Jim Riordan, the writer of this recently published book, gave a very interesting studio interview on R4's Midweek programme today. In the interview, in which he provided an insight into his remarkable life, he announced that he had rejoined the Communist Party here in Britain.
Dunno if you're interested or not, but read your May 08 link to the Time magazine article about James Morton back in the 1920's, after doing a bit of faily research; this guy was my husband's great uncle. We have his red silk commemmorative banner, which had been draped over his coffin, which I have just had translated by a Russian teacher at my school. On one side it reads: 'Comrade James Morton. The first and original ambassador of Revolutionary workers of England.' (sic) - James may have moved to Leningrad from Liverpool, but he was a Scot, from Gourock on Clydeside! I wonder if he was turning in his coffin at the thought of what was written above him?! On the other side it reads: 'To the founder of the United Revolutionary Front of the working class from the Central Committee of B..? Socialist Workers Metal Workers.'
We also have a Walton Socialist Society, of Liverpool, 'penny pamphlet', called "Twelve months in Soviet Russia", which his brother, David Scott Morton (local councillor and chairman of Stockport County FC), got published on his behalf. It's in the form of a letter to Lady Astor from James, written in 1927, and details the family's life in Leningrad, and the welcome they received. It takes Lady Astor to task for moving the goalposts and setting down unpublicised, stringent conditions on his acceptance of her challenge, such as that they had to leave with nothing but their tickets, the clothes they stood up in and a couple of pounds to their name.
The banner and pamphlet came into our hands because my husband's uncle, Jim Morton, was a Commodore Chief Engineer with Manchester Shipping Line, and frequently went back and forth to Canada, which is where James' daughter Mary (the 9yr old girl mentioned in the Times Mag article) had gone after her parents and brother died in Russia. Apparently she was always afraid that the Russian NKVD (KGB) would follow her there and bump her off, so Jim was the only member of the family who kept in touch with her or knew where she lived in Canada.
The banner and pamphlet make interesting mementoes from troubled times, and I have added the Times Magazine article to the family archive as well, so thanks for that! I still cannot get over how bloody-minded James must have been and can't help wondering how his family REALLY felt about having to upsticks and move to a totally alien environment, just to prove his point and get one over on the Astor family! Must be in the family genes, David Scott Morton was a coscientious objector in the First World War, and my husband can be a bit bloody-minded at times!
Hope this wasn't too boring, just thought it was a coincidence that someone was aware of this case after all this time...
I'm overhwelmed to read this. David Scott Morton was my grandfather and my mother talked of his brother James going out to Russia under a Nancy Astor scheme. She talked of the coffin covered with a red cloth and I think she may have had a photo of it.
I have a photo of Mum taken with Mary - Mary looks about 9 years old - and I remember sailor Jim visiting us when I was a teenager. He once brought me a budgerigar back from his travels! I was sad when he died from pneumonia.
I would so much like to talk further about this and would love to see the Penny notice that you talk about. I never knew that granddad was a conscientious objector although I have wondered why he didn't fight in the war but had assumed that he was in some reserved occupation. He stood as a Labour candidate in the 1930s in strong conservative areas, but although polling good results, failed to get elected.
I came across your posting when googling Lady Astor & Liverpool as I was trying to find out about my grandfather's friend who took up Lady Astor's offer to emmigrate to the USSR. I heard this story from my father who died a few years ago aged 91. My grandfather was William Wilson from Leigh but lived in Rock Ferry, Birkenhead from about 1910 until 1937 when the family moved to Wrexham. He worked at Cammel Lairds as a clerk. I understand he used to sell a newspaper called Russia Today and described himself as a Bolshevic and was a supporter of Trotsky. He used to make speeches on the Peer Head and my dad talked about him hiding people in their house who were wanted by the police for their political activity. I would really like to know more about my grandfather's politics and which organisation he was a member of. I don't know much about the organisations around at the time and so any information would be welcome.
I first heard this story from my friend Dave, a retired bricklayer originally from Liverpool (Bootle). James Morton was his grandfather. Dave tells me that he remembers a ribbon his mother had from the wreath of James Morton together with a flag with the hammer and sickle. He also remembers meeting his Aunty Mary, who is mentioned in the previous photographs. He was told that James Morton has a state funeral. James Morton's wife was called Rachel. Mary had a brother called Allan, who grew up to be a soldier in the Red Army. He died in the war against Finland. Mary left USSR after siege of Leningrad together with her mother and her son James. During the siege of Leningrad they ate laboratory rats from the laboratory of a scientist friend. Mary disguised herself as a boy during her flight from Leningrad (to avoid rape). Mary married an American Officer called Jimmy Jensen who she met at a camp for displaced persons in Germany. Apparently, Mary was a translator at the Nuremburg war crimes trial.
