A Note on Welsh History and Politics

t had been on my mind for a while to write a more extended piece on Welsh history, simply by virtue of the fact that the job has yet to be done satisfactorily: the problem of Welsh history is the same as that of any history, that it has been by and large written by the bourgeoisie. But in addition to this, where it has been written by radical historians, they either reflect a British chauvinist disregard for Welsh specificities, or they reflect a nationalist disregard for class specificities. This gap has yet to be bridged, and it is not going to be bridged here either, even though I am going to offer a few pointers.
I need to say here that – as is normal – my thinking is the product of dialogue and collaboration with others. In particular, the person who had the best grasp of Welsh history and politics that I know of – more than the rest of the experts put together – was my very close friend and comrade Ceri Evans: my sadness is that he died this past August. In good part, then, in what follows, I am not only speaking for myself, but on his behalf too. I hope he would have liked what I am about to say.

* * *

The first point is that I think we need to be wary of characterisations of Wales as a ‘colonial nation’, or of talk of ‘occupation’. If it is fundamental to understand that Wales is not England, it is also of equal importance to grasp that it is not Ireland either – the historical experience is in fact completely different: specifically, the Acts of Union of 1536, which formalised the incorporation of Wales into England, precisely did not make Wales a formal colony of England:

If colonialism is understood to be a specific, political relationship between two states, then quite the opposite [happened] in fact. […] As Gwyn Alf Williams has pointed out, it actually rescued us from colonialism. From being a disenfranchised and colonised people, the Welsh, or at least their ruling class, were made politically equal to their English counterparts.

There is nothing in Welsh history that compares with, for example, Ireland: to take one example, the land
question, as in the rest of the British state was reduced to bringing landlord and gentry under the control of the bourgeoisie, rather than having to deal with absentee landlordism, catastrophic famine, massive emigration, foreign domination, etc.

More (pdf: 82KB): Notes on Welsh History and Politics

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