SOCIALISM IN WALES: MASS WORKERS’ PARTY
The success of Blaenau Gwent People’s Voice (BGPV) in winning two elections in 2005 and 2006 shows the potential for a new mass workers’ party in the Valleys. It is unclear how BGPV will develop in the future. New Labour’s attempt to force a Blairite Labor Party candidate in Blaenau Gwent to use a women-only shortlist backfired and divided the best elements of the party. The original reasons for the split became secondary to his anti-New Labor agenda and he won the election because he held to the traditions of socialism and Aneurin Bevan, the founder of the NHS.
The Socialist Party Wales is ready to work with BGPV members to try to form a new mass workers party. Will BGPV be able to use its successes in Blaenau Gwent to form new People’s Voice (PV) organizations in the rest of Wales? It is possible to develop such organizations in all the valleys of South Wales. But a strategy to win over Labor members to form new PV organizations is unlikely to succeed, as the most active elements have left the Labor Party. The only way to broaden support is to use parliamentary and assembly positions to campaign in other areas to win new layers with a bold reform agenda. This would open up the prospect of a new working class party in Wales that could challenge the four pro-capitalist parties.
Wales/Cymru striker Ymlaen basing himself on a narrow layer and conservative policies couldn’t get out of his Wrexham stronghold. He has even now lost most of his base in Wrexham and could lose the seat in the Assembly elections.
Wales has seen a number of attempts to build new left alternatives to labor and the social weight of the working class in society means there is huge potential for a new mass workers party. But this will mainly come from new forces in unions, communities and youth. The Socialist Party is gaining a growing echo in Wales for the demand for a new mass workers party and we will continue to build the campaign whilst also being ready to react to any new formations that may arise.
As in other parts of the UK, the BNP in Wales is taking advantage of the absence of a new workers’ party to try to fill the void left by New Labor’s transition to a big business party. Recognizing the difficulties in promoting the “British Bulldog” image of the BNP in Wales, they attempted to portray this racist party in Wales as the defenders of the Welsh white working class and the true heirs of Welsh nationalism. Some of their propaganda leaflets titled “Rebecca Reborn” (a reference to the Rebecca Riots in Wales in the 19th century) attack Plaid Cymru for its neglect of the native Welsh population and its appeasement of Muslim communities.
However, the BNP has watered down its crude racist propaganda to hide its extreme racist views and is focusing its efforts on more social issues, immigration issues, etc., in hopes of attracting voters unhappy with the right-wing policies of the New Labor both in Westminster and in the Assembly. . The BNP will contest for more assembly seats in May and hopes to benefit from the increased national visibility it has generated in recent years. A layer of disillusioned voters, frustrated with mainstream political parties, can give the BNP a protest vote, particularly in the run-down urban precincts of Cardiff, Newport, Swansea and Wrexham and an increase in their vote in the Assembly over to 2003 is possible unless challenged.
The Socialist Party will work alongside all anti-racist/fascist organizations in Wales to defeat the threat of the BNP, but in order to combat their genuine racist, homophobic and anti-union agenda, a socialist alternative must be offered to the people of Wales. , linked to the campaign for a new workers’ party.
THE NATIONAL ISSUE
The national question and the question of independence have somewhat receded over the past six or seven years. Plaid downplays the request and focuses on advocating for more powers for the Assembly. But Marxists would be wrong to conclude that the question is finally settled.
The Labor Assembly Government felt that more powers were needed to work effectively and more and more new demands will be made for a Welsh Parliament with legislative and fiscal powers. If Plaid holds the balance of power in the Assembly after the election, there will likely be a referendum on the issue in 2011.
And events in Scotland could change the mood in Wales. The SNP is neck and neck with Labor in opinion polls and if an SNP-led executive were elected, the SNP would put forward a bill for an independence referendum within the first 100 days in office. An ICM survey for the Sunday Telegraph suggested that support for Scottish independence had reached 52%. A vote for independence is not the most likely outcome, but even a referendum in Scotland would have a significant effect on the mood in Wales, raising the question of independence again.
