conquest: Serbia in Kosova; Russia in Afghanistan and Chechnya; Saddam's Iraq in Iran, Kurdistan, and Kuwait, etc.

The "Marxism means you take everything from the economic statistics" approach here means that you see all these drives for colonial-type conquest as... anti-imperialism, provided only that the would-be paleo-imperialist (or call it what you will) comes into conflict with the USA.

Anti-imperialism comes to mean support for primitive imperialism against more sophisticated imperialism (covered up, of course, by wild talk about those like AWL who stand against all imperialism being "pro-imperialist").

Martin Thomas

Submitted by martin on Mon, 16/04/2007 - 07:36

If Galtieri had won the Falklands war, it would have been a blow to Thatcher? Undoubtedly.

However, since 1945 the British state has survived several defeats in struggles to keep territory. Defeat in the Falklands war would not have shattered the state. At most it would have led to Thatcher losing the next general election (and even that is not certain).

A Labour, or Labour/ Liberal/ SDP coalition, government in 1983 would have allowed some respite to the British labour movement? Yes. But you have to be very optimistic about the Labour Party to suppose that it would have fundamentally changed the whole pattern of development in Britain - that the Labour, or Labour/ Liberal/ SDP government, would have been something radically different from France's SP administrations of the 1980s, or Australia's Labor governments of 1983-96.

About Argentina, we do not have to speculate about the consequences of defeat. They were highly positive. The military dictatorship fell, and remains fallen.

Best, of course, if we could have managed it, the defeat of both sides by working-class uprisings. But on what other than narrow British-nationalist criteria do the possible positive results for the British working class from Thatcher losing outweigh the positive results for the Argentine working class of Galtieri losing so much that we should have positively favoured Galtieri's victory?

Martin Thomas

Submitted by martin on Mon, 16/04/2007 - 07:41

Do I understand correctly that the Permanent Revolution group is quite happy to debate such issues with us online, but not "live" and face-to-face? They must know that "live", face-to-face debates dig deeper: I don't suppose they have scrapped all their own internal face-to-face meetings in favour of exchanges over the Internet. So, comrades, why is it that you're happy with a superficial debate but shy away from face-to-face exchanges?

Martin Thomas

Submitted by martin on Mon, 16/04/2007 - 07:45

Here, re-posted for convenience, is our actual 1982 resolution on the South Atlantic war (from Judge for yourself whether it is "pro-imperialist"!

Class politics versus bloc politics

Resolution for the Workers’ Socialist League (WSL, a forerunner of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty), 1982, later sections reworked in 1984

1. Marxism and war
A Marxist attitude to a war must start from an assessment of which classes are waging the war and for what objectives. On the basis of that assessment we determine our line not as supervisors of the historic process but as militant advocates of class struggle.
Where a war, even under bourgeois leadership, is about an issue like self-determination for an oppressed nation — an issue which is a necessary part of the liberation struggle of the working class — the working class should support the war while maintaining complete independence and fighting to overthrow the bourgeoisie.
Where a war between bourgeoisies has no progressive content on either side, we must fight for the defeat of both sides — i.e., against the war and for the defeat of both bourgeoisies by working class action.
In all cases we fight for working class fraternisation. We do not casually disrupt the international unity of the working class, setting one national section to slaughter another out of deference to the right of the bourgeoisie to rule as it likes. Where a war has a progressive content, we fight for working class unity on the basis of support for the progressive demands of the progressive side.
As the 1920 Theses of the Comintern on the National and Colonial Question, a basic document of our movement, put it: “...the entire policy of the Communist International on the national and colonial question must be based primarily on bringing together the proletariat and working classes of all nations and countries for the common revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of the landowners and the bourgeoisie. For only such united action will ensure victory over capitalism, without which it is impossible to abolish national oppression and inequality of rights.”

2. Our enemy is at home
Britain’s war over the Falklands/Malvinas was designed only to preserve a relic of empire and shore up the prestige of British imperialism. A defeatist stand towards Britain’s war was therefore the no. 1 campaigning priority for Marxists in Britain.
Instead of assisting the Tories in their crisis by “patriotic” support for the government, the British labour movement should have used the crisis to hasten Thatcher’s overthrow in the interests of the working class, and given all material and political support to the Argentine workers in the struggle for democratic and trade union rights and for the establishment of a genuine anti-imperialist workers’ government in Argentina.
We repudiate any legitimacy of British territorial claims in the Falklands or any legitimacy in related British claims to resources in Antarctica.

3. Argentina’s war aims
But the pretext on which the Argentine junta embarked upon the invasion of the Falklands/Malvinas was equally contrived. In taking its action, the junta acted not against imperialism, but in a populist ploy designed to divert and unite the Argentine masses behind the Generals’ own repressive rule.
In doing so the Argentine dictators trampled upon the rights of the Falkland inhabitants, who in themselves oppress and threaten no-one and should have the right to decide their own future. Such action did nothing to build anti-imperialist consciousness in the Argentine working class, but rather sought to generate chauvinism and “national unity”. We did not support this action, and called for the withdrawal of Argentine troops.
In its seizure of the Falklands/Malvinas, designed to boost its position at home and in the region, the Argentine regime miscalculated about the British reaction, and the US response to the British reaction.
This miscalculation could not however make the seizure, or the war to maintain the seizure, progressive.
Galtieri’s invasion did not liberate anyone from colonialism or imperialism. It did not lessen the burden of imperialist exploitation, or improve the conditions for the fight against it, for a single Argentine worker.
It embroiled the Argentine people in a war in which they could hope to win nothing of significance, a disastrous war in a false and reactionary cause.

