Taking a lead in Wales

Republican communists organise

The first national gathering of the Wales Socialist Alliance for over a year takes place on Saturday, January 29 in Llandrindod Wells, mid-Wales.

After last year's Welsh Assembly elections, the Socialist Alliance project in Wales went very quiet. This is at least partially explained by the reticence of the Socialist Party. Like their English comrades, Welsh SPers have been wary of fully committing themselves to building a forum that could become a rival to its own narrow 'party-building' work. The example of Scotland looms large in the nightmares of the beleaguered central apparatus of the SP in London and its loyalists in Wales.

Like the organisation in England, the Welsh SP has suffered a certain fraying. Its Llanelli branch departed en masse in a left nationalist direction and indicated their political proclivities by beginning to sell copies of the Scottish Socialist Party's newspaper, Scottish Socialist Voice. In addition, a leading Swansea comrade - Roy Davies - left the organisation in 1998. Readers will remember this comrade as the long-standing cadre who wrote the ominous words that the conclusion of "discussions in Wales" was that the "Scottish Socialist Alliance offers the answer" (Weekly Worker May 7 1998) - a comment that must have made Peter Taaffe's hair stand on end.

Since then, the Welsh organisation seems to have prevented any major haemorrhages, although its numerical strength is well down. Nevertheless, Swansea SP branch and its South Wales structure in general is a jewel in the somewhat depleted Taaffe crown judging from the weekly fund and paper sale reports carried in The Socialist. The SP has not run with the WSA project, however. And it has been the absence of any substantial organisation providing a lead that has seen the WSA fade.

The meeting in Llandrindod Wells will therefore be an opportunity to infuse the project with renewed vigour and energy. For inspiration, comrades could look east of the border to London. Clearly, Wales is lagging behind other areas of the UK in terms of cohering the left. London has spurted ahead and developments in Scotland remain interesting. In Wales, the left forces outside the Labour Party and Plaid Cymru are tiny, and independents are scattered far and wide.

That said, the WSA - small though it is - clearly has had a certain weight and authority. The mere fact that in last year's assembly elections the Socialist Workers Party was forced to reach an electoral deal with the WSA indicates this. Thus, while there is no pressing imperative as in London to pull the forces of the left together for action, there is clearly the need.

Labour in Wales is in trouble. Blair's stooge first minister in the assembly, Alun Michael, has been given until February 8 to produce œ85 million of treasury match funding for European Objective One funding (aimed at developing some of the poorest regions in the European Union) and a guarantee on additionality or he will face a no-confidence vote. Despite the support of senior figures in the Wales Labour Party, Michael looks a vulnerable figure. He was imposed as the leader of Welsh Labour by Blair against the clear preference of the majority of party members for Rhodri Morgan. Crassly undemocratic bloc votes were wielded by trade union bureaucrats in Wales to secure victory for Blair's poodle, Michael. Thus, it is richly ironic to hear the secretary of state for Wales, Paul Murphy, claim that, as far as Labour in Wales is concerned, there is "only one" nominee for first secretary - Alun Michael. It really all depends on who you ask .

Murphy's comment is clearly untrue. Sensing the weakness of his opponents in the party, the disgraced former minister Ron Davies has been making noises critical of the administration, leading some in the party to accuse him of giving succour to the nationalists. As the Western Mail notes, despite the bullish public assurances, privately many assembly members are not so sure of Michael's future and believe that his position "would be untenable if he lost the vote of no confidence" (January 26). One senior assembly member added, "If he does lose, it's a choice between Rhodri Morgan and Rhodri Morgan".

Labour's minority administration in Wales is a result of its disastrous performance in last year's assembly elections. Disillusionment with Labour translated into increased support for Plaid Cymru, which has styled itself as a 'socialist' party in some of Labour's traditional South Welsh heartlands to intersect with those disgruntled with Blairism.

