Richard Wyn Jones responds to recent discussions over his book ‘the Fascist Party in Wales?’.
Introduction: On interpretation
Historical writing is always permeated by questions of interpretation.
A common place of every ‘Introduction to Historiography’ course the whole University-world over is that ‘facts’ do not simply speak for themselves. Historians must rather adjudge what evidence is to be regarded as relevant to the historical issue or problem that they are addressing – an inevitably interpretive process. How and in what ways these pieces of evidence relate to each other is also to a significant degree a matter of interpretation.
Which is not to say, of course, that anything goes. Modern historiography has sought ways to eradicate or at least tame the more purely subjective elements that characterised historical writing in earlier periods. The scholarly apparatus of footnotes and bibliographies help to ensure that evidence is not simply conjured into existence. Nor is it any longer acceptable to simply ignore pieces of evidence that do not ‘fit’ with an author’s desired interpretations. Indeed convention now dictates that scholars address interpretations other than their own, partly in order to ‘test’ alternative interpretations against each other. Historical ‘sins’ like anachronism and teleology are also frowned upon. All of which serves to reduce the range of acceptable interpretations.
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.
Click on Wales ran a series of essays last month debating the issues, culminating in a debate on October 1st featuring former First Minister Rhodri Morgan. You can hear the debate here.
This week we’re featuring responses to the earlier essays. Yesterday Jasmine Donahaye considered the implications of using the ‘antisemitism’ charge. Today, the author of ‘The Fascist Party in Wales?’, Professor Richard Wyn Jones issues his response to this series of essays.
Nonetheless, interpretation remains central to the process of historical writing. It follows that no historian can legitimately expect to have ‘the final word’ on any given topic. Debate must rather be embraced as a prerequisite for the development of better interpretations of the past. Which is why I so warmly welcome the erudite and stimulating responses of Rob Stradling and David Melding to my recent book The Fascist Party in Wales? Plaid Cymru, Welsh Nationalism and Accusation of Fascism (University of Wales Press, 2014) on ‘Click on Wales’, as well as previous reviews and reactions to the Welsh-medium original version of the text, such as those of Jasmine Donahaye, Simon Brooks and Robert Evans.
Naturally, there are various points on which my interpretations will differ from those of my interlocutors. So, for example, and focusing only on the most recent contributions on ‘Click on Wales’, I would argue that the anguished response to D. Tecwyn Lloyd’s extensive discussion of Saunders Lewis’s anti-Semitism in his 1988 biography belies David Melding’s claim that this is an issue on which nationalists have been silent. In responding to Rob Stradling, I would want to elaborate on his suggestion that Ireland is a fascinating parallel case to Wales in terms of the reception of Fascism, by claiming that Ireland was actually the centrally important intellectual influence on Saunders Lewis’ political and social thought. Ireland rather than France – even if Lewis’s undoubted Francophilia remains the overwhelming focus for those interested in Lewis’s work.
Such disagreements and/or elaborations are the meat and drink of scholarly debate and any author would consider himself fortunate indeed to find his work subjected to such generous and thoughtful interrogation.
Beyond the smears: Taking Tim Williams seriously
Tim Williams’s sneering diatribe – also published on Click on Wales – is another case entirely. This is not meant to provoke discussion or improve understanding. It is rather a crude attempt by Dr Williams to close down debate by rendering those who hold a view different from his own as beyond the pale. According to this Manichean worldview, to argue that, whatever its faults, Plaid Cymru was not a Fascist party – the central war-time charge against the party – or that Saunders Lewis was not a Fascist or a Fascist sympathiser, is to become oneself an apologist for this ideology. The notion that one might disagree with Lewis’s views on a whole range of issues but still regard the attempts to smear him as a fascist as intellectually vacuous and unsustainable is clearly beyond Williams’s ken. He seems to prefer his history rendered as if it were a screenplay for a 1950s ‘B’ movie western: goodies vs. baddies, white hats vs. black.
Curiously, however, despite Tim Williams’s efforts to close down discussion through smear and innuendo, there are occasional moments where the outlines of what might constitute a worthwhile intellectual debate flicker into view. Despite his ‘attack dog’ behaviour, some part of Williams would like to be taken seriously. So showing him rather more respect that he accords others, let us try to reconstruct a debate around three key themes, namely Fascism, Anti-Semitism and Anti-Catholicism. Not least because doing so will serve to underline yet again why the attempts to label Saunders Lewis and his party as ‘fascist’ are not only unsustainable but rely on mutilating the historical record.