4. Reactionary on both sides
On both sides therefore the war was reactionary. The job of Marxists in both Britain and Argentina was to oppose the war, to counterpose international working-class unity, to continue the class struggle for the overthrow of both the Tories and the military regime.

5. Self-determination for Falklanders
Support for the right of the Falkland Islanders — a distinct historical, ethnic, linguistic, economic and geographic community 400 miles from Argentina — to determine their own future is axiomatic for Leninists in the given conditions, where that community exploited no other community, threatened no other community, and was not used as, or likely to be used as, a base for imperialist control of another community.
The Falklanders’ right to self-determination cannot be invalidated by their desire to adhere to the now-imperialist state that spawned the Falklands community. That desire to adhere to Britain would invalidate their right to self-determination only if adherence had direct imperialist/colonialist consequences for Argentina or some other country, whose right to resist those consequences would (because of their size, etc.) outweigh the rights of the islanders. Only then would the “pro-imperialist” views of the islanders lead to them playing an imperialist role. Nothing like that was actually involved. The agency for imperialist domination in Argentina is the Argentine state, not the islands or any base on the islands.
To use a definition of the islanders as “pro-imperialist” against their right to self-determination is to introduce inappropriate political categories and criteria, different from those which properly apply. The Falkland Islanders are British. That is what determines their attitudes, not any pro-imperialist views they may have. The WSL is not in favour of the subjugation of a population because it has such views, or because of their origins. The ethnic tidying-up of the globe is no part of the international socialist revolution.
Support for the Falklanders’ rights plainly does not necessarily mean support for military action to enforce those rights. In the actual situation, with Britain an imperialist power, we rejected and opposed the British military action. We look to the international working class, and especially the Argentine labour movement, to secure the Falklanders’ rights.
Such a consistent democratic policy is the only basis for international working class unity, and specifically for the unity of the British and Argentine working class (which had to be our central concern) in this dispute.

6. “Against Britain” does not mean “for Argentina”
The WSL conducted itself as an internationalist and revolutionary proletarian organisation during the British/Argentine war. We raised a variant of the famous slogan of Liebknecht and Luxemburg, “The enemy is at home”, and called on the working class to actively hinder the British ruling class’s prosecution of the war by industrial action. We conducted internationalist working class propaganda against the social-chauvinist Labour leaders, while attempting to maintain a dialogue with the pacifistic Labour Left (that is, with those in the working class who listen to the Left leaders) on the question.
It is no necessary part of proletarian internationalist opposition to the war of an imperialist government to side with their opponents. Our response to the fact that it was for the British ruling class a war for authority and prestige was our defeatism; positive support for Argentina could, for communists, only be grounded in positive working-class reasons for such support.
Marxists reject the primitive rebels’ approach that puts a plus everywhere that the bourgeoisie puts a minus. We must judge events from an independent working class viewpoint.
We side with our ruling-class enemies in particular conflicts if the struggle serves our politics — e.g. in a national liberation struggle, even under the leadership of a Chiang Kai-Shek.
But in no way could the policy of the Argentine proletariat be deduced as a mere negative imprint of the policy of the British bourgeoisie.
The tendency justifies the pro-Argentine position with the view that “a victory [for Argentina] would quite likely mean the downfall of Thatcher... [And] the British have a far more important international role [than Argentina] as a primary carrier and protector of imperialism. This means that the nature of the British regime is a question of immediate international importance...” (second tendency document, p. 16); conversely, “[Argentine] withdrawal... would result in another Tory government with a massive majority... it would be an event of world significance...” (first tendency document, Workers’ Socialist Review 2 p.29).
The idea here that Argentine workers’ policy should be decided by what is worst for the British bourgeoisie — that the British revolution has priority, and the Argentine revolution should be subordinated to it — is British nationalist and utterly to be rejected as a basis for determining proletarian politics in Argentina.

7. Argentina is not a semi-colony
Argentina is far more developed than most non-imperialist countries; it is a fully bourgeois state; and it possesses political independence. It also occupies a subordinate rank within the imperialist world economy. This subordination, however, in no way gives any progressive character to the Argentine bourgeoisie.
The Argentine bourgeoisie is not a progressive force, but the major agency for imperialist domination of the Argentine working class and an assistant for imperialist domination throughout Latin America. It has moreover its own predatory ambitions. For the Argentine working class it is “the main enemy at home”. Quite apart from its foreign connections, it is the class that directly exploits them.
We reject as un-Marxist assessments of Argentina’s situation such as this:
Argentina is economically, militarily and politically dominated by imperialism — not by its own national bourgeoisie — but in particular by US interests. The whole basis of its economy is subject to the international market over which Argentina has no influence, let alone control and dominance” (second tendency document, page 2).
We reject the counterposition of the Argentine bourgeoisie to imperialism, and the measuring of Argentina’s situation by comparison with a situation where the country would escape the international market (which in a capitalist world it can never do).
Every country is more or less dominated by the world economy. No country has control over it — now not even the US colossus which was supreme after World War Two. This situation cannot be changed by war between the weaker bourgeoisies and the stronger. Not such wars, but the international workers’ revolution, can change it.
The communist answer to colonial, semi-colonial and military domination is national liberation struggle; to the domination of the weaker by the strong in the world market (as to the domination of the weak by the strong, and the pauperisation of particular regions, within capitalist nations) our answer is the proletarian revolution.
We reject the notion of an anti-imperialist united front for Argentina (a version of the bloc of classes central to Menshevism and then Stalinism, motivated on the grounds that the Argentine bourgeoisie is an oppressed class in relation to imperialism). We reject the notion that the Argentine bourgeoisie can play any progressive role either within Argentina, where it is our mortal class enemy, or against imperialism, into which it is completely integrated.
[Sections 8 and 9 omitted; section 10 abridged].

