1980s >> 1982 >> no-935-july-1982

The War in the South Atlantic

Workers’ blood has been spilt in a squalid war over which group of exploiters shall own and control the resources on and around the Falkland Islands. The perverse propaganda in favour of legalised murder oozes from rags like The Sun, while the genteel voices of BBC “defence experts” discuss details of human sacrifice with all the cynicism of ancient rulers plotting a battle between expendable slaves. In a society where the loss of a fighter plane is infinitely more costly than the waste of a replaceable uniformed wage slave, profit is the god and human needs must be tossed aside to satisfy its voracious appetite. “Our lads”, who hitherto could not afford a weekend trip round the harbour on the luxurious QE2, are now being treated to a mystery tour on their bosses’ floating mansion –the mystery being not where they are going, but whether they will return alive. At the bottom of the bitterly cold South Atlantic, corpses from both sides mingle with each other –death highlights the fact that a British worker is indistinguishable from an Argentine worker: they are not natural enemies, but paid dogs of war set on to each other to do their masters’ dirty work.

Workers have no country. Britain is not “ours”: the richest ten per cent of the British population own more of the accumulated wealth than the other ninety per cent added together. Britain, like Argentina, belongs to a minority class which owes its affluence and privilege to a system of institutionalised parasitism. The Falklands do not belong to the workers of Britain or Argentina or the Islanders themselves. If British capitalists maintain their ownership and control of the Falklands, or if they lose control to their rival exploiters in Argentina, it will not make a scrap of difference to workers anywhere. It is a war fought by workers for the interests of capitalists.

What are they fighting about?

Much fallacious drivel has come forth from politicians and media hacks alike about “the interests of the Islanders” and “principles of international law”. It is suggested that Thatcher and her Tory, Labour, SDP and Liberal allies have sent the Task Force to the South Atlantic at a huge cost to the British capitalist class because they are eager to defend the Islanders’ rights to be British and to save the world from fascism. Such nonsense would be laughable were it not so commonly believed. If the government was so eager to “keep the Islanders British”, why did it exclude them from British citizenship in its recent Nationality Act? If the government was so disgusted by the Argentine junta’s record of repressively anti-working class dictatorship, why was it a major arms supplier to the Junta up until the invasion of the Falklands? The hard fact is that wars are not fought for moral reasons – the only justice of significance to the capitalists as a class is that which ensures their own economic power. If British capital could succeed by selling out the nationalistic wishes of the Islanders and by working in alliance with the Argentine fascists they will certainly do so. Unlike in the Great War, however, the ruling class is no longer able to urge gullible wage slaves to die for the sake of Imperial Glory. These days the imperialist interests of the ruling class need to be dressed up as battles over principle – modern wars are disguised as “fights for democracy” or for “international law” or “for the right to be British”. Just as Churchill and his political allies would readily have made a deal with Hitler in the 1930s (in fact, Chamberlain tried to and Stalin did), so Thatcher would willingly conspire with the Junta today.

Workers should not be deceived: wars are simply a continuation of the rivalries over markets, raw materials and trade routes which are inherent in the profit system. The economic interests at stake in and around the Falkland Islands can be summed up as follows:

1. Agriculture and fishers.

2. Oil.

3. The mineral resources of the Antarctic.

4. Strategic routes.

Agriculture and fisheries

The main industries of the Falkland Islands are sheep farming and fisheries. On 6 June 1982 The Mail on Sunday posed the question: “Who owns the Falklands Islands”. The answer was revealing:

“For the most part, not the islanders. More than seventy per cent of the land is owned by companies registered in the UK. The best-known landlord is the Falkland Islands Company . . . now owned by the Coalite Group, the Derby-based manufacturers of smokeless fuel. The Company employs half of the island’s population and owns half the sheep. It also owns some forty per cent of the land. Another thirty per cent is in the hands of seven small private companies in Britain and Germany.”

The article refers to some of the holdings on the Islands which are usually referred to as being “ours”:

“Port Howard on West Falkland is a spread of 170,000 acres – bigger than Hampshire-stocked with 38,000 sheep. The farm is run by a manager for a company called James Lovegrove Waldron Ltd., whose thirty-seven shareholders live in England . . . The first territory to be recaptured by the Task Force was Port San Carlos where the Cameron Family have 97,000 acres and 31,000 sheep. Mr. William Cameron settled in the Falklands and bought the farm in the 1870s. He left it to his four children who later moved to Britain. Mrs. Anne Cameron, managing director of Port San Carlos Ltd., now lives in Ireland.”