It would be helpful if the pamplet mentioned in a previous posting could be scanned and posted up on to this site.
I have printed off the previous postings and passed them on to Dave who was amazed to find that there were still people in his family who remembered James Morton.
Philomena asks what organisation was James Morton a member of in 1925. My informant described his grandfather as a "communist". there is a reasonable probability then that he was a supporter and possibly a member of the CPGB. It would be interesting to see if James Morton's story was repeated in any other journal or documents from the period. Unfortunately, the Daily Worker did not commence publication until 1930. A pity, since that might have been the place to start looking.
I am not sure about CPGB archives - if anybody on this site is familiar with these, perhaps they could advise.
I wonder if anybody recognises "the three bronze statues, totaling half a ton in weight".
"James Morton has the laugh on Lady Astor," said A. J. ("Emperor") Cook, Secretary of the British Coal Miners' Federation, returning last week to London from a triumphant visit to Moscow (TIME, Dec. 20).
"James Morton," continued "Emperor" Cook to newsgatherers, "asked me to pay his respects to Lady Astor who so kindly paid his passage to Russia.* As a skilled worker, Morton is getting $20 a week $2.50 more than his last wage in England. He says he can save $5 a week, whereas he never quite earned enough to make ends meet at home.
"Mrs. Morton has two rooms and a kitchen in a converted hotel which are roomier and cheaper than the former quarters of the family in Liverpool. Food costs less than in England, school and doctors cost about the same, and clothes she buys through a 'cooperative' at not much above the English prices.
"She never wants to return to England except to visit friends. She enjoys the Russian movies and shows and has just received a cheap ticket to the first night grand opera ballet. The children are already talking Russian, and the 9-year-old girl is also learning German and music.
"Morton works an hour a day less than in England, but says that the job is harder owing to the antiquated equipment. The factory runs smoothly and is now producing " an output equal to pre-War times."
Questioned further, Mr. Cook declared that he brought back from Russia "some wonderful presents:" 1) a pledge from Russian labor unions to levy upon their 9,000,000 members for a gigantic fund to relieve the distress caused among British miners by the collapse of their coal strike; 2) three bronze statues, totaling half a ton in weight, and displaying workers in attitudes of extreme revolutionary truculence; 3) an entire series of medals and commemorative placques for British mine leaders who took an outstanding part in the coal strike.
*She was "called" by Mr. Morton when she bluffingly offered to send an English laboring man to Russia, if she could find one who would promise to stay there two years (TIME, Dec. 21, 1925
This is the website which holds the archives. As it costs £40 for a week's subscription I will be looking for a cheaper way of searching them! If anyone has any ideas I would be grateful. Thanks for all the info.
If you can get to the library of a university that has a subscription to that service, you'll be able to browse the online catalogue for nothing. Or if you can get to Manchester, you can just make an appointment and visit the archives themselves. I don't recall anything on James Morton, but that does not necessarily mean there isn't anything. It's sixteen years since I stopped working there.
There are a few points that need to be made, though. Firstly, the CPGB never had a consistent archiving policy. Therefore the records are very patchy, and depended on whether individuals and/or central departments were inclined to keep things or throw them away. Secondly, before the war the CPGB tended not to keep too many records of its central bodies, but instead sent them to the CI in Moscow. There are better records in Moscow of the early CPGB than there are in Manchester. Thirdly, lots of things were never put on paper, especially in the early days when police raids were not uncommon. So it is quite possible that no records exist, at least, not in Britain.
Yes I recall Prof Williams calling himself a "Titoist" in a media interview. At the time I wasn't sure what he exactly meant by it as I believed his only excursion into organised communist politics was a brief stay in the YCL prior to the Second World War before joining the Labour Party and ultimately ending up in Plaid Cymru.
However this tribute states that he broke with the CPGB over the Stalin-Tito rift which would have to be sometime in 1948:
Can't say I recall any reviews of his works in the Star when I was in the old Party and he first came to my attention when he did that TV series on Welsh history. To my shame the only book of his that I have ever read was "When was Wales" after it was reviewed in the New Worker in the early 80s. I say this because this thread triggered off a search of his bibliography firing a desire to get hold of his books on early Welsh history and add "Excalibur: The Search for Arthur" to my own Arthurian collection.
