CYMRU: Republican Socialist re-groupment in Wales
By Mike Davies
Socialist republicans have been a tiny force in Welsh politics for the past 20 years. During that time Cymru Goch, although a dynamic party that published the only monthly Welsh political paper, reached out to other socialists and republicans through a series of unity ventures that culminated in the unsuccessful Welsh Socialist Alliance.
This was cynically hijacked by the Socialist Workers Party, who used it as an electoral vehicle without appreciating the need for a deeper alliance to unite the left in Wales. The problem with trying to create left unity in Wales, unlike Scotland, is that the British left groups here (small though they are) have never accepted the need for separate organisation.
This led to Cymru Goch reluctantly withdrawing from the WSA in 2002. It then organised a highly successful three-day event opposing the Queen's jubilee with speakers from the IRSP, SSP attending Clwb y Bont in Pontypridd. It turned out to be something of a swansong for the organisation.
That summer, the party agreed, in an attempt to broaden its appeal, to launch a monthly tabloid paper called Seren (Socialist, Environmental, Republican News). The aim was to link up the various left, trade union and community campaigns in a practical if loose alliance - an attempt to build a grassroots unity based on cooperation rather than forced mergers between sectarian groupings.
As luck had it, the launch coincided with the growing anti-war protests and for a time Seren went weekly to reflect the activities throughout Wales. It succeeded in building up a network of distributors way beyond CG's membership.
Then in March 2003, Wrexham's Assembly Member John Marek was deselected by Labour. After talks with local socialists, he decided to stand as an independent in the May 2003 Assembly elections. Marek had become an increasingly vocal critic of New Labour from a left reformist viewpoint - he had given much practical support to the anti-war movement and recent firefighters' strike.
His success in the election—stunningly overturning a solid Labour majority—led to meetings with the SSP and Marek himself called for a Welsh Socialist Party. Unfortunately, he was also under the influence of a Labourite clique and soon pulled back from an SSP-style party, preferring instead to opt for Forward Wales. This sought to unite the left without clarity on the national question and pulled its punches on socialism - not a good start but the left within it (including ex CG-comrades) felt it was a step in the right direction and couldn't be ignored.
Fudging key issues kept many socialist republicans from joining the new party, leaving the Labourites in the ascendancy. The party continued to move on, gaining a councillor in local elections and winning over Ron Davies, the ex-Welsh Secretary. This, although a publicity coup, only succeeded in strengthening the reformist grip on the party.
The ongoing tensions between the left and the ex-Labourites, coupled with Marek's effective sole funding of the party through his salary and allowances, ended with the left (including the sole councillor, national secretary and press officer) quitting the party.
Seren continued to publish, maintaining links between leftists in all parties, although it's fair to say that most are now not in any organisation. Financial pressures led to Seren becoming a web-based publication—http://seren.blogspirit.com—and socialist republicans in Wales continue to be in a state of re-groupment.
Some have opted to join Plaid Cymru, which has a strong socialist republican grouping based around Leanne Wood AM and Jill Evans, the party's Euro-MP. Leanne in particular has become the most prominent republican in Wales with her principled objections to the Queen opening the Assembly building on March 1.
The electoral system, not the be all and end off for socialists of course, militates against an SSP-style party in Wales breaking through. In Scotland, the PR system has allowed both the SSP and Greens to win seats while in Wales there is little hope of that happening because the list system is far more restrictive. The party has moved significantly to the left in recent years, calling itself "the socialist party of Wales" in the last General Election and moving away from its cultural nationalist heritage. In truth, it always had a left-wing element but that was dominated by a cultural nationalism in the post-war years.
It has been a consistent voice for environmental campaigners and aligned itself with the anti-war movement. Adam Price MP, another left voice in the party, is seen as a future leader and has established close links with dissident left union leaders such as Bob Crow of the RMT railworkers' union.
Independence is not an issue fudged, socialism is central to its liberation agenda and there has always been an environmental, grassroots element to Plaid's political message. Plaid, in short, is a world away from the SNP's right-wing nationalist vision and - for this writer at least - seems like the natural home for Welsh socialist republicans. At a time when there is no Welsh republican organisation and the British left has all but vanished in Wales, the presence of a credible left-wing party in Plaid Cymru is heartening to say the least. Socialists within Plaid will be working to ensure that it can take control of the Assembly in the May 2007 elections against a Labour Party beset by sleaze and scandal.