Know a hero by his heroes: Saunders Lewis beyond apologetics

Tim Williams kicks off the first in a series looking at the charges of fascism against Plaid Cymru.

The irony is inescapable and delicious. The IWA has started a debate about Saunders Lewis involving many people whom the founder of Plaid Cymru would not have regarded as Welsh conducted in a language he wanted to eradicate from Wales. He would not have had much time for his contemporary apologists ,either ,mind, given that their devolved Wales little resembles his original vision for the nation as founder of Plaid Cymru. The old man is spinning in his grave as we  fight over him and his legacy.

This week on Click on Wales

For decades Plaid Cymru have stood accused of sympathising with Fascism during the 1930s. The publication of Richard Wyn Jones’s book on ‘Welsh Nationalism and the Accusation of Fascism’ in English earlier this year challenged the charges against Plaid. But in this essay for the IWA Tim Williams, one of the leaders of the No campaign in the 1997 referendum, offers a robust rebuttal.

 Click on Wales ran a series of essays debating the issues, culminating in a debate on October 1st featuring former First Minister Rhodri Morgan. You can hear the first of three parts here

It’s never been easy having a reasoned debate about Lewis. This is partly about polarisation within Wales – and, let’s be honest, within Welsh-speaking Wales also – but, frankly, this is mostly Lewis’s own fault as he was the author of much un-reasonable and inflammatory writing in his lifetime. He set out to arouse strong passions in a nation he regarded with contempt as sleep-walking to perdition. He succeeded in that although given that at the time of his death most Welsh were unaware he’d ever lived, that success has to be considered in context. He regarded himself as having failed in his political mission. But then as that was the restoration of a monoglot Welsh-speaking Wales of small farmers as part of a unified Catholic Europe, we should perhaps take him at his own estimate. It’s hard to believe he would have been able to offer more than two cheers for a devolved, godless, white-collar/ welfarist Wales wending its inexorable way towards a monoglot English-speaking status, though he would have welcomed the de-industrialisation of the Valleys now nearing completion.

This latter point reminds us that whether or not Lewis was a Fascist – the latest source of passion about him: in passing, I feel the need to stress that Hitler denied being one also – he was undoubtedly a crank and an extremist, on the far right of European politics, closer in spirit and ideology to Action Francaise than to the English Conservative Party. Whether you love him as the demi-urge of modern Wales or hate him as a stubborn stain on its good name, let us try and agree that much of what he advocated was exotic, indeed strange, and some of it was actively repellent.    His views on Jews and the English-speaking Welsh come into the latter category.

Though Richard Wyn Jones does his best,‘The Fascist Party in Wales: Plaid Cymru and the accusation of Fascism’ does not amount to a convincing refutation that Lewis was an anti-semite. Given Lewis’s own words and editorial policy at the head of the Plaid newspaper between the mid ‘20s and 1937 – and as a poet and dramatist too – it would be quite difficult to exonerate him. I note that in his otherwise warm response to Jones’ book, Dafydd Glyn Jones accepts the charge against Lewis on this count.

I took the same view in a piece I wrote on Lewis for the Jewish Chronicle in the early 90s (‘Judge a hero by his heroes’) which led me to incur considerable verbal violence. Have a look at the absurd attack on me by the then editor of Planet ,entitled ‘Tim Williams, Saunders Lewis and the Jewish Chronicle’ where I was berated for pointing out Lewis’s anti-semitism and affection for Franco, Salazar and Petain , his denunciations of the French Resistance and support for Vichy . Plaid’s view of Mussolini was also benign especially after his Concordat with the Vatican. Their take on Hitler varied throughout 30s largely because of his obvious paganism though his anti-Bolshevism was clearly welcome. However, Y Ddraig Goch couldn’t hide its excitement when Hitler mentioned Plaid and the burning of the bombing school at the Nuremburg Rally in 1938  – ‘Hitler knows that Wales is a nation!’  screamed the party’s paper and nothing he did so outraged Plaid or Lewis that they felt compelled to join the European resistance to him.

Plaid’s neutralism throughout the Second World War, meaning their acceptance of a Nazi-dominated Europe as a consequence, has always been difficult to explain away and offended many of their own supporters (and leaders: Ambrose Bebb amongst them). It was no accident and didn’t stem from Christian pacifism but from their own nationalist opposition to Britain, which they saw as a greater threat to Wales than Hitler, and their anti-Communism. The Party paper as the thirties closed cited Jewish influence over the British media as a source of the drive to war as Jones must know but to which he does not refer.

I add that, never having been a communist-sympathiser, I take no offence at the anti-communism of Lewis and the Party, the Communists of course being allied with Hitler for the first two years of the War, a confusion for most of their members and for Welsh historians keener on the CP’s part in the earlier anti-Fascist struggle than on their complicity with Fascism in those dark years. I just point out the facts:  Plaid under Lewis was not part of the anti-Fascist struggle and indeed saw itself as part of the anti-Communist struggle and Lewis saw the roots of Bolshevism in exactly the same way a Barres, a Maurras, a Rothermere or indeed a Hitler saw them.  Strangely neither the Planet essay, nor my piece in the Jewish Chronicle, is referred to by Jones who by the way takes far too restrictive a view on what constituted a Fascist in this period – and too wide a view of what constituted an anti-semite – and indeed overall is much better at stressing what he thinks Lewis wasn’t than what he thinks Lewis was.

I regard Mr Jones’s latest work as being unconvincing in this context in comparison with his own less polemical treatise on Plaid’s ideology ‘Rhoi Cymru’n Gyntaf (2007). That quotes senior Plaid member Prosser Rhys’s concern as to what he called the ‘Daily Mail /Lord Rothermere viewpoint’ increasingly being taken by the Party under Lewis’s leadership ‘on many questions apart from Wales’s domestic problems’. Rothermere, publisher of the Mail, was a supporter of the British Union of Fascists, a great ally of Hitler and a sponsor of Fascism internationally as an antidote to Bolshevism ‘and its campaign against civilization and religion’ the leadership of which , of course, was ‘almost entirely’ Jewish. It’s hard not to see the point Prosser Rhys was making and which Mr Jones seems to have understood in his earlier scholarly text. Jones was once clear that it was precisely because of Lewis’s extremism and the gap between his views and the majority of the Welsh people that they couldn’t accept his political leadership.

But then his aim in this latest work is less to pin Lewis down than to attempt to defumigate him for the purposes of current political consumption, all ‘history-writing’ being contemporary. Indeed, Jones’s last chapter, in a surprisingly party-political text for the University of Wales Press to be publishing, is expressly about how alleged ‘misrepresentation’ of Lewis by the political left in Wales is deemed to have had the purpose of marginalising him and Plaid. (Surely he and they did a good job at that without any help from Labour.) It is also intended to re-present Lewis as merely a ‘romantic conservative’ deserving of rehabilitation in a political context where a post devolution Welsh Labour Party needs potential coalition allies to form a government – so should stop cynically distorting  Plaid’s history and embrace their ‘natural’ partners. To which my considered reply is: I’ve just seen a pig fly past the window.

Another animal can help us specify Lewis’s actual affiliations and identity. The duck. I like what Howard Jacobson says about spotting clever anti-semites. If they look like a duck, waddle like a duck and sound like a duck, probably what you have on your hands here is a duck. Jacobson would have little trouble nabbing Lewis as an anti-semite.

Lewis may or may not have been what some have called a ‘salon anti-semite’ that is one who has personal racial prejudice against Jews expressed privately. Jones’s attempts to exonerate him amount to saying ‘lots of people were prejudiced against Jews in the 30s, even some on the left: they were all at it’. This is both untrue – his attempt to smear Orwell in this regard so as to defuse the charge against Lewis is particularly cheap – and misses the point about the varieties of anti-semitism to be found and the centrality of one of those variants to Lewis’s take on modern life.

Possibly influenced by his embrace of Catholicism – in whose pre Vatican 2 reading of the Christ story it’s fair to say the Jews did not emerge with any great credit – and certainly influenced by Maurice Barres, the market-leader in what has been called ‘the first wave of French Fascism’ and a high priest of French anti-semitism (of whom Lewis once wrote, acknowledging his debt, that ‘it was through him that I discovered Wales’), Lewis was certainly a political and literary anti-semite.

That is to say, his comments on Jews in his editorial column and his literature embody a consistent world-view of their conspiratorial role in the creation of the world he despised: that materialist ,godless, rootless world in which the destroyer of men’s freedom and national independence (the Jewish revolutionist in which category he once lumped Lenin) and the destroyer of small business and national economic self-sufficiency (the Jewish financier he caricatured in the figure of Mond who turned up in both Y Ddraig Goch and his poetry: as he did in the more fetid efforts of both TS Eliot and Ezra Pound ) were found to be one and the same – and bent on using their economic, political and media power to drive the world to war again .

Jones dismisses this element in Lewis’s own work as editor of Y Ddraig Goch and contributor to Y Faner. He   does not reproduce or cite some rather relevant anti-semitic cartoons in Y Ddraig Goch in the late 20s . He does not consider at all the evidence from Lewis’s literary work or the influence over it of Barres. He says little about the universe of values Lewis shares with TS Eliot, that other revolutionary of the right whose aesthetic was riven with anti-semitism similarly reinforced by the writings of the anti-Dreyfusard French Right and the Catholic revival of which they were such an integral part.

