Monday, May 18, 2009

Billy Griffiths

Billy Griffiths from Llwynypia never rose above the rank of private in the International Brigade's British Battalion, yet he was a private who commanders deferred to and whose work during the Spanish Civil War was singled out for praise by the Comintern. Griffiths' status was not gained through any stirring military exploit. Although his physical courage could never be doubted, he rarely carried a weapon. No, Griffiths was a political commissar, his standing derived from his secret position within the Communist party and the shadowy presence of Stalin's NKVD.

The present-day left in Wales glorifies the International Brigaders, indeed they seem to think far more of the 150 or so Welshmen who fought for Stalin in Spain than for the tens of thousands of their fellow countrymen and women who fought for democracy against fascism. I doubt if our Cardiff Bay leftists have even heard of the Yezhovshchina but if history had turned out differently then Billy Griffiths possessed all the attributes to be a Welsh Beria or Yagoda.

A zealous and fanatical Leninist, Griffiths was quite prepared to mark the cards of his fellow countrymen with the dreaded accusation of Trotskyism - a certain death sentence. Around 50% of his comrades were branded as weak or bad, at a time when countless thousands were being shot in Russia for far less. As it happened shooting Brigaders was not seen as being a good move at the time and at most only five Welshmen received a bullet in the back of the skull from their comrades. One was Griffiths' butty Alec Cummings, who was probably suffering from shell-shock. Cummings had previously survived a court-martial where his old pal had pressed for the death sentence.

Unlike those AMs who worship at the altar of Thirties Spain, Griffiths was a serious revolutionary. He is one of the more interesting characters to have come out of twentieth century Wales. As things are he is largely forgotten and even his memoirs remain unpublished. His story deserves to be better known, but that would involve facing up to some uncomfortable truths, so don't hold your breath.


Buster Mottram said...

I bet he never formed a song writing partnership with Kenny Lynch though.

kjj said...

Hi Buster - you're the guy from GMTV right?

Buster Mottram said...

The one that can't dance? Yeah that's me. All that goose-stepping left me very rigid and inflexible.