Joined: 07 Jan 2007
|Posted: Sun Jan 25, 2009 5:35 pm Post subject:
|(#2-A) This is a trial draught which took off in an unexpected direction but seems to be travelling in the right direction, except maybe it goes too far
Black and White, Green, Red, Blue and Violet ?
In Wales you may notice people hanging around in small groups at various events that are not always funerals yet they are dressed in black, usually with a white shirt and black tie and sometimes with a beret pinned with an ivy leaf or more daringly ( because of the law banning political uniforms ) with the ‘eagle’ symbol that used to be associated with the Free Wales Army but which is now in various forms universally associated with republicanisms of all types in Wales. Black and White are the colours but the explanation given for their dress if you ask them may range from ‘in mourning for my country’ to ‘I’m in the 18’ to ‘We’re in the Black Legion’. The political associations of black and white in Wales might actually be traced back at least into medieval times when Blackfriars contended with Greyfriars for political influence in the courts of the feudal Marcher Lords and still free Tywysogion. Puritans wore black in mourning for the world, ‘the 18’ are a modern group that commemorate the last prince of Wales and his loyal bodyguard who were the last to fall defending their country’s independance in 1282 and La Legion Noire was a French republican army smuggled into Wales in 1797 - an event that split Welsh radicals into two antagonistic groups that we might label 'republican democrats' and 'democratic republicans' to simultaneously suggest their similarities but difference of emphasis. In 1839 the Chartist Uprising in Newport widened this split between ‘moral force’ republicans and ‘physical force’ democrats resulting in the Complete Suffrage Union splitting off from the National Charter Association. These were essentially ‘white’ and ‘green’ groups but already ‘red’ and ‘blue’ had entered the mix, not just because they were already the colours of violently opposed factions in corrupt boroughs such as Carmarthen but because in 1831 the workers had raised the red flag against the iron lords of Merthyr Tydfil and by 1839 the landlords of Carmarthenshire dressed as Rebecca were stirring up a different form of social unrest that invoked republican ideas accessible to conservative country gentlemen.
By 1848 Welsh literature in both English and Welsh was already suffused by republican ideas that were pouring in from America, France and Italy and the authorities were so anxious to suppress these ideas they proposed to suppress the Welsh language to stop them being discussed in a way not observable to the censor and they desired to control the English press as well. Their opportunity came on March 6th 1848 when a huge crowd assembled in Trafalgar Square in London and fighting broke out and went on until the 8th, complete with barricades thrown up and a republican sing-song - everybody was there : English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh and other exiled republicans but a much larger number of London’s poor and dispossessed had seized on the idea that they might start a revolution. This had never happened before in London, though the government had fought republican uprisings in all of the home countries of the empire as well as in many others. The final result changed politics in the United Kingdom in a very drastic way : the Treason Felony Act 1848 makes it illegal to even admit to imagining to yourself that you would like to live under any sort of regime other than the presently embodied United Kingdom. Daily we commit crimes that "being convicted thereof [we] shall be liable to be transported beyond the seas for the term of his or her natural life" - the last prosecution was in 1883 but this law lingers on.
In Wales the immediate consequences were that the old way of doing politics was broken forever : no more would educated people like doctors and lawyers listen carefully to the complaints of the poor and articulate their grievances for them, so the ‘blues’ retreated behind closed doors to study their books and were left alone provided they didn’t mention republicanism in public. The ‘reds’ got their heads bashed for a couple of years until the English underground magazine ‘The Red Republican’ published the Communist Manifesto in 1850 and with a simple deft verbal twist the ‘reds' all became ‘socialists' and evaded the law - which just goes to show how stupid such laws are that try to criminalise words. The ‘whites’ persisted in advocating universal suffrage and as many of them were church and chapel-goers caught up in the Sunday Schools and Temperance movements as well they seem to have been the core of the most mysterious part of Wales’ late 19c republican movement - republican clubs are reported to have existed in all major industrial towns and many minor country ones. They met in private houses and this resulted in Wales’ republican movement being accessible to women as participants for the first time. These groups fascinate me because the suffragists and suffragettes re-introduced the colour violet which has both ancient, e.g. Athens is the capital of Ionia, ‘the land of violets’, and modern republican associations e.g. Napoleon Bonaparte, nick-name ‘Corporal Violet’. Until about 1810 the Welsh word for violet was ‘fioled y mynydd’ but by 1820 it was widely being called ‘y trilliw’, which might have both botanical and political meanings. Republican Iolo Morgannwg gave his Arch Druid purple to wear, and the colours of the Gorsedd - blue, white, and green - may have been decided by his son Taliesin as the colours of the flag to be carried in the 1839 Newport Rising.