Talking of which I have just found the Howard Fast tribute site which contains the complete text of "Tito and his people":
Interesting that the Titoite Gwyn Alf Williams ended up on the left of Plaid Cymru and therefore showed that he favoured Welsh Independence. Of similar background, and oratorical powers the bitter-sweet humourist Gwyn Thomas stayed closer to the CPGB line in this respect, although I am sure he was not a CPGB member.
Again it is wonderful to hear his voice again courtesy of the all-seeing eye of You Tube:
P.S. With reference to Kim's mention of Excalibur, it is a very good read and well illustrated. Well worth the effort of finding a copy.
Gwyn Alf was a member of one of the Maoist groups for a period in the 1960s/70s - either the British & Irish Communist Organisation or the Communist Organisation of the British Isles. Members had to learn a foreign language as a condition of membership, I believe. I think he was lecturing somewhere up North (Leeds or Bradford University?) around the same time. He then came back to Wales and rejoined the CPGB, playing the main part in organising the Communist University of Wales. He joined Plaid Cymru around 1982, and edited the journal Radical Wales. Even then, he continued to call himself a 'communist' in public speeches - I was there on one occasions when he did so, in Cardiff. He dropped out of activity with Plaid in his last years, and moved to south west Wales. I'm not sure if he actually left Plaid Cymru, or let his membership lapse. Yes, he was on the Tito side of that divison in the communist movement, but that did not stop him rejoining the CPGB or calling himself a communist - or 'an apprentice of Marxism' - to the end. His friend Rob Griffiths wrote an obituary to him in the Morning Star,
In contrast to Gwyn Alf Williams, here we have the views of Welsh writer Gwyn Thomas on the question of nationalism:
A splendid writer (published by Lawrence and Wishart among others) Gwyn but he does not seem to have read his Connolly.
(Yr hen ogledd)
Thanks for this link, which contains much to mull over.
It would be useful to drill down further into certain debates.
Lyndon White's paper (see paper forwarded previously) states:
"In October 1950 Bill Rees presented his paper The Problem of Welsh Nationality and the Communist Solution to the Welsh Committee, advocating a federal union as a solution to Britains national question. According to Gwyn Williams his work was subsequently shelved. Following on from this, Idris Cox himself was moved to the partys International Department in June 1951, under something of a cloud and amid what Davies cites as accusations of bourgeois nationalist deviation."
It would be useful to know more about the arguments for and against this proposition and to read his paper. I wonder if there was any discussion about the possible implications of such a proposal for the political situation in Ireland? Surely a dangerous idea?
White also states
"It was not uncommon for the party to have internal debates about the national issue. Bert Pearce remembered inheriting such a discussion when he became Welsh Secretary in 1960:
I remember this very well because one of the first papers about the nature of Wales was written by a Professor [George Thompson] in Birmingham ... Bill [Alexander - Pearces predecessor] knew him very well and he got him to do us an opening to a discussion that they had down here and when I came down then in 1960 this was one of the things that I inherited ..."
This paper by an opponent of CPGB revisionism could make very interesting reading. I wonder if a copy still exists. But surely George left the CPGB before 1960?
In addition Communist apostate John Tarver wrote a paper - I think it was called Wales: A Partial Internal Colony, and was published in the first edition of New Communisy Review. Must look it up when I return from my perigrinations.
John Tarver did not feature in the first edition of the New Communist Review (October 1978) nor, as far I as I know, did he ever have a paper published in the NCR entitled "Wales: A Partial Internal Colony". He did, however, write the paper which appeared under his own name in issue 3 of the NCR called "Nationalism in Britain" which is almost certainly the one you mean because he says "The decay of Scotland and Wales unmistakably goes on and carries this resemblance forward. In view of its modified nature, this overall situation justifies the description of PARTIAL INTERNAL COLONIALISM". (author's CAPS, p29 NCR 3 undated but probably 1979).
When George Thomson left the CPGB is another matter. His opposition to the first draft of the BRS in 1951 is well known. But when I first came across Thomson's works when I was in the old Party in 1971 (works on ancient Greece and "From Marx to Mao")one old comrade in my district believed that he still held a CPGB card. Perhaps some of the veterans on this site can shed more light on this?
covering his return to the Catholic faith and disowning much of his experience in the German Democratic Republic. He was still saying the same sort of thing three years later in this 2009 Reuters report:
Call me old fashioned if you like, but if I was doing research on stasi agents from UK, I think I would want to take a peep at what the stasi files had to say about them - not just information on what they gave to the stasi. Might be interesting. Who knows?
