The Marxist case for Welsh independence
Sawel ap Harri
Marxists have oft been accused of hypocrisy when it comes to supporting national movements.
How could Marx and subsequent Marxists support national independence in some cases, such as the Unification of Germany in the 1840s, yet argue against the unification of Italy in the same period?
Were Marx and Engels purely German chauvinists, subject to nationalist prejudices they purported to hate?
The reality is that Marxists are completely consistent when it comes to the national question. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin wrote:
“Whether the Ukraine, for example, is destined to form an independent state is a matter that will be determined by a thousand unpredictable factors. Without attempting idle ‘guesses’, we firmly uphold something that is beyond doubt: the right of the Ukraine to form such a state. We respect this right.”
The Rights of Nations to Self-Determination.
What is clear is that Marxists will always support the right of each nation to decide whether they want to be independent or not. Whether they support that nation in their aim of independence is another matter.
Marxists do not support independence movements due to feelings of sentimentality but through objectivity. There are no inherently good or bad forms of nationalism; Britishness isn’t inherently regressive and Welshness inherently progressive.
The progressivity (or chauvinism) of each nationalism is dependent on the material conditions of that nation.
Lenin was an avid supporter of Irish independence, stating that “the appalling destitution and sufferings of the Irish peasantry are an example of the lengths to which the landowners and the liberal bourgeoisie of a “dominant” nation will go”.
Thus building on Marx’s ideas of 1867 that the Irish needed Home Rule, Independence from Britain, an agrarian revolution and tariffs on Britain.
Marxists view national movements for independence as a function; a means to an end rather than an end in itself.
If Marxists believe that a nation becoming independent will enhance the possibility of a dictatorship of the proletariat they will support it, if they believe it will lead to no change in the material conditions of that nation (by swapping a foreign ruling class for an indigenous ruling class) they will not support it.
Lenin and Marx supported Irish independence because of the situation in Ireland itself but also because it would help weaken the bourgeois British state. I argue therefore that the Marxist view is completely consistent; national movements are to be supported when they are likely to improve the conditions of the working class, Marxists are ambivalent towards them when they are not likely to do so.
Welsh Independence and Marxism
Welsh Independence should be supported by Marxists; the British state is reactionary and neo-imperialist, intervening militarily in states such as Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.
Scottish and Welsh independence, coupled with Irish Reunification would be a significant step in weakening British imperialism, a step all socialists should support.
The destruction of the British state would also weaken the USA and their exceptionalist, neo-imperial foreign policies; Britain is after all the USA’s lapdog in Europe.
If Wales were to become independent, on an emotive level there would be a sense of pride, joy and satisfaction that Wales can stand on its own two feet and join the arena of independent states.
Yet, in reality, what difference would it make to the average citizen if the British landowner was changed for a Welsh one? A British boss for a Welsh one? A British ruling class for a Welsh one?
Do we believe that a majority of people in Wales will vote for independence purely on emotive grounds?
People vote for things that they believe will improve their material condition. Marxism gives us a concrete framework on how to improve material conditions and improve the lives of people in Wales and across the globe.
Wales is a poor, post-industrial nation, a loser of globalisation. A move away from an “any old job” mentality, where automation and specialisation is used to improve the lives of its people, rather than the chasing of capital may truly be what the independence movement needs.
Independence should be about the needs of the people living in Wales.
Anti-independence leftists have stressed that the dissolution of the British state would weaken working-class solidarity across the constituent nations of the UK.
Yet to create a link between the British state and solidarity of British workers is a fallacy; British workers are not their state and independence is different to isolationism.
If this was the case Welsh Marxists would never had fought and died alongside their comrades during the Spanish Civil War.
No passive revolution
Those on the left that are in favour of Welsh independence must ensure that the movement maintains a class character and that class politics is a central tenet of the independence campaign.
We must be cautious against what Gramsci calls the “passive revolution”. The passive revolution is something that looks revolutionary on the surface but maintains the same regressive material conditions.
Devolution in Wales is a perfect example of the stifling aims of the passive revolution, as first explored by Dr. Daniel Evans in this article.
As he argues, devolution was never meant to succeed; it is the devolution of the axe rather than a lever to any real, fundamental change.
Cultural reasons alone may be enough to ensure that some people in Wales support independence; especially in Y Fro Gymraeg and Welsh speaking Wales.
