This article was originally published in World Revolution 50, in June 1982. We are reprinting it in anticipation of a flood of articles and TV documentaries commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Falklands war. The article argues that the war was not, like many other wars of that period, a proxy conflict between the American and Russian imperialist blocs, nor was it fought over any serious economic or strategic conflict of interests between Britain and Argentina. It was above all a war aimed at the working class. This was more evident in Argentina, where nationalist hysteria over the ‘Malvinas’ was stirred up to drown out mounting working class resistance to the military junta. But the same applied to the bourgeoisie in Britain, who used the war to boost the standing of its chosen government and to test out the weapons of war, both military and ideological. The article thus argues that the war was a clear example of the cynical Machiavellianism of the ruling class. Subsequent events, though taking place in an altered inter-imperialist landscape, have confirmed this basic appreciation. The propaganda techniques tested out during the Falklands were used again and again in subsequent wars involving the major world powers – the Gulf war of 91, the Balkans war, the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. And these wars fully confirmed the bourgeoisie’s capacity for intrigue and conspiracy – whether in suckering Saddam Hussein into the invasion of Kuwait in 91 or, ten years later, in allowing al Qaida to proceed with the 9/11 attacks in order to provide the perfect pretext for launching the ‘war on terror’.
The cynical bloodletting taking place in the South Atlantic is not to be understood as an inter-imperialist conflict between the US and Russian blocs, nor as the last-ditch effort by old-fashioned British colonialism to uphold national honour. First and foremost, we say that the ‘war’ over the Falkland Islands must be seen as part of a war being waged by the world bourgeoisie against the working class. Coming in the wake of the 13th December repression in Poland, the Falklands affair is part of a worldwide strategy by the bourgeoisie, aimed at demoralising the proletariat and breaking its will to resist the effects of the crisis.
There are those in the revolutionary milieu who see the ICC’s interpretation of these events as a sort of ‘conspiracy theory’, as a ‘Machiavellianism’ gone mad. But the ICC is entirely in its right mind when it explains how the bourgeoisie in this period is capable of working together against the working class: the basis for this resides in the objective conditions of capitalism in its decadent phase, and in the depth of the economic crisis, which makes the question of the class struggle the most crucial and constant concern of the whole bourgeoisie. Those who remain blind to the implications of these basic realities, and to the fact that the bourgeoisie is capable of ‘conspiring’ against the workers; is able to manipulate events, are in danger of seriously underestimating the strength of the class enemy.
The two key features of decadent capitalism which provide the basis for the bourgeoisie’s ‘Machiavellianism’ are:
1. State capitalism, which expresses the tendency of the state everywhere to control all the activities of society and become the main agent of capital, in order to prop up the decaying system and avert its destruction. Today, power is concentrated in the executive apparatus of the state to a far greater degree than in the last century, when private capital was still a major force in the economy.
2. The division of the world into two major economic and military blocs, and the subordination of lesser imperialist powers to the interests of the leading powers, America and Russia, through the organisational structures of world imperialism: NATO, Warsaw Pact, Comecon, the IKF, EEC etc, which provide a framework for the bloc-wide co-ordination of the bourgeoisie’s activities.
Confronted by the threat of the class struggle uniting across national frontiers, the bourgeoisie has been led to unite its own struggle, even across the blocs. We need only look at the way in which the rival imperialists submerged their own deadly rivalries to work together to isolate and stifle the dangerous mass strikes in Poland in 1980-81, paving the way for the 13th December repression, to realise how far the bourgeoisie will go when its system is threatened.
How the bourgeoisie uses the Falklands crisis
A brief examination of the Falklands events shows that this is another example of a bourgeois ‘united front’ against the working class. But this is almost exclusively confined to one imperialist bloc: the two protagonists are both allies in the American bloc. There is no serious danger of Russian destabilising influence in the region. In fact, it would have been hard to find a ‘safer’ part of the world, or a more useless piece of ground for a bloodbath than the Falkland Islands.