10. The theory of “enclaves”
... Today, imperialism operates overwhelmingly through economic mechanisms (backed up, of course, sometimes, by military intervention). Residual mini-colonies like the Falklands — and various other tiny British, French and Spanish colonies — have no strategic role for imperialism. They are essentially anachronistic loose ends of the period of European settler expansion over the globe.

11. Natural resources
There is no sense in which the conflict had an economic anti-imperialist dimension. British property in Argentina, not to speak of the property of other imperialist powers, was left alone during the war. The Argentine state did not even propose to take the Falkland Islands Company from Coalite.
Better Argentine claims on Antarctica from the Falklands would most likely have led to US exploitation of the Antarctic, with Argentina as a conduit. That is the concrete meaning of the subordinate position of Argentina vis-Ă -vis the US and imperialism.
Conversely, one of the major reasons why Britain had been trying to give the Falklands to Argentina is that a stable political settlement is a precondition for the viability of the big investments necessary for the capitalist exploitation of the area’s resources.
The exploitation would have to be joint exploitation, on one set of terms or another. The war was not about whether the resources should belong to imperialism or not.
The Argentine bourgeoisie is not counterposed to imperialism. And imperialism cannot be identified solely with Britain (conversely, anti-imperialism cannot necessarily be identified with an anti-British stance). The British-Argentine war was a war within the network of imperialism and its clients.
The Argentine regime went to war, not for anti-imperialist reasons, but to strengthen its political position at home. They did not wait to win the Falklands by negotiation because of their domestic crisis. And thus they aborted the process of reaching agreement with Britain.

12. “World balance of forces”
The Argentine working class should never subordinate its own class struggle to estimates of the “international balance of forces” between different bourgeoisies. The view that “whatever the implications of that for the Argentinian or British proletariat, we have to base our position on the implications for the international struggle against imperialism first” (second tendency document, p.7), is anti-Marxist.
The assessment according to which British victory was a major blow for imperialism is incomplete. The British bourgeoisie certainly was strengthened politically and in its prestige by victory. But these gains may well prove shallow and temporary (indeed, the continued class struggle has already proved them shallow and temporary), and the British bourgeoisie has gained nothing material — like new military strength, new spheres of influence or new possessions.
The Argentine regime, on the other hand, has certainly been weakened by defeat. The result is a blow against imperialist and capitalist control in Latin America.
Workers in each country can act as internationalists only by fighting their own bourgeoisies, not by acting as makeweights for international bloc politics. For Argentine socialists to support their rulers’ predatory war on the basis of the estimate that the British bourgeoisie’s predatory war was worse, would violate that principle.

13. Class politics vs. bloc politics
We emphatically reject the notion that the socialist working class can orientate in world politics, and particularly in relation to conflicts among politically independent capitalist states like Britain and Argentina, by constructing a view of the world in terms of two camps, modelled on the division of the world between the degenerated and deformed workers’ states and the capitalist states: “We have to determine our position according to the basic class camps, not on conjunctural events... the class camp into which Argentina fits in a war against imperialism...” (second tendency document, p.4).
Between the USSR and similar states, and the capitalist states, there is a basic historical class distinction, despite the savage anti working class rule of the totalitarian-bureaucratic elites. No such gap exists between capitalist states.
The bourgeois foreign policy of the rulers of Argentina, even when it is expressed in acts of war, can in no sense change their class camp. Even should the bourgeoisie of such a state be in alliance with a healthy workers’ state, the task of overthrowing the bourgeoisie would be the central task of the proletariat in the capitalist state — a task never to be subordinated to international diplomatic, military, or balance-of-forces considerations.
This was a central teaching of the Communist International, and it was not formally repudiated even by the Stalinists until 1935. Thereafter the notion that bourgeois forces which allied with the USSR thereby crossed the historic class divide and joined the camp of progress was the ideological basis of Stalinism to legitimise policies of class betrayal and popular frontism.
We reject as un-Marxist, and brand as “international popular frontism”, the view that the Argentine bourgeoisie and their state became part of the “class camp” of the international working class because of their conflict with Britain or during their war with Britain for possession of the Falkland Islands.

14. The regime and imperialism
We reject the notion (implicit in point 7 of the September 1982 resolution [from the Thornett grouping] and explicit elsewhere) that military dictatorships in the Third World are simply the creatures of imperialism: they are strengthened when imperialism is strengthened, weakened when imperialism is weakened.
Military dictatorships are as common in Third World countries which are relatively alienated from the big capitalist powers — Libya, Algeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Syria, etc. — as in those closely linked to the big capitalist powers (Chile, El Salvador, Nigeria, etc.).
The political regime is fundamentally a product of internal class relations. Frequently, of course, imperialist powers do intervene to prop up or install dictatorships when that suits their purpose. But dictatorial regimes in the Third World are quite capable of pursuing policies hostile to the big capitalist powers without thereby becoming progressive or unleashing a progressive “process”. Iran is a clear example.