Yet, culture on its own is not enough to fight the drive towards “standardisation, regimentation and universal greyness”. A culture and its people must be able to breath, to be nurtured. It’s unlikely that this will be possible in the grey world of neo-liberal capitalist society.
We must ensure that the anti-capitalist left plays a leading role in the independence campaign, drawing inspiration from groups such as The Radical Independence Campaign in Scotland. An independent Wales must be anti-austerity, anti-Trident and offer a real, substantive revolution.
No to British neoliberalism. No to Welsh neoliberalism. Yes to a radical Welsh independence campaign.
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Whether devolution was meant to succeed depends on the true motivation behind it, particularly from the perspective of the British Establishment. Perhaps they agreed to it since it provides something of a safety valve that can misdirect any challenge to the fundamentals of the Establishment’s hegemony in a way that doesn’t threaten it.
Is this guy for real or what?! Just a couple of phrases that should send the alarm bells ringing like mad in anyone with any grasp of history: He talks about facilitating a “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” in Wales. Well, we’ve all seen what Dictatorship means under Marxism in Russia, China, East Germany, Hungary etc, etc; Deification of the State and Leader above all else, crushing of free speech and association, ruthless suppression of any dissent, a failed economic system, and promotion of self-serving party functionaries at the expense of everyone else George Orwell summed up Marxism perfectly in that… Read more »
I think, that were he still alive, that Nestor Makhno would have some issues about the claims this guy is making. I agree with you, Wales needs Marxism like it needs a hole in the head, (ice picks notwithstanding). Marx died before his ideas were implemented, so he has to remain untainted with the effects accredited to his philosophy as implemented by Lenin and others. Too many see Stalin as the bad guy, but I don’t see that Lenin was any less blood stained, and indeed, proved himself just as ready to use any tactic in the book at oppressing… Read more »
Iesgob Annwyl! I thought that like the murderous madmen, marx, engels, lenin, stalin, pol pot, mao dse dung and others, Marxist Leninism had died. I need to see the revival of this codswallop as much as i need to see hitler resurrected. Marxism has two aims: to gain power, and then keep it. We have suffered long enough in Cymru under this anti-democratic belief system. It is not based on reality: ”The destruction of the British state would also weaken the USA and their exceptionalist, neo-imperial foreign policies; Britain is after all the USA’s lapdog in Europe.” Sadlly, in my… Read more »
Hear, hear! Sianiblewog.
I would vote for Marxist madmen because I feel ideologically drawn to a more socially fair society and I am a madman. It doesn’t stop others considered ‘normal’ to promote their Centre Right Conservatism. I for one am delighted that this opinion article has been included as I was starting to be concerned at the direction of travel of the commentators. I am as wary of the Welsh Establishment as I am at the British with jobs for the boys and girls at the expense of the long term health of the indigenous language. Wales is small enough to adapt… Read more »
I think this gets the ball rolling nicely – it would be very close-minded to try to envision a future Wales without people working through these thought processes and bringing their different areas of opinions and expertise to bear. We are in a very different world now to the times of Marx and Engels – much of their philosophising and back of the envelope economic equations, whilst still relevent are lacking something with some of the forces pulling on us now, that they could never have imagined – do we actually need people to do things at all and if… Read more »
“the British state is reactionary and neo-imperialist, intervening militarily in states such as Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq” what’s to argue with about that? Once Wales secures independence from this reactionary british state a debate will unfold about the kind of wales we want to see, and political formations from the right, left and center will emerge offering alternative visions of Wales. Of course ultimately it will be up to the people of wales to decide what kind of country an independent Wales will be. As a socialist i’d like to see a Wales where equality and the pursuit of social… Read more »
Which model – Cuba, Cambodia, Angolo, Mozambique, Albania, Somalia, Russia, East Germany; Vietnam, North Korea, Venuezuela…Romania, Poland, Congo, etc, etc….?
I’ll pick Somalia thanks
I think Piracy is their preferred model – could work here as well?
