... And Argentine nationalism?
Argentina suffered British and French intervention some 140 years ago. Modern Argentina, however, has essentially taken shape over the last 100 years. Argentina had no war of liberation. Its population is, to within one per cent, of European immigrant origin — most from immigration within the last 100 years. Its mass popular nationalism dates from the 1920s. This nationalism was, especially in its labour movement manifestations, shaped and consolidated by Peronism.
Peronism was not and is not fascism. But corporatism and fascism are its essential ideological sources.
Peron had been in diplomatic service in Italy at the end of the 1930s, and consciously copied fascism. Peronist nationalism is narrowly Argentine — directed against Chile and Brazil, for example. It has been anti-semitic: the murder gangs sponsored by the last Peronist government (1973-6) daubed walls with the slogan, “Kill a Jew a day”. (There are about half a million Jews in Argentina.)
The “anti-imperialist” rhetoric of Peronism was a variant of the envious jingoism common to all fascist or fascist-coloured movements. It was hostile to the USA and Britain... and Brazil. In 1973 Peron called for a Spanish-speaking alliance against the English-speaking and Portuguese-speaking Americans.
The anti-imperialism of the Peronists is like the anti-bourgeois sentiment of the fascists — imprecise, lacking scientific content, lacking definite, rational goals or means of struggle. It was and is harnessed by the bourgeoisie. To be progressive, the anti-imperialist sentiment needs to be refined and organised into an independent working-class movement with rational goals which will really strike at imperialism.
The pro-Argentine comrades’ position amounts logically to this: we must follow any predatory junta in a (relatively) backward country when it clashes with an imperialist power — for the sake of the symbolism of the clash! But no, comrades! We need an independent working-class point of view.
Communist anti-imperialism gives us that. It is not derived from a spurious two-camp pattern imposed on the world. It is derived from a unified working class viewpoint.
Everywhere that the working class exists, revolutionary Marxists identify it as the protagonist. Where national oppression exists, we still look to the working class as the protagonist.
From that point of view we approach a situation like 1937 in China where a Chiang Kai-shek may be beginning to fight “our war”. We never abandon our own politics, which include the drive to replace the Chiang Kai Sheks — even during a life-and-death war like the Sino-Japanese.
In contrast, the pro-Argentine view would turn us into passive consumers of world politics. We must pick and choose within the options. We dare not refuse our support to one side, even in a miserable business like the invasion of the Falklands. We strap the distorting spectacles tightly on our eyes, and we see the world around us not in terms of facts, class rule, class interests and real interactions — instead just imperialist and non-imperialist nations.
Obviously the hierarchy of the capitalist world economy is not irrelevant. But it cannot transform oppression into liberation, predatory pro-imperialist juntas into anti-imperialist fighters, the concrete realities of the Junta’s petty land-grab into episodes of a supposed world liberation drama.
The two-camp spectacles are altogether too crude, too thick with layers of petty bourgeois politics, with the layers of previous accommodation by the post-war Trotskyist movement to various national liberation and Stalinist movements. In the notion of treating Argentina as meaningfully anti-imperialist — and necessarily so, despite the issue it clashed with imperialism on! — a whole trend in post-war Trotskyism reached the outer limits of a recurrent swing away from class politics.
A necessary war?
“In a war between two imperialist countries, it is a question neither of democracy nor of national independence, but of the oppression of backward non-imperialist peoples. In such a war the two countries find themselves on the same historic plane. The revolutionaries in both armies are defeatists. But Japan and China are not on the same historic plane.”
Note well: Trotsky uses not abstract categories and labels, or static comparisons, but dynamic interactions as his criteria. It is possible for countries to be on the same historic plane (in relation to a concrete conflict or issue) without being identical. The idea that there is an absolute and stable division between imperialist and non-imperialist capitalisms is unhistorical and undialectical.
Trotsky did not get drunk on words and phrases, mistake images for concrete reality, or chase will-of-the-wisp “symbols” into the misty realm of fantasy politics where a Galtieri is designated the banner-bearer of anti-imperialism without reference to concrete analysis.