Reading this one might ask, how many workers own farms covering thousands of acres of land? The repossession of the Islands is entirely a capitalist concern, of no interest at all to the majority of people who are lucky if they own or rent a back garden. Landowning parasites like Charrington Coalite and the Camerons must be laughing all the way to the bank as they observe propertyless wage slaves worrying about the possession of territories which will never belong to workers. We can be sure that the capitalists will not die fighting for our interests; why should workers sacrifice their lives for the sake of capital?

Oil

For some time there has been speculation about the potential oil reserves which lie beneath the South Atlantic in the vicinity of the Falkland Islands. Oil is currently a very valuable commodity and capitalists are particularly interested in new areas of exploration. According to the Observer (23 May 1982), two major oil consortia have made bids within the last year to explore the Magallanes Este, a stretch of water which is equidistant between the Falkland Islands and the Argentine coast. The Argentine government sold the bidding rights to explore for oil and gas in the Magallanes Este to the American oil company, Atlantic Richfield (ARCO). The British government threatened to take legal action against ARCO, as it claimed that the exploration was going to take place in its waters and that Argentina had no right to sell the exploration rights. In objecting to foreign exploration of the Magallanes field the British government was undoubtedly thinking of the objectives of the section of the capitalist class which it represents. The Argentine military conquest of the area will have been seen as a denial of the British capitalists’ ambitions in relation to oil.

The oil factor has been played down by the British media. British capitalists are straining to give the impression that the potential oil is quite incidental to their high moral motives in sending the Task Force. The truth is rather different: in 1974 a team from Birmingham University investigated the oil potentiality in the Malvinas basin and compiled an economically optimistic report. According to the Observer,

“Industry forecasts of the potential oil in the Malvinas basin have been mixed, ranging from 20 million barrels from the Falklands side of the basin to between 40 and 200 billion barrels from the Argentine side.”

North Seaoil reserves produce about 50 billion barrels. In 1981 the Royal Dutch Shell Group, acting as a contractor for the Argentine State Oil Company (YPS) drilled a well in Argentine waters which yielded 5,000 barrels a day.

Quite possibly the oil prospects around the Falkland Islands will come to little or nothing; but they have yet to be seriously tested and the British capitalist class is determined to be around if and when the oil profits start pouring in.

The mineral resources of the Antarctic

Not long after the main discoveries of the Antarctic by Cook, Bouvez de Lozier and Kergeulen-Tremarec in the eighteenth century, commercial exploitation of the area began. It has always been assumed that the mineral potential would be vast; but only in recent years have techniques been developed for obtaining the resources of the Antarctic. (Similarly, the Russian ruling class has recently discovered the vast riches in Siberia and it is becoming one of the key industrial areas of the USSR.)

Competition between sections of the capitalist class for the right to own and control the Antarctic was so intense that research in the area has often been stifled and “poisoned by endless arguments over sovereignty” (The Antarctic, H. G. R. King, p. 250). In the mid-1950s the US government proposed that the Antarctic should be internationalised and placed under the control of the United Nations, but this idea came to nothing. In October 1959 a conference of sixteen nations met in Washington and devised the Antarctic treaty, which was ratified in 1961. The treaty determined a thirty-year period of multilateral control of the Antarctic by Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Russia, Britain and the USA. During this time geological research was to be carried out in the area in order to determine its potential riches. The treaty will expire in 1991 and there is every prospect that conflict over future ownership and control of the vast area will be very fierce. While British capital has a foothold on the Falklands it is close to the scene and cannot easily be excluded from a share-out of the Antarctic territory.

Strategic routes

Capitalism not only needs to produce commodities, but to distribute them to the markets of the world. To do so it needs access to the convenient trade routes. In an interview on NBC (a US television network) on 9 June. Margaret Thatcher was candid about the fact that economic considerations were on her mind:

“Mrs. Thatcher argued strongly that there was more to the Falklands crisis than ideological issues like democracy. Quite a number of big oil tankers now had to go round Cape Horn to get to Alaska, she said, and they (i.e. the Falklands) had very enormous strategic value” (Guardian, 10 June 1982).