COMMUNIST HISTORY NETWORK
NEWSLETTER No 12 SPRING 2002
The CPGB and the national question in post-war Wales:
the case of Idris Cox
This article explores the attitude of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) to the Welsh national question in the post-war period. It particularly focuses on the departure of CPGB Welsh organiser Idris Cox to take up a position with the partys International Department in London in 1951. A number of writers have suggested that Coxs removal was due to his understanding of Welsh nationalism and his subsequent desire for the CPGB to address it in a positive fashion. The article is a revised version of a chapter in my Masters thesis The Communist Party in South Wales, 1945-70, which also considers some of the issues involved in the CPGBs turn toward a more serious engagement with the national question in the late 1960s. Neither in this article nor in the thesis have I been able to consider the organisation and views of the Communist Party on a national (Welsh) basis in any great depth. A small North Wales district of the party was set up in 1937, its first All-Wales congress being held in 1945. However, even in considering the partys attitude to the Welsh nationality, this is not necessarily a glaring omission. The organisation of the North Wales CPGB in the post-war period remained modest. The strength, tradition and weight of the Communist Party remained in South Wales and this had a noticeable effect upon the developing attitude of the Welsh party as a whole to national demands.
The CPGB and the Welsh National Question: the Historical Context
The Communist Party first broached the national question in the Popular Front period of the mid-to-late 1930s. Idris Cox produced a pamphlet entitled The People Can Save South Wales (1937), following his return to South Wales as district organiser. Subsequently, the CPGBs Central Committee recognised that it had neglected the Welsh dimension and the right to self-determination was asserted, alongside support for the continued use of the Welsh language and Welsh devolution. A speech by Cox at the first all-Wales congress of the Communist Party in 1945 reflected this turnaround:
Wales needs to be treated as a nation, not only to enrich its language and culture, but to develop its rich natural and mineral wealth, to increase its productive forces, to revive its agriculture and to guarantee its future prosperity.
It was however at this congress that some divisions within the Welsh party became apparent. Arthur Horner, president of the South Wales Miners' Federation (SWMF) and chairman of the Communist Partys Welsh Committee, opposed the demand for a parliament for Wales, after Cox had proposed it. It is interesting to note that in criticising Harry Pollitts narrow defeat in Rhondda East in the 1945 general election, Cox thought that a more positive attitude to Welsh national issues should have been shown to the electorate.
In 1950, the Welsh Communist Party welcomed the inauguration of the Parliament for Wales campaign, Cox being chosen as the party representative on the national campaign committee after attending its inaugural conference in Llandudno. In October 1950 Bill Rees presented his paper The Problem of Welsh Nationality and the Communist Solution to the Welsh Committee, advocating a federal union as a solution to Britains national question. According to Gwyn Williams his work was subsequently shelved. Following on from this, Idris Cox himself was moved to the partys International Department in June 1951, under something of a cloud and amid what Davies cites as accusations of bourgeois nationalist deviation.
Demands for the devolution of Wales were kept on the partys formal agenda throughout the 1950s and 1960s, but it was not until the publication of Welsh secretary Bert Pearces article, The National Future of Scotland and Wales, in the November 1967 issue of Marxism Today, that the party really began to show some political comfort in publicly debating the issue and advocating national demands. This was to be followed up by the production of an irregular, bilingual magazine, Cyffro, in 1969 and the partys submission of evidence before the Kilbrandon Commission on the constitution in 1970.
The Welsh National Question The Cause of Coxs Removal?
Brian Davies and Gwyn A Williams have both argued that it was Idris Coxs position as the Welsh partys most prominent advocate of national rights that led to his departure to London. According to Davies:
These decidedly muddy waters were never really cleared up by Cox himself. Even those who got to know him on a personal level did not get any great clarity as to what had actually happened in 1951:
... even when I knew him he was a bit reticent to go into detail ... What exactly happened in 1951 blow-by-blow I couldnt tell you to be honest ... [I] never got a clear account from Idris ...
Coxs own account of events in his unpublished memoir is not very illuminating. He places his move to London in the context of the electoral setbacks of the time, in particular the South Wales partys poor performance in the 1950 general election:
Main responsibility was placed upon my political leadership in Wales, and it was proposed that I should give up my position and take on responsible work on a national level in another sphere of the activity of the CP.
On the basis of this it is probable that the CPGBs electoral performance in South Wales was the reason used by the national leadership to justify their removal of Cox. In a lengthy passage Cox questions this analysis:
There were various views as to whether the Party situation was worse than in other parts of the country, whether all responsibility could be placed on my shoulders or the lack of collective leadership, and on the methods adopted in proposing that a change be made ... The situation in Wales was a mirror of the serious problem facing the Party as a whole ... Subsequent Communist votes in General Elections reached a record low proportion in 1970 when the vote in Rhondda East dropped to 659, I would not regard this as an argument for still another change of Party leadership in Wales.