What Wales' republican clubs were discussing is mostly conjecture although there was a fuss made about them in the newspapers when a plot to assassinate Queen Victoria was revealed in London in 1887. Once a substantial number of working men had been enfranchised the discussions may have become less theoretical as the basis for modern democracy emerged as parties built themselves up out of coalitions. Miners and shopkeepers didn't have many aspirations in common except that their democratic practices were not theoretical but based upon common experiences which allowed them to create a Liberal hegemony in Wales that lasted basically until World War One, after which our modern political landscape of four electable political parties emerged. All of these were built upon coalitions of shifting interests expressed through inconsistent and sometimes self-contradictory ideologies that by and large reflected the typical voters' indifference to theoretical arguments about ideology when they needed to put bread on the table in the times of social crisis between the wars. The republican clubs however could now cease to be secretive and emerging into the dawn light of a brave new world in which Irish and other republicans were striving to dismember the British Empire they almost instantly evaporated in the heat of the sectarian debate under way. Traditional Socialist, Liberal and Conservative republicans not only vied with each other to influence the major coalition parties to initiate reforms but they had to vie with the newly emerged groups advocating Anarchist, Communist and Fascist ideas for thorough-going revolutions that were capturing some activist's imaginations as solutions for society's problems. Caught up in an age of political polarisation and sectarianism ideologically, Rousseau's vision of a truly 'republican democracy', conducted without resort to parties that would divide society and yet claim the right to rule it upon the basis of a majority consisting of maybe a single vote, seemed to be utterly lost, especially in view of the spectacle of the so called 'National Governments' that paid lip-service to the idea.
In the aftermath of World War Two, after a hundred years in obscurity, the Welsh Republican Movement declared its presence once again and acting upon 'democratic republican' lines contested the 1950 general election only to wither away in the following years having never founded a party. Several attempts to found a 'democratic republican' party have failed since and arguably this failure in a period of democratic deficit contributed to the demonstration of discontent through acts of destruction by groups we can collectively refer to as " The Black Legion." This was happening circa 1949-99 just as Plaid was making its final breakthrough to take seats in Westminster and so the Nationalists distanced themselves from both the secretly and the publicly committed acts of destruction, risking estranging even the language activists of the " The White Legion." The Republicans denounced the Nationalists as being devoid of any political theory and of having no plan of political reform beyond independence, and Republicans are very dissatisfied with the political system of the Welsh Assembly created in 1998. Since no 'democratic republican' party persists for long but disperses its members to other parties, we are by default nearly always promoting our political ideas in the 'republican democratic' mode either within other parties or outside of any party but always seeking to cooperate together regardless of party.
The republican clubs were roundly denounced by the 19c ‘green’ democrats who were for universal suffrage without constitutional reform and were usually in the Liberal party but studying radical Italian politics and by the 1880’s they were not only fighting parallel political battles to the Irish but along with the Scots as well were advocating Home Rule and came quite close to achieving it before the First World War intervened. In the matter of Ireland after the war, the Liberals were all for Home Rule and it was the principle of self-determination that led them to divide Ireland to respect the sensibilities of the Protestant industrialists’ enclave. In the matter of Wales, Home Rule was shelved and central government strengthened to respect the sensibilities of the English Midland’s industrial enclave who demanded coal, steel, water and cheap shipping. The Liberal party was split, the Labour party was emerging as its successor, and neither was helping so those who were desperate to secure for Wales a government responsive to its people’s needs set up their own party - the Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru, which has progressively lost interest in ‘Genedlaethol’ and ‘Cymru’ and is now just referred to as 'Plaid,' which uses green but is it ‘green’ i.e. a true successor to those 18c radical Democrats who wore green neckerchiefs for the common man, or the 17c Levellers who dressed all in sea-green as a reference to Christ, that their revolution would establish the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth ? Well, sort of …Plaid has swung about wildly in its history and has not only fought shy of Republicanism but is no longer that keen on Independence or even Home Rule either. There are people in Plaid who say that they are republicans but nearly all of them mean that they are anti-monarchists. In recent years serious political analysis seems to have been shunned by Plaid but they did in the past have a little flirtation with Mazzini so if you want some serious political thought to read delve into Plaid’s archives. In terms of political theories Plaid do not presently have any that are less than fifty years old, but they do keep on circling the middle ground as if they mean to occupy it and as I write this they are in coalition government with their old enemies the Labour and Cooperative Party.
