Discussion about the relationship between socialism and the national question is fundamental to the future of the movement for independence, Undod. In these notes it is argued that a belief in the creation of socialism in one country is a dangerous foolishness. Outlined below are twelve considerations pertinent to the debate about the relationship between socialism and Welsh independence.
Some people might perceive these remarks as too theoretical but this view should be rejected. Without theory and analysis we shall only repeat the mistakes of the past.
1. Historically the relationship between socialism and nationalism has proved difficult, as regard both theory and practice.1
2. Socialism failed in Europe in the twentieth century, to a large extent because of the ideological hold of nationalism, in particular the nationalisms of the large states (‘socialism foundered on the rock of nationalism’). Most workers in Europe put loyalty to the nation state before international working class unity.
3.1. Self-determination is basically a matter of democracy. If a people seek self-government then it would be oppression to deny them that right.
3.2. Reactionary nationalism of oppressors is contrasted with the radical/revolutionary nationalism of the oppressed. Therefore, socialists should not support national movements indiscriminately. Rather, socialists should analyse specific national situations in terms of their potential contribution to international socialism and on that basis decide whether to support or not. A clear distinction is made between the Nationalism, with a capital N, of the imperialist nation-states and the small n of the national freedom movements.
3.3. Lenin’s major theoretical contribution was his treatment of the dialectical relationship between the economy and politics. In accord with the fundamentals of Marxism the economy is basic but Lenin recognised that the political level is to a certain extent independent of the economy and can be regarded, to a degree, apart from the economy.
3.4. Because of the relative autonomy of the political level it is meaningful for nations to seek self-determination if they so wish.
3.5. Even by the start of the twentieth century capitalism had more than started the process of integrating the economy across Europe. Increasingly, over the course of the century, the economy of individual countries became less independent and more interdependent.
3.6. Lenin’s answer to the national question was to support political independence for a country if this advanced the movement toward international socialism. Having gained national freedom a country should give up some of its sovereignty in order to benefit from being part of a larger economic unit. In essence, Lenin’s answer was a Union of Socialist Republics of Europe. Tragically, Russia’s 1917 revolution became isolated due to the failure of the revolution across Europe in that period.
4. The process of internationalisation and globalisation of the economy has accelerated over the last hundred years which means that national economic independence is now totally impractical. This is even more so the case for Wales than for virtually any other nation because the economy has been international and open since the early days of the industrial revolution and is increasingly so currently.
5. Thus, the answer for Wales is political independence but economic interdependence. That is, sovereign political power but choosing to give up some sovereignty in order to benefit from being part of an international economic unit. Lenin argued that political independence meant retaining the right to withdraw from any economic union with other countries. His neat dialectic was that it is the freedom to leave a union that guarantees the real choice to remain a member of an international union.
6. What sort of economic union should Wales be a member of? A union at an UK level or at a European level? Obviously the current UK and European Union are both capitalist unions. It is a different matter to envisage the possibilities of a Wales as part of a socialist economic union-but at what level, Britain or Europe?
Sections of the British left adhere to a belief in the ‘British Road to Socialism’, or some recent version of this route. This underlies the British Communist Party’s support for Brexit and that of some of the older generation members of the Labour Party, including Corbyn. It would be an injustice to label the standpoint of principled comrades, like Corbyn, simply as a belief in ‘socialism in one country’. However, the trouble is that their stance could prepare the way for dangerous ideas about ‘National Socialism’. This is a real concern because so many people in the UK are now alienated by capitalism’s failures and are turning to reactionary forms of British nationalism. All this amidst confusion about identity during the fag end of the British Empire.
7. The vast majority of socialist movements in mainland Europe reject the idea of attempting to create socialism in one country. On the contrary, they perceive the need for transformation/revolution on a European level. They don’t believe in a German or French road, as such, to socialism.
8. What then is the answer for socialists in Wales? The national question is too important to be left to nationalists in Wales and too important to be left out by socialists-as generally do British unionist ‘socialists’. On the whole, the British left has been and is blind to imperialism and British Nationalism.
Essentially, the answer is political independence for Wales and economic interdependence within a Union of Socialist Republics of Europe. It is argued that both aims, political independence and socialism, are inextricably linked. The quest of Europe’s subjugated nations for freedom is an essential part of the struggle for a socialist Europe.
9. How do we strive for a Union of Socialist Republics of Europe? Mainly by class struggle but other factors such as ecology and the environment, feminism, peace, human rights, participative democracy and so on are crucial, as are language and culture in its widest sense. Radical government in Wales, together with civil society and communities, could promote cultural change that would contribute to creating the conditions and consciousness necessary for socialist transition. Gwyn Alf Williams’ discussion of the relevance of the ideas of the Sardinian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, to the crisis in Wales is key to understanding the role of culture in political transformation.4 5
10. Socialist answers to the national questions in Europe are imperative in the struggle for socialism. Radical national movements are essential to the transformation of Europe. Catalonia and Wales’ struggles for national freedom are intrinsic to the creation of a socialist Europe. Thus, from the perspective of creating a socialist Europe the struggles of socialists in Catalonia and Wales for independence is as one. As with Spanish unionists, British unionists fail to comprehend this, which explains why they’re virtually silent on the current situation in Catalonia.
11. As Raymond Williams argued, socialism could take a variety of forms in different countries according to the character and history of each country. In the case of Wales, there is an opportunity to develop a socialism in which community provides a strong counterbalance to the power of the state.6
12. Having set the goal of an independent Wales within a Union of Socialist Republics of Europe it is possible to plan steps to be taken towards achieving the goal. This is not the place to elaborate on the steps. Rather, it is a collaborative task for socialists in Wales and beyond to plan the way forward. There are steps a radical government in Wales could take, even with the current limited Assembly powers. If we take one example-it is high time to ask why more than 85% of public money for economic development in Wales is in the form of subsidies for transnational capitalist companies whilst communities and the foundation economy have to beg for financial crumbs. This one fact illustrates clearly that Wales currently has a government that serves private capital at the expense of community. The situation does not have to be like this, even under the system as it is now.
- Munck, R. (1986) The Difficult Dialogue: Marxism and Nationalism. Zed Books.
- Lenin, V.I. (1913) Theses on the National Question. (See: Lenin Internet Archive (2004))
- Löwy, M. (1976) Marxism and the National Question. New Left Review 96.
- Williams, G.A. (1984) Marcsydd o Sardiniwr ac Argyfwng Cymru. Efrydiau Athronyddol 1984. Prifysgol Cymru.
- Desolation Radio podcast (2018)
- Williams, R. (2008) (ed. Daniel Williams) Who Speaks for Wales?: Nation, Culture, Identity.