Reading between the lines, Cox is suggesting that the drop in votes could not be laid at his door, in that it reflected the problems the party was experiencing in relation to the Cold War. It is perhaps the case that Cox is alluding to the possibility that there was another reason behind his removal, in that he clearly did not regard poor electoral performance as a worthy explanation. Subsequently he hinted that he experienced problems in the Communist Party over the question of political work in the Parliament for Wales campaign:
I dont think anyone would claim that it succeeded in creating a mass movement in favour [of a Welsh parliament]. I frankly admit that Plaid Cymru was far more active than the Communist Party in this campaign, and one needs to be self-critical of the weakness of the Communist Party in this respect.
Coxs memory of these events is reinforced when one considers a Welsh district report from April 1951 which highlights the problems of the CPGB in relation to the campaign:
The Party membership as a whole is largely indifferent to this movement. Some are even hostile, and there is a lack of conviction among even many leading members. This seems to be due to three main reasons: (a) fear that the Party will contaminate itself with middle class and religious elements, (b) the erroneous idea that a Parliament for Wales means economic and political separation and (c) that we shall neglect the class fight and our socialist aims.
Caution does however need to be exercised when considering Coxs retrospective defence of his organisational capabilities. The fact that he was able to parry such criticisms with a degree of conviction, does not undermine some of the anxieties that the party leadership in London may well have been feeling at the time. A draft speech to be read by William Lauchlan at an extended meeting of the Executive Committee in February 1949 asked members to consider the communist position in important districts such as Wales, Lancashire, the North-East and Scotland:
Why is it that in these former depressed areas, centres of heavy industry and [a] highly organised working class with militant traditions of struggle, the Party isnt immeasurably stronger than it actually is? ...
In July 1950, Harry Pollitt read out a statement to the Executive Committee regarding the question of working-class unity and the subsequent requirement of the CPGB to forge a close working relationship with the Labour Party. The executive circulated this document and asked for the various district leaderships to communicate the reception from the party rank and file. Idris Cox replied on behalf of the Welsh Committee in a letter to Peter Kerrigan. This dispatch reported the results of a Welsh Committee meeting and three emergency area aggregates.
Considering the emphasis that the party leadership were placing upon Pollitts pronouncement, Coxs missive creates a poor impression. His general view of the discussion on the Welsh Committee was that it revealed a tendency towards general acceptance without a full conviction. Its author refers to quite a deal of doubt on the possibility of winning Labour Party members, something that was even to be seen affecting some of the best comrades. Cox admitted that the West Wales aggregate was not well organised, and was held in a small room which could not seat more than 50, out of a membership of 400. A better attendance was reported at the Rhondda aggregate (120) with no serious opposition but some sectarian tendencies and more serious doubts as to the plausibility of changing the outlook of Labour Party members. All in all, Coxs account appears to represent a desire to put a positive gloss on some seemingly pessimistic insights:
Possibly, I have drawn attention to the negative aspects of the [Welsh Committee] discussion ... But it was a healthy discussion on the whole, though I have no illusions that we shall have to wage a strong and consistent fight to get more clarity and conviction among the leading members.
It is not difficult to imagine how this could reflect badly on Idris Coxs leadership in Wales. Ingrained in communist culture at this point was the necessary belief that organisational stumblings and poor results were indicative of activist failings. This was obligatory because if it were to be denied this would necessarily lead to an examination of the Cold War and the partys identity with the eastern bloc. In the immediate post-war period this was something that those directing the CPGB were highly reluctant to do.
It is difficult to prove absolutely that Cox was despatched to London on the basis of a party opposition to the fact that he symbolised a strong stand on the question of Welsh rights. However, it is highly probable that this was a significant factor in events, possibly coupled with a dissatisfaction with Coxs organisational achievements in one of the CPGBs traditional strongholds. If we accept this probability, then this opposition toward the incorporation of Welsh demands into the Communist Partys political outlook needs to be accounted for.
A Miners Opposition?
We saw above that it was Arthur Horner who argued against Coxs espousal of a Welsh parliament at the Party congress of 1945. Bert Pearce thought that it was the CPGB mining cohort who were Idris Coxs main opponents in 1951:
Idris was very strongly for Welsh national rights. But he was jumped on, not only by a lot of local people who didnt agree with it. A lot of the ... miners, they were all for the workers of the world taking power ... their idea was they werent going to mess about with any [Welsh parliament]. They were gonna take over the pits and run them, the miners ... these were all very strong ideas and a whole lot of the most sensible miners leaders, the best communists amongst them, were very strongly for holding onto this ... clear vision ... there was a very strong feeling that it [a Welsh parliament] was going to be a divisive thing ...