According to Dr Williams I am guilty of adopting ‘far too restrictive a view of what constituted a Fascist’. It is clear, by contrast, that he believes that a properly expansive view of Fascism will lead to the inclusion of Saunders Lewis in the ranks.
Those readers who are reliant on his version of my argument rather than reading the book themselves may be surprised to learn that much the largest part of The Fascist Party in Wales? is devoted to the thorny question of what might constitute a serviceable understanding of Fascism. This precisely because the intellectual basis of the wartime attacks on the Welsh Nationalist Party’s alleged Fascist proclivities was so laughably inadequate.
According to the author of the main anti-Plaid broadside, the Reverend Gwilym Davies, Plaid wanted to create an ‘independent, totalitarian, fascist and papist’ Wales. His central piece of evidence for the party’s alleged fascist ambitions was the party’s support for the idea of a Welsh second chamber containing elements of so-called ‘functional representation’ – as found in different forms in the Irish Seanad and, of course, in the UK’s House of Lords. That such obviously insubstantial arguments appear to have been orchestrated by Thomas Jones (T.J.), a scion of the Welsh and British establishments who, both alongside Lloyd George and in a solo role, had played footsie with the Führer in a foolhardy attempt at private diplomacy, does nothing to bolster their credibility.
Rather than leave the matter there, however, the book seeks to reconstruct an alternative basis for adjudicating Davies’s central claim that Plaid was indeed ‘the Fascist party in Wales’. I will not seek to reprise the argument in full here. Naturally, my hope is that readers will seek out the book themselves. Suffice it to say that, even though condensed, my discussion of Fascism is based on an engagement with the work of the leading international scholars in the field. The result – despite Williams’s claim to the contrary – is a multi-faceted understanding (not definition) of Fascism that focuses on attitudes to the state, to violence, the Führerprinzip, as well as anti-Semitism. Despite Dr Williams’s fulminations, none of this seems to have struck other readers – including those far more expert in these matters than either he or I – as unreasonable, let alone as an exercise in apologetics.
Tim Williams’s own understanding of Fascism, by contrast, appears to be almost exclusively derived from the French context. He regards Robert Soucy as a particularly sage commentator largely because he (at least on Tim Williams’s account) views the differences between avowed fascists, authoritarian right wingers and indeed – a breathtakingly large group here – all ‘right-wing Catholicism’ as mere differences of degree. It should be noted that this is a view firmly rejected by leading scholars such as Stanley Payne and – again contra Williams – Robert O. Paxton, both of whom insist on the importance of distinguishing between Fascism and other forms of right wing and even authoritarian politics. If we were to apply the logic of Williams’s position more generally, we would quickly end up in that infantile leftist position of condemning all on the right as ‘fascist’. And certainly, if we are to condemn Saunders Lewis as a fascist despite his virulent hostility to the overweening state, his refusal to glorify violence for its own sake, and his hostility towards anything remotely redolent of the Führerprinzip, it is far from clear who on the right of the political spectrum in 1930s Europe could not be considered a fascist.
On the issue of anti-Semitism Tim Williams makes a number of different and contradictory points. Most absurdly I am charged with attempting to refute the charge that Saunders Lewis was an anti-Semite. This is emphatically not the case. The book rather reproduces those examples of anti-Semitism found in Lewis political writings – as well as some of Lewis’s own reflections on anti-Semitism. For what it is worth, the book also makes clear my own feelings about the ‘odiousness of the sentiments to which he … gave voice.’ But, of course, Tim Williams isn’t going to let mere facts get in the way of his attempts to smear.
More potentially interesting is Dr Williams’s response to my central argument about those anti-Semitic remarks that are undoubtedly to be found in Lewis’s work. Rather than viewing them – as Williams so clearly does – as evidence for Saunders Lewis’s alleged Fascist proclivities, I argue as follows:
The reality, however, is more prosaic – and in many ways less reassuring. The few anti-Semitic references to be found in Lewis’s writings are a reflection of the way in which crude ethnic prejudices, and anti-Semitism in particular, were part of the cultural currency of the era
I go on to illustrate this argument by outlining some examples of the anti-Semitic remarks that emanated from distinguished political and cultural figures, from Lloyd George to W.J. Gruffydd, and from Winston Churchill to George Orwell. The latter’s inclusion being a very obvious source of discomfort to Tim Williams.
