Issue 222 of SOCIALIST REVIEW
Published August/September 1998
Copyright © Socialist Review
Powell encouraged immigration
Your article 'After the Windrush' (July/August SR) provides a useful outline to the struggles and hostility faced by post Second World War black migrants from the Caribbean. During a recent session in the education department of HMP Leeds one interesting additional fact was revealed.
During the initial publicity campaign to encourage Caribbean residents to England a certain member of HM government visited the area. Enoch Powell, in his role as minister of health in the government of the day, visited the Caribbean to promote migration to the 'Mother Country'.
The visit was in response to a shortage of labour in England and specifically in the health service.
What irony, or perhaps more aptly hypocrisy, that it was this very same MP who within a short period of time was actively advocating enforced repatriation.
The irony continues in that many of those people, encouraged by Mr Powell's visit to the Caribbean to emigrate to England, were those same ones faced by his racist rhetoric and expounding of repatriation policy.
One further point: could not the attempt by Enoch Powell to encourage black workers to England be seen as part of the semi-official migration policy by the government of the day?
As such this policy can be seen as diametrically opposed to that embodied in the 1961 Immigration Act.
Max Gillespie HM Prison Leeds
Language of opportunity
Julian Goss (July/August SR) should have checked his facts before writing his otherwise splendid article on Welsh nationalism. The leader of Plaid Cymru has been Dafydd Wigley, MP for Caernarfon, since October 1991 and not Dafydd Elis Thomas. In fact Dafydd Elis Thomas's politics were much removed from Marxism even before he gave up the leadership, and his proper title is now Lord Elis Thomas, ennobled by John Major in 1993 as a quid pro quo for Plaid Cymru support in a European vote.
A key issue missing from Julian's analysis is the centrality of the Welsh language to Plaid Cymru's nationalism. Since Wales has never been an independent country and has very few institutions which are different to England, without the language there would be very little basis for a viable nationalist movement. The situation in Scotland is very different since the separate legal and educational systems and the history of an independent country gives a basis for nationalists to construct a movement around.
The areas where the language is still more or less alive, in the north and west, provide the bedrock of support for Plaid and also renews its membership with young idealists who have spent their youth campaigning as members of Cymdeithas yr laith Gymraeg (the Welsh language society). The change in the fortunes of Plaid Cymru, from a small pressure group to a major political force in these areas can be linked clearly to the activity of Cymdeithas since it was formed in 1962. A recent history of Cymdeithas by Dylan Phillips has revealed that between 1962 and 1992 Cymdeithas members appeared in court 1,105 times with 171 being imprisoned. This mass activism has fed into Plaid's electoral campaigns, especially by-elections, which on many occasions have been more like crusades than simply electoral activity.
It would take more than a letter to analyse why members of Cymdeithas have been so willing to sacrifice personal freedom and often careers for the cause of the language, but it is important for us to recognise that this provides Plaid with a real strength without which it would probably be as ineffectual as Mebyon Kernow, the Cornish nationalist movement. One reason is that members of Cymdeithas are students and young people who are angry that they can no longer speak Welsh in the local shop or the post office as they did when they were younger. There is resentment that the language in the pub is turning more and more to English all the year round and not just in the summer holiday season.
The other reason why the language is so central to Plaid is that it is the only issue that unites Welsh speaking businessmen from north Wales with young left wingers in the south involved in campaigns for Welsh medium education. In the forthcoming assembly election Plaid is expected to become at least the second party. A recent opinion poll for Maniffesto, a Welsh language current affairs programme, showed Plaid's support at 20 percent. almost double that of the general election.
If we are to attempt to counter the growth of support for nationalism we have to show that the struggle of postal workers in Newport against being moved to a new site with worse working conditions is the same struggle as postal workers in Bradford, the UPS workers in the United States and striking workers in Harare, Zimbabwe. But we also have to argue with members of Plaid, who call themselves socialists, that even on the issue of the Welsh language Plaid will not be able to deliver. If the assembly next year has to vote on either more money for Welsh medium education or a grant for a multinational company to open a branch factory in Caernarfon, we know which way they will decide.
Capitalism in crisis will not be able to arrest the decline of Welsh as a living language. It is predicted that by the next census in 2001 there will be only 13 communities in the whole of Wales where Welsh is spoken by more than 75 percent of the population (this figure was 66 communities at the time of the 1991 census). The only solution is a socialist society based on planning for need.
Richard Morse Cwmbran
In Wales many people in the Labour Party have illusions that the Welsh assembly will at last turn back the ravages of the Tory years. In particular many trade unionists are looking to the assembly to break from PFI to build hospitals and to stem the tide of 'trust reconfiguration' which in effect means concentrating the NHS in fewer and fewer centres while local hospitals are closed. But just as the left was disappointed with Labour in Westminster, things don't look good for Labour in Cardiff.
The Welsh Labour Party continues to emulate the Scottish Labour Party in ripping itself apart. The debate about twinning constituencies in order to achieve equal numbers of male and female candidates also highlighted the right of constituencies to choose their own candidates. As a sad result, all of the current rather limited number of Welsh women MPs fought it out against those who oppose any kind of positive discrimination aligned with defenders of branch democracy. This continues as anti-twinning campaigners are pursuing the battle through the courts.