In the aftermath of the elections, local Labourites - Michael included - have attempted to play a soft nationalist card. In a speech on November 22 of last year, he distanced himself from the official Labour line that the form of devolution in Wales was now a settled question. The assembly was part of a "process", he emphasised, and had to develop in tandem with the wishes of the Welsh people themselves. Essentially, this was an attempt to boost his individual standing with Plaid and Liberal Democrats AMs in the face of the threat of the no-confidence vote and - crucially - to parade independence from Millbank.

Leaked findings from the 'autopsy' established after the assembly elections put the blame for Labour's poor performance on voter perception of control-freakery from London compounded the general discontent with Blair's record in office.

At the same time, Plaid Cymru has attempted to downplay its nationalism and talk-up its leftist credentials. While this has provoked a small pro-independence grouping - Wales United - to launch itself in an attempt to fill a vacant pro-independence slot created by Plaid's evolution, its electoral successes should protect the party in the short term from the type of problems Labour is facing. These very successes will bring their own problems in the medium term, however.

Speaking for Cymru Goch at the Communist University last year, Tim Richards correctly pinpointed the tension within Plaid's image make-over: "The fact is that Plaid Cymru is a capitalist party, which still manages to sell itself as a socialist party in south Wales and liberal party in mid to north Wales - a balancing act which I believe is going to go off the rails . They have managed it in opposition . but now they are running two councils in south Wales, with horrendous financial results" (Weekly Worker November 25 1999).

Clearly, promising opportunities are opening up for socialistst to win over left forces within Plaid Cymru and among the ranks of Labour members and voters. Just as in the rest of Britain, there is no left organisation which alone can present itself as the answer. Despite the SWP's heavy numerical superiority over other forces - less marked in Wales than in London, it must be said - Cliff's organisation lacks social roots. This objective fact is what determines the need for alliances and electoral blocs such as the WSA.

The CPGB in Wales is committed to build the WSA. However, we want specifically to organise a communist republican pole as the third force in the WSA. That is why our comrades are taking the lead in estabishing a Republican Communist Network in Wales around the slogans 'republicanism', 'revolutionary democracy, 'workers' power', 'international socialism' and 'world communism'. The network has already built itself into the main left faction in the Scottish Socialist Party and a branch is due to be launched early next month in England. It should be emphasised that the RCN is not an England-Scotland-Wales organisation - members are recruited and operate on an all-Britain basis. This is a vital principle.

For the Communist Party, our ultimate objective is not formations such as the WSA in themselves. They provide forums where we can fight to overcome the sectarianism that cripples our movement in order to unite the advanced part of our class into a genuinely democratic centralist party - forums that provide the best possible conditions in the struggle for a genuine revolutionary programme.

In the absence of such a party and programme, the workers' movement is prey to all manner of alien influences and pressures. In particular, in Wales and Scotland, we have seen the politics of petty nationalism raise its ugly head and infect sections of our movement. We see the influence of this sectional approach in the various elements of the WSA and it colours the document 'Towards a socialist Wales', a draft perspectives document adopted by the WSA national committee on November 24 last year.

While there are many supportable demands in this, we would also be critical of what we identify as its eclectic left reformism. In addition, the WSA leadership worryingly speaks of a future "socialist Wales ... [that] would reach outwards to England, Scotland, Ireland and beyond in solidarity with working people". There is an implication in this that socialism in Wales - and the struggle for it - can in some way be separated from the same fight in England, Scotland or anywhere else. Surely, socialists in Wales should be quite clear. The reality of the UK state, the broadly similar levels of class struggle across Britain and the real existence of a British working class should impose an organic unity on our struggles.

This has to find expression organisationally and programmatically, in a party uniting socialists throughout the United Kingdom in the struggle to overthrow the monarchist state and the system of capital it defends.

Ian Mahoney

Meeting to launch the Republican Communist Network in Wales, Sandringham Hotel, 21 St Mary's Street, central Cardiff. Saturday February 26, 2pm. Phone 07930 129909 for more details.