The omission of Lewis’s literature from Jones’s defence is striking since when WJ Gruffydd, the former vice-president of Plaid who defeated Lewis in the infamous University by-election of 1943 – arousing decades of opprobrium from Plaid supporters of which echoes can still be found in Mr Jones’s work – was asked what in particular in Saunders Lewis’s oeuvre provoked him to accuse him of ‘Fascism’ he said simply :’ Y Dyliw’.

Interestingly Jones mentions neither Y Dyliw(The Deluge) nor WJ Gruffydd’s judgement on it though he does find time to quote Gruffydd’s own tacky anti-semitism in his outburst attacking the Jews of Llandudno and Abergele  in Y Llenor . That was salon anti-semitism said out-loud. This, by Lewis, is philosophically coherent political anti-semitism : look at his analysis of the Great Crash, which repays extensive quoting :

‘Then , on Olympus in Wall Street, ninety-twenty-nine,

At their infinitely scientific task of guiding the profits of fate.

The gods decreed, with their feet in the Aubusson carpets,

And their Hebrew snouts in the quarter’s statistics,

The day had come to restrict credit in the universe of gold’.

Having done this , the Hebrew snouted gods of Wall Street (also taking the form of their near relatives ,the ‘foul usurers of Basle’ ,those ‘masters of the planet’ with their ‘splendid religion’ which had displaced god with ‘man without fetters’) ‘breached the last floodgates of the world’ thereby pretty much causing ,in the order in which they come in the poem, mass protests by the unemployed in Vienna , mass hunger, ‘the wrangling in Munich’, the fall of Bruening (and thus the rise of Hitler),newspapers filled with ‘pictures of sluts’ and football pools to distract the ‘frail rabble’, the Spanish Civil War and the second world war itself: ’and from over the sea comes the noise of tanks gathering’.

That is, Lewis agreed with Eliot in ‘Burbank With a Baedeker: Bleistein With a Cigar’ that ‘The rats are underneath the piles. / The jew is underneath the lot.’

Interestingly, by the time Lewis came to write the play Brad/Treason for the Ebbw Vale Eisteddfod of 1958 – his extraordinary whitewashing of the Wehrmacht , a key ally of Hitler until some elements wanted to forge a separate peace with the ‘west’ as the Soviets pushed towards Berlin and itself up to its neck in the mass murder of the Jews on the Eastern Front though  absurdly depicted by Lewis as epigones of ‘civilisation’ in the struggle against ‘Communist Asia’ :  an amazing provocation in the home of Aneurin Bevan –  he has his seedy proletarian Nazi Albrecht give an alternative analysis of the history of the Deluge. The great inflation in Weimar Germany is there, so is the Crash, the Great Depression, and the rise of Fascism. But Albrecht’s historical overview and self-justification manage to avoid mentioning the Jews at all, somewhat implausibly given he is meant to be the personification of the National Socialist critique and the Jews kind of dominated their world view. This is more than Hamlet without the prince.

Of course, the Lewis of 1958 knew but omitted to mention what Albrecht seems not to have known, though his counterpart in the Gestapo of June 1944 would both have known and been proud of: that Fascism had resulted in the deaths of millions of Jews. The Lewis of 1940 knew the Jews had caused ‘the Deluge’. By 1958 he had nothing to say on the subject. The Jews are not mentioned in a play about evil, the economic crisis of the 20s and 30s, war, civilisation and Hitler.  Lewis’s   silence surely speaks more eloquently of his anti-semitic discourse and bad faith than a library of attempted exculpatory essays by academics.

Jones’s silence on this discourse and his dismissal of its influence is linked to his silence on Barres and  the way in which Lewis melded Barres’s attack on deracinated Jews in France with his critique of the ‘anti-national elements’ in Wales: viz, those of us whose mother tongue was English.

To put Barres in context and to not muck around, as Robert Soucy, an expert on Barres and French Fascism puts it, ‘while one must not completely identify Barres with Fascism, one must not whitewash their relationship either’. Of the Jews, Barres himself wrote: ’Jews do not have a country in the sense that we understand it. For us the country is our soil and our ancestors; it is the land of our dead. For them it is the place where they find their greatest profit’. Or as a French Jewish website committed to researching anti-semitism in France describes Barres: ‘Violement anti-Semite, Maurice Barrès est l’un des antidreyfusards les plus actifs. Il écrit : ‘que Dreyfus est capable de trahir, je le conclus de sa race ‘‘.

Of this Barres, Lewis wrote: ‘Discovering his work had the effect of changing the course of my life…I cannot hear of his death without openly acknowledging my debt to him. My play Noble Blood is an attempt at turning (Barres’s) Colette Baudoche into Welsh and a Welsh setting’.

The debt was fundamental. Barres gave Lewis his life-mission .Barres created much of the framework of modern right wing nationalism with its emphasis on those who are of the nation – the ‘rooted individuals’ and those who are not, indeed those who threaten it either from the inside – the ‘deracines’ or from the outside, the foreigners. What made Barres interesting was his notion that because the French were not a race something else had to bind them together. He opted for ‘tradition’ which in his work ‘performs exactly the same function as race in racist theories’, says David Carroll author of ‘French Literary Fascism:Nationalism, Anti-semitism and the ideology of Culture’. ‘Tradition’ Carroll continues, provides cultural rather than racial typologies of what it is to be French: it enables modern French people to ‘have roots in a past origin, an origin that all the French supposedly carry within themselves as their cultural endowment: it provides the French with the myth of homogeneous culture, a spiritual homogeneity, to supplement the absence or racial homogeneity’. Indeed, not being a race meant that the French had to be:-

‘more attentive to their indigenous traditions than a people preformed as a race. …Without the ultimate determination of race, the French could not afford to stray too long or too far from the land and its traditions, or to remain deracinated and thus victim to foreign ideas, traditions and tastes, for they had nothing else on which to found themselves, nothing ‘biological’ to make them what they were and to serve as the determining principle under which they could remake themselves. This also mean that the ‘pollution’ or ‘corruption’ of French tradition, culture and taste constituted as radical a threat to the being of the French as the intermixing of races was for racists. Without a homogenous culture and purified tradition to carry on as an instinctual endowment and with which to identify, the French people would no longer exist as such and would not be able to remake themselves in the future. Only a closed, integral cultural tradition could guarantee the (re)making of an integral people’.

Essentially, Lewis applied the Barres framework to Wales. His play Noble Blood enunciates what this means through the sacrifice of the main character Luned, who will not marry the anglicised landlord’s son after all. Though Lewis later rejected the play as juvenilia he never renounced Luned’s words : they more or less sum up his political career: ’My life shall be an altar for the memories of my race. I shall be a nun for my country. And my family shall die with me, but without betraying their ideals or their traditions’.

By ‘tradition’ Lewis, in his literary work and his political texts, meant the agrarian Catholic , monoglot Wales before the arrival of  ‘the rootless’ – the foreign English and Jews and those Welsh who had lost their language and religion or had fallen prey to foreign ideas (Protestantism, socialism or humanism for example) – who were   the greatest threat to the survival of the nation.  This was why Lewis could never accept a bilingual Wales as the goal of Plaid policy.

As he said and unapologetically repeated, ’It is bad, wholly bad, that English is a spoken language in Wales. It must be deleted from the land we call Wales. Carthage must be destroyed’. Only deep immersion in the ‘tradition/civilisation/language’ of Wales and rejection of that other ‘rootless Wales’ of the Valleys could restore national health. Again, in Lewis’s famous words setting out official party policy: ’For the sake of the moral health of Wales and for the sake of the moral and physical welfare of her population, South Wales must be de-industrialised’.  The Wales of Y Dyliw is that rootless Wales. The poem’s spirit and verbal violence are truly Barresian in their rejection of the Wales of the deracine, the ‘dregs’ and ‘flotsam of the wreckage of men’ which had ‘neither language nor dialect’ – that ‘proletarian flood’ which when it wasn’t ‘grovelling’ or ‘raising its caps’ to its betters and that man Mond (again) ‘crept greasily civil to the chip shops’ and then ‘drowned under the slime of the dole’.

It’s at this point you understand why it took 40 years for Plaid to win any seat at all and why almost 90 years after the founding of the party it has still come nowhere winning a parliamentary seat in the Valleys. Turkeys not voting for Christmas come to mind.

