Monday, July 29, 2013

The Big Lie

This thoroughly researched book, it's really an extended essay of 112 pages, exposes the big lie that Welsh nationalists can somehow be implicated  with pre-war fascism. The accusations just don't stand up to Professor Jones's scrutiny and are shown to be without foundation, unworthy of any decent person.

Such a serious book should receive wide attention so I'd like to restrict my comments to a couple of minor themes explored in the chapter entitled Diwylliant Gwleidyddol Cymru.

Firstly, while the lies about Welsh nationalism and fascism are recurring elements on the Welsh political scene, there has been virtually no effort to discuss the real Welsh fascists of the 1930s.  This is the solitary exception from the pen of an English academic.

I don't really agree with Professor Jones about the significance of the 30% polled by the Mosleyite candidate in Merthyr in 1931. It was a straight fight and in 1929 the Tories and Liberals had polled 40%. Certainly Mosley's long-time associate Jeffrey Hamm has been ignored in Wales, just as cosy myths about the Spanish Civil War are preferred to, say, examining the life of a revolutionary like Billy Griffiths.  Such people are confined to the footnotes.  I'd like to add a couple more forgotten names: the ex-Communist from Cardiff, Rupert Arthur Beavan, an influential BUF organiser in West Ham; and the Liverpool-Welsh journalist Norah Briscoe (nee Davies).  She wrote for the Daily Mirror, was jailed for wartime spying in an MI5 sting operation and later wrote a well-received prison novel No Complaints in Hell.  In contrast to exploring the lives of these real but forgotten fascists and others like them, we must endure the frequently regurgitated fantasies against Plaid Cymru.  Why?

Is it because socialists don't want to explore their own backyard?  After all Mosley was on the radical wing of the Labour Party, an ally of the likes of William Cove, Nye Bevan and A J Cook.  No Welsh parliamentarians followed Mosley into the fascist wilderness but plenty of other former Labour and ILP MPs and ex-candidates in England did, and not just those involved with the short-lived New Party.  Did these people suddenly stop being socialists or did they believe that the Fascist's policies of state worship, corporatism and collectivism were not a thousand miles from their previous standpoints?

Secondly Professor Davies makes a sad but surely correct observation when he suggests that the big lie has been around for so long and been revived so often that many Welsh nationalists have come to believe that it must be true.  Why is this?

Is it because Welsh activists are so involved with domestic matters that they have little time for the wider world?  You see this in the way the Welsh blogosphere has little of interest to say about foreign affairs.  Do Welsh nationalists nowadays see the wider world only through the prism of the BBC?  Does Plaid Cymru want to be loved by the British left - who they seem to view as moral arbiters qualified to pass judgement on Wales and her history?  My own view is that it's high-time that we engaged with the world and not just the  bien pensants.


Jac o' the North, said...

When I was campaigning for Plaid Cymru back in Swansea in the 1960s the more common insult levelled was "conshies" (conscientious objectors), which I think for some of those using it was worse than 'fascist'. Almost as if supporting the opposition they could forgive, but not wanting to get involved was far worse.

Anonymous said...

I recall hearing a story of Saunders Lewis proposing a toast to Adolf Hitler back in the 30's at an event which apparently Rhodri Morgan's father was present. Naturally, being the good socialist, Rhodri Morgan's father left immediately. Who can vouch for the veracity of this story? Or did I just make it up too?

In regard to the Spanish Civil War, many Irish threw their lot in with Franco as the socialists were butchering priests.

I'm grateful to the conflict for providing the inspiration for 'Spanish Bombs' by the Clash. I'm also thinking of joining up with the Spanish to crush that bloody rock full of monkeys.

radnorian said...

Yes you did make it up .... the story is about a toast to Franco not Hitler .... to a fine Christian gentleman I think it was.

Rhodri's dad was agent to W J Gruffydd who defeated Saunders Lewis in the famous 1943 by election for the Welsh Universities parliamentary seat.

Another Saunders Lewis quote, in a speech reported by the Western Mail, it doesn't get so much exposure as the Franco one:

"It is possible, he added, that there would be bloodshed in South Wales if there was a Fascist Government. In such a case the Nationalist Party must take sides with the popular masses of Wales against Fascist dictatorship."

I hope you don't land in hot water with the animal rights people for those anti-monkey sentiments.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your interest in the book.

You may be correct about Merthyr 1931. The point is that we don't really know. There is, as far as I'm aware, no serious treatment of the campaign, the nature of the New Party in Merthyr etc. The interesting thing is that Welsh historians just assume that it had nothing to do with fascism or proto-fascism and even seek to exonerate the NP candidate. 'Was poor Sellick Davies ever a fascist?' asks Robert Griffiths. Given that Davies was subsequently a British Union of Fascists activist, I think the answer to that is YES!


radnorian said...

Indeed. I guess it will be impossible now to uncover the motives of the 30% who voted for the NP.

As a consumer of history I'd certainly be happy to read some serious research on the later BUF in Wales. What were their influences - those who thought something-must-be-done about the depression, the anti-semitism of small shopkeepers, the Irish Catholic element, former ILP folk etc. I'm not going to hold my breath though.