Trotsky continues: “The victory of Japan will signify the enslavement of China, the end of her economic and social development, and the terrible strengthening of Japanese imperialism. The victory of China will signify, on the contrary, the social revolution in Japan and the free development, that is to say, unhindered by external oppression, of the class struggle in China.”
This “terrible strengthening of Japan” would not be a matter of prestige, “authority”, or the figure it cut in the world. It would be strengthened by the plunder of China and the exploitation of hundreds of millions of Chinese — which was why Japanese victory would be the end of Chinese economic and social development.
What goal does Trotsky spell out for the Chinese war of liberation? “Free development... unhindered by external oppression.” And he speaks particularly of free development of the class struggle.
Concrete, precise, definable — not something derived from a different type of situation and imposed as a pattern on the Chinese events. The programme and attitude of the Marxists were grounded in the concrete situation, the real choices, and the consequent necessary development of the workers’ struggle in China. Chiang Kai Shek was to be “supported” with gritted teeth because the war was necessary and at that point he headed it. This did not mean political support to Chiang Kai-shek — on the contrary.
In Argentina? Few comrades would venture the view that the Falklands war was necessary. They would say only that defeat of Britain by the Argentine junta’s army (not by the British working class) was necessary for its symbolic importance to anti-imperialism. The war was not necessary — but we should have supported Galtieri in the war because of the symbolic significance of it, once the junta had set it going. And that despite the fact that no-one on the left would have campaigned for the starting of the war (the invasion), and many condemn it!
Wherever the pro-Argentine stance comes from, it is not from Trotsky’s and other communists’ attitude during the wars of the Chinese and others against colonial imperialism. That’s for sure!
What does defencism mean?
Trotsky’s attitude was: “But can Chiang Kai-shek assure the victory? I do not believe so. It is he, however, who began the war and who today directs it. To be able to replace him it is necessary to gain decisive influence among the proletariat and in the army, and to do that it is necessary not to remain suspended in the air but to place oneself in the midst of the struggle. We must win influence and prestige in the military struggle against the foreign invasion and in the political struggle against the weaknesses, the deficiencies, and the internal betrayal. At a certain point, which we cannot fix in advance, this political opposition can and must be transformed into armed conflict, since the civil war, like war generally, is nothing more than the continuation of the political struggle..”
If Trotsky’s arguments for supporting China were relevant to Argentina, then so also should have been this approach. Pro-Argentine comrades should have focused their criticism of Galtieri on his weakness and insufficient ruthlessness in fighting for the islands.
The Peronists of course did that, so apparently, did the PST (Socialist Workers’ Party, Morenist). But most pro-Argentine comrades shy away from this conclusion. Is it because they are half-aware of the falseness of treating Galtieri’s war as a national liberation struggle?
Defencism and political independence
Further: for Trotsky defencism did not exclude working for civil war in nationalist China. On the contrary, the fight for national liberation demanded it — and anyway working class politics did.
Yet the WSL minority write:
“Defeatism means the defeat of your own ruling class by the working class. It means ‘the main enemy is at home’. It means ‘British workers and soldiers turn your guns on your own officers and ruling class’, because our own ruling class is an imperialist ruling class. That is a basic Marxist position that we hold in all wars at any time which are being waged by our own ruling crass. The question is what position do we hold for the other side in the war, in this case Argentina? If we hold a revolutionary defeatist position for the Argentine working class, then we are saying, ‘Both working classes defeat your own ruling class; the outcome of the war is irrelevant; a victory for one side would not be more progressive than the other’.”
That’s exactly what we are saying.
But you don’t have to be a defeatist to say “Both working classes defeat your own ruling class”. That is what Trotsky said in 1937 — even while standing with Chiang Kai-shek against Japan. Not to say it is to abandon the ground of working class politics (“for the duration”).
Pursuing the class struggle...
In China in 1937 it was a real struggle for liberation against imperialism. Chinese “patriotism” flowed from our politics. We could therefore have an independent view on the matter from that of the Chinese nationalists.
We provisionally and conditionally arrived at the proposal of a national liberation bloc with them on the basis of our independent politics, which were never abandoned or shelved, never in any circumstances and not to the slightest degree.