Well, Ceredigion farmers had a nice sideline in highway robbery in the 16th century, and Glyndwr fine tuned the art of political kidnap for ransom, (cuts down on the tax burden, don’t you know?) so perhaps piracy isn’t such a bad idea after all! I am, of course, saying this tongue very firmly in cheek, and neither of those is ethical, but having said that, hardly any less ethical than capitalism, based on extortion and theft as it is. Ultimately I think we need to be thinking in terms of a political and economic system that is divested of the… Read more »
Marx – one of the most smeared and misrepresented person on the planet (as shown by the over the top reactions here)……he did not invent Marxism…..he never even had an ideology Communism is inherently stateless – therefore it is impossible that “marxism” or “communism” can ever have existed in a statist or nationalist structure He said a huge amount of insightful intelligent comments on his time Marx believed that the worker should own his workplace and own shares in it. He believed land should be ran by the communities around it……………… Pol pot/ Stalin etc have nothing to do with… Read more »
Somalia isnt communist…..total lie…………………its just a bloody mess created by the destruction of its sole industry fishing by massive industrial fishing ships from Europe and the old USSR in the decades past
The Somali Democrat Republic was a Marxist/Leninist party under President Siad Barre. I’m old enough to remember.
Piracy used to be a genuine Welsh industry. We had nearly all the stars in the Golden Age: Howell Davies, who taught Barti Ddu. Both from Pembrokeshire. And maybe you could count Harri Morgan, because he was legit – just – or borderline. If you had energy, character, sea-faring skill but no wealth or connections (though Morgan did) you might take to piracy very easily. Bear in mind this was before coal, so we had little else but farming. A linked industry was “wrecking”. Very well established in Carmarthenshire – treacherous sands but also landowners who were in on all… Read more »
And the British East India Company could be considered pirates and drug dealers, legitimised by the support and sponsorship of the monarchy – starting with Elizabeth and then to become the source of the Wealth of the House of Hanover and their present day heirs and descendents.
It seems to be a proven way to become wealthy, but you have to be very good or ruthless at it and have a big powerful army to get away with it.
Pretty much summed up capitalism there Trailorboy!
I guess so and its amazing how many key figures, admirals, majors and generals in the vanguard of the British army are descended from the rogues of the British East India company.
Not only pirates, but the ongoing source of protection for their original sponsors.
Well thats one very controversial way of looking at things anyway.
Marx’s analysis of the relationship between capital and labour remain valid. What he considered a vice has arguably been successfully turned into a virtue by parties of the right. If Marx were writing today he might well say that celebrity culture and consumerism were the opium of society….and property its crack cocaine. Chairman Mao posed the question: “Where do ideas come from? Do they drop from the skies? No. Are they innate in the mind? No. They come from social practice”. (which might be paraphrased as language and culture) If Wales aspires to be anything other than a geographical term… Read more »
Was only a matter of time before Pol Pot showed up in the comments! Happy days!
In all seriousness, James Connolly is a more relevant example.
I will sooner sing ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales’, join the Royal Welsh and the Conservatives, than to see a communist English-speaking nation emerge. Independence, by all means Ladies and Gentleman, but not a Wales ruled by the proletariat, the rabble and the ‘gwerin’. For the sake of our cultural inheritance, I would fight against that as much as I fight daily for the Welsh Language and the cause of independence. After independence, we should keep our traditions, not cast them by the wayside for the sake of sanctimonious drivel. A Marxist Wales would be a Wales of one… Read more »
“God Bless the Prince of Wales” – lol i thought the obsequious royal sycophant Wynford Vaughan-Thomas had died in 1987. “Independence, by all means Ladies and Gentleman, but not a Wales ruled by the proletariat, the rabble and the ‘gwerin”. Well i guess after posting something as offensive and reactionary as that we don’t need to ask which of the two protagonists in this landmark tv show about welsh history you were rooting for https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLec3-GgSJ8 I’m afraid the bad news for people with such naked class prejudices as yourself is that there’ll be something called universal suffrage in an independent… Read more »
The only way we will move the Welsh Nationalist movement towards the centre is by some of us being more conservative.
Gwynfor Evans supported Welsh Monarchism. A Windsor… or a Baron Dynevor Talbot/Rice. The point hes making is something that mirror’s modern day Ireland is not acceptable. Even though Ireland broke away from Britain it’s not like there’s been a flourish of Gaelic culture and language is there? I mean a complete rejection of British language and culture does happen – as it did with Malaysia… but they’re trying to turn it back. Anyway yeah… an independent Wales to protect language, culture and heritage… not one that becomes independent to abandons it anyway. Welsh nationalism and the cause for Independence has… Read more »
Yes Cambro. Our identity and culture is No. 1.