If we make reference to a report of the Welsh district, sent to the CPGBs Political Committee in July 1946, we can see that Pearces impressions are borne out. The report puts a great accent on proposing ardent party support for Welsh national rights:
This is emphasised because the general tendency in the Party is to ignore the existence of a national problem in Wales, and among prominent members in trade unions even to pour scorn on any efforts by the Party to formulate a policy for Wales.
One also has to consider that communist mining partisans in the South Wales coalfield were, from January 1945, members of a coherent national union structure in the form of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). It is fairly unsurprising that Horner was opposed to Welsh national rights inside the Communist Party considering that he had been one of the main architects of the NUM. This process was also interwoven with the syndicalist influence that Bert Pearce alludes to above.
In the post-war period syndicalism and industrial unionism continued to exercise a definite influence upon prominent communist miners in South Wales such as Horner, Will Paynter, Dai Dan Evans and Dai Francis. Such strategies place the emphasis on all-inclusive union structures in order to utilise the power of the industrial working class. Indeed it was Idris Cox himself who had in 1940 been highly critical of communist leaders in the SWMF for isolating themselves from the broader political work of the party (partly as a result of Horners tendency to soft-pedal the CPGBs initial anti-war perspective). It is therefore highly plausible that communist miners played a significant role in the departure of Idris Cox from Wales in 1951 as well as any South Walian opposition against the partys adoption of national demands in the preceding decade.
Not all communist miners leaders should be tarred with the same brush. Vic Allen characterised Welsh speaker Dai Francis as having a curious mixture of Communist and Welsh religious non-conformist principles. Francis, as General Secretary of the South Wales Area NUM, played a leading role in the establishment of the Welsh TUC in 1973. The partys credibility amongst Welsh speakers in the post-war era essentially fell on the shoulders of figures such as Francis, as well as T E Nicholas and his son Islwyn.
A Cosmopolitan Coalfield
The industrialisation of South Wales and its growth as a centre of exports in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries meant that the area was subject to large-scale immigration, from the English in particular. This had ramifications for the existence of a specifically Welsh identity. The Anglicisation of South Wales posed particular problems for the use and survival of the Welsh language, as Tim Williams has shown. This process meant that the identity of the inhabitants of South Wales would no longer be straightforward in essence. These are the broad social factors which would work on the Communist Partys perceptions of national needs in South Wales.
The cosmopolitan nature of the South Wales coalfield manifested itself in the working class internationalism that developed inside its boundaries from the turn of the century:
it provides one of the comparatively rare illustrations of what classical nineteenth century socialist theory hoped for: proletarian nations where working classes resisted the attractions of nationalist agitation, preferring to organise under the banner of an international ideology based on class interest.
Indeed, this internationalism could be perceived as the very antithesis of Welsh nationalism:
The Liberal nationalism of the quarter of a century before the First World War was strongly associated with both nonconformity and the Welsh bourgeoisie of the industrial south. A resurgent working class movement understandably tended to produce an ideology which was the antithesis of this in every respect - revolutionary, atheistic, and in its own eyes firmly internationalist.
The working class movement in South Wales (and in particular, the miners) developed a commitment to the fundamental internationalist threads of marxist thought. Francis and Smith have shown how this reverberated through the history of the South Wales Miners in the twentieth century. Communist Party members were active protagonists of this internationalism (inside and outside the Fed), which they manifested through the depth of their commitment to the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).
According to Davies this international consciousness led to a situation in which there was a dismissal of Welsh nationality amongst some working-class militants as a worthwhile cause which led to a failure to defeat the English great-nation chauvinism of the British ruling class.
After Cox Retreating on the National Question?
A key contention of the argument advanced by Davies and Williams is that following Cox's departure to London in 1951 the party in South Wales began to neglect the issue of Welsh national demands and that this represented a striking change in the partys political priorities in Wales. Formally speaking, the party retained a public commitment to Welsh devolution, as is shown by a document produced in April 1954 which acknowledged that the Welsh people face special problems and suggested a positive commitment to national demands:
The Communist Party says that the Welsh people must be given their full freedom to develop their economic, social and cultural resources, and welcomes the growing determination of the people to have a greater say in running the affairs of our country. A Parliament for Wales alone can ensure the full development of the Welsh People.