On the Falklands, the pro-Argentine comrades have passively adopted someone else’s viewpoint. They have proceeded not by analysing the concrete issues, but by fitting the war into a super-abstract image of the world as two camps, imperialist and non-imperialist capitalist states being separated by an unbridgeable chasm.
To fight in a war of liberation like the Chinese is not to abandon our politics — on the contrary, it is the only way we can maintain our class viewpoint as a living political force. By participating we serve, promote and develop our politics. We serve our politics by following where the logic of the class struggle and the real struggle against oppression and exploitation directs us.
“We were the first to propose [a military bloc of the CP with the KMT]. We demanded, however, that the CP maintain its entire political and organisational independence, that is, that during the civil war against the internal agents of imperialism [In the mid 20s, Chiang Kai-shek led one side against the regional warlords of Northern China], as in the national war against foreign imperialism, the working class, while remaining in the front lines of the military struggle, prepare the political overthrow of the bourgeoisie. We hold the same policies in the present [anti-Japanese] war. We have not changed our attitude one iota, The Oehlerites and the Eiffelites, on the other hand, have not understood a single bit of our policies, neither those of 1925-7, nor those of today.”
Likewise in 1982 the inverted Oehlerites and Eiffelites of the right fail to understand. In China there was an anti-imperialist war — defined as such by an independent Trotskyist assessment of the issues.
Either there is or there isn’t a real issue of national liberation. If there is, then we have our own criteria, and a vast range of political independence in relation to a Chiang Kai-shek (or a Galtieri). If there is not, and if we side with Galtieri for the symbolic anti-imperialist significance of his war, then for all the concrete issues we have to accept (for the time being) someone else’s viewpoint.
If we go begging to the table of the Argentine junta for symbols, then we must take what we get — take things as they define them, rally to the issues they raise (which ‘in themselves’ we may not even accept). We have to dance to their tune, on their terrain.
For the Trotskyists in China, the starting point was: this is our war. They started from the issues. In contrast, a position on the Falklands war which starts from a vague, symbolic “anti-imperialist” identification with Argentina can only proceed by shelving independent judgement on the issue of Argentina’s claim to the islands and adopting someone else’s judgment instead.
This is the method pursued by Trotsky’s epigones for 30 and more years. It is not Marxism. It is not building in the class struggle.
It is instead an utterly artificial approach: the un-concrete, un-Marxist construction of a scenario, a world-picture, in which comrades ascribe an anti-imperialist role (that it isn’t playing) to the pro-imperialist and sub-imperialist ruling class of the comparatively developed capitalist state of Argentina.
Facing reality...or reading off scenarios
The scenario approach comes from a vision of two great camps, imperialist and non-imperialist. We have argued that this is a falsely static and undialectical view of capitalism. It seems to me that the comrades are borrowing a pattern from the view of the world as divided between the Stalinist states and capitalism.
Now between the USSR and imperialism there is a difference of class character. For imperialism and “non-imperialism”, both “camps” are capitalist.
The vision is therefore false. But the method of taking sides on issues automatically with the “progressive” camp is radically false even for the USSR.
A model of how to judge from an independent proletarian standpoint even those states (China in the ’30s, the USSR) that we may have good and imperative reason to support, is given in a discussion by Trotsky with Li Fu-Jen [in fact the American Frank Glass].
“Trotsky: ... The slogan ‘for revolutionary unity with the Soviet Union, with the proletarians of the whole world’ should rather be, ‘Unity with the proletariat of the whole world. and for an alliance with the Soviet Union on the basis of a concrete programme in the interests of the liberation of China.’ The Soviet Union is now the bureaucracy — no blind confidence in the Soviet Union!
Li Fu-jen: If the Nanking [Chiang Kai Shek] government should enter into an alliance with the Soviet Union, and the alliance should be of such a nature as to harm China and benefit only the Soviet Union, what should our attitude be towards it?