Richard Wyn Jones thinks that anti-Catholicism played some part in the poor receptiveness of the Welsh to Lewis’s ideology and that that the charge of Fascism comes from people without clean hands or from Labour people playing partisan politics. In terms of ‘clean hands’ I say two things. One is to remind Mr Jones of what Orwell said about certain kinds of debate: ‘The Catholic and the Communist are alike in assuming that an opponent cannot be both honest and intelligent.’  The second is this: if Lewis’s only detractors in Wales had been Communists or fellow travelling intellectuals themselves complicit in the other murderous ideology of the century, I’d be convinced. But his detractors went way beyond that narrow constituency – they included most of the Welsh political spectrum in so far as any had ever been aware of him, and Welsh-speakers more than English (of course). I will return to the slur on Labour in Mr Jones’s work but suffice to say that he should know that for any political force to be able to marginalise an opponent usually requires a plausible basis in empiricism. The Welsh electorate knew enough about Lewis’s affiliations to find him repugnant without much help from Transport House. The graffito on some rocks above Caernarfon after the Bombing School affair sums up Jones’s difficulty with his analysis :’Saunders Lewis should be hanged’. That wasn’t written by James Griffith or Ness Edwards.

 As to anti-Catholicism, apart from the fact that Lewis was as bigoted towards Welsh protestant culture as his detractors were towards him, Jones seems not to understand how reactionary the Catholicism of 30s Europe was – and how complicit with Fascism. Jones takes delight in reporting Orwell’s own outburst of anti-semitism as a way of mitigating Lewis’s somewhat more systematic version, whilst ignoring Orwell’s consistent strictures against Catholicism for its association with political reaction both in Europe and in the UK and indeed Fascism. As Orwell said, in his no-nonsense style, ’Outside its own ranks, the Catholic Church is almost universally regarded as pro-Fascist, both objectively and subjectively’. In a Tribune column of 1945 he wrote: ’The Catholics who said ‘Don’t offend Franco because it helps Hitler’ had more or less consciously been helping Hitler for years beforehand’. And talking of Catholic converts and intellectuals lionised in the press of the 30s, Orwell adds: ’One reason for the extravagant boosting that these people get in the press is that their political affiliations are invariably reactionary. Some of them were frank admirers of Fascism as long as it was safe to be so’.

So called ‘Anti-Catholicism’ is a reaction to this and frankly Welsh radicalism, whether nonconformist or secular, from the beginning, consistently opposed the Papacy not because of bigotry but because historically it was not on the side of human freedom and progress. We have always mistrusted its ideologues. I remind Mr Jones that it was not a Welsh Labour or Liberal leader who summed up Lewis as ‘bad politician/good Catholic’ but Dafydd Elis Thomas, former leader of Plaid Cymru.

Orwell knew what Jones seems not to know: almost all Catholic writers, artists and intellectuals in the UK –apart from Eric Gill – supported Franco in the Spanish Civil War, just as they supported Salazar in Portugal and particularly after the Concordat between the Italian Government and the Papacy in 1929, they supported Mussolini. Jones’s attempt to exonerate Lewis from supporting Franco is totally unconvincing. Plaid opposed any intervention by the UK Government on the side of the Republic which Jones suggests was the same policy as that of the Labour Party. But Jones misunderstands the Labour Party position.

At the start of the Civil War Attlee gave strong support to the Republic. The majority of Labour members were Republican in this conflict. A dilatory Labour leadership under the influence of a TUC still re-building the union movement after the debacle of the General Strike and the depression, and wary of foreign adventures, had the ‘block votes ‘to secure Non- Intervention in 1936 against the majority of Party members but, under significant internal opposition, rethought their position and voted to actively support the Republic in the October ’37 Party conference. They repudiated Non-Intervention and started campaigning for ‘Arms for Spain’ which wasn’t, I assure you, the Plaid position at the time. By then it was obvious that Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany were pouring arms into Spain in support of Franco, while Stalin would also send Soviet arms and advisers to the Republic.

The leading historian of Labour and the Spanish Civil War, Tom Buchanan , points out that Labour’s campaign failed not because it wasn’t sincere about intervention but simply because  ‘the Labour party was too weak in parliament to secure a reversal of policy’.  He adds: ‘However, during the Civil War the TUC was also closely involved in raising money from affiliated unions for its “Spanish Workers Fund”. This fund was channelled through the International Federation of Trade Unions and used to send medical aid and food to Spain. The archives also give an excellent account of the TUC’s prominent role in the Basque Children’s Committee, the humanitarian committee set up to care for the 4000 Basque refugee children who arrived in Britain in May 1937, soon after the bombing of Guernica’.

 Whatever Labour’s position, and however one attempts to interpret Plaid’s position, Lewis in all conscience sided with what Orwell was quite comfortable in describing as the Fascists against the Republic. And if Jones wants to know why Lewis seemed strangely unenthusiastic about supporting the Basque and Catalan Nationalists it’s precisely because they were in an alliance with the greater enemy, the godless ‘marxists’  of the Republic (and their UK allies). In the European civil war of which Lewis and his cohort in Plaid felt themselves to be part, the Basques and the Catalans were on one side and Plaid on the other. Plaid was fighting for ‘civilisation’ not for the rights of small nations who had happened to side with the barbarians.

In not understanding this Jones is then surprised to hear a piece of damning oral history from a pretty interesting source: Rhodri Morgan remembering his Dad coming back from a private meeting with Saunders Lewis saying that Lewis welcomed Franco’s victory over the Republicans. Of course he did. Is Jones suggesting that Lewis took a different line to every other Catholic convert of the 30s in this one respect: and where is his evidence?

I repeat : I think Richard Wyn Jones in trying to say what Jones wasn’t – with a view to cleansing a Nationalist reputation currently ‘on the nose’ (aka: a bit smelly) – doesn’t really understand what Lewis was.  He also employs too narrow a view of ‘Fascist’. I prefer Soucy again. Some historians have dismissed those who describe French far right parties of the 20s and 30s as Fascist as merely employing the partisan rhetoric of the period. Soucy demolishes this view. He describes the characteristics that the leading such party, Croix de Feu/PSF (which Lewis supported in the CF-led demonstrations which toppled the government in the 1934 crisis) shared with other European Fascisms of the era .  Soucy, contrasted with Jones, has a multi-faceted definition of Fascism. He views the differences between non-Fascist authoritarian conservatives and Fascist authoritarian conservatives as more a matter of degree (which increased when threatened by Leftists) than of fixed, irreconcilable essences.

Soucy , rather, emphasizes the ‘fluidity’ of Fascist ideology , rejecting static taxonomies or a simplistic essentialism for what he terms ‘Fascism in motion’. He criticises notions of Fascism that require Fascists—in order to be deemed such —to behave in as ‘totalitarian’ a fashion before they came to power as they did afterwards. He rejects attempts to exonerate the CF/PSF by defining Fascism in an unhistorical way. Jones is prone to this error with Lewis.

Soucy questions the view that the CF/PSF was not Fascist but a form of ‘patriotic social Christianity’  thus too nationalistic and too Catholic to be Fascist. He tellingly points out  the same could have been said of the dominant faction in Mussolini‘s Partito Nazionale Fascista (PNF). The 1929 Vatican Concordat enabled an influx of Catholics into the PNF leaving their mark on Fascist ideology. Pope Pius Xl thanked Mussolini for implementing ‘Social Catholicism’.

Fundamentally, Soucy validates a key proposition: that those who stress differences between Fascism and right-wing Catholicism distract us from the reality that there were many fusions of the two, with significant Catholic Fascist movements in Spain, Portugal, Austria, Hungary and Croatia with Vichy France itself being the piece de la reaction, as it were. Without much leg-work, you can find Lewis being warm in print about most of these.

Soucy is supported by another key historian of French Fascism, Robert Paxton: ‘ Soucy is right to ignore the disclaimers of those concerned’, he writes. ’ Most of the muscular New Right in France denied it was Fascist (Hitler himself rejected the label). Soucy demolishes this claim and rightly looks for a French form of Fascism whether it accepted the label or not’. We should do the same in Wales with Lewis, whether or not intellectuals sympathetic to Plaid like it.

Finally, the last chapter of Mr Jones’s treatise on Lewis and Plaid is really a manifesto for a return of Plaid to government in a coalition with, as it were, ‘national Labour’. (I am not sure why the University of Wales Press published this as it’s more something you would expect to see in Barn or Planet). It points out how unhelpful to such a desired result, as Jones sees it, is it to carry on with this fixation with and bias against Lewis. Cleaning up Lewis is thus part of a program for contemporary Welsh politics. And I guess it must be pretty embarrassing to have as a founder of your party a man with Lewis’s views, properly understood.

 As to the political meaning of Lewis today ? Nationalists need not worry overly. There is no historical memory in Wales and Lewis’s sins have had little political use for quite a while but then that’s partly because he was so extreme and exotic as to bounce off the reality of our culture and politics. He did not create modern Wales or indeed Devolved Wales which he would have despised. But then that is because our Wales was a creation of the people he despised and the political tool of the majority: industrial Wales and the Labour Party. Real politics starts with a respect for that. I wonder if the University of Wales Press understands that?

Tim Williams who blogs at ( is director of the Publicani consultancy and is currently working on projects in Australia, where he now lives. He is a former special advisor to the Blair government and the Welsh Government. Prior to moving to Australia in December 2010 he was managing director of Navigant Consulting. This essay was written in response to the Welsh language version of Richard Wyn Jones' book 'Y Blaid Ffasgaidd Yng Nghymru'

52 thoughts on “Know a hero by his heroes: Saunders Lewis beyond apologetics

  1. Excellent article! and my congrats to IWA for publishing such an article! Maybe freedom of speech does still exist in Wales… which is just as well when you have people like Richard Wyn Jones trying to sneakily re-write history. Is this an abuse of his position one wonders?

