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.