1950s >> 1959 >> no-659-july-1959

Letter from Wales

Some while ago, the writer had occasion to examine an old Welsh bible. The only thing peculiar to this bible was that it had been used for religious services underground. It was the custom of the earlier generations of miners to commence their “stint” with prayers and hymn-singing. This bible still remains to remind one of the traditional Welsh attitude to religion, which has permeated the social and political history of the people of Wales. It is a long and interesting story which English historians, due mostly to tack of knowledge of the vernacular, have not been able to give much attention to; nevertheless, it can be accepted that just as druidism was the dominant religion of tribal Wales, Catholicism—followed by the Reformed Church—the faith of the Mediaeval peasant;—so Nonconformism became a strong influence upon the industrial workers in the new era of Capitalism. Today, the roots of political and trade union life in Wales still draw considerable sustenance from religion. Tradition dies hard and men like Mabon and K. Hardie (who though a Scot was “taken into the bosom” of the Welsh people) are to this day looked upon with reverence as outstanding “Christian Socialists.”

 

The Keir Hardie Myth 
In 1936, the S.P.G.B., in a pamphlet War and the Working Class, drew attention to the attitude which Keir Hardie actually adopted to the First World War. This must have offended many of Hardie’s admirers and in 1953 a South Wales newspaper, under a headline of half-inch capitals, published a defence of him. This was largely directed against the S.P.G.B., whose exposure of Hardie was described as a “nauseating attack,” a “smear campaign” against the “character and honour” of Hardie. The S.P.G.B., said the writer, was “ turning and twisting ” but our argument would be “torn asunder” by “indisputable facts” which he possessed “in abundance.”

 

Strong words. They sparked off a lively debate in the newspaper, in which the S.P.G.B. members reminded the readers of Hardie’s boast that he had helped to recruit more men to the colours than had his Liberal opponent. This, said our adversary, was a falsification of history; but when we offered him the opportunity to expose it in public debate, he refused. By this time, the Welsh members had their teeth into it; we obtained photostat copies of some 1914 issues of the Merthyr Pioneer which proved conclusively the correctness of our assertions. Need we say that, in face of this, our opponent pleaded lack of sufficient time to continue the argument and asked us to drop the matter? As our final word, we shall arrange a public challenge meeting on the matter.
It is as well to place some of Hardie’s attitudes on record. He advised against pacifist agitation, advocated national unity in wartime and resistance to an aggressor “to the last drop of blood.” Thus he was no better (and no worse) than the other Labour Party and I.LP. leaders who have given their support to the war efforts of British capitalism; Henderson, MacDonald, Attlee, Bevin and Morrison all followed him, playing the same terrible game. There is no doubt about their support of war. We can only hope that our efforts will help to show that the revered Keir Hardie was no different.

 

Elections and the Chapels
The local elections in Wales often resolve themselves into a contest between religious communities—“bethel” versus “Moriah”, or Baptist versus Methodist with the Salvation Army thrown in as dark horses. The fact that one is a Chapel member counts a great deal in Welsh politics, local and national—not forgetting the Trade Unions. Political careerists are aware of this and even so-called communists are careful to assert their attachment to religious principles. The other day a local “Commie” indignantly challenged a Tory who dared to state that Religion and Communism were incompatible! A leading member of the Welsh Nationalist Party has recently been elevated from mere chapel membership to that of Vice-President of the Baptist Union of Wales. At the same time, his party, to prove their rebellious convictions, are indulging in pirate radio broadcasts on the B.B.C. television wave-lengths under the title Voice of Wales.

 

As can be seen, the few Socialists in Wales have a hard task in hand. But we shall continue the struggle.

 

W. Brain