I further argue that Lewis’s anti-Semitic prejudices were ‘neither a fundamental or substantial part of his worldview – no more than was the anti-Semitism of Orwell or Churchill fundamental or substantial to theirs. Indeed, the category of race plays no part in Saunders Lewis’s political thought.’ This is an argument with which Tim Williams vehemently disagrees. He wants to draw a distinction between what he terms the ‘salon’ anti-Semitic prejudices of W.J. Gruffydd – and presumably Churchill and Orwell – on the one hand, and Lewis’s ‘philosophically coherent anti-Semitism’ on the other. Like Tecwyn Lloyd before him, it seems that Dr Williams sees only a difference of degree between Julius Streicher and Saunders Lewis. The problem is that in both cases, Lloyd and Williams merely assert their case rather than argue it: neither demonstrates how anti-Semitism was central to Lewis political thought or indeed worldview. Williams apparently considers a single stanza of poetry enough to establish guilt. In their admittedly different ways, both Lloyd and Williams also appear to be in denial about the extent to which the portrayal of Jews as rootless, mendacious, rapacious and, of course, as enjoying a controlling interest in the press, were standard tropes in the dismal litany of ‘salon’ anti-Semitic prejudice.
A final point is in order here. It needs to be underlined that there was nothing furtive or understated about political anti-Semitism in the interwar period. It will be recalled that even in the post-war period, members of Moseley’s Union Movement used to greet each other with a hearty ‘PJ’ – the initials standing for ‘Perish Judah’. It is only as the full horror of the Shoah has entered popular consciousness – itself, as David Melding has correctly noted, a protracted and much more recent process than is often recognised – that anti-Semitism has tended to take on more subtle forms. If Saunders Lewis had embraced a full blown, philosophically-coherent anti-Semitism in the interwar years, it is hardly likely that it would have been a surreptitious embrace: quite the opposite, in fact. That is doubly the case given that Lewis seems to have enjoyed tweaking the tail of polite Welsh left-liberal opinion, for example by so publicly embracing and espousing Catholic social teaching. Were Lewis some Streicher manqué, it would have been known about and discussed at the time. Similarly, if Y Ddraig Goch had featured ‘anti-Semitic cartoons…in the late 1920s’, as Dr Williams alleges, then that too would have been noticed at the time. It is striking that Lewis’ anti-Semitism featured not at all in the wartime onslaught on Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru. This precisely because – however depressing it may be to have to admit it – his views on this subject were regarded at the time as being unremarkable.
That anti-Catholicism was central to the charge of Fascism laid against Plaid Cymru and Saunders Lewis can hardly be gainsaid. Indeed, Tim Williams does not seek to gainsay. He rather embraces anti-Catholicism with a gusto that has not been seen in Welsh public life for at least two generations. With obvious approval he quotes Orwell to the effect that interwar Catholics were ‘pro-fascist, both objectively and subjectively.’ For Williams, Welsh anti-Catholicism was not really bigotry, but rather reflected the fact that the institution of the Papacy opposed human freedom and progress. W.J. Gruffydd’s virulent anti-Catholicism was therefore, apparently, entirely justified.
Apart from drawing attention to David Melding powerful riposte I would merely underline again a point I make in the book, namely that ‘the accusation of Fascism may well be the last distant echo of that ancient [anti-Catholic] prejudice to have lingered into the present day.’ In the case of Dr Williams, however, anti-Catholicism is not merely lingering but exultant.
‘Hitler knows that Wales is a nation’: On historical method
With one exception, the quotes that Tim Williams reproduces in this essay will be familiar to those interested in the interwar history of Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru. Indeed, a large proportion appear in my book. The exception is the following:
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 nation!’ screamed the party’s paper.
