What kind of nationalism?

The Welsh Socialist Alliance held a very successful first annual day school on Sunday May 26. Over 50 people attended the event and many of the debates were lively and thought-provoking. Sessions included those on the 'War on terror' and 'The trade unions and the political levy'. The best attended meeting proved to be the forum on 'Wales and the national question'. This was made up of a speaker each from the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party, Cymru Goch and the Communist Party of Great Britain. Speaking for the SWP, Charlie Kimber argued that nationalism as a phenomenon manifests itself today in two forms - the nationalism of oppressor states and that of oppressed peoples. For comrade Kimber this clearly meant that the main enemy for socialists in Britain is the nationalism of the British state. However, somewhat in contradiction to his initial thesis of only two kinds of nationalism, comrade Kimber then went on to deny that Wales is an oppressed nation in any sense and argued that socialists should not advocate Welsh independence. This is correct, of course, although the absence of any right for its people to self-determination marks a democratic deficit which socialists must fight to rectify. Nevertheless, comrade Kimber badly needs to develop a more sophisticated view of a world neatly divided up into two forms of nationalism. One wonders also why comrade Kimber's view of the inadvisability of independence for Wales does not also apply to Scotland, since his SWP comrades constantly assure us that they would have "no problem" with the Scottish Socialist Party's call for an "independent socialist Scotland". Clearly, there are certain differences between the approaches of the SWP and the SP - at least in public. Dave Reed for the Socialist Party argued that if national consciousness in Wales reached the levels attained in Scotland, then it would be perfectly permissible for socialists to advocate independence for Wales. Ignorantly he used Lenin's alleged support for the secession of Norway from Sweden in support of his argument. It seems to be the case for the Socialist Party that whilst Welsh nationalism is relatively weak, independence should not be advocated. However, once opinion polls indicate substantial support for this option, then socialists must adjust their programme. In reality, the Socialist Party is less concerned about Leninist orthodoxy than it is about tailing nationalist movements. Tim Richards of Cymru Goch, however, was bothered neither about opinion polls nor Lenin. For comrade Richards, the Welsh 'nation' has been oppressed ever since the 'English' invasion of 'Wales' in 1282. That nations were the creation of the capitalist mode of production was clearly for comrade Richards something that was not going to get in the way of his 'Marxist' analysis. He went on to argue that Wales to this day remains a colony of English capital and this manifests itself most obviously in the dominance of the English language in the principality. It therefore followed that it was the duty of Welsh socialists to advocate independence for Wales. Not to do so, argued comrade Richards, leads one into the camp of British nationalism. Mark Fischer for the CPGB took issue with the positions of the three previous speakers. He argued that the politics of Cymru Goch were pernicious politics that were characterised by a paucity of real thought. Undeniably, terrible outrages had been committed against the Welsh in previous centuries. Nevertheless, to advocate the break-up of the historic unity of the British working class was to cross over into the camp of nationalism. Comrade Fischer noted that nationalism has filled a gap in Welsh politics brought about by the defeats of the Welsh working class over the last 20 years. The job of socialists, however, is not to bow to this anti-working class ideology, but to develop a strategy for combating its influence. He took issue with the SWP and the SP for failing to do likewise. Instead in practice they both seem to want to tail the nationalist agenda, rather than fight it. Instead he advocated that socialists should fight for the right of self-determination for Wales and Scotland and, at the same time, for the strongest political unity between the working classes of Great Britain. Concretely, this means fighting for a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales. There then followed contributions from the floor with the speakers finally summing up. Of interest was the comment from Charlie Kimber that the struggle against the monarchy was a peripheral issue. If this is really the case, then comrade Kimber's claim that the British state is his number one enemy is a hollow one. Quite clearly he sees no connection between the monarchy, the acts of union and the struggle of socialists against the status quo. The closing rally saw Liz Davies, chair of the Socialist Alliance, address those assembled. She noted the continued presence of the SP in the WSA and regretted its withdrawal from the SA. She made no comment on the withdrawal from the WSA of Cymru Goch. Cameron Richards