The Socialist Party of Wales has always understood that the objective situation is somewhat different in Wales and Scotland. For economic, historical, social and geographical reasons, there has been a greater degree of national consciousness among the working class in Scotland than in Wales. Support for Welsh independence has steadily grown over the past two decades, but the idea is facing significant hurdles. In addition to significant social ties to England, there would be a barrage of economic arguments of the type recently voiced by Rhodri Morgan against Plaid Cymru: “Independence is a non-starter because in Wales we have 5% of the population of the United Kingdom, raising 4% of taxation and having 6% of needs”.
In Scotland, the situation is different. It is important to note that in recent times the more class-conscious and radical elements of the working class in Scotland have tended to support the idea of independence. The Socialist Party Wales’ sister party in Scotland, the International Socialists, put forward the slogan of an independent socialist Scotland as part of a socialist confederation with England, Wales and Ireland to link the idea socialism and an independent Scotland. International Socialists opposed the idea of stages put forward by the Scottish Socialist Party leadership: first a capitalist Scotland and then perhaps socialism. We stressed that an independent capitalist Scotland would not solve any of the problems of the working class in Scotland.
In Wales, however, there has not been the same support for independence among workers and young people. There are different attitudes towards the national question within the working class. There is general dissatisfaction with the Assembly, but this is expressed in different ways. Many working class people believe that the Assembly is a waste of money. But many of them support the idea of more powers for the Assembly. An older layer would support the abolition of the Assembly, but this is diminishing as an idea. Even the Conservatives support the Assembly now.
There is also a part of the working class who think Wales should have a parliament or even independence. This layer is not grossly nationalist but includes those who see the role of a Welsh parliament as a radical force in the struggle to change society. There may be a nationalist tinge to it, but they aspire to change society. And there is also a layer of workers suspicious of nationalism and fearful that nationalism will be used by Plaid Cymru to cross the labor movement. Support for a parliament or independence is stronger among young people, but this is accompanied by greater skepticism towards politics in general. There are also different moods in the regions of Wales with, unsurprisingly, support for decentralization strongest in Gwynedd and weakest in Gwent. Marxists must be able to approach these different layers, perhaps with different accents, but with the same program.
The position of the Socialist Party on the national question in Wales has remained essentially the same for over twenty years. In addition to defending the right to national self-determination, socialists support self-government – at this point, an elected parliament with legislative and tax regularization powers because it is a fundamental democratic demand and also because that it will benefit the interests of both the Welsh working class and the working class in the rest of Britain. The relative weight of the working class in Welsh society means that home rule can be used to advance workers’ interests and win reforms that encourage the movement both in Wales and the rest of Britain .
Marxists are not opposed to independence on principle; they put forward all the demands that advance the movement of the working class towards a socialist transformation. But we believe that in Wales there are a number of issues which mean the Socialist Party Wales should not push forward with this demand. First, the most important principle for socialists should be to maintain the unity of the working class. A struggle for independence in Wales risks not only dividing the Welsh working class from the English, but also dividing the Welsh working class itself. A significant part of the Welsh working class is resolutely opposed to independence.
Secondly, if the Socialists were to adopt a position of fighting for independence at this stage, it would cut them off from the vast majority of Welsh workers. From our perspective, there is no point in alienating working-class socialists on an issue that we believe would not be decisive in the interest of advancing socialism.
Nevertheless, Marxists must always reevaluate their position on the national question in a sensitive way. The guiding principle on the national question is what can advance the struggle of the working class towards socialism.
The year 2007 begins with the Socialist Party Wales in a favorable position with great opportunities opening up, particularly in the unions and among young people. There is still a slight hangover from the 1990s in working class consciousness but also broad agreement with our general ideas. The key question is how a workers’ party can be built to move them forward.
In this situation, all kinds of political formations can be created. The Socialist Party of Wales will have to be flexible in its tactics while being firm in its principles, as Lenin said, to react to the possibilities which will present themselves in the coming period. But we have the potential with the quality and reputation of our membership to become the main force on the left in Wales.