Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Party in Wales (1964)

From the September 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

The story of political and industrial activity in South Wales is bound up with the twin products of iron and coal on which, until quite recently, practically the whole population depended. Hence the pattern of life has revolved around, and reflected, these two industries.

Although iron-smelting came first, it was largely conducted in small, isolated pockets. The advent of the Steam Age and the coming of the steamship and the railways gave a terrific impetus to coal-mining. The coalfields became the battleground and graveyard for future generations of the working class. As the army of proletarians marched in, and the verdant green of the Rhondda began to bleed with the wounds of countless coal drifts, a new epoch commenced. It set the stage for the novelist , playwright, and poet; an eloquent élite who dramatized to the world the lot of the S. Wales miner. Time, and the harsh reality of expanding capitalism, was to weld this army into one of common suffering-battalions with “immediate demands,” but with no knowledge of the only course which could end their problems.

And so these workers, who figuratively still carried the clay of their peasant ancestry on their boots, argued, pleaded— and fought—for elementary existence. With passionate doggedness they built their chapels and trade union lodges. Just as they discussed theology and poetry in the one, so they wrestled with politics and economics in the other. The vision of the ‘‘Sweet By and By” was an exciting prospect.

In those early “Frontier Days" charlatanism and sincerity jostled each other in the valleys teeming with a population density higher than anywhere else in the British Isles. Marxism vied with Methodism, hymns were sung at the coalface, and Darwinism was studied by the light of midnight oil. Christ and The Miners' Charter stalked the narrow townships. Even today, men talk of the Red Rhondda. “Not a penny off the pay. Not a minute on the day” floated out on the lodge banners—and men were locked out, speeded up and sacked. “Our Jimmy” became champion of the world —and workers lined up for bread and marg. Great novels and hymns were written, choirs sung on the lawns of Royalty and in the homes of the rich up and down the land—and women wailed in unison at the pitheads for their entombed men-folk.

Such conditions provided well-fertilized soil for the growth of leaders—not your college-bred variety either (not at first, anyhow), though later on the little railways stations that stretched like beads on a string along the valley bottoms were choked with the “Singing Welsh”— “Sending our boy off to the London Labour College.” “Then watch out! ” They were a motley crowd, these leaders and would-be leaders. Some were confessed Atheists, like Aneurin Bevan, whilst others were the respectable, God-fearing type like Mabon, who later became a saint to be remembered by future generations. And through it all, nothing really changed.

And so the years passed, years of feverish political and industrial agitation, years of courtship from all sides and from numerous factions, both “spiritual” and earthy. ILP, Syndicalist, “Communist ” and “ Latter-Day ” Nationalists and Religious Revivalists. Men like Evan Roberts preached tolerance and forgiveness all round between the miner and his boss—thousands followed his advice and the mineowners slept better at nights.

“Then “To Wales—the gift of a son.’ This saviour came into the valley like a fiery prophet, became Member of Parliament with an army of coal and steel workers at his back. He stormed the citadel of Westminster, proclaiming that his “Socialism” was taken from the bible. His chief argument for nationalization was that it would guarantee a supply of coal for the British Navy in time of war. And through it all, nothing really changed. Two great wars came and went, which brought only more exploitation—and death—for the sons of the valleys. At the present time, labour leaders in S. Wales assure us in their writings and public utterances that private enterprise will exist under the next Labour Government! Nothing is going to change. They're telling us!

So much for the background brief as it is—of industrial Wales, a story of skirmishes and day to day struggle. What of today? We have said that nothing has really changed. By that we mean, nothing has changed the fundamental position of the working class as wage-slaves. The coal mines have had a face lift and the motor car is a common possession. Pretty houses have, here and there, replaced the dingy rows of miners’ cottages and there is running water on tap.

The workers of S. Wales and the valleys are living in a state of near ecstatic illusion; an illusion broken from time to time by the same old troubles—speeding up, strikes and closures. Industry has now spread along the Glamorganshire coast-line where we have the biggest steel-producing mills in Europe. Recently, after a month's strike, Port Talbot was changed from a Welsh Klondyke to a ghost town where Salvation Army vans dished out “Christian Aid.” When things are going well our children get scooters and enough food. They also drink large quantities of milk contaminated with a higher degree of Strontium 90 than anywhere else in Britain, the present level being three times as high as it was in 1958.

It is against such a background that the Socialist Party in S. Wales has to work. The material to hand is no better, no worse, than anywhere else. At the moment there is a branch of the Party operating in the Swansea area. Recently local elections were in full swing and members were approached regarding our non-participation. We were asked whether we were really interested in standing; whether we were “practical politically conscious.” The answer to both questions is “yes.” Our aim is to let people know the principles for which we stand. To do this means building-up a strong core of Socialists. We can then challenge and defeat the ignorance and apathy which is rife. We can go forward as a whole, pushing out and up into those battle-scarred valleys bearing the one message that counts “Y Bobl yn Union—y Byd yn Un! ’’—One World, One People!
W. Brain


1 comment:

imposs1904 said...

"“Then “To Wales—the gift of a son.’ This saviour came into the valley like a fiery prophet, became Member of Parliament with an army of coal and steel workers at his back. He stormed the citadel of Westminster, proclaiming that his “Socialism” was taken from the bible. His chief argument for nationalization was that it would guarantee a supply of coal for the British Navy in time of war."

No idea who this is. It can't be Keir Hardie.