Before Dr Williams turned his forensic gaze onto the Welsh Nationalist Party’s past, this alleged quote seems to have gone completely unnoticed. Not by Tim Williams, though. This is in fact the second time that he has drawn attention to it on Click on Wales. In an article from November 2012 whose ostensible purpose was to welcome the establishment of the centre-right think tank ‘Gorwel’, but which devoted nine of its sixteen paragraphs to decrying Saunders Lewis’s alleged fascist sympathies, Williams drew shocked attention to the same passage:
“Hitler knows that Wales is a nation,” screamed an editorial written by Lewis in the Plaid paper, Y Ddraig Goch just after the Fuhrer had mentioned positively the burning of the bombing school in Lleyn at a Nuremburg Rally in the late 1930s (I kid you not).
I kid you not, indeed.
One of the issues I discuss in my book is the relevance of individual comments or remarks from the interwar period about Fascism and Fascists that appear, in retrospect, at best hopelessly naïve or wrongheaded. To what extent can these be counted as evidence of Fascist sympathies? To cite an infamous example that is almost contemporaneous with Hitler’s alleged positive remarks about the burning at Penyberth, what are we to make of the Nazi salute offered up the England football team before a match with Germany in May 1938? Should we conclude that the players involved were sympathetic to Nazism? Or likewise the officials who instructed the players to do this as a show of ‘respect’ for their hosts? We might also wish to consider Lloyd George’s glowing testimonials to the Führer in the same year. Not forgetting either Hitler’s very positive public comments about the Welshman. Do these comments provide evidence of Fascist sympathies or proclivities? My conclusion is that, of themselves, individual actions or comments of this nature tell us very little about the ideological sympathies of the persons or organisations involved. Rather they need to be contextualised within the historical events of which they were a part as well as the broader political ideologies and attitudes of the various actors involved. This is a position that the vast majority of respectable historians would find utterly unobjectionable and my book conducts just such an exercise in the context of Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru.
However, my professional interest was piqued by the ‘Hitler knows that Wales is a nation’ quote. Did Hitler really speak positively of the actions of ‘the three’ at Penyberth? And did Plaid really celebrate this? If so, how could we all have missed this? The answer to the latter question, at least, is straightforward. We missed it because, despite the quotation marks, the words in question never appeared in Y Ddraig Goch.
Proving a negative is difficult. Given that Tim Williams chooses to ignore the usual academic conventions of footnotes, anyone seeking to verify his quotes and claims is left searching through a great deal of material. In the case of the ‘Hitler knows Wales is a nation’ ‘quote’, the most reasonable interpretation of the two passages cited above is that the words appeared as a headline or part of a headline (‘screamed’) for one of Saunders Lewis’s editorial pieces in a 1938 edition of Y Ddraig Goch. Furthermore we may surmise that the ‘quote’ was a response to a positive mention by the German dictator of the events that had taken place on the Lleyn Peninsula two years previously. The fact of the matter, however, is that this ‘quote’ is neither a headline nor included within the text of any of the editorials written by Lewis for Y Ddraig Goch in 1938 or any of the surrounding years. Nor, indeed, were the words in question part of a headline or included in any of the editorials published during Lewis’ period in prison following his eventual conviction for his part in the burning.
Neither am I aware of any direct evidence that Hitler made mention, positive or otherwise, of Penyberth. At this point I must confess that my own German is limited, but the most comprehensive English-language source on Hitler’s Nuremberg speeches reveals no mention of Penyberth or anything related to the events that took place there. It is possible, of course, that a more thorough search of the German sources will reveal some reference. If this is the case, however, it appears highly unlikely any remarks about Penyberth would have been positive. The Sudetenland crisis dominated 1938 and one of the tropes adopted by Hitler in his major speech on the subject on the 12th of September was that, in the same way that Germany understood England and France’s actions in protecting their own interests in the world, those countries should not intervene when Germany protected its own interests in Sudetenland. Given this context, if any mention was made of Penyberth, it seems highly unlikely that it would have been to support the actions of three nationalist arsonists. Unless he has any evidence to the contrary then I believe that it is safe to assume that Tim Williams’s claim that ‘the Fuhrer had mentioned positively the burning of the bombing school’ is simply a figment of his imagination.
It would appear that the (very brief) story that forms the basis for Dr Williams’s ‘Hitler knows that Wales is a nation’ claim appears in the November 1938 edition of Y Ddraig Goch. No author is named. The article title gives a good indication of its content. ‘Hitler a Chymru: Gwasg Lloegr yn dileu cyfeiriad at Cymru’ (Hitler and Wales: English Press removes mention of Wales’).
