Malvinas War: a challenge to imperialism

Argentina soldiers place a mortar during the Malvinas War between Argentina and Britain, which lasted from April 2 to June 14, 1982.

This week the people of Argentina are commemorating the 40th anniversary of the April 2, 1982, war to take back the Malvinas archipelago from imperialist Britain. In the English-speaking world, the imperialist media usually calls this Britain’s “Falklands War.”

Six hundred forty-nine Argentine soldiers lost their lives and ultimately the British military held onto their colonialist-era possession of the islands. Yet the military campaign — being a fight against imperialism – is a great point of pride for the people of Argentina. 

Argentina’s military sank the HMS Sheffield and damaged other British warships with Exocet missiles that were sold to them by imperialist France. Anti-imperialist demonstrators filled the streets of Buenos Aires, calling for victory over Britain. 

The fact that Argentina was ruled by a repressive, right-wing military junta didn’t hinder the masses’ support for anti-imperialist action at all.

In fact, the momentum of the anti-imperialist struggle fueled a desire for justice that burned in the hearts of Argentine people. The war to take back the Malvinas ignited a resurgent people’s movement that ended the junta’s rule over Argentina within months.

Possession of the Malvinas had been contested between Spain, France and Britain in the 18th century. The islands could serve as a naval asset – valuable in the colonial mission of dominating South America. 

After winning independence from Spain, the flag of Argentina was hoisted on the Malvinas in 1820, but Britain invaded and stole the archipelago in 1833 and held it for nearly 150 years.

By April 1982, negotiations for possession of the islands had yielded nothing. The junta’s long hold on Argentina’s government was shaky. Runaway inflation and working-class anger against bloody repression led them to launch an invasion to take back the Malvinas as a distraction.

The fact that the war was launched by the Argentine side, and that it was launched by a right-wing government, confused much of the U.S. anti-war movement. The limitations of pacifism prevented them from looking at the world situation in the context of the imperialist epoch. Moreover, the hated Reagan administration initially sided with the Argentine junta and that muddied the waters even more.

Imperialist secret diplomacy

In a 1990 article written during the leadup to the U.S. attack on Iraq, Marxist-Leninist leader Sam Marcy used the example of the Malvinas War to try to strengthen the movement’s understanding of imperialism. He described a moment in the early days of the war when the fog lifted and the relationship between imperialist countries and against all challengers to imperialism was illuminated.

Marcy wrote: “When the Argentine military decided to take the plunge and retake the islands, this greatly upset the reactionary Thatcher regime in Britain, which decided to militarily challenge the Argentine takeover.

“This in turn upset General Alexander Haig, who at that time was secretary of state under the Reagan administration. They had such a chummy relationship with the Argentine fascist military that they forgot the secret agreement the U.S. had with Britain over the Malvinas.

“When Haig was called to London, Thatcher virtually read the riot act to him. She recalled to him the specific secret agreement: that when the British needed military support in the North or South Atlantic, and especially those islands, the U.S. was obligated to give not only the necessary intelligence, but also air reconnaissance, satellite photos and other material assistance as needed.

“Haig’s efforts to persuade Thatcher not to challenge the Argentine military were thwarted when she threatened to break up the agreement altogether, unless Washington supported Britain and lived up to the secret agreement. The Reagan administration, seeing the better part of wisdom, lined up quickly with the Thatcher government against the Argentine military in order to save the alliance, which was far more important to them.”

The imperialist powers side with each other to this day to defend their respective “spheres of influence.” The fact that they each fight for their own interests at times doesn’t shake their alliance. 

The U.S., the European imperialist powers and Japan have the world divided up amongst them. The clear example of how they guard their world dominance is that capitalist Russia, over more than three decades, has been unable to reach a stage in its economic development when it exports capital – a feature of the imperialist state of capitalism. 

The already-existing imperialist countries are united in hemming in Russia and trying to hinder the development of socialist China. At this stage in history, even capitalist countries have to either be an appendage or a proxy of imperialism or they will be starved and punished.

Today, U.S.-led NATO is the most prominent expression of this circumstance. The confusion over Russia’s operation in Ukraine, and of Russia’s defense of the people of the Donbass region, is similar to the U.S. movement’s reaction to Argentina’s war against imperialist Britain. 

The political character of the military junta didn’t matter to the people of Argentina. They cheered the war as a rebellion against imperialism and dealt a death blow to the junta afterward. 

Russia is not led by a fascist military, but in any case, Putin’s character, or the nature of the Russian state, are not the question today. NATO’s expansion strengthens imperialism – U.S. imperialism in particular — and the abolition of NATO should be the rallying cry of the U.S. anti-war movement.

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