    If Mr Tim Williams is reading this I only have one question: Does he think Australia is far enough away for when they read this 😉

  2. Thank goodness. Order is restored to the universe. Lewis was a fascist and the Labour Party saved Wales from itself. No need to think any more about the difficult stuff. Great.

    It is a damning indictment of a weak academy that we cannot move on from facile arguments of ‘definitive’ categorisation within an (anyways constructed) dichotomy of binary opposites to a more meaningful discussion of wider paradigms of ideology and action.

    But if it makes the author and the audience feel better, who am I to criticize that?

  3. What you have, Phil, is an opportunity to express your opinion on the matter. If you are a supporter of Saunders Lewis or prefer to view the subject matter in a different context, then what’s stopping you?

    I haven’t read Richard Wyn Jones’ book so cannot comment meaningfully on his work. There are however a couple of questions that are hovering in my mind as to what this publishing event represents. Does it represent an attempt to re-write history for the sake of current political objectives? By what criteria is Saunders Lewis anti-Semitism and apparent Fascism being assessed?

  4. Saunders Lewis had an unsavory side. News indeed. From 1939-41 every good Socialist was supposed to support the Nazis and many did, actively undermining the war effort. Dig deep enough and you will find the dirt you seek.

    What is fascinating about the article is the anti-Catholic line that permeates many of these paragraphs. It reminds me of an incident in Cardigan some 50 years ago: The Priest from Our Lady of the Taper was invited to attend the Remembrance Day parade. The Mayor’s Chaplain threatened to resign if the Priest attended. The Mayor replied that if that would be the case, the Priest would become the new Chaplain. A Priest has attended every parade ever since. It is desperately sad to see Catholics so lumpenly equated with Fascists. Most of Wales has a more open minded attitude to Catholics these days.

  5. “Tim Williams kicks off the first in a series looking at the charges of fascism against Plaid Cymru. ”
    I’m struggling to see why this should be a hot topic in a post Scottish referendum pre UK constitutional re-write Wales.
    Can anyone at IWA explain to me the relevance of this series to the here and now (now can cover Wales since devolution if you want)?

  6. Brilliant article. With regard to the Labour’s Party attitude to the Spanish Civil War the party leadership’s initial reaction was influenced by the attitude of the French PM Leon Blum and the influence of the Catholic Church within the party in certain areas such as Liverpool and Glasgow. It was totally out of touch with the attitude of the party rank and file particularly in areas such as South Wales. Arthur Greenwood was jeered when he moved the report supporting non intervention at the September 1936 Conference. By October 1936 the Labour Party was lobbying for the lifting of the non intervention pact. At a minimum you would have thought that any academic making a comment on the Labour Party’s foreign policy in the 1930s would have at least read Rhiannon Vickers short book entitled ‘The Labour Party and the World Volume 1′ which was published in 2003 by Manchester University Press. Saunders Lewis was basically irrelevant when it came to the problems facing Wales in the 1930s and he is definitely of no relevance today. I suppose the real issue is where would he have stood if he had been a Frenchman in the1930s and during the war years. I’ve no doubt that he would have been a major supporter of Petain’s Vichy government. As for the argument that from 1939-41 every good socialist was supposed to support the Nazis and many did, actively undermining the wars effort.’. This would obviously come as a surprise to the Labour party members including Deputy Prime Minister Attlee who were members of Churchill’s Coalition government. In fact without Labour’s support Churchill would not have become Prime Minister.

  7. The “discomforts” of the past century and the one before are finally coming to light and openly discussed. A welcome sign. Saunders Lewis rebelled against a political and religious order in Wales that was well past its prime on two occasions – at Pen y Berth in the 1930’s, and again in the early 1960’s. He was a complex individual who raised uncomfortable issues.

    I recently completed an article about the tithe war based on contemporary newspaper reports. Anti-papism was rife, with papism in Ireland a source of discomfort to non-conformist leaders of the movement. Their suspicion of and treatment of Parnell and Davitt as Roman Catholic Home Rulers during the mid-1880’s was probably an obstacle to the full development of anti-tithe movement in Wales, and possibly the political maturation of T.E. Ellis’s vision for ‘Cymru Fydd.” Lewis was a product of that legacy as a son of the manse in Wallasey, followed by the disruptive effect of World War 1 on European society, combined with the “Liverpool Effect” – cosmopolitan port city at its peak with its class distinctions and prejudices.

    The canonisation of Saunders Lewis seems incomplete in Wales. On checking this morning I noticed that his name is not included in Welsh Biography Online. Disconcerting for some, a source of satisfaction to others, but Dylan Thomas had to wait his turn as well.

  8. Sadly, reaction to our decision seems to divide along party lines, and our decision to commission a series of essays has been brought into question.

    The genesis of the series came last summer when Tim Williams was asked to write a review of the Welsh language version of the book for Agenda. Tim produced this piece, which was too long for Agenda. As it was so provocative I decided it merited reaction from other voices, and so the idea developed into producing a short book of essays. The leading historian of the Spanish Civil War, Robert Stradling, and Conservative AM David Melding have produced excellent pieces which will run over the next few days in the run-up to our event on Wednesday night in the Senedd. Rhodri Morgan, whose father run the University by-election campaign against Saunders Lewis, is taking part too, as is Jasmine Donahaye who has written previously on this subject for us:

    Its not the most pressing issue facing Wales but it is of historical interest and, as Richard Wyn’s book points, out tells us something about modern debates about Welsh politics too.

    I hope you agree when you’ve read the full series that this short series is characterised by fine writing and lively debate – Which is what this site is all about.

  9. Basically, an academic firebrand touted some unsavoury ideas. Well how many times we have heard this before? I am sure there were plenty of academics who were from the left who openly supported Stalin during his reign.

    I really don’t have time for Saunders Lewis, some of his ideas were madcap. I.e returning Wales into the Catholic fold. Well that was never going to happen was it?

  10. Despite Lee Waters intervention this really shows how irrelevant the IWA has become to Welsh political discourse. Having said that, Tim Williams has completely ripped apart the campaign to rejuvenate Saunders Lewis that Mr Wyn Jones has championed. Can we now move on and discuss today’s constitutional debates that are the talk of Holyrood, Stormont and Westminster, if not the Bay?

  11. @LeeWaters
    “Sadly, reaction to our decision seems to divide along party lines, and our decision to commission a series of essays has been brought into question.”

    I might well be jumping the gun but I can’t help thinking that outside those with a passion for this issue (I’m not in that number) the endeavor will just end up providing some crib notes and sound bites for Trinity Mirror Group in their Plaid bashing come the general election.

  12. Croeso’n ol i’m cyd-Dim – llais o’r gorffennol yn wir! Wrth reswm, fe fyddai cefnogydd i Blaid Oswald Mosley a’r hen Ernie Bevin annwyl yn dallt y dalltings lle bo gwrthsemitiaeth dan sylw. Mae hyn yn ofnadwy – dal ati (Gol.)

  13. It’s a nice piece of history I suppose and certainly very inflammatory however Saunders Lewis of Wallasey has as much relevance to the modern day left of centre Plaid Cymru as the anti-immigrant and in particularly Lithuanian hating Keir Hardie does to Tony Blair’s New Labour party.

  14. There is rather more evidence that the Communist Party in Wales had fascist sympathies than Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru; that is, if truth be told, there is very little evidence at all.

  15. I don’t particularly care for Saunders Lewis, there are other far more interesting figures in Welsh history. However, I found this article to be rambling, incoherent and verging on childish. Phil Davies has put it better than any of us could – people aren’t either good or bad, and to try to force people into these binaries is simplistic, boring and, ultimately, trivial.

  16. However, the main problem with Tim Williams’ article is that, as has become common in discussion on this particular issue, he misrepresents the empirical evidence; ironically, his accusation against Richard Wyn Jones.

    So, yes, there is a considerable body of anti-Semitic statements in Saunders Lewis’ writings in the 1920s and 1930s, including pieces which Tim Williams has not had space to reference, for example in the novel “Monica”. But they exist side-by-side with comments which, as Tim knows, give little succour to anti-Semitism. Perhaps the best known is Saunders’ attack on anti-Semitism in his 1930 essay on the Czech leader, Thomas Masaryk, and which he chose to reproduce in his 1938 collection of essays, “Canlyn Arthur”. That is to say, Saunders Lewis’ condemnation of anti-Semitism is a theme in his work which bridges the 1930s.