This rather curious piece has all the hallmarks of ‘filler’. Its rather convoluted premise is a story that appeared in the 20th October edition of the Welsh language paper, Y Brython, published in Liverpool. One of the paper’s columnists claimed that a friend who spoke fluent German had heard one of Hitler’s Nuremberg speeches on the radio and that Hitler had mentioned Wales. Specifically, he had advised England not to be so eager to intervene in the problems of Sudetenland when it had its own minority issues in Palestine and Wales. According to the author of the Ddraig piece, this was not the first time that Hitler had referred to Wales. In one of his 1937 speeches at Nuremberg, Hitler had claimed that if he had not come to power then the condition of Germany would be as bad as that of south Wales. For the author of the Ddraig Goch article, this previous reference served to confirm that the claim made in Y Brython about the reference in the 1938 speech was correct, because it was clear that Hitler knew that Wales existed (‘Gŵyr Hitler yn burion fod Cymru’n bod.’) This is as close as it gets to the paper ‘screaming’ ‘Hitler knows that Wales is a nation’.
Hitler’s speech was not even the point of the story. It was rather the author’s dismay (also voiced in Y Brython) that none of the English papers mentioned the alleged reference to Wales in their subsequent reports of its content. This suggested, it was claimed, that efforts had been made to suppress the Führer’s mention of Wales. Which, in turn, proved to the author’s own satisfaction, at least, that despite the English press’s trumpeting of its own freedom and independence (in contradistinction to the position of the press in Fascist countries) it was in reality a ‘freedom from truth and an independence from facts.’ This general line of argument reflected the tendency of Plaid supporters in the 1930s and 40s (discussed in my book) to posit a moral equivalence between English and German imperialism. This is an argument that will doubtless strike many contemporary readers as inappropriate, but based as it was on a deep antipathy to imperialism of all kinds, it can hardly be equated with sympathy for Fascism.
As will be clear from the preceding discussion, even if in 1938 Y Ddraig Goch had ‘screamed’ (in an article written by Saunders Lewis or anybody else) ‘Hitler knows that Wales is a nation’, and this in response to a mention (positive or otherwise) of Penyberth by the Nazi leader, I would not regard this as representing even a prima facie case that Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru or its leadership were fascist sympathisers. Much more contextualization and analysis is required before such a conclusion could be drawn. But the ‘quote’ and its attribution are fictional. Moreover, contextualising the only possible candidate for the ‘quote’ in question suggests that the interpretation placed upon it in Williams’s Click on Wales articles represents nothing less that a travesty. From the Reverend Gwilym Davies to Dr Tim Williams: the attempt to smear Welsh Nationalism with the accusation of Fascism has led some otherwise impressive people into some very deep waters.
Das Waleisisches Butterfieldproblem: The ‘bending’ of Welsh History and its implications
The distinguished historian J.G.A. Pocock once drew attention to what he termed das Herbert Butterfieldproblem. The phrase is an adaptation of one used by German scholars of Adam Smith. The ‘problem’ being that of reconciling the arguments of the Scotsman’s greatest works, namely The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations. In the case of Herbert Butterfield, the challenge arises from attempting to reconcile the messages of The Whig Interpretation of History (1931) and The Englishman and his history (1944).
The first of these works highlights the problems of anachronism and teleology that, on Butterfield’s view, blighted the writing of English history. English history tended to be written as a celebration of institutional continuity, political tolerance and wise and sagacious leadership. Against this Butterfield argued – at least implicitly – that neutrality and objectivity are not only possible but also lead to better historical understanding.
In the second book, however, Butterfield turns to the practical application of Whiggish English history by Whiggish English politicians. Written and published during the years of the Second World War, The Englishman and his history is a peon to the great practical benefits that the English had derived from the ‘bending’ of their history. Even if Whiggish history was bad or unhistorical history, by building a bridge between past and present it had helped underpin political stability and solidarity in the most challenging of circumstances. Or in other words, Whiggish history might be poor history, but it facilitated good politics. Obviously enough, das Herbert Butterfieldproblem arises from the apparent difficulty of reconciling the earlier arguments of Butterfield 1931 with these later arguments in Butterfield 1944.
