Review of Gareth Miles and Robert Griffiths' Socialism for the Welsh People
[April 1980; unpublished review article written for Socialist Challenge]
Written by leading members of the left nationalist movement this pamphlet is a challenge. It examines the evolution of Welsh society with the aid of Marxism, and suggests an appropriate strategy for Welsh socialists.
There are some obvious weaknesses. Workers' control is not understood as a workers' school in running society prior to the consolidation of a workers' state and management. Instead it is seen as a comparable tactic to 'co-operative enterprise'. There is a commitment to fight women's oppression, but no distinct policies to concentrate this fight. But the biggest problems arise from the attempt to reconcile the 'internal colony' theorists with a Marxist analysis.
'No form of Welsh feudalism was to develop in the wake of the Conquest. [...] Instead the country stepped forward onto [...] a capitalist system of agriculture.' The conquest of 1282 was successful because of the 'more productive' feudal relations sustaining the rule Edward I . Are we to believe capitalist agriculture developed in Wales while feudalism continued in Britain?
'Wales does not today have, and never has had [...] a nationalistic bourgeoisie [...].' The Welsh gentry supported the annexation of Wales into the Union of 1536 in the formation of a cohesive bourgeois state of England and Wales. It renounced self government and usually its first language. It did not renounce its dominant position in Welsh society. It became an indistinguishable component in the bourgeoisie which has uninterruptedly ruled Welsh and British society.
To replace the bourgeoisie the authors claim that the Welsh petty bourgeois 'led' Welsh society. The savageness of their polemic cannot cover the absolutely contradictory roles they assign to this class. Here to 'thoroughly assimilate their children into British society', there to 'smash the oppressive yoke of the landowners'.
As for the Welsh working class the authors refuse to face up to the necessary aspects of its evolution. The unification of the Welsh workers' organisations into the British workers' organisations is regarded as identical to the integration of the workers' leadership into the defence of British Imperialism. It is not the case that regional unions 'have fallen casually' .The South Wales Miners' Federation played a leading part in bringing about a single miners' union.
They ignore the failure of Maclean to win a substantial base for a Scottish Communist Party while summoning up 'John Maclean's section of the Scottish working class'. The trade unions and Communist Party developed at an all-British level because this was the most effective way to confront the British bourgeoisie. This remains true today. The authors are right to insist that there is no counterposition between a fight against the British bourgeoisie and defending the specific demands of the Welsh and Scottish people.
The lack of cohesion in historical analysis undermines the arguments for separation. The vital restructuring of the Welsh economy will 'never be attempted by the British state'. The British bourgeois state - no , but a workers' government would have to as a matter of survival. Or separation is necessary because of the danger of a 'reactionary, totalitarian' take-over in Britain. Surely this requires a greater unity of action, not less? Such replies are rejected by the authors because there are no guarantees that Welsh problems will be solved in an all-British fight. Equally, there are no guarantees that the hold of reformism in Wales can be defeated in Wales alone. Some of the biggest fractures in Welsh reformism resulted from an event outside Wales, namely the Russian Revolution. The high points of political advance, especially the setting up of semi-Soviet type bodies in Wales do not rate a mention.
For the lessons of history subjective aspirations are substituted. 'Nationalism is a philosophy fashioned by an economic class, using nationality to establish or maintain a State in pursuit of their own economic, political and social objectives. No Welsh state exists because no class has, in modern history, considered it essential to its class interests'.
Leaving the definition aside no explanation is given as to why the Welsh working class has not considered a Welsh state essential. Perhaps because it isn't? History imposes the essential upon the proletariat. At the high points of the class struggle Welsh workers have been prepared to put forward their specific demands as part of an overall solution. The authors give illustration. To base one's strategy on the variant that that Welsh workers will one day want a separate state is to steer away from the past and present evolution of the Welsh working class. In defending self-determination for Wales, including the right to separation, socialists should leave the question of actual separation open.
Finally, while the comrades' projects of a separate Welsh state and a Welsh Socialist Republican Movement remain unconvincing, we must face the challenge. A Marxist programme for Britain must include specific policies for Wales. The comrades have made an important contribution to developing these policies. The pamphlet will prove of more lasting value than a thousand lectures on 'petty-bourgeois nationalism', or a hundred burnt out holiday homes.
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