Falklands war: military and ideological maneuvers -- a trap for the proletariat

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This article was written by our Current during the hostilities in the South Atlantic and expresses our position on the real nature of the Falklands war. Today, in the way of all the bourgeoisie's ‘nine-day wonder' propaganda barrages, the Falklands are almost forgotten. The method of the bourgeoisie is to use the hyenas of the press to mount a full-blown production, as they did over E1 Salvador, and then ... on to something else, whereupon the whole world press shuts up about it. But for us, the Falklands affair has important lessons for the working class. Why weren't the minor differences between Argentina and Britain dealt with through negotiations like hundreds of other conflicts? Why was this blown out of all proportion? This is what the article tries to make clear.

Through the Falklands war the bourgeoisie par­aded the specter of a third world war before the eyes of the workers, but in fact the real worry of the bourgeoisie is not war but the possibility of class conflict in the major centers of capitalism. The historic course is still towards revolution, and this is what the bourgeoisie is trying to change so that the way to world war can be opened. To do this it must confront a proletariat which is not defeated, and so the incessant propaganda campaigns today have only one purpose: to weaken the proletariat's consciousness before this confrontation takes place. The Falklands propaganda campaign was therefore part of an international attack of the bourgeoisie against the proletarian danger.

More recently there has come the war in the Lebanon which, unlike the Falklands affair, is a true reflection of dangerous inter-imper­ialist, inter-bloc antagonisms. An operation to re-establish order against destabilizing forces in this crucial zone for the western alliance, the Lebanese war is aimed at elimin­ating these destabilizing forces and so make the Lebanon into a stronghold of the US bloc. This is a grave reminder that the threat of war is real.

These wars evidence the immensity of the mass­acre that decadent capitalism holds in store for humanity and thereby underline the danger for the working class if it lets itself be taken in by nationalist, jingoist campaigns. Already the proletariat in Britain is paying a price merely for its silence over the Falk­lands in a divisive and humiliating manipulation of its struggle by the bourgeoisie and the unions.

The class struggle in Poland in 1980 showed that the proletariat is not yet defeated, and that its reserves of combativity are enormous. The economic crisis is striking hard, pushing the proletariat towards revolution. It is in the face of this obstacle that the bourgeoisie has used the Falklands conflict to try to ‘distract' the proletariat from developing its own perspective and to hide the fact that the only way to put an end to war is to put an end to capitalism.

The causes of the Falklands conflict

The Falklands affair cost hundreds of dead and wounded from the beginning of hostilities on April 2nd, 1982. Set off by the invasion of Arg­entine troops, carried on at the slow pace of a naval blockade by the British, the war broke out in earnest under fire from the most sophisticated sea and air weapons of the NATO arsenal.

The whole history of the bourgeoisie and its wars is proof that humanist alibis are only lies. This conflict was no exception. The regime of torturers in Buenos Aries which pretended to be the defenders of anti-colonialism and of anti-American imperialism owes it entire existence to the political, economic and military aid of the US. The British bourgeoisie all of a sudden became the intransigent defender of democratic values -- a bourgeoisie whose entire history is marked by colonial massacres and imperialist war, a bourgeoisie whose specialty today is repression in Northern Ireland. All of this is just propaganda. But what then was the possible conflicting interests justifying such a war?

What economic interests?

Almost completely unheard of a few months ago, the Falklands were pushed on to the centre stage of world events: eighteen hundred inhabitants whose main source of revenue is 300,000 sheep and some fishing became prison­ers under a deluge of bombs. Such meager re­sources could hardly be at the root of such a showdown. Did the Falklands have some hidden secret? The press went on and on about the hidden resources of the sea: oil, planckton, minerals etc., to give a semblance of an explanation for the conflict. But with a world crisis of overproduction, who is going to invest in the South Atlantic with its horrible climate near the South Pole? The South Atlant­ic is not the North Sea, surrounded by highly industrialized countries where oil deposits can be exploited in what still remain very difficult conditions.

There are no major economic interests in the Falklands. Are these rocks lost in the middle of the ocean, swept by glacial winds, of some vital strategic military significance?

What strategic interests?

Up to now the Falklands were the furthest thing from the minds of military strategists. The old territorial claims of Argentina seemed to be just another aspect of Latin American folklore, and before the invasion, Britain's military presence was a symbolic one of a handful of soldiers. These islands are of no strategic value either for Argentina or for Britain.