Trotsky: A military alliance against Japan would be in any case preferable for China, even with the bureaucracy as it is. But then we must say that we demand that the Soviet Union deliver munitions, arms for the workers and peasants; special committees must be created in Shanghai, in workers’ centres; the treaty must be elaborated with the participation not only with the KMT but also with the worker and peasant organisations.
We ask for an open proclamation from the Soviet bureaucracy that at the end of the war no part of China would be occupied without the consent of the Chinese people, etc.
Li Fu-jen: Do you then think that the Soviet Union could be capable of conducting an imperialistic policy?
Trotsky: If it is capable of organising frame-ups, killing the revolutionaries, it is capable of all possible crimes.”
(Trotsky on China, p.562-3, emphasis added).
Remarkable dialogue! Carefully, precisely and with the brutal honesty we need in order to be revolutionaries able to grasp and change reality, Trotsky sizes up the allies he is supporting (and he supported the USSR against imperialism unconditionally).
Would Trotsky be capable of forgetting about the concrete issues like the Falklands, or of consoling himself with the idea that Argentina was non-imperialist and therefore the junta could not possibly conduct an “imperialistic” policy?
No, he would not. He did not accept the Chiang Kai-shek clique or the Stalin bureaucracy for their symbolic value. He had concrete class reasons for allying with them. Those set the limits of the alliance. There was no ideological or political subordination. He never ceased to look at them in all their details with the eyes of a mortally hostile opponent. He never let the dark shadows of their imperialist opponents obscure the hideous anti working class features of Chiang Kai Shek or Stalin.
The truth — no matter how bitter
Trotsky could never have fallen into the method which allowed comrades to reach pro-Argentine conclusions on the Falklands.
This method was to take the elements in the situation (war, working class chauvinism in Argentina expressed in Peronist “anti-imperialist” terms, etc.) and rearrange them into a superoptimistic scenario culminating in revolutionary working class victory.
The chauvinist mobilisation on the political coat-tails of the bourgeoisie became transformed — in some people’s heads — into a mobilisation against the system.
Everything “favourable” to the scenario was highlighted, the rest faded out. The most blatant example was when the USFI press reprinted a speech by the junta’s foreign minister, Costa Mendez, as anti-imperialist good coin. More widely, much was made of a jingo Argentine demonstration where the slogan was chanted, “Malvinas Yes, Galtieri No”. Faded out was the other part of the same chant — according to the Economist — “The Malvinas are Argentina’s, the people are Peron’s”. And Peron’s legacy was what Galtieri was trying to appropriate: he was attempting to answer the call of the Peronist leaders for a new caudillo.
The scenario was constructed; then, in deference to the great revolutionary prospects, assessment of the war was read backwards from the scenario. The sordid details of Galtieri’s sally were transmuted by the assurance that it was only the first stage of a process due to culminate in the most militant anti-imperialist struggle.
This has been the method of “Pabloism” (a bad term, but a common one) for 30 years. It is not Marxism. It is even below the level of the serious bourgeois commentators. It breaks with what Trotsky defined as a cardinal rule of the Fourth International: “To face reality squarely... to call things by their right names, to speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter it may be.”
In the final analysis, “scenario” politics is fantasy politics, and fantasy politics is passive politics. Instead of using Marxist realism as a preparation for a revolutionary changing of the world, it means “changing the world” in our heads by way of wishful thinking.
The logic of the class struggle
It means failing to follow the cardinal injunction of Marxism, expressed by Trotsky in the Transitional Programme thus: “To be guided by the logic of the class struggle.”
The “logic of the class struggle” includes for us the logic of genuine liberation movements. These can be complementary to, and not counterposed to, the class struggle of the working class internationally and in the oppressed country. But if there is no issue of liberation struggle actually involved in the war, then it becomes possible to take sides only outside of the logic of the class struggle.
In the letter to Rivera Trotsky describes the sectarians as following closely behind and “correcting” him, adding a moustache where he draws a woman’s face and an egg where he draws a cock and so on. He did not foresee that 45 years later most of those calling themselves Trotskyists would use the art of collage to cut out the picture he drew of China in 1937 and to paste it over the figure of Argentina in 1982 — an Argentina that has more in common with the Japan of 1937 than with the China of that time.