We remarked above that centrism is not capable of taking a consistent internationalist position because it reflects in one form or another a petty-bourgeois class viewpoint, in particular the pressure of the labor bureaucracy and the labor aristocracy which again adapts to the capitalist class and its state. We demonstrated in previous chapters how this leads various centrists to open rejection or gross distortions of key aspects of the Marxist theory of imperialism – like on the questions of semi-colonial countries, super-exploitation, “sub-imperialism”, labor aristocracy, etc.
Naturally adaption to the petty-bourgeois reformism expresses itself not only in the theoretical and analytical sphere. It has inevitable important consequences for the practical position of centrism in the international class struggle, for the tactics which these organizations advocate. And indeed, as we will show, this happens to be the case.
What nearly all centrists in the imperialist countries have in common is a platonic “Anti-Imperialism”. This means a social-pacifist or even social-imperialist capitulation to the pressure of their imperialist bourgeoisie transmitted via the labour bureaucracy and the left-liberal intelligentsia – covered by a formal opposition to imperialism and wars in words. They adapt to the imperialist pressure of their own bourgeoisie by failing to call and work for the defeat of their own ruling class, by failing to call and work for the victory of the oppressed people in the semi-colonial world against their own imperialism. We will see this if we look at a number of imperialist wars against oppressed people in the last three decades. 1
i) The Malvinas War in 1982
In the spring of 1982 Argentina – ruled by a reactionary military dictatorship at that time – took back the Malvinas Islands which are in front of its coast but occupied by British imperialism. The right-wing Tory government of Margret Thatcher sent the British Navy and troops and – after a 74-day war with more than 900 dead – they re-occupied the islands. Militant – the mother section of the CWI (which at that time also had the leading cadre of the later split IMT, Ted Grant and Alan Woods, in its ranks) – completely capitulated to the imperialist pressure. The CWI supported and still supports until today Britain’s claims on the Malvinas. It not only failed to support Argentina but even failed to call for an end of the war and a withdrawal of the British troops! It slanders opponents of the imperialist war as “the ultra-left sects who, all forlorn, cry ‘Stop the war!’” 2 Instead the centrist CWI called for new elections to bring the Labour Party into power and ... to continue the war against Argentina “on socialist lines”!
“The labour movement should be mobilised to force a general election to open the way for the return of a Labour government to implement socialist policies at home and abroad. Victory of a socialist government in Britain would immediately transform the situation in relation to the Falklands. The junta would no longer be able to claim to be fighting British imperialism ... A Labour government could not just abandon the Falklanders and let Galtieri get on with it. But it would continue the war on socialist lines.” 3
While formally opposing the right-wing Thatcher government, the CWI called for alternative measures to fight against semi-colonial Argentina and to support British imperialism’s claims on the Malvinas: “As an alternative to Thatcher's war, we called for international class action against the junta such as trade union blacking of trade.” 4 And this at the same time as the British government was waging an imperialist war against Argentina!
As a justification it referred to the right of national self-determination ... of the 1.800 British colonial settlers living on the Malvinas Islands! The CWI leadership defends their capitulation until today. In his book on the history of Militant, CWI leader Peter Taaffe argues: “The democratic rights of the 1,800 Falklanders, including the right to self-determination, if they so desired, was a key question in the consciousness of British workers. (…) Marxists could not be indifferent to the fate of the Falklanders, particularly given the consciousness of the British working class as it developed over this issue.” 5
In other words, since the CWI leadership believes that British imperialism has succeeded in poising the consciousness of the British working class by colonial, aristocratic prejudices, it considers itself impotent to oppose this but rather joins British imperialism’s “care” for the settlers! Naturally such an ill-concealed support for the logic of colonialism is a shame for any group which calls itself “Marxist”. The CWI propaganda is exactly a reflection of the imperialist propaganda to justify its global interventions by referring to the fate of their settlers. We will later see that the CWI repeats this reactionary logic in its support for Zionism and Israel’s right to exist.
The same supposed backward consciousness of the British working class was utilized by the CWI leadership to justify its refusal to mobilize for an end of the war: “To force the withdrawal of the Task Force would have involved the organization of a general strike, which itself would have posed the question of the coming to power of a socialist government. Yet at the outset of the war, such a demand would have received no support from the British workers. (…) Nor would the call to stop the war or to withdraw the fleet have provided a basis even for a mass campaign of demonstrations, meetings and agitation.” 6
Another argument which the CWI leaders invented was the supposed “imperialist” character of Argentina: “The Argentine regime's invasion was not a war of 'national liberation' against imperialism. On the contrary, in seizing the Falklands/Malvinas the Argentine Junta was pursuing the 'imperialist' aims of Argentine capitalism.” 7 We have dealt with this nonsense already in chapter 9 in this book.
The CWI leaders also tried to justify their support for “our boys” – i.e. the soldiers of the imperialist British army – by referring to them as “workers in uniform”. This was used as an argument to oppose calls that Labor Party Members of Parliament should vote against any war credits since they would leave “our boys” defenseless. 8
All this is a graphic example that centrism shares a common ground with left-reformism and social-imperialism.
The Cliffite SWP/IST did also not side with Argentina against its „own“ British imperialism but took a neutral position in the war. As we have quoted above, its leadership justified such a social-pacifist position in a war against an oppressed country by claiming that Argentina was supposedly a “sub-imperialist” country. 9
Hence for these centrists the war between Britain and Argentina over the Malvinas in 1982 was reactionary on both sides. The SWP leadership stated: "It was neither an anti-colonial struggle nor a struggle between oppressed and oppressor nations. The contending parties were an emergent capitalist country with regional and continental imperialist features, and a longstanding imperialist power which, though in marked decline, is still a powerful force. There was not a progressive and a reactionary camp." 10
The SWP leadership managed to deny any anti-colonial aspect in the Malvinas war on the Argentinean side – despite the fact that the Malvinas are obviously only under British control because of its past as having been the biggest colonial empire for a long time and despite the fact that Argentina is obviously a dependent, super-exploited country! By denying the decisive class difference between semi-colonial Argentina and imperialist Britain, the British centrists manage to justify a neutral position. They are opposed to both sides and compare their stand with the position of socialists in World War One, when they also opposed both the Entente and the Central Powers as imperialist camps:
“We are not pacifists, we detest the Galtieri dictatorship, we dismiss the notion that the Argentinian seizure of the Falklands is progressive on anti-colonialist grounds. Nevertheless we believe that, in a war between Britain and Argentina, the defeat of British imperialism is the lesser evil. The main enemy is at home.
We support anti-colonial movements as movements of struggle by oppressed people against their oppressors and we support them because, as Marx said, “n