In addition to the principal economic causes of the Falklands war there are political factors which come into play. In Argentina, the Junta was probably prompted to take military action when it did by the then growing political opposition. Faced with a crisis of world capitalism, the Junta has been unable to prevent intensifying economic contradictions from fuelling the discontent of large sections of the working class. Shortly before the ”reconquest of the Malvinas” the Junta was confronted by mass demonstrations on the street; its show of nationalist militarism has converted dissidence into jingoism, thus temporarily stabilising the position of the Argentine ruling class. The use of national chauvinism as a political diversion has aided Thatcher no less than Galtieri. In the long run, however, it is a mistake to assume that the leaders of capitalism are directing its affairs; they are the victims of the system and no amount of peaceful intentions on their part will avoid the occasional need of capitalism to destroy lives and wealth for the sake of profit.

The war, Marxists and the left wing

The role of revolutionary socialists is not simply to declare abstract principles. There are plenty of piously motivated people who are deeply committed to abstract aims, such as “world peace”. Such aims are utopian unless they are related to the historical possibility of establishing a classless, stateless society. Understanding that capitalism causes wars, socialists urge the need for conscious political action to end capitalism and thus eradicate war. Socialists do not simply oppose violence or war or destruction; we oppose the class interests which give rise to these anti-social forms of behaviour.

Socialist principles are put to the test when they are applied to the real experiences of the class struggle. In 1914, when every political party in Britain was either swallowed up by the jingoistic war hysteria or else left muttering inane pacifist sentiments, the Socialist Party stood alone in condemning the war from a class angle:

“Whereas the capitalists of Europe have quarrelled over the questions of the control of trade routes and the world markets, and are endeavouring to exploit the political divisions and blind passions of the working class of their respective countries in order to induce the said workers to take up arms in what is solely their masters’ quarrel. THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN, having no quarrel with the working class of any country, extends to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our good will and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism.”

In 1939 the Socialist Party refused to be tricked into support for legalised killing, firmly rejecting the fallacy that the British ruling class – in its alliance with the dictator, Stalin –was fighting for democracy. Alone among all parties in Britain, the Socialist Party has never supported one capitalist interest against another in a war. Consistently we have argued that workers have a material interest in opposing all wars. In maintaining this principle the Socialist Party adheres to the classic declaration of Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto:

“The Communists are distinguished from the other working class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the fore the common interests of the entire proletariat independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.”

In the light of these revolutionary guidelines of Marx and Engels we may examine the attitude taken to the war by the parties, groups and sects of the British Left. In the moment of truth, have they sided with the workers’ interest – have they pointed out “the common interests of the entire proletariat” – or have they supported the military ambitions of one section of capital against another? Predictably enough, the latter is the case.

Instead of pointing out that workers have no interest in the territorial squabbles of their rulers, virtually all the Leftists opted to make legalistic judgements about which band of exploiters ought to possess the Falklands. The New Communist Party’s leaflet on the war begins by stating: “Let no one be deceived, Britain has no right to the Falklands.”

It seems that the Central Committee of the New Communist Party has set itself up as an international arbiter of capitalist rights. Perhaps they will be good enough to tell us which capitalists do have the “right” to own. control and plunder the earth? The Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) states that Galtieri’s fascist junta is “manipulating the just sentiments of the people for the decolonisation of the Islands . . .”

Socialist Newsletter seems to be divided between supporting the claims of both groups of capitalists; its leaflet begins by stating that: “The 1,800 or so British people who live there are British. They have a right to stay there as British people.”

Having granted the Islanders the right to stay allied to the British ruling class, Socialist Newsletter is anxious not to seem unfair to the Argentine capitalists and so states that “The Malvinas are part of Argentina”.

The Socialist Workers’ Party is never far behind when there are class issues to be confused. “Stop this mad war now!” its leaflet instructs; but instead of going on to say that only socialism can put an end to war, the SWP declares that what is needed is an Argentine victory. “Every socialist and trade unionist . . . has a direct interest in the defeat of the British forces.” Now, if socialists have a direct interest in an Argentine victory (because that is what “defeat of the British forces” means) – if success for the junta equals success for socialists, as the SWP says, should workers not be encouraged to sign up and help the Argentine army defeat the British forces? Presumably the SWP is in favour of what they call the direct interest of socialists and trade unionists, and so are therefore logically committed to taking any action which will enhance such interests. Perhaps we will soon be seeing SWP paper sellers collecting coins to provide arms for the Argentine army – instead of their old slogan, “Fight the fascists on the streets” they will be able to shout out, “Fight with the fascists in the Malvinas –for by doing so these political half-wits think that they are defending the interests of socialists and trade unionists everywhere.