The statement goes on to make a number of immediate demands including the establishment of a Secretary of State for Wales and a National Planning Commission. The Party was thus still in effect acknowledging the influence of people such as Idris Cox and T E Nicholas. A concentration on the public face of the Communist Party is therefore unrevealing. It was not uncommon for the party to have internal debates about the national issue. Bert Pearce remembered inheriting such a discussion when he became Welsh Secretary in 1960:
I remember this very well because one of the first papers about the nature of Wales was written by a Professor [George Thompson] in Birmingham ... Bill [Alexander - Pearces predecessor] knew him very well and he got him to do us an opening to a discussion that they had down here and when I came down then in 1960 this was one of the things that I inherited ...
There are however other pieces of evidence that suggest such examples cannot merely be taken at face value. One is a letter from the steelworker and party veteran Enoch Collins of Llanelli printed in the CPGB weekly World News in February 1957. Pointing to a perceived disparity between the theory and practice of the CPGB in South Wales, Collins stressed the need for the party to re-assess its attitude to Welsh national rights:
There has for years been a lag in this aspect of our agitation and work, although there was a period when the Welsh district of the Party published the Communist Manifesto in Welsh and also had many pamphlets on Wales and Welsh problems. In those days they had prominence in the Welsh National Eisteddfod ... But Welsh pamphlets on Welsh problems are a thing of the past even during this period when there is a real revival in the demands for greater Welsh rights and self-government.
Collins saw this prominent Communist role at the eisteddfodau being taken over by explicit Welsh nationalists such as Plaid Cymru, complaining that the Welsh people dont see us showing any interest in the problems of national rights and culture. It should be noted from the above quotation that Collins also draws a comparison with the Welsh party at the time it was under the leadership of Idris Cox. Collins goes on to accuse the CPGB of trailing behind the Labour Party:
because they [the Labour Party] have repudiated the basic campaign for Welsh rights, Welsh Parliament and Welsh TUC etc., so we back-pedal on these issues. We say formally at election times and in our hand-outs that we believe in these things, but in reality we kill any semblance of real demand for them.
If the Party had actively campaigned with conviction for a Parliament for Wales, the Welsh miners would have supported this.
Similarly in a report to the CPGBs Political Committee in January 1954, the Welsh leadership draw attention to some of the failings in the Partys ongoing work in the Parliament for Wales campaign, hinting also at a definite suspicion toward Party members becoming infected with a Welsh nationalist taint:
On the one hand the work has been inadequate so that reactionary ideas have increasingly come to the fore in the movement and we have been unable to harness the national aspirations towards a British Road to Socialism. On the other hand some elements in the Welsh Party elevate the national question out of its place and think of solutions without a British Peoples Democracy.
One can also pick up a subsequent acknowledgement of the Communist Partys deficiencies in this field from certain allusions made when the party began to pay considerable attention to the British national question in the late 1960s. Bert Pearce, by that time Welsh Secretary and the person to whom the introduction of the party debate on The National Problem in Britain had been entrusted to in 1967, admitted in the pages of Marxism Today that the debate had been rather late and slow. Pearce made a more revealing comment in reply to Bert Ward, a party activist in London, who (according to Pearce) saw nationalism within Britain as baseless and therefore a reactionary diversion from the mainstream of socialist struggle:
In this rejection of the whole national issue, Bert Ward stands alone in the discussion, but I am sure not in our Party or the movement generally. Indeed his refusal to raise the very real solid factual basis on which national movements do actually exist today expresses an attitude which most of us shared too long, an attitude compounded of sectarian Marxism and the conditioning of our imperialist society. It has been the basis for the neglect of the national issues in Britain by the working class movement and, especially, by the Labour Party and the Trade Unions in the periods of their greatest growth in Wales and Scotland.
Pearce also admitted that the Communist Partys practical work around Welsh national demands had, up until that time, been rather weak:
our Party has done too little to launch serious campaigning for these national demands or, in particular, to win the Labour Movement for active support for them.
This was explained by the previously referred to fear of dividing the British working class along national lines and a tendency to think of Welsh and Scottish Parliaments as merely a desirable extension of democracy which will be readily granted in a Socialist Britain. In a similar vein, an internal bulletin of the North Walian Communist Party in 1969 talked of the tragic neglect of the past years in relation to the partys work in the field of nationalist demands.
The very fact that the CPGB was willing to have its past failings in actively addressing the issue of Welsh national rights recognised in public would seem to suggest that the 1950s and early 1960s were an era in which such questions were of little day-to-day importance to key sections of the party leadership in South Wales. To a very considerable extent, the revival of an interest in the Welsh national question can be attributed to pressures from outside the party, notably the political breakthrough of Plaid Cymru, which in the Rhondda West by-election of March 1967, came a close second to Labour and pushed the CPGB into a distant third place with a mere 6.8% of the poll. In a situation where a growing disillusionment with the record of the Labour Party was becoming apparent, it was Plaid that was making headway, not the CPGB, and it was to this that the CPGB appears to have responded.