Nor are they a strategic point for the Western Alliance as a whole, two of whose major allies was fighting each other. As for the rival bloc controlled by Russia, it is beyond their capacity to launch a military intervention in this part of the world. South America is the private reserve of the US. The Falklands are a thousand kilometers from the South American continent and thous­ands of kilometers from the nearest pro-Russian bases in Cuba or Angola. The much-vaunted Russian bases in the Antarctic, if they indeed exist, are reputed to be on the other side of the Pole. The most important Russian military presence in this region is the eye of its satellites.

Can the Russian danger come from Argentina itself? (No one can seriously imagine it coming from Britain, in any case). The main argument in support of this hypothesis revolves around Argentina's trade relations with the USSR, particularly the wheat deals with the Eastern bloc. After all, didn't Argentina oppose Carter's wheat embargo im­posed after the invasion of Afghanistan? This argument does not stand up to scrutiny: the US itself exports more wheat to Russia than Argentina. Giving credence to the "pro-Russian" danger in Argentina is to ignore the control that the US exercises over Argentina, whose government and military dance to the music of American advisors.[1] A conflict on the scale of the Falklands mobilization could not have been put into motion without the US being informed.

If there were no vital economic or military stakes that can justify such a massive troop engagement -- why then did this war take place? Why weren't the minor antagonisms between these two countries settled by diplomatic means as hundreds of others have before? Why all the dead?

By realizing what the Falklands conflict was not, we can see what it really was: a gigantic lie! Its purpose was two-fold: to test modern naval-air weapons and tactics and to feed an intense propaganda campaign aimed at inhibiting and deviating world working class consciousness, particularly by immobilizing the major battalions of the proletariat in the industrialized countries of Europe.

Deadly war games

In the Falklands, the US-controlled bloc took advantage of the opportunity to test its most sophisticated weapons in realistic con­ditions, far from any possibility of inter­ference from the USSR, in all "tranquility" in relation to the main rival, the Eastern bloc.

This war between two important and loyal allies of the US did not lead to weakening of the western bloc. On the contrary, it served as a testing ground to organize the bloc's naval air strategy and to orient the billion dollar investments necessary to mod­ernize its weapons arsenal.

In its time, the six-day war between Israel and Egypt revolutionized the strategy of death in modern tank battles. The hundreds of tanks destroyed in a few hours showed the import­ance of missiles and electronic equipment in modern land warfare. The Falklands conflict today clarified modern naval tactics in the same way.

In the middle of a storm, in frozen waters that kill within minutes, during nights that last 15 hours, the bourgeoisie maneuvered its troops and tested its most sophisticated weapons with all the scorn for human life that this implies. Atomic submarines, ultra­modern destroyers with pompous names, planes and missiles with names like toys, trans­atlantic "luxury" liners for troop carriers -- the bourgeoisie paraded the deadly perfection of its war machine just as in the past when the press of the Allies greeted the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as proof of "great scientific progress".

The French bourgeoisie betrayed the hypocrisy of the whole capitalist class when it couldn't resist applauding the effectiveness of the Mirage and Super-Etendard planes and the Exocet missiles used to kill the troops of its own ally, Britain.

A British captain revealed the real military concerns of the western bourgeoisie when he declared that the Exocet missile was able to sink the Sheffield only because the latter had no defense system against this weapon and that in any case the Russians had no equivalent of the Exocet. Behind the Falk­lands show, the western bourgeoisie was really preparing the rearmament of NATO's naval air forces against the USSR.

But this is not the only or even most essential point. The bourgeoisie had another even more important purpose in this conflict: creating a propaganda barrage to divert, disorient and control the proletariat.

The ideological campaign

The "spectacle" of the war between Argentina and Britain mobilized the media of the entire world. The Iran-Iraq war which has cost over 100,000 lives and is still going on, has never known such media "success". Such press campaigns on a world scale are not accidents, nor are they the result of humanist impulses or the simple desire to inform the public.

In the period of capitalist decadence, the bourgeoisie maintains its domination through terror and lies. Never before has mankind known such barbarism as in the 20th century: 100 million dead in wars, billions of victims of starvation and misery. Each day in its factories the bourgeoisie assassinates more workers in accidents due to disastrous work conditions than all the soldiers killed in 3 months of the Falklands, Each day the desperate living conditions imposed by capit­alism pushes thousands of new victims to suicide. This reality of the barbarism of the capitalist system tries to make people forget through its propaganda.

The ideological campaign on the Falklands was no exception to this rule, The way the Argentine bourgeoisie launched into this conflict to deflect growing social unrest and the way the British bourgeoisie reacted by developing a chauvinistic parade is almost a caricature of the ideological poison the bourgeoisie wants to disseminate: creating a wedge of nationalism to divide the world working class. Only the bourgeoisie comes out the winner in this syndrome; both national ‘unity'[2] and the false opposition between ‘pacifists' and ‘hawks' are traps whose whole point is to pre­vent the working class from even thinking of independent, autonomous action against the exploiters. The whole idea is to drag the workers in behind the bourgeoisie and its different factions.