The SWP leaflet states that:

“ . . . the Argentine trade unions and Left rightly believe that the Falklands should belong to Argentina as they were stolen by British gunboats 150 years ago.”

So, according to the petty nationalists of the SWP, workers in Argentina are quite right to believe that the national aspirations of their ruling class have anything to do with them-they are right to engage in the very anti-working class nationalism which Marxists totally oppose.

The other trad Trots, such as the IMG and the WRP, have taken attitudes to the war which are indistinguishable from the SWP. They have taken to referring to “the Malvinas” and to regarding Galtieri as a fighter against imperialism. While the Trotskyists dream of a future People’s Malvinas, the Communist Party engages in sterile, meaningless talk about the need for a peaceful United Nations settlement. Such is the revolutionary status of the party which was once going to smash capitalism!

If the trad Trots are strong on pro-nationalist implications, the Revolutionary Communist Party is in the running to become the British wing of the Argentine junta. The RCP is quite clear about which capitalists have its support: “In this war it is the duty of British socialists to back Argentina.” On the assumption that the enemy of an enemy must be a friend, the RCP states that “No socialist can remain neutral when the British ruling class goes to war”.

In 1939 the RCP would no doubt have been sending fraternal telegrams to the Nazis. The front cover of the RCP’s disgustingly anti-working class paper, The Next Step, has banner headlines declaring:

WHEN BRITAIN GOES TO WAR WORKERS MUST TAKE SIDES!

THE MALVINAS ARE ARGENTINA’S!

DEFEND THE RIGHTS OF 27 MILLION ARGENTINES!

If the RCP intends to defend the entire population of Argentina we must assume that they are just as concerned about looking after the interest of the capitalists’ as the workers. The Next Step for any clear-headed member of the RCP would be resignation.

None of the leftist groups has attempted to analyse the real economic causes of the war. The SWP advance the facile« explanation that “the war is really about, saving face – Thatcher and her government’s face”.

Not only is this a classical example of. the conspiracy theory –the absurd belief that the capitalists are in any kind of conscious control over capitalism –but misses any serious Marxist analysis why wars occur. To blame wars on Thatcher is to ignore the class forces which personalities like Thatcher, Reagan, Brezhnev and Galtieri are simply the symbols.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has traditionally ignored the vital question of the cause of war, preferring to campaign against certain weapons of war. The Falklands war has put CND in a difficult position: here we have a decent, old-fashioned conventional war of the kind that CND finds rather more humane than the unpleasant nuclear variety. The horrific conventional weapons which have been used in the South Atlantic may have forced some those CNDers who do not object to war as long as they are non-nuclear to have a re-think. Just as in the late 1960s thousands of CNDers lapsed from the faith in order to take sides in the Vietnam slaughter, so today there are many CNDers fully support the Task Force in its mission. CND boasts that its defence policy has been proved correct and had there been a run-down in conventional armaments the British ruling class would have been militarily unsuccessful in the South Atlantic. In short, just like all reformist bodies, the role of the CND is to advise the capitalists on how to run their competitive and murderous system.

One member of CND who must not be forgotten is Michael Foot –the man who likes to be known as an “inveterate peacemonger”. His speech in the House of Commons at the beginning of the Falklands crisis should be remembered by workers for years to come. It was Foot who urged the government to use force – it was he who threatened to expose the government for weakness if it did not respond to aggression with the might of the British military machine. Foot has workers’ blood on his hands no less than Thatcher. But Foot was elected to administer capitalism and who could expect his party or the Leftist sects which hang on to his party to do anything but bow to the needs of British capitalism? Peace for them is something to be talked about when there is not a capitalist war to be fought. The Left wing of capital is as much an enemy of the working class as are the overt defenders of capitalism on the Right.

The tragedy is that the dangerous policies outlined above lead inevitably to the waste of war and the continuation of class privilege. For Marxists there is but one way ahead and that will not be in the company of capitalists of any nation.

“The workers have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!” (The Communist Manifesto)