The Fascist Party in Wales?: Plaid Cymru, Welsh Nationalism and the Accusation of Fascism

The Fascist Party in Wales?: Plaid Cymru, Welsh Nationalism and the Accusation of Fascism

by Richard Wyn Jones

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ISBN-13: 9781783160563
Publisher: University of Wales Press
Publication date: 08/15/2014
Pages: 144
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Richard Wyn Jones is professor of Welsh politics and director of the Wales Governance Centre, both at Cardiff University. He is the author of Wales Says Yes: Devolution and the 2011 Welsh Referendum, also published by the University of Wales Press.

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The Fascist Party in Wales?

Plaid Cymru, Welsh Nationalism and the Accusation of Fascism


By Richard Wyn Jones, Dafydd Jones

University of Wales Press

Copyright © 2014 Richard Wyn Jones
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78316-057-0



CHAPTER 1

The Accusations


The 25 November 1938 edition of the Cambrian News, in a column titled 'UCW Notes' reporting on life at what was then the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, included the following snippet:

A debate was held on Friday, the motion being 'That Welsh Nationalism is Welsh Nazi-ism.' The speakers were: For, R. Islwyn Pritchard and Edgar Jones; Against, G. I. Lewis and Dyfnallt Morgan. The motion was passed by a narrow margin.


Too much significance should not be attached to the outcome of student debates. On this occasion at least, however, the discussion – and its conclusion – reflected a broader reality. By 1938, the Welsh Nationalist Party was under siege from accusations of Fascism, or of Fascist sympathies, which were being levelled against it from many quarters.

The form that such accusations took varied greatly: from throw-away remarks by authors who made no attempt to justify their accusations, to more sustained attempts to engage with specific aspects of the party's political ideas and positions. In the pre-war period, however, what is consistently apparent is that the seriousness of the accusations being levelled is inversely proportionate to the amount of evidence being marshalled to support them. Or, in other words, the more sweeping, defamatory and damaging the attacks, the more casual and slight the attempts at justification. Consider, for example, the charge laid by a Daily Herald correspondent writing on 15 February 1938: '"The Welsh Nationalist leaders are out and out Fascists, despite the fact that they try to hide it," said an ex-Nationalist to me ...'. No evidence whatsoever is offered in support of this claim beyond the words of an alleged 'source', identified only as an unnamed 'ex-Nationalist'.

During the 1930s, the Left displayed an increasing tendency to characterise opposing viewpoints as 'Fascist' without any great concern for accuracy – a tendency that, of course, continues to surface even today. As will be discussed later, such indiscriminate mud-slinging undoubtedly left its mark on the wider perception of Plaid Cymru, and is thus of political significance. But even more significant for the purposes of the present discussion are the more considered accusations that were levelled, not least those made by individuals who were in many respects extremely supportive of the party's aims. In this context, perhaps the most significant critic in the years immediately preceding the Second World War was Prosser Rhys, editor of Baner ac Amserau Cymru, a man who had joined the party even before the famous founding meeting at Pwllheli in 1925 had taken place. Rhys did not consider the party itself to be Fascist. But he did believe that those columns in the party's publications that focused on contemporary international developments such as the Spanish Civil War, were unwilling to utter 'an unkind word about Fascism'. Rhys believed that this was not only a monumental misunderstanding of what was at stake in current European politics, but was also contrary to the views of the party's rank and file members:

The majority of Plaid members have Radical tendencies – Left wing tendencies if you will. Many joined the Nationalist Party from the Labour Party, many from the Liberal Party, with the majority of the remainder having no party affiliation but holding clearly Radical views. No one from among the disciples of Lord Rothermere and Daily Mail have joined the party, yet, to a degree, the attitude of the Daily Mail is the one adopted in Plaid journals on issues other than the domestic problems of Wales. This is contrary to the sympathies of the majority of the party's members.

Rhys was therefore not accusing Plaid Cymru of being a Fascist party per se. Indeed, he was quite clear in his view that the vast majority of party members tended towards the political Left. What he did claim, however, was that views expressed in party periodicals on international affairs signally failed to support democratic elements in countries threatened by Fascism – from within or without.

It would seem that in due course Prosser Rhys revised his position regarding Plaid Cymru's stance on international affairs. At the outbreak of war, Baner ac Amserau Cymru and its editor stood as one with the party in calling upon Wales to adopt a neutral position and to support 'peace through compromise', that is to say peace without outright victory for one side or the other. Saunders Lewis's weekly column 'Cwrs y Byd' featured almost invariably on the front page of Baner ac Amserau Cymru, providing a platform from which Lewis could boldly and implacably expound his and his party's views on the war. Indeed many party members considered 'Cwrs y Byd' to have played a key role in ensuring the survival of Plaid Cymru during the difficult war years. Whether or not this is true, the controversial opinions expressed in Lewis's column were without doubt provocative, if not inflammatory, insofar as those hostile to the party were concerned, and they certainly helped to ensure that accusations of Fascism continued to gain momentum.