15. The politics of wishful thinking
Support for Argentina’s chauvinist war could not be justified on the basis that it could be the first stage in a development towards militant anti-imperialist struggle. Nor could the war be defined as anti-imperialist by reading an assessment backwards from the scenario of a hoped-for anti-imperialist development.
The scenarios lack the first link: a real national liberation content to the war. A Marxist policy must be based on the realities of the actual war, not on hypothetical speculations or wishful thinking about strategic outcomes.
Argentine workers had no interest in the armed occupation of the Falklands against the wishes of the population; they should have pursued the class struggle regardless of the effects of such struggle on their rulers’ ability to maintain the occupation; and it was none of their concern to protect the Argentine bourgeois state against the humiliation it would suffer from being unable to maintain the occupation. These points should have been the basis of Marxist policy in Argentina.
The tactical ways of expressing this principled position could of course be very flexible (following the method according to which Trotskyists developed the “proletarian military policy” as a tactical expression of the defeatist policy in World War Two).
It would be the job of Marxists in Argentina to seek to develop the genuine anti-imperialist elements in the confused nationalist reaction of Argentine workers, with demands such as arming of the workers, expropriation of imperialist property and seizure of the factories. While making their own views on the war clear, they should have sought to develop common class actions with workers who confusedly saw Argentina’s war as “anti-imperialist” but wanted to go further in anti-imperialism.

16. A change of line?
A change in our fundamental attitude to the war could only be justified by a change in the fundamental political content of the war — i.e., so that it was no longer a war restricted to the Falklands/Malvinas issue. If Britain’s objectives had shifted so that the war became fundamentally one about an attempt by Britain to make Argentina a colony or a semi-colony, then Marxists should have sided with Argentina’s national independence. But that did not happen. It was always very unlikely that it would happen.

17. Trotskyism and the war
The great majority of would-be Trotskyists world-wide took an Argentine nationalist position on the conflict.
The Morenists — the biggest would-be Trotskyist organisation in Argentina itself — called for national unity in the war, and demanded that the trade unions set up recruiting offices for Galtieri’s army.
They themselves summarise their position as follows: “To beat imperialism, let us strike in a united way. The war must be won. The socialists, who at no moment have hidden and will not hide their irreducible opposition to the military and bosses’ regime, are the fervent advocates of the participation in the framework of this national anti-imperialist mobilisation of all sectors, in or out of uniform, workers or bosses, on only one condition: that they should be to defeat the aggressor and to mobilise the people for that end. That is why the socialists call on the CGT, the CNT (the unions), the Multipartidaria (the bourgeois opposition), all political parties and all sectors who are in agreement to resolutely confront the aggressors, to push forward all the mobilisations and actions possible so that the Argentine people can strike with one fist and smash the aggressor.’” (From their pamphlet, Malouines, les revolutionnaires et la guerre, p. 9. See the same source for the demand for army recruiting offices.)
Politica Obrera — the second would-be Trotskyist organisation in Argentina — was more restrained, but also supported the mini-colonial war and called for an “anti-imperialist united front” (supposed to include workers and the middle class, but not the big bourgeoisie).
The SWP-USA applauded the speech of Argentine foreign minister Costa Mendes to the Non-Aligned Conference, and reprinted it.
The Mandel and Lambertist currents were more circumspect (the French and West German Mandelite organisations indeed initially took an internationalist position), but still sided with Galtieri’s war. The whole USFI press, both SWP-USA and Mandelite, carried an article on Argentina’s relation with imperialism which reproduced the crudest notions of middle-class nationalist “Third Worldism” (“Argentina — a semi-colonial economy”, by Will Reissner, Intercontinental Press, 3 May 1982).
A similar position to that we took during the war was taken — for varying reasons — only by some groups separate from the Trotskyist mainstream: Lutte Ouvrière, the SWP (Britain) and the RWP Sri Lanka; and by the non-Trotskyist, but important, Workers’ Party of Brazil.
This experience sheds further light on the politically degenerate condition of would-be Trotskyism, and the need for ideological regeneration.
The roots of the problem go back to the political crisis which shook the Trotskyist movement in the late 1940s.
In that period the Trotskyist movement declined drastically. (The French section, for example, which was central, suffered an almost complete halt in activity in summer 1948, and by 1952 was only 150 strong, probably less than one-tenth of its peak numbers.) At the same time, gigantic revolutionary events unfolded on a world scale.
Striving to understand this, the leaders of the movement essentially lost faith in the centrality of Trotskyism and the working class to revolutionary politics. In the aftermath of Tito’s surprise “break” with Stalin and populist measures designed to rally mass support against any Kremlin moves to oppose him, and in the midst of the drive to power by Mao’s Stalinist forces in China, Pablo and the Fourth International leaders increasingly looked to some “objective process” which would repeat such political developments and take them further.
The outbreak of the Korean war and the conviction that World War Three was imminent lent fuel to their fire, and the schema of the “War-Revolution” which would automatically line up the forces of Stalinism in the “camp” of the revolution made its appearance.
The independent role of the working class and Trotskyists was submerged in a conception of global “class camps” in which the Stalinist bureaucracy, petty bourgeois leaders and sections of reformism were included in the “proletarian” class camp, in which the Trotskyists merely became respectful advisers and camp followers.
Some Trotskyists took on the role of blustering denouncers of the “bad leaders” of the “Revolution” instead of advisers. But their view of the camps and the issues remained the same.
The two sides of tailist “objectivism” and sectarian arbitrariness into which Trotskyism was thus decomposed were present, in various combinations, in all the currents after 1948-50.
For all the “mainstream” currents, world politics is fundamentally not so much a story of class struggle as a story of the struggle of two forces — Imperialism and “Revolution” — deemed to operate behind and beneath class movements. While Marxists seek to analyse events as interactions of class forces, they analyse them fundamentally as interactions of Imperialism and “Revolution”. Imperialism, for them, is not a system, but a homogeneous force; “Revolution” is not an event, but a continuous process.
They are, of course, concerned for working class action. They see such action as a desirable feature of the Revolution, even an essential feature for the process to be fully healthy. But for them the (same) revolutionary process goes on, working class action or no working class action. The difference between revolutions is not a class difference, but a difference between more or less healthy and developed manifestations of the same process.
This framework is common to them all: it was common, for example, to those who applauded the Vietnamese Communist Party as good leaders of the Revolution and those who denounced the Vietnamese Communist Party as trying to sell out to US imperialism. Because of their common view of the camps and the issues, none of them could conceive that the VCP was making a revolution, but not our revolution.
There is here a mistaken view of the Stalinist states and the Stalinist-led revolutions, and of the relation of the Stalinist camp to imperialism and to the workers’ revolution. The notion that embraced Galtieri as in our “class camp” was an extrapolation from a campist attitude to the Stalinist bloc — an attitude completely alien to Trotskyism, and which appears within would-be Trotskyism as a direct reflection of the pressure of Stalinism on the weak and mainly petty-bourgeois would-be Trotskyist movement.
Central to the problems of post-war Trotskyism is the refusal to register in any stable way the fact — attested to by repeated experience in China, Vietnam, etc. — that Stalinist forces can be both revolutionary against capitalism and simultaneously counter-revolutionary against the working class. Stalinism is always counter-revolutionary against the working class, including in the process in which capitalism is overthrown to be replaced not by workers’ power but by bureaucratic dictatorship on the basis of collectivised property and the repression of the working class.
The campists operate with a concept of revolution in which such key facts as the bureaucratic counter-revolution within every Stalinist-led, anti-capitalist revolution are ignored, treated as mere details, or denied. The “Revolution” they embrace is nameless and classless, defined negatively by what it is against more than positively by what it is.
This framework led most of the would-be Trotskyists to see the South Atlantic war as a conflict — however refracted and distorted — between Imperialism and “Revolution”. Since Galtieri was fighting British imperialism, and since Imperialism was seen as one homogeneous force, therefore Galtieri’s war was against Imperialism, and must be a distorted, underdeveloped form of Revolution — even if Galtieri was a bad, sell-out leader of the Revolution.
Thus the concrete class forces were obscured and most of the would-be Trotskyists tied themselves to a crude “Third Worldist” view of imperialism and anti-imperialism. This view increasingly obscures reality given the increasing differentiation in the Third World, with the emergence there of major industrial powers, capital-exporters and regional big powers, and the increasing friction between the big imperialist powers.
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Martin Thomas

