Wales: A Nation?
Lately the spirit of national identity has been reborn, both in Wales and elsewhere. Backed by the indignities of the past, fired by a renewed interest in the peculiarities of custom and language and consciousness of national resources, it has succeeded in forming an organised opinion which has forced the government of Westminster to take notice. The most important thing of all is that in their written and spoken propaganda nationalists, Welsh and others, maintain their faith in capitalism and are agreed to live within a state system of their own making.
At the moment, the focus is on Wales; attention is being paid by the world press and its general propaganda media on the investiture of the son of the reigning sovereign as Prince of Wales. The reaction in Wales, from that of outright opposition to apathy and support, is intriguing to the onlooker.
The early history of Wales shows it to be a land peopled by tribes for the most part engaged in inter-tribal disputes. Its ’community of interest’ was of a plural nature, there being no centralisation of authority which could exist under the prevailing social and economic conditions. The only common features were a common tongue and a common way of life. Outside this their attachments went no further than their local territory (Cwmwd and Cantnef) and their local chiefs.
The Roman occupation, lasting about 400 years, did very little to change the broad pattern of social life though it did impose Roman laws, introduce new settlements and road systems, bring the country into close contact with European trade and culture, and introduce new words and phrases to the indigenous language, thereby enriching it. The occupation produced a class of elite Romano-British, whose future was bound up in Roman affairs; in other words their attitude was that of those who accepted the Roman ’State’. This has been the case ever since — it is in the interests of the minority that the state exists. ‘Y Werin’, the Folk, have no advantages worth talking about accruing from the State.
And so, we find that with the coming of the Normans, the country was divided into regions loosely ruled by native overlords (Y Tywysogion)—the Princes, who in their turn controlled lesser gentry (Boneddwir). The social set-up was true to the general pattern to be found in feudal society everywhere in Europe. This was the system taken over by the Normans who planted their own lords in place of the Welsh and ruled, first by military might and later by laws. In the meantime the agrarian economy remained unaltered, in the same way that when the Germanic people conquered the Old Roman Empire they did not introduce any new division of labour because conquered and conquerors were in the same stage of economic development.
By the 13th century the Normans and Saxons had become one people and in 1284 they so consolidated their footings in Wales that Edward I proclaimed a principality composed of five shires, so replacing forever the earlier regional groupings based on ‘blood ties’. These shires were given over to his eldest son. henceforth to be called the Prince of Wales. The principality, nevertheless remained politically distinct from England, having no representation in the parliament of the time.
The Act of Union changed the situation: hitherto Wales represented a colony, now it became a part of England. Continual enactments, intrigue, and corruption tied the knot more securely with the passing of time. The Welsh gentry were in spirit with the English Court and the Welsh peasantry remained the providers of sustenance, content with the visions of an ancient freedom made more romantic by the poetry and songs of their bards. The great Arthur slept, to awake one day to lead them out of bondage.
The advent of the Industrial Revolution saw Wales as a people exploited by the coal and iron masters, both English and Welsh, a situation shared by their brethren throughout the length and breadth of Britain, spoon-fed by the same religious cant and moulded by a similar education system, first church charity then state schools. Mistakes were made of course, as for example the vicious attempts to destroy the native language by outlawing it from the schools. Resurgent Welsh capitalism would do the opposite, knowing that the sentiment of language is a potent weapon in maintaining the State Idea. Westminster, now faced with an awkward situation, has also gone a long way towards this end by providing Welsh in schools, parity of esteem, and recognition in all kinds of minor ways.
The growth of nationalist sentiment is being fostered by a variety of organisations at the present time but it is Plaid Cymru which is the spearhead. The events leading up to its formation are interesting, as they show how almost anybody can utilise nationalistic sentiments to further their ends—even people who call themselves socialists.
In July 1918, the South Wales Labour Federation convened a special ‘Home Rule’ conference in Cardiff where the leaders explained the purport of the Federation “to become the true Nationalist Party of Wales.” The Liberals too, at their Conference before the 1918 election, not to be left out of the picture, favoured a parliament for Wales. In 1925 a group founded at Aberystwyth, composed largely of ‘intellectuals’, claimed nationalism as their goal and published a journal ‘Y Wauw’ — the Dawn. This group was quickly supressed by the Government. For a short while there existed a Welsh Republican Party — Gwerinialthwyr Cymru — which included in its manifesto the statement that in republican Wales, “ownership would be by and for use only”. It advocated complete severance from the English crown. This party withered away to be replaced by the present Nationalist Party, formed in August 1925. The present Nationalists are prepared to recognise the Crown and would be content with dominion status. In its journal Draig Goch we find the peculiar statement that capital should be created and then shared out among the people. It is interesting to note that about this time a movement known as Byddin Ymreolwyr Cymru (The Home Rule Army of Wales) had views of their own. The present Free Wales Army may be an attempt to revive some of them in terms of ‘direct action’.
At the present time there are numerous organisations on the fringe of the political nationalists proper, most of them of a cultural nature from the Urdd (a kind of cultural youth movement), to bodies like the Llewellyn Society, the Patriotic Front Welsh Language Society.
Everywhere one finds the nation states built on the broad shoulders of its working class and everywhere workers are subject to poverty, insecurity, and war. Plaid Cymru wish to add another party to the list. “If there is to he a future Welsh Nation there must be a State” (Gwynfor Evans).
Socialists in Wales know that the Welsh language and cultural tradition cannot be created or maintained by the establishment of a separate political state. In a free society the economic and political pressures that now tend to crush minority cultures will no longer operate.
So much for the ‘grand illusionist trick’ to be enacted at Caernarvon: the recognition by the English Crown that Wales shall be a nation but part of the English state. This situation has its supporters and opponents among the Welsh people but it means nothing except that the position of the working class will be that they remain working class.