In conclusion, it is therefore highly probable that Coxs determination for the Communist Party to show a positive hand in relation to the national question in Wales, was a key reason though not necessarily the only reason for his removal from the South Wales district in 1951. Subsequently, there is evidence to suggest that the Welsh Communist Party retreated on its previous support for Welsh campaigns, though it must be stressed that this was an informal development and not necessarily part of the public face of the Communist Party. Exactly the same may of course be true of the partys later commitment to Welsh devolution, and it may be that some of the difficulties that sections of the CPGB had in accounting for and relating to Welsh nationalism in the immediate post-war period were carried over into its subsequent development on the issue.
See for example B. Davies, Heading For the Rocks? Arcade 5 February 1982 and G.A. Williams, When Was Wales? (Penguin, 1985) pp274-5.
L. White, The Communist Party in South Wales, 1945-70 (MPhil, Cardiff, 1997).
In 1942 the North Wales district of the Communist Party had 200 members, compared to 2200 registered in South Wales. Cited in K. Newton, The Sociology of British Communism (Allen Lane, 1969) p177. A list of delegates for the CPGBs national congress in November 1973 shows that by this time the Party only had 78 members in North Wales and only 108 in North and West Wales combined. This is opposed to 1606 registered members in South Wales.
Communist Policy For The People Of Wales: Report of the First All-Wales Congress of the Communist Party (CPGB Welsh Committee, 1945) p12.
Brian Davies argues that Cox edited this out of the published report of the congress. Authors interview with Brian Davies, Pontypridd. Cox did subsequently acknowledge Horners opposition in his unpublished memoirs, referring to Horners comments at the Congress as an unprecedented step. Cox, From Coal Mines to Communist Ideals, unpublished manuscript, pp74-5.
J. Mahon, Harry Pollitt (Lawrence and Wishart, 1976) p309.
Williams, When Was Wales?, p175.
Davies, Heading for the rocks, p10.
Authors interview with Brian Davies, Pontypridd.
Cox, From Coal Mines, p81.
Welsh District report to CPGB Political Committee, May 1950-April 1952: NMLH CP/Cent/Org/11/1.
Draft text of a speech by W. Lachlan to an extended Executive Committee meeting 26-27February 1949. CPGB Executive Committee minutes, 1949: NMLH CP/Cent/EC/01/07.
Idris Cox to Peter Kerrigan, 26 July 1950: CPGB Executive Committee minutes, 1950: NMLH CP/Cent/EC/02/02.
Authors interview with Bert Pearce, Cardiff.
Information Report on the Welsh District: for CPGB Political Committee, 11 July 1946: NMLH CP/CENT/ORG/11/1. My emphasis.
See Francis, H., Learning from bitter experience: the making of the NUM in A. Campbell, N. Fishman, and D. Howell, Miners, Unions and Politics, 1910-47 (Scolar Press, 1996) pp253-71.
K. Morgan, Against Fascism and War: Ruptures and Continuities in British Communist Politics, 1934-41 (Manchester University Press, 1989) pp141-42.
V.L. Allen, The Militancy of British Miners (Moor Press, 1981) p130.
T. Williams, The Anglicisation of South Wales in R. Samuel, (ed.) Patriotism: The Making and Unmaking of British National Identity. Volume II: Minorities and Outsiders (Routledge, 1989) pp193-203.
E.J. Hobsbawm, cited in Hechter, M., Internal Colonialism: The Celtic fringe in British national development, 1536-1966 (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975) p264.
B. Davies, Towards a New Synthesis, Planet 37/38, May 1977, p58.
Davies (1982) p10.
Communist Statement on the Future of Wales, April 1954.
Authors interview with Bert Pearce, Cardiff.
Letter from Enoch Collins, Llanelli, World News Vol. 5, no. 4. 2/2/57 p77.
Report to the Political Committee on the work of the Communist Party in Wales, 28th January 1954. Communist Party Archive CP/CENT/ORG/11/1.
Pearce, B, The National Problem in Britain: A Reply to Some Points in Discussion in Marxism Today, December 1968 p360.
Pearce, B, The National Future of Scotland and Wales in Marxism Today, November 1967 p346.
The National Problem In Britain in Northern Star, North Wales Bulletin of CPGB, January 1969.