Submitted by paulm on Mon, 16/04/2007 - 22:17


I'm afraid I've seen Bill and his mates routinely adopt this method of argument, going back 20 years.

It's very depressing, entirely predictable and will never change.

Submitted by Jason on Tue, 17/04/2007 - 01:22

The point is that the Socialist Organiser position from 1982 seriously distorts the Marxist position, falsely equating support for Argentina against British imperialism with support for Galtieri.

Supporting Argentina or Iraq against imperialism is not at all to do with supporting their brutal regimes (e.g. Galtieri or Saddam) but saying that workers attacked by imperialism (in Iraq) have the right to fight back; the working class needs to be armed to resist the imperialist attack and through this overthrow the bourgeois. If SO in 1982 were revolutionary defeatist on both sides but took an active part in the antiwar movement here then it is a mistaken position (not supporting Argentina) but not pro-imperialist. By the way, British possession of Malvinas did become important for British imperialism not only in giving a new lease of life to a section of the ruling class around Thatcher but sending out a message that Britain and the US (ruling class) would ruthlessly defend its interests.

In the current Iraq occupation though as far as I can tell AWL are absent from the antiwar movement. I was told at one point (in person) by an AWLer that he may support troops out now in theory but it wasn't a priority- so in practice it ends up being a pro-imperialist position by refusing to engage in the antiwar movement. If the AWL threw themselves into the antiwar movement arguing for troops out now and class struggle tactics to dirsupt the war effort then that would be a different matter and then perhaps in a united front around common action there would be some point in having public debates between our two tendencies on these points.

However, the AWL's position on imperialism has seemingly led them into an impasse where they withdraw from the movement. Of course we can chat and discuss matters hopefully in an open manner (not disfigured by accusations of lying or they're never change etc.) whether in person or online but for the tendencies to prioritise debate when - on this - we're not even in the same movement seems rather impractical.

Of course where we are in united fronts around common action for example in the unions or other working class campaigns we will work and debate with the AWL.

In the meanwhile keep an open mind and remember that though opinions can and do change through debate real changes normally come through action and undertaking a common set of tasks within the working class. Whilst trying to enact those common tasks, differences will arise and need to be debated as they have practical consequences. We need to win workers to socialism, including revitalising the antiwar movement which, despite some 60% opposing the current occupation, is not able at the moment to mount a serious challenge to British imperialism.

Submitted by Jason on Tue, 17/04/2007 - 16:25

Hi Sacha
It's Jason here. As far as I am aware you approached PR through an e-mail to me and I have given you a reply. We don't have full-timers so that may account for the lack of a written reply from an official of the organisation but I did send you an e-mail and talk to you on the phone.

As I explained we are more than happy to debate, defend and extend our positions in a variety of forums but it is felt that our organisations on the issue of imperialism (and for example its relation to the current occupation of Iraq and Palestine) are sufficiently large to prirotise joint work to debate out our differences formally is not something we feel able to do at the moment. You have said joint work and debate are not counter-posed and that is of course true in general but in practice an organisation with activists already over-committed does have to make priorities. I hope that makes it clear.