About class prejudices, I was merely being reactionary for the sake of being contrary and offering a mirror to those who say, ‘let’s round up all the business owners, gentryand affluent people’ and get rid of them.
With regards to the Irish language CambroUiDunlainge i would remind you that the irish constitution – celebrating its 80th anniversary this December – states that Irish Gaelic is the official language of the Irish republic, and Sinn Fein are to be applauded for insisting on the creation of an irish language act in the north of ireland http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-politics-41095799 . While i’m not aware of anyone here wanting to ‘abandon wales language, culture and heritage’ – we all want independence for wales so we can ensure nothing of the kind occurs. Regarding the establishment of a Welsh Republic i must say… Read more »
All very good to regurgitate all that after a quick Google I’m sure. Yes Gaelic is the official language of Ireland. What you failed to grasp from my statement was that since Independence, regardless of it being the state language the total speakers sits around 17% of the population (including NI) which is a smaller percentage of native speakers than there are Welsh speakers in Wales (which sits around 22%?). This is after… as you are so keen to point out… 80 years since the creation of the Irish constitution. Now Plaid, like the SNP consider themselves Civic Nationalists –… Read more »
“All very good to regurgitate all that after a quick Google I’m sure” very droll CambroUiDunlainge but i think our exchanges elsewhere on this website show i’ve no need to resort to employing the services of search engines on matters pertaining to Ireland. Yes the SNP did go into the 2014 referendum saying they would keep Elizabeth Windsor as their head of state – and a lot of good it did them! As despite this attempt to assuage royalist sentiment in scotland the indy campaign was still subject to the most viscous black propaganda operation waged by the british state… Read more »
Marx remains one of the best ways to understand the modern world, politically and in terms of economic power. In many ways he’s more relevant now than ever. As a tool for understanding how money works, and how work and politics and class changed in the 19th C, and how the 19th C is the century we’re still basically saddled with, you can’t beat him. Anyone who lumps him in with Stalin et al hasn’t read him, is thick or dishonest or all three. But the main thing is this: let’s get our own country and then work out how… Read more »
I thought you were serious for a minute…Very funny! I’m all three, lol.
People lump Marx with Marxists, but they are two different things. I guess you could use the analogy of Christ and Christians – very few Christians would measure up to Christ’s philosophies or practices and daily distort and disrespect his teachings. It may be an apocryphal story, but it is said that Marx, upon hearing Marxists discussing policies is reputed to have uttered, ‘Thank god I’m not a Marxist!’. I’m neither a Christian, or a Marxist, but I see the sense in both, the compassion in the former and the spot on analysis in the latter. Neither figure can be… Read more »
Perhaps Christianity itself was a movement created to mobilise peoples into a common cause, to resist agressors during the demise of the Roman Empire? .
I think Iolo (mad ned) had a few ideas on that front, but it could have been the opioids that gave him such ideas.
Nah, in the case of Iolo Morgannwg the opioids enhanced his thinking!
Good points there sibrydion mawr We’re on the same wavelength on this one! As somebody once said” milllions of people are anarchists-they just don’t know it”! It’s very telling that marxists hated anarchist thinkers even more than capitalists: because they rightly stood against the glorification of power and authority which has been a hallmark of all communist/socialist societies. Anarchists seek power to give power away to ordinary pepple in their communities not to accumulate it at the top. The name itself perhaps needs a revamp because of popular perception but the underlying philosophy of mutual aid, co-operation and elimination of… Read more »
I rather thought that the point of anarchism was for ordinary people to seize power themselves, and not rely on some group to seize power and then give it away. That was one of the fundamental flaws of Marxism in that it sought to monopolise power and then allowing it’s power to wither. Once power is in one’s hands, it’s rather tempting to too many of us to retain it. If anyone is doubtful about Marxism and where it leads, I suggest reading Animal Farm. I’m not sure I share your idealistic perception about Wales and the Welsh people, (much… Read more »
Two reasons for Welsh independence…’Davis’ and ‘Fox’…
Rampant confusion here.
Q. Is a Welsh capitalist employer better for Welsh workers than an English one
Q. Is an independent wales a classless concept.
This should be enough to be going on with.
“Marxists view national movements for independence as a function; a means to an end rather than an end in itself.” So ‘Nationalists’ are ti be used as tools to help achieve International Marxists dreams? Nightmare