    I quote Saunders Lewis in the original, no translation being at hand in the early hours:

    ‘Tro arall fe wrthsafodd Masaryk yn erbyn ei genedl nes ei yrru eto yn amhoblogaidd i’r eithaf am gyfnod hir. Asgwrn y gynnen hon ydoedd achos cyfraith yn erbyn Iddew a gyhuddid o fwrdro Bohemiad. Buasai rhagfarn ffyrnig yn erbyn Iddewon am ganrifoedd ym Mohemia, a buan y credwyd y si mai i gyflawni defod gyfrin ynglŷn â’i grefydd y cyflawnodd yr Iddew hwn yr alanas. Yr oedd amddiffyn Iddewaeth ym Mohemia yn fwy andwyol i enw da gwleidydd nag a fyddai amddiffyn Catholigiaeth yng Nghymru. Ond nid ysgogodd Masaryk. Ymdaflodd i’r frwydr a phrofodd yn y pen draw nad oedd “galanas ddefod” yn rhan o grefydd yr Iddew. Bu’n rhaid i’w gyd-genedl eto dderbyn ei gwers ganddo.
    Dyna’n sicr guddiad cryfder Masaryk. Ni ellid ei lygru na’i brynu na’i ŵyro oddi ar lwybr cydwybod. Ni pheidiai ef â dweud gwirionedd wrth ei genedl pan fyddai gwir alw am ei ddweud (ac nid mympwy neu ysbryd paradocs neu ddyhead am fod yn hynod yn ei symbylu), hyd yn oed pe golygai hynny ddwyn amhoblogrwydd ar ei raglen genedlaethol ef.’

    So, rather confusingly, Saunders in the 1920s and the 1930s gives rope to both anti-Semitic and anti-anti-Semitic rhetoric at the same time.

    Tim Williams talks quite a but about Action Francaise, but Saunders was not really an Action Francaise man, and although he was in debt to Barres, the idea that Barres was the major influence on Lewis in the 1920s is false. A far more significant intellectual figure for him was Sigmund Freud (all of Saunders Lewis works in the period, “Williams Pantycelyn” in particular, are eulogies to him), who of course as a Jewish intellectual was much persecuted by the Nazis.

    I could go on but it is late, and we in Wales are in a different time zone to that in Australia.

    To repeat, none of this means that there is no anti-Semitic material in Saunders Lewis’ writings: there is, and some is quite virulent. But to pretend that the anti-Semitism is a constant is simply wrong.

    I am also unaware of any anti-English racism in Saunders Lewis’ writings. Nor indeed is there any anti-Irish racism, at a time when anti-Irish racism was the great prejudice in Wales.

    Finally, fascism. There is no evidence that Saunders was a fascist. What he was was a modernist in a colonised culture at a time of considerable political and intellectual upheaval, the 1920s. Saunders Lewis was much taken up with metaphysics, and the metaphysics of the nation, and like Heidegger, he does talk quite a bit about going back to the beginning of the nation, which he clearly means in a sort of radical conservative way.

    Incidentally, a lot of European leftists (from Derrida to Zizek) have a lot of time for Heidegger because he is seen as the godfather of difference, and it is in that spirit that people on the left in Wales, especially nationalists but also open-minded Labour people, should approach Saunders. For Saunders Lewis’ emphasis on cultural difference, an argument he made from the Right, has come to underpin a lot of thinking about respecting cultural difference which exists on the Left in Wales today. (It is interesting for example to consider the link between Saunders Lewis’ revolutionary right-wing essay, ‘Tynged yr Iaith’, and the movement it spawned, Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, by a long way, the most left-wing ‘mainstream’ organisation in Wales today).

  17. “Hitler knows Wales is a nation”.

    I had no idea! Hitler an early cheer leader for Plaid yet……why am I not surprised?

    It would be hard not to take Lewis’s idealised and unlikely vision of an agrarian all Welsh speaking Wales and his dislike of those who were not “rooted in the soil” of Wales and see echoes of this in the low level racist campaigns of Cymuned in the early noughties.
    Surely it was attitudes similar to those espoused by Lewis that led sundry evengelical faux academics to form the “English Colonists out” movement that decorated our walls here in NW Wales. Those attitudes linger on in Right wing nationalist blogs and in the strangely unrealistic aims of Cymdeithas Y Iaith with its “We want to live our lives in Welsh” mantra.

  18. Simon Brook’s argument regarding anti-semitism rests on the premise that, because Saunders Lewis was inconsistent on the issue, this somehow neutralises his anti-semitic views. This is a little like saying that some of my best friends are Jews.

    We should distinguish between assessing Saunders Lewis as an individual and his thinking, and assessing his public statements which needs to be done in a political context. In contemporary terms, we would not accept racist statements made in public if they were ameliorated by positive statements to the contrary. The reason we do not do that is that it legitimises views that are based on hatred and provides an opportunity to act for those who have a racist agenda.

    It can be argued that we should not judge history by contemporary values but by the values of the time. So were there people at the time who opposed anti-semitism? Indeed there were, see the Battle of Cable Street as one example. So by the values of his time, Saunders Lewis was wanting. If one accepts Simon’s premise, the best one can say about his position was that it was weak at a time when what Jews in Wales and the rest of Europe needed was solidarity in the face of such venom. Whatever one’s contradictions and ambiguities enjoyed in private, on such a serious issue, there was no room for vacillation in public. Yet according to Simon’s evidence, that is exactly what he did.

    The final judgment on Saunders Lewis is that he is not regarded as a figure that has anything meaningful to say on the state of Wales today. This is not to say that he has not been an influential figure in the past, Simon cites his influence on Cymdeithas yr Iaith as an example. But he is a figure of the past. Wales has moved on and so has Plaid Cymru. Even Cymdeithas yr Iaith has become an increasingly marginalised force in Wales since the advent of democracy.

    It should be a matter of concern however that contemporary authors should attempt to play down this aspect to his public politics. Why the desire to re-write history and what agenda is being pursued by doing so?

  19. I’d completely endorse Simon Brooks’s points. Simon has argued elsewhere that if a nationalist figure was to emerge in 1920s Wales, he was bound to come from outside the dominant assimilationist ideologies of liberalism and socialism – either from the far-Right or the far-Left. While Lewis shares a number of characteristics with Eliot, his location as a minority, anti-statist conservative makes his a different case. A comparative example might be the African American intellectual W E B Du Bois whose emphasis on the ‘souls’ of black folk and belief in a ‘talented tenth’ of race leaders mirrors Lewis’s conservatism. Du Bois embraced Communism from the mid 1930s onwards, but his early work is characterised by a rightist commitment to ‘soul’ and an ‘elite’. He re-wrote his seminal The Souls of Black Folk (1903) to omit the several anti-Semitic passages, was educated in Berlin and felt that he’d been treated better in 1930s Germany than he had in the US. The leading black nationalist of 1920s Harlem was Marcus Garvey, who believed himself to be the ‘original fascist’.

    This is not to say that the Welsh experience is ‘like’ the African American experience. But the location of minority intellectuals having to try and forge a space for their own people and culture is similar, leading the key figures in each tradition to eschew the politics of liberal ‘consensus’ for positions on the far Right. The political legacy of this key act of ethnic differentiation is not far-rightist. As Brooks suggests, the right-wing Lewis gives rise to the Leftist activism of Cymdeithas yr Iaith and post 1960s Plaid. Du Bois and Garvey give rise to the progressive Leftism of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. These issues are best addressed comparatively. A similar book to Richard Wyn Jones’s important study, dedicated to a different context but with lessons for Wales, is Mark Thompson’s ‘Black Fascisms’:

  20. @ Daniel Williams

    Actually Daniel, I’m not sure what points you are agreeing with. The article discusses the alleged Fascist sympathies of Plaid Cymru in the 1920s and 1930s. You make no reference to this other than a somewhat oblique reference to Du Bois. Therefore is your point that Welsh fascism was OK because there were black Fascists in the USA?

  21. Rhobat, why should we throw Saunders Lewis, one of the two most significant thinkers in 20th century Wales, out of the Welsh canon because of a silly smear campaign? We might as well throw Heidegger out of Western philosophy (and he did take a wrong turn).

    There is no evidence of fascism and some evidence of anti-Semitism in Saunders Lewis’ work, but the history of ideas in Wales cannot be discussed in journalese, which is what you and others seem to be trying to do.

    Critics of Saunders Lewis would be better placed asking themselves why despite the complete dominance of liberalism and then socialism in Welsh politics between 1867 and the 1930s, neither group established a national movement. Why was this? A far more interesting question.

  22. Rhobat – I agree that Lewis belonged to the European Right and there were aspects of his thought that might be described as fascist. I would say the same about Yeats, Eliot, Pound. Richard Wyn Jones offers a persuasive definition of fascism in his book and shows pretty conclusively that Lewis doesn’t fit the model. But I have some sympathy with Tim Williams’s more ‘fluid’ approach, where fascist sympathies and instincts, and indeed admiration for actual fascists, are demonstrated across a spectrum. It is, perhaps, a difference between a social scientific method (Jones) and a historical approach (Williams). But if we are to measure Lewis by his heroes, then his admiration for Freud is clear, and if he’s accused for sins of omission in ‘Brad’, it’s curious to then ignore his ‘Jewish play’ ‘Esther’. In his writings there’s evidence of Lewis berating anti-Semites in a letter to David Jones, rejoicing that the multicultural communities of Tiger Bay celebrate their Welshness, and volunteering at soup kitchens in Merthyr. That’s not to say there’s also much that’s offensive and intolerant too.