I think that I can be fairly confident in asserting that the Labour and Cooperative Party do not have a good claim upon the ‘red republicans’ of the early 19c, indeed they have spent the last thirty years attacking anybody who thinks and driving out not just the socialists but also the cooperators, like me. In Wales this has resulted in a party that is constantly threatening to disintegrate as people refuse to let the parties that their families' generations sacrificed so much to build to be simply taken over by career politicians, hence we have seen the emergence of Forward Wales, People’s Voice and others but unfortunately these have not joined up to fight together. There have been many other socialist groups contending at elections since the 1980’s that have not been dysfunctional even in the first degree. Labour politicians it has to be admitted have always bought into the latest ideas floating around in political journals but not with any degree of discrimination. In the post war years both Labour and Conservative politicians corporatised the U.K. economy though they told everyone they were nationalising it, and this made it easy for the Conservatives to privatise it again giving away billions of the taxpayers' capital to carpet-baggers. Now Labour are back in power it is even more obvious that all they were ever doing was helping the richest to get richer, they are not even distributing the cash let alone redistributing the capital and they rush to save bankers and industrialists but expect workers to do unpaid overtime. All parties manage the U.K. on behalf of its owners, the Imperium. There are a lot of free floating socialists around because Labour have driven away both their activists and their electorate, so in my estimation that red soil is the most fertile ground for a republican party to strike its roots into.
The Liberal Party had nearly died after its various splits in the 1920's and 30's but it struggled on to find new life first in coalition with Labour and then with Labour's moderate breakaway the Social Democratic Party, with which it combined to form the Liberal Democrat Party . That involved both sides losing interesting people but also involved winning over a number of thoughtful people to this new combination which if we had proportional representation would have far more representatives, and if we had Condorcet voting might be the permanent party of government. Thus they are arguably a serious possibility for conversion to a full blooded republican party, especially since the kinds of political Free-thinking that they historically do is akin to the more critical political analysis that republicans strive for. The major problem is that we don't know whether we can trust them not to return to the extremes of Liberalism they used to advocate, which severely restricted the role of government. Since the whole basis of our present United Kingdom's society both politically and economically was basically laid down by the Liberal Party before the First World War we should think long and hard about a party that may continue on in the same fashion, advocating private over public interest.
The Conservative and Unionist Party are rarely considered to be potentially a republican party, but in their historic role of cherry-pickers of all successful political ideas whilst denouncing every new idea, the Conservatives have taken into their hearts many of the most important republican ideas and they defend them as if they were always theirs. Their recent history has been much like Labour's, attacking anybody who thinks and driving out both radicals and moderates, and replacing them with career politicians who have offended people whose families have given decades to their party since its re-foundation in 1922. The kind of republican you meet in the Conservative party is often public school with a bit of Latin and an admiration for the political writings of the ancient world - their education may intimidate you, but they usually have none of the hang ups about class they are purported to have. They do tend to have a hang up about the Monarchy, and if they are a classical sort of republican they will probably hammer home to you that they believe in something like the medieval peerage being displaced in the modern world by the aristocracy of entrepreneurial businessmen who have an absolute right to rule. But they do genuinely feel for us plebs, and they believe that it is dreadful the way that communities were casually destroyed by Thatcher but that it was equally dreadful for Scargill to try to bring down her government for proposing to do so. They firmly believe that democracy has its place as a check and balance against such excesses that their party perpetrated in the 1980's and that it is the Liberal Democrat's and the Labour and Coop's fault for not stopping them...Inevitably people who desperately want to reform or even revolutionise our political system are not typically going to choose to court the Conservatives, but a lot of people in England who are angry with them are voting for the English Democrats which are in essence a conservative republican party in the making, and here in Wales people are voting for the United Kingdom Independence Party which might also be developing on these lines. Even if you find yourself strongly disagreeing with these forms of right wing republicanism you will get more sense out of these people than most conventional politicians.