I have tried not to use insults or invective as tools of argument and I have been at pains to acknowledge that subjectively I am not accusing any one in the AWL of being chauvinist. However, it is fair, I'd suggest, to argue that the end result of having politics which lead you to to all practical extents leave the antiwar movement in terms of building opposition to the occupation of Iraq is objectively pro-imperialist.

Your paper also recently had this formulation about Sudan:
"A UN force — if it happens — may help stem the bloodshed. If it succeeded only partially that would be a good thing. Even so we can have no confidence in UN interventions (remember Srebrenica!)"

This seems to imply that foreign intervention, possible of imperialist troops, may be 'a good thing' but we should have 'no confidence' in them. This is quite far from a marxist position and may reasonably without insult be described as 'pro-imperialist'.

Also comrade Mark who is a member of the steering committee did answer you on which I see you have seen
"While a member of Workers Power I publicly debated the AWL on the Labour Party, Eastern Europe, Ireland and Afghanistan (this last in ULU at the onset of the most recent imperialist invasion). That hardly counts as shying away from debate. But following these debates with your organisation I concluded that it is utterly futile to debate with your thoroughly pro-imperialist organisation. My view is that PR should not give you the time of day let alone take part in your events.That's not shying away - an accusation that sounds like the political equivalent of "come and have a go if you think you're hard enough". It's just recognising the simple fact that our views are so far apart a debate at your summer school or anywhere else for that matter is a total waste of our time.
Mark H"

As for time and energy- I probably will leave the debate for now and get on with other tasks in the class struggle. It seems slightly bizarre to be berated about spending time and energy on debating though. I don't think there's anything wrong with chatting- which I suppose I include this as- but we should prioritise building united fronts in the working class to actually get things done. If debate organically flows out of that then all well and good. Ideas can change through discussion but they're far more likely and more usefully to change through being applied in practice as well as discussed.

Finally, just to point out this has more or less been said before:
"Of course we can chat and discuss matters hopefully in an open manner (not disfigured by accusations of lying or they're never change etc.) whether in person or online but for the tendencies to prioritise debate when - on this - we're not even in the same movement seems rather impractical.

Of course where we are in united fronts around common action for example in the unions or other working class campaigns we will work and debate with the AWL.

In the meanwhile keep an open mind and remember that though opinions can and do change through debate real changes normally come through action and undertaking a common set of tasks within the working class. Whilst trying to enact those common tasks, differences will arise and need to be debated as they have practical consequences. We need to win workers to socialism..."

Submitted by Jason on Mon, 09/04/2007 - 09:56

This seems very confused. When the Argentine dictatorship took the Malvinas- a word you seem incapable of using- they were clearly not being progressive in their intentions. But talk to almost any worker from Latin America or even Africa and they would immediately recognise that the British settler state is part of a wider conflict that of the right of advanced capitalist ruling classes from ther North to control resources and territory in the forcibly underdeveloped world- in a word 'imperialism'.

We would not be indifferent to the fate of the Malvinas settelers/ Falkland islanders- they should have been gauranteed equal rights by the Argentine working class and if - as possible- they had no confidence in this be offered free passage and to any part of Britain they wished.

The Argentine working class supported the invasion and used the opportunity to begin to again organise itself on the streets. Marxists in Argentina should have argued for victory against British imperialism and no fiath in the ability of the Galtieri dictatorhsip to achieve that so using the episode as an opprtunity to rerogansie itself to overthrow the dictatorship. It would have been a long and almost struggle- unless given aid by the British working class who if socialists such as Militant and the other left had argued for a consistent anti-imperialist line- for the defeat of British imperialism, for strikes against the war and mass demonstrations. If Thatcher had been defeated in Malvinas/Falklands then the Tories would have almost certainly fell and not been able to smash the 'enemy within' the British miners which has altered the landscape of class politics in Britain for a generation.

As for the other examples- yes the SWP were chauvinist in the Balkans war- we should have supported Kosova independence but not by imperialist bombing- they didn't want kosova independence but imperialist subjugation.

We should have said Nato out of the Balkans, arms to Kosova workers.

For more on the Malvinas see

(I can't understand your link system on these pages at all I'm afraid. so if anyone's interested just copy and paste into the address bar should work and may be someone can e-mail me instructions on posting links!)

Submitted by Clive on Mon, 09/04/2007 - 17:41

"The Argentine working class supported the invasion and used the opportunity to begin to again organise itself on the streets..."

Some leftist organisations supported the invasion; others did not. Some organisations which had been courageously opposing the dictatorship continued to do so. The idea that 'the working class' supported an invasion consciously organised in order to derail a general strike is false. And even if it, or sections of it, had done so, you would need to show that this was more than nationalistic backwardness on the part of those sections. Why *should* internationalist, never mind socialist, workers, support their military rulers invading islands on which live people who don't see themselves, at all, as Argentinian? If you some purely mystical 'struggle against imperialism' overrides the rights of actual people, or entails no actual political issues, I guess you can support anything.

But many of the most advanced sections of the Latin American workers' movement - for instance, the Brazilian PT (which at the time was very new and much more radical than it is now) - opposed both sides in the war.

And by the way, nobody has argued that the Iraqi government is a bourgeois democracy.

Submitted by Jason on Tue, 10/04/2007 - 08:24

There are several points to disentangle here.