    RWJ’s book is quite brilliant in its deconstruction of Welsh political discourse – in explaining why the fascist accusation was made, and why it continued to be made. The fact that there were Black Fascists ‘doesn’t make it alright’ (although I recognize the dangers of ‘what-about-ism’ that Jasmine Donahaye warned us about). What Thompson does in his Black Fascism book is expose elements of fascist thought in figures who were often admirable in standing up for African American rights. No one would accuse the NAACP of being ‘fascist’ just because Du Bois was involved in founding the movement. The Crisis magazine which he founded in the 20s isn’t dismissed as ‘fascist’. But the best critics of Du Bois’s work do address and acknowledge the unpleasant aspects of his thinking, much of which (like Lewis) he later rejected. As with the case of Heidegger, it’s a matter of contextualisation. Not air-brushing, but analysing.

    It was Raymond Williams who asked us to separate those ideas ‘and ways of thinking, with the seeds of life in them’, while undermining and breaking those chains that connect us to ideas harbouring the ‘seeds of a general death’. Lewis (like most modernist intellectuals) harboured both. The ‘fascist’ accusation closes down debate and discussion, which is why I think Richard Wyn Jones’s powerful polemic to be a major contribution. I was – perhaps obliquely – suggesting that the biases and blindnesses of Welsh debates often become clearer when we hold ourselves up against the mirror of similar debates elsewhere.

  23. I think I agree, on the whole, with much of what SB says – and with one or two things that TW says. JSL was always a marginal figure. Thankfully, his anti-Semitic statements bore no fruit: if his anti-Semitism had been that of a serious political leader, then his natural constituency would have been the perpetrators of anti-Semitic violence in the Southeast. He served more as a catalyst than anything else, often of developments (such as the pacifist strategy of Cymdeithas yr Iaith) for whic he did not care.

    Simon throws out an interesting question lower down. I’d put it the other way round: how and why did the Imperial orientation win out in the Welsh left of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries?

    Oh yes, what’s this rumour that TW claims never to have succumbed to socialism? Surely not? Please tell me it’s not true! The usual Welsh Labour omertà clearly has no hold over him, so I’m certain that he’ll deny this tale vigorously.

  24. Saunders Lewis was a rebarbative character so far as I can tell but he did raise one interesting question. If Wales does not have a distinctive culture, what is the point of Wales? Why bother to assert any difference from our neighbours unless there is a genuinely different culture to foster? if Wales does not have Welsh what distinguishes it from Yorkshire? . I can understand Welsh nationalists who want to preserve the language; I can understand assimilationists who believe people would be happier as an homogenous mass with no national distinctions. What I can’t understand is anti-Welsh-language Welsh patriots. What do they think they are supporting a mediocre rugby team and a poor football team? Why bother – as Kruschev said: every pig praises his own sty.

  25. PS – who does Simon Brooks think was the other “significant” Welsh thinker of the 20th century?
    – I don’t believe Parnell was a Catholic, by the way. He was from a family of protestant land-owners.
    – DW, it is fair to call socialism assimilationist but I don’t think you can say the same of Liberalism. Liberal nationalism is quite possible. What about Cymru Fydd?

  26. I think that David Melding’s essay elegantly shows why this polemic provoked such a partisan response.

    Perhaps when seeking to start a discourse, it would be best to have a considered contribution which could have focussed on Lewis’s genuine shortcomings, rather than this offering, which provides little, if any, room for constructive analysis. Wales needs to move on from some of the opinions and indeed prejudices that were expressed in this piece.

  27. @ Simon

    I take your point regarding journalese though it is difficult to do otherwise on a blog, given the limited space.

    I have to say that I cannot regard Saunders Lewis as a significant thinker in 20th century Wales, though I do recognise that he is a significant figure. His formation of Plaid Cymru and his Tynged yr Iaith speech are two significant events. But to be a significant thinker, one has to look to his ideas and their lasting impact. On this basis, I cannot see that his ideas have had such an impact.

    We could also have a useful discussion on the concept of a ‘canon’ which has come under criticism for its emphasis on dead white men and its difficulty in including other narratives; Wales suffers from the latter problem in my view.

    I also have to say that the charge of anti-semitism is not a silly smear. We now know, from awful experience, where anti-semitism ends up and there is nothing silly about it, especially if you’re Jewish.

    From what you and others have said and, more importantly, what Lewis himself was willing to say in public himself, he was an anti-Semite. I don’t accept the defence that this is ameliorated by the fact that there were others, across the political spectrum, who also held anti-semitic views. If we are willing to make public statements, then we take personal responsibility for them. Saunders Lewis is, in my view, no exception to that.

    What however is quite a jump to make is to say that, because he was an anti-semite, he was therefore a fascist. The former is not prime facie proof of the latter and this is presumably one of the reasons for Richard Wyn Jones’ book being written. I say nothing about the charge of fascist sympathies since I have not read the book and am not likely to in the near future. I have a pile of books by Tom Bingham to get through before my attention turns elsewhere.

    For me the more pressing debate is what sort of nation is being formed now. Since 18th September, Wales has embarked on writing a new chapter in its history whose narrative changes from week to week. The hope is that this nation will not just be the result of discussions between politicians and academics but by the views and aspirations of ordinary voters. It will be interesting to learn what ideas are shaping their thoughts in the debate to come.

  28. Great discussion.

    On the question of this series’ relevance to the current state of affairs – well, as contributions testify, there is something very valuable in that it would appear to be throwing up questions of national identity at a key time post Scottish referendum.

    @ R. Tredwyn Sep 30 11:27pm

    In terms of Welshness and your query of what to feel proud of? I have pondered of late what comprises my own Welsh identity, but would contest that the definition of Welshness would have to be language related: a relative of mine is very much at odds with Cymraeg, but is otherwise very much the Welsh patriot (admittedly just one example, but not an isolated one I feel). Goes to show how split the idea of Welshness is. My own stance – I am not a fluent speaker but generally supportive to the language; but it is the geographical / physical and historical elements of Wales that feeds in to my sense of Welsh identity; and the disparate social elements as well – e.g. the marked social difference between Cymraeg-speaking North-west Wales and borderland Marcher Wales is something to celebrate in it’s own way.

    Anyway, is there any way of reconciling these supposed 2 ‘Welshnesses’…and would we want to?

  29. Readers might care to read my review of RWJ’s book, Blog Glyn Adda 15 Nov. 2013. Also my short story, ‘Trobwynt’, 18 May 2013, also in Y TRAETHODYDD, Jan. 2014.

  30. I’m afraid, Rhobat, that the charges against Saunders Lewis are best understood at a discursive level as a smear. The rhetorical jumps are as follows: the odd and paradoxical existence of anti-Semitic and philosemitic discourses and models of thought in SL’s work in the 1920s and 30s > the existence of anti-Semitic discourses in SL’s work > Saunders Lewis is anti-Semitic > Saunders Lewis’ work is thus discredited > other discourses, unconnected with anti-Semitism, but also present in Saunders Lewis’ work are discredited > Welsh nationalism is discredited.

    Of course it is a smear! The rhetorical jumps lead to a foregone conclusion, and are intended, as Daniel suggests, to close down debate.

    It is not a serious engagement with anti-Semitism in Welsh or Welsh-language culture or politics which would require a wider contextual analysis. Nor is it serious about Saunders Lewis himself, because one would have to ask to what extent the anti-Semitic discourses were central to this thought, or incidental. And as regards Saunders Lewis’ thought-system, as opposed to Saunders the man, whether anti-Semitism has poisoned it, or whether again it remains rather marginal.

    As regards Saunders Lewis, he is the dominant, perhaps only, serious thinker in 20th century Welsh-language culture. Had it not been for the discourses of modernity, political nationalism and anti-liberalism which he pushed, it is improbable that a national movement would have got going in the 1920s. Perhaps a liberal like Gwynfor Evans would have had a shot in the 1950s: I doubt it, liberalism had a good 75 years to create a Welsh national movement, and the best it could come up with was Cymru Fydd, a ginger-group. Perhaps the Labour movement might have spawned a nationalist faction: again I doubt it; it does not make sense in terms of the very British nature of 20th century Wales.

    Wales, as a political concept, was launched from the Right. This may strike some as unfortunate, but it is a fact. The reasons for this need to analysed, not least by socialists and others committed to Welsh national freedom: why this was the case and what went wrong. All this stuff about fascism is in many ways a diversionary tactic to avoid this central, more interesting question.

    I do not believe that Wales as a political concept was launched as a Fascist calling. It is the wrong theoretical model; it is not true. Wales was launched by modernist Rightists operating within the context of a minority culture who had a deep suspicion of Enlightenment thought because they believed that this promoted universalism at the cost of particularism, and universalism in their view was another name for the hegemony of majority cultures. This is not the same as fascism.

  31. @ Daniel Williams

    Having returned from the seminar held tonight at Ty Hywel, I am now a lot clearer on this subject than I was before. The quality of the panel and their contributions to this debate was particularly high and it was one of the most interesting public discussions that I have heard in a long time.

