- by Tom Duffryn
Nationalism is often seen as a dirty word within the left, and with good reason. Nationalism often conflates itself, historically, with the likes of Franco's Fascists, The Axis Powers, and Oswald Moseley. In contemporary culture, it is often typified by the stereotype of Bible Belt republicans, English Football Hooligans, and the tide of neo-fascist parties across the European continent.
Of course, this will often create heated discussion when the likes of nationalism in Catalonia, Kurdistan, Ireland, are mentioned. However, these cases are abnormal, if not worlds apart from the common definition of nationalist movements. They're movements with a history, as well as a hopeful future, of dismantling the old hegemony of the oppressor, and giving power to the oppressed.
Wales is no different. Socialist Republicanism has run deep in the veins of Wales; The red flag that has become synonymous of worker's revolt was first stained in the blood of Welsh sheep, before being raised as the flag of the 1831 Merthyr Uprising. The first nationwide strike against corporal punishment in education was triggered in 1916 by students in Llanelli walking out in solidarity with a fellow student. The British labour movement often champions both Keir Hardie and Aneurin Bevan for their influence on British society - Both of whom were Welsh MPs.
The case for an independent - socialist - Wales is also regularly seen in the history and contemporary actions of the Westminster government, and the Labour Blairite assembly that governs this de-facto colonial administration, often making gross assumptions about Welsh support unionist institutions such as the Monarchy in the process. It is seen in the capital that is routinely incentivised to settle in Wales, yet also routinely exploits the destitution and poverty in Cymru (some of the worst conditions in Europe, and the worst in the UK) for cheap labour, profits, and often other resources.
Not only had Welsh coal been key in fuelling the British Empire's war machine in the 20th Century, Wales pumps billions of litres of Water into English cities. Over half of the energy generated domestically is exported across the UK. Historically and recently, there have been ecological struggles as companies such as EDF, Hitachi, and others both seek to produce nuclear energy in Wales, and dump waste from similar endeavours in Welsh waters.
Daniel Evans writes more about the role of Wales as a “Lumpen Region” for the British economic strategy, giving a Marxist analysis of why Wales is left destitute and undeveloped in one of the world’s leading economies.
Modern Welsh nationalism has been shaped from its nucleus by these material conditions and evolved from a struggle against the imposition of the English Language on yr Iaeth Gymraeg - The Welsh language - to a movement that has had to accept that many of the injustices of Westminster rule are also injustices inherent with Capitalism. Simply moving the oppressor's address to Cardiff Bay won't change the conditions that workers in Wales, England, nor anywhere in the UK must deal with.
This is contrasted by likes of "Ein Gwlad", the political party recently launched by for “Free Welsh Army” member, but more importantly White Supremacist sympathiser, Royston Jones. The party uses "Big tent" political rhetoric to muster up support for the far right to feel welcomed into Welsh Republicanism under the guise of being "pragmatic". Beneath the surface, its political principles lie closely to the unionists that it should oppose. While it has the negative program that opposes Westminster rule, it features no "positive" program; to usurp the Welsh political system in such a way that independence solves the ecological and social issues of our time.
However, Annibyniaeth, or Independence, can and must be seen by its proponents as a means to give communities the empowerment to build dual power against capitalist hegemony, and not as the means to an end of all social issues in Wales. If we do not struggle against the capitalist, reactionary, and undemocratic forces that act again Wales and her interests, communities will be left with a hollow victory: Our flag will have a dragon, but all else will remain unchanged.
I often argue that this example is typified by the struggle in Northern Syria; where independence is not the end goal of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS - commonly known as ‘Rojava’) and its feminist, ecological, anti-capitalist revolution, but a tool that has allowed this state of being to materialise. The DFNS, much like an independent Wales, must use its autonomy to revolutionise society, and then seek to share this new vision of society beyond its borders, rather than settle for parochial future for independence's sake.
James Connolly, legendary Irish Republican leader of the early 20th Century, summarises the dilemma that Welsh nationalists face even today:
This is why I consider myself a Welsh nationalist in the same vein that Socialists in Bakur, Syria, Catalonia are called nationalists. In the short term, national liberation is real and material goal that we can all work towards. In the long term, this liberation must be transferred to every local community so that the utopian ideal of democracy, autonomy, and freedom can truly cement itself in a world which, right now, seems bleak. Demanding any less would lead us to falling prey to the barbarism that typical nationalists embody in these turbulent times.
In 1831, Welsh miners marched in the industrial heart of Wales to the cries of "Caws a Bara!" -- "Cheese and Bread!". Today, despite everyone and everything, We're still here.
Heddiw, Ergwaethapawb a phopeth; Ryn'iyma o hyd.