Although the campaign was the most obvious in the two countries directly involved, Argentina and Britain, its full significance is its international dimension in the whole western bloc. The campaign was aimed at the proletar­iat of the entire bloc controlled by the US.

What does the bourgeoisie hope to gain from such ideological campaigns? First of all, to spread confusion among the workers. The crisis is pushing the bourgeoisie towards economic collapse. The capitalist class is increasingly obliged to attack the proletariat, to cut down its standard of living, to reduce it to conditions of misery. After the workers of the under-developed countries, now the workers of the advanced countries are being slowly reduced to pauperism.

In the 70's, against a limited attack of the bourgeoisie, the proletariat of the capitalist metropoles showed that it was not defeated, The crisis has swept away the last illusions. The strikes in Poland showed that the reserves of combativity are intact. In Europe, the historic centre of the proletariat, conditions are pushing the proletariat to a realization of the necessity and the possibility of a proletarian revolution. This awakening realization is what the bourgeoisie wants to stifle, weaken, and deviate through incessant campaigns. In the last two years we have seen media circuses on the hostages in Iran, on the invasion of Afghanistan, on Poland, on El Salvador, on pacifism, etc.[3]. The campaign on the Falklands is the direct continuation of this attack and only in this context is its full significance clear.

The bourgeoisie's propaganda serves one main purpose: to make the proletariat forget the terrain of the class struggle. With the local war of the Falklands, after Afghanistan, Iran, E1 Salvador, the bourgeoisie keeps the work­ers minds occupied with propaganda and tries to make them forget the essentials. It tries to get the workers used to the idea of war, to condition them to war ideology and thus disorient them completely. The bourgeoisie tries to hypnotize the workers with propaganda like a snake paralyzes its prey before the kill.

The necessary corollary of these campaigns is, of course, pacifism. Locking the proletariat into the false alternative "peace or war" has only one aim: to make the workers accept capitalist "peace", that is, misery. Capital­ist "peace" is an illusion, a preparation for further imperialist war in a system which for decades has lived only for and by war.

Before the casualties, the folklore of the Falklands operation prevented a full develop­ment of the campaign in all its glory. The bourgeoisie killed just enough people (sever­al hundred soldiers) to give credibility to the danger of war. Frighten the proletariat to make it forget the revolutionary perspect­ive on the horizon. Make the workers bury their heads in the sand of nationalism.

The bourgeoisie did the same thing with the anti-terrorist campaigns: create a feeling of insecurity and panic, feed it with bomb­ings, statistics, sensationalistic articles on hoodlums to justify the strengthening of the police machine, to divide the proletariat and accentuate atomization in the name of law and order.

The impact of the Falklands campaign cannot be measured by whether or not the proletariat in Argentina or Britain was really mobilized behind the flag (a very unlikely, or, in any case, short-lived phenomenon) but by the extent to which the fear of world war and isolationist reflexes were instilled. Behind these reflexes is the poison of nationalism.[4]

The campaign around the war in the Falklands was in continuity with the campaigns that preceded it in the attempt to use the fear of war as a way of paralyzing the proletariat by making it believe that any social conflict accelerates the tendency to war. This tactic was used during the Polish strikes when the bourgeoisie tried to make the workers believe that their struggles in Poland increased inter-imperialist tensions. In fact, just the opposite is true -- the mass strike in Poland in 1980 acted as a brake on the world bourge­oisies tendencies towards war. The military apparatus of the Warsaw Pact was paralyzed along with the Polish economy. The western bourgeoisies, frightened of the possible spread of unrest in Europe, were also obliged to put their military rivalry with the Eastern bloc into the background.

Nationalism is a vital weapon to weaken and isolate the workers in every country. Through pacifism, neutralism, war-mongering, anti-Americanism, anti-totalitarianism and all, the bourgeoisie is attempting to recreate a nati­onalistic and isolationist syndrome. With the Falklands campaign, the bourgeoisie's strat­egy is obvious -- divide the workers so as to deal with them piecemeal.

This manipulated conflict allowed the bour­geoisie to play off one part of the world working class against another through the "divisions" between the two camps:

The launching of a violent anti-American cam­paign in Latin America (after the El Salvador barrage) was aimed at exacerbating the anti gringo, anti-American sentiment still strong in Latin America, tried to get the workers of South America against the workers of North America. In the same way, Argentina's "anti colonial" propaganda against the alliance of advanced countries, Europe and the USA, attempted to turn the proletariat of the under-developed countries against the proletariat of the advanced countries. In Europe, the workers were called upon to supp­ort the war effort in the name of "western values", of "democracy", against militarism and dictatorship, the same theme used against the Russian bloc.