    Having heard all the opinions on this matter, it seems to me that the accusation that Plaid was a Fascist Party or had Fascist sympathies has not been proved. According to Rhodri Morgan, the case against Plaid comes down to a case against Saunders Lewis. The case appears to rest on his anti-semitic remarks as well as unwillingness to support the Spanish Republic against Franco. Another contributing factor was Plaid’s initial stance of neutrallity during the first half of the 2nd World War. These issues were discussed in some detail but, whatever your take on the different aspects of this issue, none of them provide a sufficiently strong case in support of the accusation, beyond that of innuendo. In addition, it was interesting to note Robert Stradling’s point that modern Spanish historical research points strongly to the view that the Spanish Republic, far from being a democratic paradise, was more akin to a socialist dictatorship with a heavily prescriptive view of what was an acceptable citizen.

    Regarding your point on Lewis’s play “Esther”, there appears to be a split between the political Lewis who was willing to make anti-semitic remarks in public, and the literary Lewis who seems to offer the opposite point of view, perhaps with a view to redeeming his political self. No doubt this has already been studied in great detail by others and such a remark would be regarded, quite rightly, as crude in more sophisticated academic circles. But I think it serves as a useful starting point in making sense of these contradictions.

    Perhaps one of the most startling revelations that came out of the evening’s discussions was the inaccuracies contained in Tim William’s article. In the article above , Tim Williams accuses Richard Wyn of not reproducing or citing the anti-semitic cartoons to be found in Y Ddraig Goch in the late 1920s. It turns out that there is a good reason for this. There were no anti-semitic cartoons in that publication as Williams states. It also turns out there were not even any cartoons to be found there. I am all in favour of authors having the space and freedom to express controversial views. However I think we are entitled to expect that they are at least accurate. Perhaps Tim has something to say on this point.

    This has been a stimulating debate and have felt very encouraged by the high quality of understanding brought to bear that has left me feeling well educated. I can’t help feeling however that this is an old wound that needs to heal. The modern Plaid Cymru is now positioned on the left rather than the right to the extent that Labour felt able to enter a coalition with Plaid between 2007-11. There is also the danger of debasing the term Fascism by bandying it around so freely. So while this is an issue that tells us a great deal about our past, it does little, in my view, to illuminate our present.

  32. @ Simon

    A smear is an interpretation so the question is whether that interpretation is appropriate.

    Going back to the heart of this matter, the question of whether Saunders Lewis made anti-semitic remarks is not in doubt. So what would make stating that fact a smear? For that we have to examine what use is made of that fact and what conclusions are reached based on that fact. One of the difficulties of the term smear is that it can be used as a way of refusing to deal with reasonable criticism, just as facist or anti-semitism can be used to shut down debate.

    If we look specifically at the issue of Plaid Cymru, a right wing party at its launch, can the anti-semitism of Saunders Lewis be used as a basis for an accusation against the party itself? It is. in my view a flimsy basis for making accusations against an entire party solely on one individual’s views. I won’t rehearse RWJ’s arguments as my own since he does that well enough himself. It seems clear to me, however, that he has made his case and that there is no credible evidence to support the view that Plaid was a fascist party.

    If we look at Saunders Lewis himself, can he be described as a fascist? It’s important to state here that anti-semitism is not of itself evidence of fascism, even though it formed an important part of Nazi Germany’s fascism. Robert Stradling made the point that Italian fascism under Mussolini showed no evidence of anti-semitism prior to the alliance between Italy and Germany. In my view, Saunders Lewis had some bizarre views regarding Welsh society but I cannot see sufficient evidence for the charge of fascism to stick.

    My major difficulty with Lewis is not so much the above, though anti-semitism is a serious issue, but rather his attitude towards the industrial working class, an attitude that does not fit with developing a democratic society. That, however is a whole other debate.

    However don’t take my word for it. The debate is on this website and is well worth a listen. It’s a shame you missed it; I think you would have enjoyed it.

  33. Very interesting discussion indeed, even if it contains little that is new. We were chewing over these points when I was an undergraduate – when ‘Y Cymro’ was a broadsheet, and ‘Private Eye’ cost 10p. What is sad is that TW, although slightly shorter in the tooth than me, is still trotting out the same, er, discourse (including the schoolmasterly joke (queue for sycophantic laughter from all deputy prefects in the class) about the volant sus scrofula) decades later. His account of modern Welsh history, fixated as it is upon JSL, is rather like ‘Hamlet’ without anybody apart from Yorick, As TW has reminded us from time to time, modern Wales is to a large extent the creation of the Labour Party. Wales, with its unravelling communities, its shrivelling economy, its appalling health, its endangered language and culture, and its dissolving traditions of enquiry and debate, is indeed the creation of the Labour Party. If TW wants to make a contribution that will induce us to take him seriously, he will offer us a coherent account of how this came about.

  34. @ Simon Brooks

    “Wales was launched by modernist Rightists operating within the context of a minority culture who had a deep suspicion of Enlightenment thought because they believed that this promoted universalism at the cost of particularism, and universalism in their view was another name for the hegemony of majority cultures. This is not the same as fascism.”

    Completely agree re. Enlightenment, universalism and particularism. Not so sure about modernism. This assumes that the Wales-launching project started in 1925 with Saunders, et al., which I concede are aptly described as “modernist Rightists” and indeed typified by a conflict between particularism and universalism. But could that modernism be attributed to the Christian-liberal-nationalism of M. D. Jones, the Christian-European-nationalism of Emrys ap Iwan, or the Christian-socialist-nationalism of R. J. Derfel, 1860-1900? Indeed, could the nationalism of T. E. Ellis, the Liberal Party whip and doyen of Cymru Fydd (who called himself a “Welsh nationalist”) be described as modernist rightism? Did Welsh nationalism originate in a Lewisian flight of modernist fancy in 1925?

    Not in my opinion. Welsh nationalism is older and more nuanced than the history of Saunders Lewis, or even Plaid Cymru 1925-45 suggest.

    Welsh nationalism’s roots are certainly conservative, in the same way that environmentalism, anti-globalisation and Mumford & Sons are (ie., they seek to resist seemingly irresistible deterministic forces of nature – a universal philosophical conundrum as yet unresolved). But I’d contend that the ‘modernist’ prism of the 1920s was a brief and exceptional aesthetic stage in a broader post-Romantic phenomenon.

    Once you challenge the tyranny of reason all things are back in play. There is nothing new, particular or clever about the assorted Welshmen who have done this from the 1820s onwards.

  35. The issue of whether SL was a fascist and all that means is interesting but rather ‘academic’ to me,however his views on the anglo/welsh who were English language speakers touches a ‘raw nerve’.Both my great grandfathers came from ‘over the border’ to a)set up a business,or b)work in mining/railways and their families have continued the patterns they set,albeit in different working situations. I grew up in a totally English only,and working class village, with both parents having worked in the ‘bomb factory’ in Bridgend which helped to destroy a REAL ‘fascist’ threat to our way of life,by that I mean the UK!!. I would like to assure SL wherever he is that his view on US is more than replicated in spades by OUR views of him. There are huge gaps between the vast majority of welsh people who are perfectly content with their life in UK,and being English only speakers,however a virulent minority who hold similar views to SL are determined to destroy our way of life. They now fill positions in BBC Wales/S4C and welsh language ‘industry’ and whilst ‘filling their boots’ at our expense are causing huge distress.There is NO difference between 95% of us and our friends ‘over the border’ as is evidenced by the buses that take south walians to Bristol Airport rather than the publically funded ‘nonsense ‘ in Rhoose.Its much CHEAPER flying from BRISTOL so ‘welshness’ goes out of the window,i.e ‘self interest’ trumps nationalist /socialist political decisions.

  36. Lee Walters has dug up this desperate stuff for Labourites to throw at Plaid Cymru. I will not be renewing my subscription to I.W.A..

  37. So farewell, Keith Parry. But to what end? Lee Walters has not dug up anything. This standard of high quality articles that we have had on this issue has been prompted by Richard Wyn Jones’ book. I don’t know what his political affiliations are but I’m fairly sure that RWJ comes from a Plaid Cymru background. The general tenor of the articles has been that, with the exception of Tim Williams, the accusation against Plaid, based on the evidence, was unfounded.

    It is the measure of a mature democracy that it is able to discuss contentious issues without descending into rancour. On that basis, the IWA has passed with flying colours. So what is it that you object to? I for one am curious to know the reason for your resignation.

  38. Hey Howell, what do you mean, both your great grandfathers? You must have had four of them. At least one of the other two must have been Welsh or you wouldn’t have a name like Howell Morgan. Since he lived in the nineteenth century when 80-odd per cent of the Welsh spoke Welsh, chances are he did too. Welsh is part of your heritage too.

  39. Colleagues, cyfeillion/gelynion, comrades, Given that it’s ludicrous to think i wouldl invent something so important I will produce the anti semtitic cartoons from Y Ddraig Goch. I am dismayed at the idea that I would confect them . Some people are just so hateful of me it’s weird. I have no access in Aus to the materials on SLI I researched in the mid 80s at the moment but I will track this down.One from memory is late 20s when SL was editor of YDG and has a bloated plutocrat with a hook nose and a Lenin lookalike(again with hook nose:SL was at the time of the view that Lenin must be a Jew )talking to each other. The caption reads:’I took away men’s freedom, you took their money’. You just cannot make this stuff up . However, it’s typical of my ad hominem opponents to play the man not the ball. Bendith Duw Ar Dy Ben di.