During the war years, three notable attacks were mounted on Plaid Cymru by leading figures in Wales. The first to enter the fray was D. Emrys Evans, who had been Principal of the University College of North Wales (today's Bangor University) since 1927. In an essay published in the Summer 1941 issue of Y Llenor, entitled 'Y Rhyfel a'r Dewis' (The War and the choice'), Evans set about chastising the Welsh intelligentsia for its lukewarm support for the British cause during the war. The core of his argument was that politics had to deal with the real rather than the abstract or the fanciful, and given the conditions of 1941, Plaid Cymru's position of neutrality in relation to the war was neither credible nor sustainable. Those in Wales who refused to back the Allies were guilty, in Evans's opinion, of 'strengthening the cause of Fascist dictators'. The nationalists, he believed, gave the impression that they were little more than 'a coalition of contrarians whose Zealot like opposition to the English had blinded them to the ways in which the devastation of war had changed the world, and to the fact that the concerns of a party and nation mattered less than the fundamental rights of man'. A Nazi victory would inevitably lead to the destruction of Welsh-language high culture because freedoms of speech and of expression were prerequisite to the latter's very existence. Welsh popular culture would also suffer. It is interesting and instructive to note the way in which the author's anti-Catholic prejudices surface in this context:

How could the traditional popular culture of Wales expect to be treated under Nazism? If the Nazis ever soften in their position on religion, rest assured that it is to the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church that they will turn, towards a Catholic religion that is responsive to the general, catholic order that they intend to impose upon the nations. Any culture rooted in the traditions of liberal Non-conformity will get short shrift.


The essay closed with the following somewhat portentous words, aimed directly at the Plaid Cymru leadership: 'Will the observer remain with his telescope in his tower, even though its foundations are besieged? Has he become so inflexible that he is unable to alter its focus even though the mist has hidden familiar terrain? Will we hear again of the treason of men of letters?'

The allegations made by Evans were serious indeed (hatred of the English had led to treason), but he was accusing Plaid Cymru of consorting with Fascism rather than accusing it of being a Fascist party in its own right. The following year, however, the pressure escalated – as did the seriousness of the accusations – with two further attacks on the party.

In a St David's Day speech to the Cardiff Cymmrodorion Society in 1942, Thomas Jones (or T.J. as he was known) presented the following dramatic picture of the state of the nation:

In Wales the disappointment with the working of democracy in Parliament and in the county and local councils, and the breakdown of the Puritan framework and the communal power of the churches, has left a void into which the Blaid has entered with a new, narrow and intolerant dogma, and the vision of a new Promised Land of Fascism.


There was little real substance to the argument: it was more a string of allegations, non-sequiturs and, indeed, threats than an attempt at rational argumentation. Plaid Cymru's objective of gaining dominion status for Wales meant, in his opinion, 'passports at Newport and tariffs along Offa's Dyke'. This would in due course lead to civil war because 'as dear as Wales is to many of us there are some things that are dearer to us ... If we are forced to make a choice we shall fight for reason, for freedom, and the British Commonwealth as a stepping stone to world unity and citizenship.' As to why T.J. considered it justifiable to describe the party as a Fascist party, here is his argument in toto:

At present its [the party's] tactics are to try and conciliate and exploit various movements which are not identified with it, the Urdd, the movement for adult education, the labour movement. It has recently become especially enamoured of the Urdd, it has discovered Denmark and Grundtvig, it promises to hand over the industries of South Wales to the workers. It will offer every thing to everybody provided sooner or later they will speak Welsh. This is all part of the Hitlerian technique.


This is such a weak argument that it is impossible to take it seriously. Not least because if seeking support though promising of all manner of things to a varied constituency amounts to Hitlerism, then democratic politics tout court would be condemned as an expression of Fascism.

T.J. was an exceptionally gifted, intelligent man. Yet despite his academic bent, and his pioneering efforts to bring sophisticated and rigorous research work to bear on Wales's myriad social problems, he clearly felt no compulsion to offer any evidence in support of his accusation of Fascism against Plaid Cymru. This in no way detracts from the significance of his comments, however, because as he well knew, they were assured of a serious reception thanks to his particular status in the nation's life. He ranked, without question, among the most prominent and respected Welshmen of his day, and was a figure of real substance in British political life. Having risen from humble beginnings in the Rhymney valley to serve under four British prime ministers as Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet, T.J. represented and embodied the Welsh liberal and nationalist (with a small 'n') tradition at its most successful. Moreover, his devotion and loyalty to the land of his fathers was clear for all to see. Whether or not it was substantiated by any evidence, the charge of Fascism from this quarter was a significant blow to the Welsh Nationalist Party.