"Although the defeat of Thatcher by the British working class would have been a defeat for imperialism, and a similar defeat for Britain and the US now by the working class would be too, a defeat for Thatcher by Galtieri would not have been a defeat for imperialism, any more than adefeat in Iraq at the hands of the "Insurgents" would be. Or more correctly, it would not be a victory for the working class."

If we could create a mass antiwar movement here to actually influence British policy e.g. mass demonstrations linked to strikes and occupations which helped either bring the government down or get them to withdraw troops to avert such a possibility then this would both help defeat the British government and strengthen the working class here.

This is what we should be arguing for. We are not hypothetically saying we wish for the victory of one side against another but taking active steps or arguing for the labour movement to take active steps to actually contribute to the defeat of 'our' side. In 1982 it is obvious that such a movement would have been the end of Thatcher- it was the 'Falklands effect' that led to her victory in the 1983 election.

Arthur then asks what about the working class in Argentina or Iraq? It may well depend on how the victory is won- there are several possibilities of course including a victory for fascist reaction. However, should we not oppose the war here in case reactionaries are strengthened here? No- for two reasons. The first reason is that it would suggest that imperialism or British or US intervention is somehow better than local reactionary dictatorship- no, the working class in Iraq will never have power or freedom whilst the US ruling class and its local comprador bourgeois is in power. Second- we are not indifferent to the working class there. If the British working class was strong and organised enough to actually make a difference to war - lamentably far from true at the moment- then we would of course be advocating material aid to working class organisations in Iraq- resources for trade unions, material and political. Of course none of the solutions are easy- what is really needed in Iraq is for the working class to organise and discover its own power instead of being led down the abyss of Islamism which is what happens when the left refuse to fight or offer a coherent strategy.

So we argue for the military defeat of imperialism and if possible take activce steps towards it and that does not imply supporting Sadr or Galtierieri. It does mean though arguing for the working class there to overthrow those reactionaries by coming to the head of the war against imperialism so in that sense we support the military victory of Iraq or Argentina.

Secondly, the question of Israel/Palestine.

"This argument applies equally to Israel. We might not like the fact that Israel has racist Immigration Laws. We should argue against them, but the fact that it has them cannot be an argument for denying the right of self-determination for Israel, especially as almost every other nation also has racist immigration laws. That is what the SWP and others effectively do."

I don't quite understand you here. Yes we should oppose racist immigration laws - in fact all immigration controls (rights for capital to dictate immigration) status. In terms of Palestine/Israel this means we support the right of Arabs to migrate and the right of return. How is any of this opposing the right to self-detemrnation? It is a very strange argument. Imagine of a British nationalist said we should oppose immigration as its against the right of british people to self-determination. We would rightly condemn this as racist. You though support abolition of immigration controls in Israel/Palestine but raise the argument of self-determination. If another country invaded and subjugated Palestine then that may bring arguments about self-determination into play but how so now?

Thirdly, the Malvinas settlers. It wasn't about their self-determination. They were already part of wider Argentine society- if they needed health care beyond the island's facilities etc. It was about the right of Britain's ruling class to control part of the South Atlantic- it was imperialism.

Submitted by Clive on Tue, 10/04/2007 - 12:33

"If we could create a mass antiwar movement here to actually influence British policy e.g. mass demonstrations linked to strikes and occupations which helped either bring the government down or get them to withdraw troops to avert such a possibility then this would both help defeat the British government and strengthen the working class here."

I don't disagree. But why insist on defining this in terms of victory and defeat in the military conflict? Of course, we fight our government. If they'd been forced to withdraw the fleet, most probably it would have brought them down, or at least provoked a major crisis. But *that* is our focus - opposition to the government and its policy, rather than 'a military defeat for Britain is the lesser evil' (compared to a military defeat for Argentina).

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 11/04/2007 - 10:03

I'm not sure we agree at all, Arthur except on incidentals.

You say you would support a mass anti-war movement but one that is critical of the politics of forces on the other side. Socialists should argue for and where possible try to create a mass movement to demand the immediate withdrawal of troops and to end the occupation now. There are all sorts of other things we argue including revolutionary socialism but we don't make participation in the antiwar movement conditional on everyone accepting them.

We should also support strikes against the war, blockades of armaments etc. support the right of resistamnce and the military defeat of 'our' government's troops and therefore support armed resistance to the US/UK (which is completely distinct from reactionary sectarian killings which don't resist imperialism but play into its hands). If we win workers to these ideas here then all the better but to either abstain or withdraw from the antiwar movement or set up our own much smaller rival is counter-productive and takes us away from any possible influence we may have.

From your comments you are clearly not in the AWL- they are completely absent from the antiwar movement which is a disgrace whatever criticisms one might have of the SWP.
However, your arguments still seem to make concessions to a confused/confusing position particualrly on the issue of Palestine/Israel.

On immigration controls and self-determination I think this in the context you use it is utterly reactionary. The Jewish population in Palestine/Israel of course should have democratic rights, just as much as the Arabs most of whom were expelled (or the children, grand children, great grand children etc of those expelled)either by force or fear of force in the 40s- why should these people not have the right of return? It is racist- one rule for one ethnic group, another for the oppressed nationality.

The Malvinas settlers were not demanding self-determination but to be part of the British empire and therefore part of imperialism- the irght of the British ruling class to control that corridor of the Atlantic and a springboard to resources in the area.

Submitted by Clive on Wed, 11/04/2007 - 23:49

From the fact that Britain is not an oppressed nation, it does not follow that Argentina is.