    I wrote the piece in answer to a request. I have always disliked the half truths about Lewis peddled by his fans and wanted another side to be stressed. I am content that despite the abuse and the usual libels it will not be easily said again that Lewis wasn’t an anti-semite. Game over

    As to his ideology , I suspect clerico fascist comes closet though I understand the apologists prefer ‘reactionary modernist’. I should add that my purpose in writing was not to revisit old wounds but to try and dispense with Lewis as having anything useful to offer a politics for modern Wales.And then to move on to the quite tragic condition of Wales now to see what ways forward there are. Frankly I see little meaningful coming out of any political tradition in Wales to do to deal with the poverty of the Valleys or the condition of the language (which I speak).

    That is I didn’t write in the tactical manner which the author of the book did . He clearly had a contemprary political purpose though I think not one with much leverage over Welsh reality. I wrote to set the record straight .

    I do believe I should have clarified my own poliitics . They are not sentimental about the Communists and I do not avoid in my piece the Nazi Soviet Pact. I remain essentially a social democrat from South Wales , though rather closer in spirit to a Bevin not a Bevan, I confess. Where I have shifted since I wrote my Ph.D is that I am again more sceptical , indeed contemptuous, about Britain’s foreign policy behaviour in the 20th century. It is clear in the centenary of the First War that there is still no serious understanding of Britain’s formative role in bringing about the war or perhaps more in making a European war a world war. There is still not discussion of British diplomacy’s blundering and two-facedness in the 20s and 30s which more or less made the Nazi -Soviet Pact and thus the second war inevitable.

    I mention this because I would have respected Lewisian apologists more if they had made the point in defence of Lewis that many emerged from the first war both dismayed by their own polities and democracy itself , on left and right. I would also have respected more if RLJ had take the view not that Lewis wasn’t an anti-semite or a supporter of the European radical right – which he was – but that the chaos in Europe which led to such extremism had a lot to do with Britain’s catestrophic mismanagement of the world when it had been its most important power. Lewis took such a view but not coherently so. Instead of blaming Britain for this mess , as frankly a modern nationalist or anti-imperialist is entitled to do, he saw something ‘deeper’ behind this: in materialsm, protestantism,industrlaism, and when the mood took him, the Jews. That’s the stuff which needs exposing and attacking. The other stuff is worth a real discussion as British self delusion has played into Labour political culture and still prevents serious thinking not just about foreign policy (where British disasters of the First War and its aftermath are still being played out in Iraq and Syria)but about about Labour’s thinking about its own domestic achievements , which have been banal since at least the 60s. Wales needs honest thinking about those achievements and about where we look next for renewal. I agree.But if Bevan can teach us little , I submit Lewis teaches us less. Let’s have the conversation but get used to the idea that despite the venom and the calumny (for what else is accusing me of making something up :i may be a bad enemy but to adduce fabrication to your aid really takes the biscuit) I will attempt to sustain my end of it. Er mwyn Cymru by the way.

    (Editor’s note: the word ‘libel’ has been replaced with the word ‘calumny’ with the author’s permission)

  40. On the matter of the strangely elusive antisemitic cartoons in the 1920s: apart from an occasional advertisement, and a single drawing of a drunk Welshman on St David’s Day, there is no visual material in Y Ddraig Goch in the 1920s. Visual material begins to be included in the early 1930s, after a redesign of the paper, but there are no cartoons depicting Jews.

    There are, however, three cartoons in the mid-1930s that depict capitalists. One of these, in April 1936, shows two men – War and Profiteer – addressing an elderly woman about her sons; it is reprinted from the Daily Herald. Another, published in August 1936, depicts a capitalist addressing a strapping young farmer (the capitalist has a small nose, and no beard). The cartoon that Tim Williams appears to be recalling is published in May 1935: it is entitled ‘Testament y Cyfalafydd wrth y Comiwnydd’. The artist is Powys Evans. The cartoon depicts the capitalist, an old man on his deathbed, addressing his son, the communist. The capitalist has a large nose, but it would be a major stretch of the imagination to describe it as hooked. The communist bears a slight resemblance to Lenin, and has a rather diabolical aspect, including a pointed beard. The caption differs somewhat from what Tim Williams recalls: the capitalist says to the communist, ‘My son, I took men’s property from them, and I leave you to take men’s freedom.’

    In this, as in the other two cartoons of capitalists, neither according to realist imaging nor caricature can either figure be said to be identifiably Jewish, let alone be read as an antisemitic depiction. Stereotyped imaging of Jews includes easily recognisable exaggerated tropes, whether in the visual culture or in literature.

    Not one of these cartoons in Y Ddraig Goch depicting capitalists (or communists) has any of these tropes or can be said to feature Jews. If this cartoon or either of the other two is to be considered antisemitic, then all hostile depictions of capitalists and of communists (including of Lenin) would need to be read as antisemitic, which would be absurd.

  41. Jasmine Donahaye: actual scholarship! Does this mean it is now socially acceptable to bring genuine facts into ’Click on Wales’ discussions? To think we lived to see it.

    However, in general, it is not absurd to wonder if a depiction of Lenin is anti-Semitic, because it was very common when anti-Semitism was at its worst to misidentify the diabolical Lenin as a Jew. V I Ulyanov was in fact an ethnic Russian, probably of Central Asian stock, but other Bolshevik leaders were indeed of Jewish origin, so anti-Semites, of whom there were many in those days, referred to Bolshevism as a ‘Jewish Conspiracy’ – when, ironically, it had a strong anti-Semitic streak of its own, which came out under Stalin.

    It should also be noted that, from the 19th Century on, there has been more of an overlap between anti-Capitalism and anti-Semitism than today’s Left likes to admit. The fashionable prejudice against bankers has a long history – going back to the Middle Ages – but in previous generations it was explicitly and virulently anti-Semitic. It is not generally understood that National Socialism was a well-established pan-European ideology long before A Hitler took over its poorly performing Bavarian franchise. Umberto Eco’s novel ‘The Prague Cemetery’ is recommended reading on how anti-Semitism developed in Europe and how it became deeply entrenched there. If Britain was not so bad, it is only because anti-Catholicism has always been the more popular prejudice here – and continues to be.

    The problem with genuine history is that it can be very depressing.

  42. @Anon. I’m just simple ME.At least Jacques and myself have the ‘guts’ to put our views,no matter how unfashionable/unwanted in nationalist/socialist WALES in our own names. The facts are that if we had a truly representative democracy then much of Llafur/PC current policies would stop tomorrow.Why not ask people directly what their views are a)welsh language enforcement,b)funding S4C out of TV Licence fee in the main and I know what the results would be.

  43. Poor old Bolsheviks. Not enough to be murdered by Stalin, now accused of anti-semitism! Anti-semitism in the Soviet Union “rootless cosmopolitans”, “doctors’ plot” etc drew on old Russian prejudices but was purely a Stalinist perversion, growing originally out of his struggle with and antipathy to Trotsky – Leon Davidovich Bronstein to give him his birth name. To accuse Trotsky or the other old Bolsheviksof being anti-Semitic is absurd.

  44. Yes but Howell, you still haven’t told us about your other great grandfathers. Come on now own up,they were Welsh speaking weren’t they? And you feel a bit guilty don’t you not to have carried on their heritage? And that!s why you imagine Welsh speakers look down on you. And that”s why you detest them so and exaggerate their influence. Get over it man, Wales is big enough for both languages.

  45. Howell, But you haven’t told us about your other great-grandfathers, the Welsh ones, presumably.

  46. R. Tredwyn. Been away in Northampton (marvellous and positive place and moving forward)and surprisingly without a regional GOVERNMENT!!. The two I wrote about were one’s there is a ‘local’ knowledge,however am on case with the other two and will report to YOU asap. Most certainly in my knowledge of talking to a)parents,b)grandparents I knew and loved there was NO discussion of welsh language and useage in family. The whole emphasis of my family seemed to be looking eastwards to family/friends who had moved away,rather than to internal matters. My parents received the Daily Express,used BBC on national basis,ie. UK,rather than parochial nonsense now produced. I remember travelling with father on train from Tondu to Ninian Park and watching CC v Arsenal and 50,000 in ground,so there was virtually no WELSH culture as it is known today.In conclusion it was an anglo/welsh society and boy were we happy with our relative lot,whereas today my heart sinks when I come back over the border!!.

  47. Mr Tredwyn, Trotsky was gone by the end of the 20s and most of the other Jews in the Bolshevik leadership were wiped out in the Show Trials, leaving ‘Old Russian’ rank-and-file thugs in charge. These were, unlike Lenin and his associates, genuine proletarians and their social attitudes were old fashioned. These were the people who, although he was Georgian not Russian, supported Stalin in his rise because he was the only proletarian in the leadership and therefore shared many of those attitudes, including anti-Semitism.

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