That just about covers the parties of most of the elected representatives in Wales, but of course we also have many independent representatives elected both to political offices and other offices and committees and should you ask them about their politics they will almost invariably cite the idea that they are "trying to act in the public interest" yet be horrified if you ask " Are you a republican then ? " The idea is so ubiquitous in Wales that few politicians of any sort stop to ask themselves what "acting in the public interest" means, they are so busy thwarting other politicians and their parties. Even fewer have any systematic means of checking their own prejudices and setting aside their own interests in order to act in the public interest - but there are a few in all parties who regularly do so, and a few outside of them as well. These are the people that we need to be interested in getting to work together, and we need more of them in every party if we care about the future of Wales, and we need many more people actively pursuing the public interest outside of political parties altogether. The ideal 'white' or 'republican democrat' way of doing politics is without parties at all but simply uses large groups of people coming together regardless of their political convictions to sort out a single decision, perhaps a compromise until something better can be thought of. Perhaps one day after many such decisions such a convention will meet and, deciding that it is in the public interest, will at the revolutionary stroke of a pen make Wales a republic.
The 'black' ideal of a 'democratic republican' party riding into power on a tide of revolutionary struggle that places it at the helm of the ship of state may still be enjoyable as a daydream, but not only do most republicans in Wales think that it is nothing more than that, we also think that if in some remarkable circumstance it could be possible it would jeopardise the very thing we work for : such upheavals usually deliver power into the hands of the most violent faction which swiftly succumbs to dictatorship, the very opposite to that we desire.
In all likely-hood, given the past history of republicanism in Wales, short-lived 'democratic republican' parties will continue to arise from time to time, articulating the public's grievances and explaining the justifications for 'The Black Legion's' various groups secretively destroying property to protect society from some occasional perceived threats. Meanwhile 'The White Legion's' various groups will make some occasional ostentatious displays of the symbolic destruction of individual objects of protest that will baffle other people who may perhaps turn for explanations to the 'republican democrats' in their midst - asking us perhaps why we do not have our own party to articulate grievances democratically?
Some people will identify Plaid ( Genedlaethol ) Cymru as the 'democratic republican' party but until Plaid puts forward a political programme we will never know, all we ever find in nationalist manifestos are policies not politics - Plaid still have no plan beyond independence which is generally unpopular in Wales and at least half of the republicans here reject it as economically impractical even if desirable.
What we seek as republicans is a party that will challenge the bad laws of the United Kingdom and discredit them thus undermining the sovereignty of the state and forcing it to either concede law-making powers to institutions better equipped to pass such laws or to pass reformed laws itself. The third alternative is that the U.K. finds itself unable to concede the reform of certain laws because they are necessary to its existence in which case it must act oppressively and discredit itself entirely and thus offer us the opportunity for the sort of wholesale political reforms that we call revolution. As the word implies, revolution should be a continuous process in a functioning political system but republicans everywhere throughout the U.K. are agreed that this is a dysfunctional political system that is stuck because political participation in it is upon condition that nothing is changed. Republicans in Wales think that a very rare opportunity to unstick our part of the U.K.'s political system and make it function better is being lost as the Welsh Assembly has its political tools handed to it already blunted or broken to start with.
As described in the first paragraph, Republicanism in Wales was split into two pieces in 1797 that generally are not divided in other countries where 'republicanism' is often indivisible from 'patriotism' and 'democratism' . The 'democratic republicans' in Wales shoved aside political reform of the state in order to get the vote, to get elected, to get a measure of devolution of political power within the system - but it has been the political system itself that caused those three simple steps to take over two hundred years and many people's lives in civil disorders, armed uprisings and above all murderous exploitations. The 'republican democrats' in Wales have tended to set greater store upon philosophical arguments that challenged and discredited the state and viewed the attempt to coerce the state with bullets and ballots as both counter-productive and sinister. Now we have some measure of democracy and a place to exercise the arguments we need to persuade not just Plaid ( Genedlaethol ) Cymru but any other party that has inherited some part of the democratic republican tradition to cast their votes for a thorough-going reform of the political system so that Wales at least does not continue to drift sideways into the 21c without any modern political apparatus.
beginning to babble there !