In the present period, the massive inter­national propaganda campaign of the bourge­oisie, whatever their specific pretexts, are aimed at accentuating the divisions with­in the world proletariat, isolating one part of the working class from the others. Divide and conquer is still the tried and true formula for the exploiters.

The victory that the bourgeoisie of all coun­tries hoped to gain from the Falklands war was not the victory of the battlefield but the victory of propaganda and lies. Its real goal was not the control over a pile of rocks in the South Atlantic but the control over the working class.

War or revolution

Contrary to what the ruling class tries to make people believe, the Falklands conflict was not a precursor to World War 3. It marks the continuation of the bourgeoisie's economic, ideological and military attack against the working class. The proletariat is the enemy they are all afraid of.

All the capitalists' palliatives have proven powerless against the crisis. The major ind­ustrial heartlands are sinking and the worst is yet to come. The steady decline of the centers of the world economic system is creating the conditions for a social outburst in the heart of the world proletariat, in Europe, where capitalism launched out to conquer the world, where two world wars were fought, where at the beginning of this century the question of revolution was concretely raised.

Poland was a warning for the world bourgeoisie. An accelerated decline in the living standards of the working class will push it to a qualit­atively new level of struggle and conscious­ness on a world scale. The "divide and rule" ideological campaigns of the bourgeoisie are trying to hold back this process leading to the communist revolution.

The road to world war is for the time being barred by the dynamic of class struggle. The perspective of revolutionary confrontation is open and the bourgeoisie has not been able to actively mobilize the world proletariat to drag it into world war. Paradoxically, the very nature of the Falklands conflict shows that world war is not right now on the cards.

The bourgeoisie's number one problem today is the danger of a confrontation with the working class. The press and the theoreticians of the bourgeoisie themselves express this more and more clearly today:

"But the ‘hawks' and ‘doves' are starting to ask themselves: is a military effort in peacetime the best way to resolve the economic crisis? How far can austerity be taken before an internal balance is endangered?" (Le Monde Diplomatique, April 1982)

"The problem of European defense is serious but it is above all political and economic. The risk in Europe is not from an improbable invasion by the USSR but from a moral, economic collapse which could serve the USSR's interests." (Quote from the Assistant Director of the Political Science Institute in Washington, idem)

The extent of the media hype is a reflection of the extent of the bourgeoisie's fear.

But even though world war is not imminent, the danger of war is always present. Capit­alism cannot live without war; to a certain extent, the Falklands also proves this once again. If the working class does not want to be drawn into capitalist war, it will have to destroy capitalism. The weapons-testing experiment in the South Atlantic is only a prelude to what the bourgeoisie has in store. If the workers do not react, the bourgeoisie will inevitably be pushed by the contradict­ions of its system into bigger and bloodier battles.

To put an end to war, we have to put an end to capitalism. The two are inextricably bound together. That is what the bourgeoisie tries to make us forget. More than ever before, in our time, the alternative is either the division of the proletariat and world war, or the unity of the working class and revolution.


[1] This conflict was fought between Argentina and Britain, two countries which culturally (150,000 Argentines of British origin), economically (the city of London has enormous investments in Argentina) and militarily (Britain supplied a large part of arms which killed its own soldiers) are very closely linked. Japan is helping Argentina to deal with its war expenditures by agreeing to postpone the repayment of Argentina's debts. All these elements seriously undermine the idea of deep antagonisms in this war.

[2] In Argentina the torturers are supported by their former victims in opposition. Nationalism wipes out everything. The bourgeoisie's fondest dreams are realized: a world where victims accept their executioners and the exploited respect their exploiters!

[3] On Poland, see International Reviews, nos 27, 28 and 29. On El Salvador, no. 25 and on Iran, no 20 and 22.

[4] The bourgeoisie adores opinion polls, instruments of intoxication on the theme of "public opinion" which also serves as test for the impact of its ideological campaigns. Gallup din an international poll on "The defense of your country". In France, in an IFRES-Wickert poll 47% of the participants believed that the Falklands war could lead to world war, while 87% of West Germans felt that the risk of world war was heightened because of this conflict. Due to this fear, the age-old nationalist reflex returns by way of the healthy but illusory and recuperated desire to remain outside of the conflict: 61% of people in France were against supporting Britain if this would imply a military engagement; 75% of West Germans demanded strict neutrality. In part this statistics show the failure to gain the population's agreement to war.