Obviously, given the choice, the US would rather not have its friends and allies beating up each other’s military hardware, but it is worth it if in return the Argentine military junta can swamp strikes and unrest in a wave of nationalism; and especially if workers in Europe can be taught an essential lesson for the future: “don’t bother to struggle and be prepared to make sacrifices for the joys of democracy”. This, if successful, would do more in the long term for the bourgeoisie’s war preparations than a hundred Cruise missiles, and represents a key axis of the bourgeoisie’s concerted efforts to demoralise and divert the main battalions of the working class in Western Europe.
With these basic aims of the bourgeoisie in mind, it is obvious that US Secretary of State Haig’s shuttle diplomacy and the interminable attempts at a ‘negotiated settlement’ were merely a calculated countdown to the limited military engagement which would serve to get the message across. If the interests of the US were seriously threatened by this ‘war’, it possesses enough economic, and if necessary, military strength to stop it, using NATO, the IMF and all the bloc structures set up to maintain its hegemony; and the close involvement of the US in the military of the South American States would have given it ample forewarning of Argentina’s invasion of the Malvinas, which was allowed to go ahead.
Since Britain is one of the most loyal and well-trained of America’s clients, the response of Thatcher’s government is also worth examining. Although the Argentine invasion was finally prompted by the need to divert a wave of class struggle, since coming to power Galtieri has made no secret of his intention to reclaim the Malvinas, by force if necessary. In addition to these open hints, and its own intelligence reports on Argentine intentions, the British government would have had access to all the paraphernalia of US surveillance, including spy satellites which have the potential (as revealed in recent TV programmes) not only to plot every move of Argentine ships in the South Atlantic, but also to pick up every order radioed out of the Defence Ministry in Buenos Aires!
Such foreknowledge, even accepting the fallibility of capitalist high technology, broadly points to deliberate inaction by the British government, which in fact was very close to reaching a permanent settlement on the future of the Islands with the junta before the invasion (which is why Carrington and the Foreign Office ministers involved had to go). From some of Carrington’s comments after his resignation, it appears that these officials had been hinting that in view of the imminent settlement, if Argentina did invade, then it would hardly be worth Britain responding.
Some of the more intelligent bourgeois commentators (like Peter Jenkins of the Guardian) have argued that the Falklands are not worth fighting over since Britain will have to negotiate them away eventually. There is indeed no economic sense in the war over the Falklands, but that is not the point: the British government, with tacit American approval, deliberately allowed the Argentine invasion to take place in order to make a point to the working class at home. The initial ‘loss’ of the Islands was necessary to create the central myth of ‘Argentine aggression’, to mobilise maximum support in the population for the task force and military action. Such a ploy would be nothing new: according to Professor John Erikson of Edinburgh University, the British and American governments had at least eight months warning of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, but cynically kept quiet in order to maximise the anti-Russian propaganda value of a ‘sneak’ attack and it is now an accepted opinion among bourgeois historians that the US knew perfectly well of the intended Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, but allowed it to happen as the most rapid and effective way of mobilising the population for war.
This ‘war’ fought for ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’ and ‘national sovereignty’ is so artificial that British banks are still allowing Argentina an overdraft and short term loans; although they are worried about its credit rating, in the interests of the stability of the western bloc they are prepared to avoid a default at all costs (Guardian, 1st May ‘82). Meanwhile, top US bankers are even now preparing to visit Argentina - as soon as the hostilities are out of the way - to discuss the rescheduling of its massive $32 billion debts (Guardian 7th May ‘82). Effectively, the present ‘war’ is being financed by the western bloc, and Britain is helping to pay for a war against itself, in order to mount a campaign against the working class at home. This further highlights the fact that the ‘war’ in the South Atlantic is a vast spectacle, orchestrated by world imperialism, and directed against the international proletariat.
The importance of understanding how the bourgeoisie ‘conspires’ against the proletariat is obvious: if the working class confronts an enemy that is already organised on a world scale, then it can only fight this enemy by organising itself on a world scale. To defeat the global strategies of capital, the proletariat needs its own global strategy - the strategy of the international mass strike and the worldwide insurrection.
Mark Hayes, May 1982.
 When Russian tanks were sent in against the Polish working class after the mass strike of 1980 had begun to weaken. See https://en.internationalism.org/ir/103_poland80.htm for an analysis of the events.