Although it has been the most public split, it has not been the only one. Arguments between MPs and various councillors broke out as the Welsh Office prevaricated over the future location of the assembly building, finally settling on a new building in the heart of Cardiff's 'yuppie' bay development.
Recently the campaigners for branch democracy have faced another challenge from Millbank style centralism. The popular and ever so slightly controversial MP for Cardiff Central, Rhodri Morgan, wants to stand as leader of the assembly against the standing candidate, Ron Davies. Labour MPs, councillors and spin doctors have joined the public debate that has ensued. Knowing it would be Rhodri's best chance, his supporters are demanding that the leader is elected in a one member one vote system. The spin doctors have had to appear on television and radio arguing against the system as unnecessary.
Labour in Wales may still be feeling confident that it can defeat the nationalist Plaid Cymru at the elections. Although the tide is turning against it, Labour is still well ahead. However, if it carries on its internal war whilst presiding over hospital closures, the voters will begin to look elsewhere. Although Plaid may be seen as the official second party, the issues which are coming up are hospitals, schools and jobs. Socialists have every opportunity to participate in the debates and put the case for working class unity.
Jane Henderson Cardiff
To stand or not to stand?
Regarding your article 'Poll Position' (June SR), it is easy to say that it is possible to avoid the pitfalls of Lutte Ouvrière with its 800,000 votes, but electoralism can swamp any small political party. It is also very easy to say that elections can give publicity and a platform for other activities, but electoralism is a vortex down which people get sucked, excluding them from being able to notice the awful mess they can land in. I have no experience of the SWP election effort in Britain but it is worth checking with those people again to see what they can remember.
There is clearly a need for an electoral alternative to Labour and a lot of people in Britain would like to see a real fighting socialist opposition. The SWP is not and should not be against electoralism on principle, but purely as a tactical measure.
Sinn Fein transformed themselves into an elected party but they are reformist and nationalist and also earned themselves a very high profile with military activity. The SWP certainly has a lot of good will and credibility from workers but can this be translated into votes? If it cannot, I think the tactic is wrong although everyone will agree that the aim is not primarily to get votes. For standing in elections 1. There needs to be an alternative to Labour, even an opposition to Labour in parliament. 2. The SWP can gain new members through making new contacts in election campaigns. 3. it is possible to raise Marxist ideas and socialist politics to a much wider audience. 4. Getting people elected to the 'dung hill' may help to achieve some reforms for the working class which have a further possibility of leading to revolution. 5. The *dung hill' provides a propaganda platform. Against 1. Electoral politics has exhausted and destroyed ail the Stalinist parties in the past. It can be said 'no comparison'. 2. Voters want to vote for winners. They may like you, sympathise with you, even tell you they will vote for you and then put their mark for the person they know will win. 3. Ideas get corrupted and diluted to the point of becoming mere rhetoric and sloganising by the people who really want to win. 4. Illusions and expectations are created by getting people elected which can never be fulfilled intact or even half intact. This leads to a 'worse state than before' demoralisation. 5. The risks of a 'parliamentary roader' label sticking to a revolutionary socialist party are very great and can never be easily shaken off.
The SWP is seen by many as well meaning, sincere, dedicated and visible on such things as the Liverpool dockers, miners, anti-racism, street sales and petitions, picket lines and demonstrations. However, translating that visibility into votes, the aim of the game, is extremely difficult without some high profile issue.
The 'ploughshares' women who smashed up the Hawker jet and stood trial are an example of the kind of thing I am talking about, an ultraleftist stunt sure, but bang on target for a wide public sympathy issue.
The SWP has much wider and deeper roots and should be capable of something which could be co-ordinated nationwide, maybe safer and less spectacular, but with real sympathy and maturity.
Jim Blake Botswana
Nature of the state
Tony Cliff (July/August SR) correctly argues that the collapse of the Stalinist regime in Russia showed that it had been capitalist all along. He says: 'if there had been a counter-revolution the people at the top of society would have been removed. But characteristic to the collapse of the Stalinist regime was that the same personnel, the nomenklatura who had managed the economy, society and politics under Stalinism, continued to be at the top.' However, Cliff does not seem to realise that this very same argument can be used to undermine his account of how state capitalism arose in Russia. On his account Russia was a workers' state up until 1928 and then the bureaucracy transformed itself into a ruling class. But the very same people were in charge of the state and economy before 1928 and after 1928. Therefore there could not have been a fundamental change from a workers' state to a capitalist state in 1928. it is necessary to have a credible account of how state capitalism arose to defend October 19 17 as a workers' revolution. Otherwise the line that Russia was not a workers' state goes all the way back to 1917 and then October 1917 becomes merely a coup engineered by the Bolshevik Party. There is a solution to this. A workers' state is one in which the working class is the ruling class. By 1918 the minute working class in Russia had been destroyed. It is from this destruction of the working class and the Bolshevik Party substituting itself for the working class that the defeat of the workers' state should be dated.
Bernard McBreen Liverpool
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