What is particularly ironic about T.J.'s accusation is that he had himself been (wrongly) accused only a few years previously of harbouring Fascist sympathies. He had been among those who supported in word and deed the policy of appeasement with Nazi Germany. From December 1934 onwards, he had sought to use his considerable influence on the prime minister Stanley Baldwin to press for appeasement. Indeed, such was his desire to appease Hitler that in 1936 he held a series of private discussions with Germany's ambassador to Britain, Joachim von Ribbentrop. T.J. even travelled to Berlin and spent a weekend at the von Ribbentrop residence – from where he was taken to meet the Führer himself at the latter's own Berlin apartment. Later in the same year, he travelled again to Germany to meet Hitler, this time in the company of Lloyd George. He also sought other means to build bridges with Germany. Most striking, perhaps, was the occasion, again in 1936, when together with the editor of the The Times, Geoffrey Dawson, he pressed Eton College to offer a place to von Ribbentrop's son: an episode that speaks eloquently to the willingness of the British establishment – and the Welsh establishment in the form of T.J. – to extend a conciliatory hand to Nazi Germany.

In the view of T.J. and other supporters of appeasement, an accommodation between Britain and Hitler was possible if the Foreign Office in London could be persuaded to switch from its traditional support for France and offer Germany less harsh conditions of (post 1914–18 War) reparation. He shared the assumptions of many in 1930s Britain that the root of the problem was the punitive conditions imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles. Peace was possible if that wrong was righted. It was not until September 1938 that T.J. began to view the Nazis for what they really were. By that time, however, he had had to endure the experience of being branded as part of an establishment clique of Fascist sympathisers, in a devastating and influential portrait penned by the Communist journalist Claud Cockburn. There was no truth in the allegation. It is certainly the case that some members of the British establishment – such as Lord Londonderry, a cousin of Churchill's and heir to the family that gave Machynlleth its clock – strayed well over the boundary that separated appeasement from outright admiration, even adulation, for the Fascists and their aims.Nevertheless, although T.J. and his associates were appallingly naïve – with T.J. himself guilty of hubristic arrogance in his belief that his own amateurish diplomatic efforts could somehow tame Hitler – they were no Fascists. It is also fair to acknowledge T.J.'s efforts to provide succour and support for Jewish refugees fleeing Germany. Nonetheless despite the fact that T.J. was felt personally hurt by the unfair accusations made against him and his associates by Cockburn and others, he clearly felt no compunction about using the same tactics to attack Plaid Cymru. For him it seems that undermining the party's influence was part of the war effort.

By far the most widely known attack on Plaid Cymru for its alleged Fascist sympathies was that launched by the Reverend Gwilym Davies in his essay 'Cymru Gyfan a'r Blaid Genedlaethol Gymreig' (The Whole of Wales and the Welsh Nationalist Party), published as the lead article in the July 1942 issue of Y Traethodydd. This essay constituted a no-holds-barred assault on the party, written by a man who had made a name for himself between the world wars as a promoter of peace not only in Wales but also at the home of the League of Nations in Geneva. A reminder of his status is that he was the initiator of the 'Message of Peace and Goodwill from the young people of Wales to the young people of the World'. Once again, here was an individual who both represented and embodied the ideals of liberal Nonconformist Wales.

This was the most detailed of the attacks mounted against Plaid Cymru in this period, and was the only one to make any attempt to refer to the party's policy agenda in support of the accusation that it was a Fascist party. For this reason, Gwilym Davies's arguments deserve close scrutiny. They may be summarised as follows.

The party's social and moral ideas stemmed from Catholicism, specifically from the 1891 Rerum Novarum and the 1931 Quadragesimo Anno Papal Encyclicals. But, unlike the Catholic parties of the continent, Plaid Cymru was unprepared to work with other parties, because of the debt that it owed 'in policy and stance to L'Action Française and to M. Charles Maurras'. Because if Rome was the source of the party's social and moral ideas, then its political ideas derived from Maurras and L'Action Française. In Davies's view, Maurras was 'the father of Fascism as a political system'. The aim of Maurras and his fanatical paramilitary footsoldiers, the Camelots du Roi, was to 'free France from any democratic influence, to restore the country to a totalitarian monarchy, purely "fascist" in its political organisation, and to preserve it as wholly Papist'. Maurras achieved his great victory with 'the fall of the Third Republic in France in June 1940'. Pétain's Vichy France – the Nazis' docile pet state – was by 1942 being governed in a manner that was entirely consistent with Maurras's ideas.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Fascist Party in Wales? by Richard Wyn Jones, Dafydd Jones. Copyright © 2014 Richard Wyn Jones. Excerpted by permission of University of Wales Press.
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Table of Contents

Contents

Preface,
Introduction,
1 The Accusations,
2 Recognising Fascists and Fascism,
3 Defining Fascism,
4 Wales During a Decade of War,
5 Welsh Political Culture,
6 Conclusion: Redemption and Exclusion,
Notes,
Bibliography,

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