There is a fatuous conceptual blurring here, between the vague notion of an 'imperialised' nation (presumably, one weaker and subordinate within an international system dominated by powerful imperialist states), and an *oppressed* nation - one denied national rights by a foreign power. To regard an independent bourgeois state, with a relatively powerful bourgeoisie which has regional power ambitions, as an *oppressed nation* is to mangle the meaning of words.

We were not 'neutral' between the British and Argentine bourgeoisies in 1982. We were against both.

Submitted by Jason on Tue, 24/04/2007 - 16:45

Hi Sacha and Clive

Thank you for your invitation to debate. As you have observed whne time permits we are happy to debate and discuss issues either here, in other electronic forums, in the unions or in united front campaigns. However, in terms of your proposal for either a specifically arranged event or us attending your summer school to debate imperialism I think the answer is clear that given the different priorities of our two organisations specifically regarding imperialism that- in our opinion- such a debate is not necessarily the most fruitful way forward.


We view the priority of socialists here to oppose the imperialist annexation of Iraq and not only call for troops out now but to take active steps to begin to achieve that goal- to build for mass antiwar protests, for strike action, for blockades, for workers' action to prevent the movement of armamements- for disobedience in the army, for aid and support to Iraqi workers and small farmers resistance to the occupation. You call this position 'idiot' and 'fake' ('kitsch' I had to look it up!) Well, that's your opinion. We of course- like yourselves- are tiny and in fact rather than actively implement any of the above are trying to rebuild networks and organisatuions of working class combativity capable of beginning to actively organise such action. In our opinion, at the moment, given the scale of the task, this does not, currently, include debating on this topic with an organisation diametrically opposed to these aims.

However, let's keep a sense of proportion. On other matters- such as building a rank and file movement in the unions, opposition to privatisation, organising physical resistance to immigration snatch squads, building for worker non-compliance of immigration controls, smashing fascism, solidarity with workers' struggles in some countries, possibly even building a working class socialist revolutionary party we do have common ground and are more than happy to work together.

So let's work together on those areas and continue to fraternally debate differences in the mean time. Sounds perfectly sensible and comradely to me.


Submitted by Jason on Sun, 29/04/2007 - 08:51

I'm not sure people are still reading this but just in case- Arthur I say one thing and you claim to even agree with it but then say I actually meant another and that's idiotic (even though i never said it). Sounds like a pretty weak argument to me.

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 09/05/2007 - 16:27

We said victory to Argentina and victory to the Iraqi resistance which means the working class coming to the fore and arming the workers. Please try not to musrepresent our position.

In Britain we argue for Troops Out Now not the pathetic call for troops out by October sent out by Stop the War, including signed by SWP member Lyndsey German.

I think there is a place for genuine debate on the left- but we need to listen to what each other say not caricature each other's position.


Submitted by Clive on Wed, 09/05/2007 - 19:58

"victory to the Iraqi resistance which means the working class coming to the fore and arming the workers."

It might mean that in your head, but I'm intrigued to know how it can actually mean that in life. Indeed the workers need to be armed. But surely a good part of what they need to be armed *for* is to defend workers and others from the sectarian crazies who constitute 'the resistance'.

If you mean you'd like a *different* 'resistance' (to imperialism) consisting of armed workers, well that would be great. Hardly 'victory to the (existing) resistance', though.

Ditto 'victory to Argentina'. If the Argentinian bourgeoisie was fighting for something democratic, something workers had an interest in, and what have fought for anyway - maybe that makes sense. But why would *workers* and *socialists* and *internationalists* and *democrats* want to impose Argentinian rule on a small group of foreigners on some islands? What democratic programme could that possibly serve?

Submitted by Clive on Sat, 21/04/2007 - 20:03

You write: "How are the First Sea Lords comments relevent? Because they prove that the "self determination" of the Falkland islanders was no part of the war and that it was an invasion to reconquer "British soverign territory".
Therefore all of the AWL's flummery about the "rights" of the Falkland Islanders to "self determination" is exposed as irrelvent, from the mouths of the very people who undertook the invasion - the British Imperialists."

This is spectacularly confused. The argument that the people living on the Falklands islands have the right not to be occupied by a foreign power (in this case a military dictatorship responsible for untold atrocities, but the argument would hold even if Argentina were a bourgeois democracy) has got absolutely nothing to do with what the British ruling class was fighting about. Of course they weren't concerned about the Falklanders! This is one of the reasons to denounce them. And - can you read? - we opposed Thatcher's war.

The contention that Argentina was/is an oppressed nation, its national oppression expressed through, presumably, the mere existence of English-speaking people on some islands some hundreds of miles off the South American coast, and that these islanders constitute part of an 'oppressor nation' (of Argentina), is, if anything, even more spectacularly absurd. If people living on islands seized years ago - before Argentina was even meaningfully a nation, even - constitute an 'oppressor community' whose rights can be marched all over, this would condemn huge swathes of the world to such a programme.

Not least it would condemn Argentina! The population of Argentina is entirely of European extraction. If Argentina has a right to the Falklands (by virtue, pretty much, of just geographical proximity), who has the right to Argentina? This whole way of looking at the world is the most supine nationalism. National rights are about people, not bits of land; and they are about democracy, as I have already commented.

Your notion of the AWL's 'pro-imperialism', aside apparently from just a straightforward inability to read sentences in front of you, comes from this utterly corrupted (by Stalinism) conception of oppressed and oppressor nations, and of imperialism itself. You don't have to like us to debate with us, or think we're about to fuse, or something. Heaven forbid. But if you want to argue about this stuff, why not do it in person?

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