In Wales, I would contend, the ‘problem’ – the Welsh Butterfieldproblem, so to speak – is of a rather different nature. Our dominant historical understandings of the recent past may not only amount to poor history but also lead to the creation and survival of myths that are actually politically destructive to the extent that they act as a barrier to the development of a truly pluralistic political culture.
If I may be forgiven for adopting a very broad brush approach, much of Welsh historiographical writing – at least that focused on the more recent past – is of a distinctly Whiggish (or Welsh Whiggish) cast. Left of centre and patriotic in inclination, it celebrates the much-vaunted radical tradition and – to coin a phrase – the institutional ‘rebirth of a nation’. There is much that this author, at least, finds attractive about this dominant narrative. But we should be clear about its more negative effects.
The tendency to ‘bend’ Welsh history has stunted historical understanding. Witness the almost complete lack of scholarly engagement with Rob Stradling’s magnificent revisionist reading of Welsh attitudes to the Spanish Civil War, Wales and the Spanish Civil War: The Dragon’s Dearest Cause? Also apparent are some rather skewed priorities. So, for example, I believe that it is literally true to say that the historiographical literature on the Tonypandy Riots and the Miners’ Next Step is more extensive than the entire scholarly literature on the impact of the Great Depression in Wales. Whilst I yield to no one in my interest in the Welsh manifestation of revolutionary syndicalism, that this could have received rather more attention than the single most economically, socially, culturally and politically significant event in 20th century Welsh history is – to put it mildly – bizarre.
The defining characteristic of Welsh electoral politics in the democratic era is ‘one-partyism’, yet this too remains a remarkably understudied phenomenon and has certainly not been properly problematized in Welsh historiography. This despite the fact that, comparatively speaking, one-partyism is both unusual and almost invariably regarded as inimical to a vibrant and creative democratic political culture.
One of the ways that ‘Welsh Whiggish’ history helps underpin one-partyism is through delegitimating alternatives. The very explicit normative thrust of my book is to challenge one example of such a delegitimating move, namely the accusation of Fascism against Plaid Cymru and some of its leading figures. The point is made as follows in the final paragraph of The Fascist Party in Wales?
The greatest imperative in Welsh politics is to nurture a pluralistic political culture in which different views and voices are heard and engaged with in a serious and mature ways. Within such a culture, the ideas of Plaid Cymru – and every other democratic political party – would quite rightly be subject to criticism and challenge. Much of the electorate, perhaps the majority, would likely reject them. They would do so, however, not on the basis of some grotesque and fundamentally untruthful accusation that those ideas are somehow tainted by Fascism, but rather because they fail to convince in their own right.
That this commitment to pluralism should be interpreted as ‘partisan’ simply serves to underline why more pluralism is exactly what this country’s intellectual and political life most urgently requires.
 Huw Pryce’s magnificent recent study of the father of modern Welsh historiography, J.E. Lloyd, shows how the understanding of Welsh history was transformed on this basis. See J.E. Lloyd and the Creation of Welsh History: Renewing a Nation’s Past (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2011)
 Jasmine Donahaye, ‘When Welsh nationalism was smeared with fascism,’ Click on Wales 11.10.2013 (http://www.clickonwales.org/2013/10/when-welsh-nationalism-was-smeared-with-fascism/); Simon Brooks, ‘Planet: The Welsh Internationalist No. 212 (Winter 2013), pp 147-48; Robert Evans, ‘Claddu celwydd am y Blaid,’ Barn (Hydref 2013), p. 46.
 Thus according to Lewis’s own account of the influences upon him: ‘I think it was Barrès, after Yeats and the Irish – that it was Barrès that made me a committed Welsh nationalist of me.’ See ‘Dylanwadau: Saunders Lewis mewn ymgom ag Aneirin Talfan Davies, Taliesin, Cyf. 2 (Nadolig 1961), p. 11 [My translation.] For reasons beyond the scope of the present discussion, the implications of the five word clause ‘after Yeats and the Irish’ (‘ar ôl Yeats a’r Gwyddyl’), are almost invariably glossed over in the various scholarly treatments of Saunders Lewis.
 Tim Williams appears to be concerned that I have changed my mind about Saunders Lewis since I published an extended discussion on his ideas in my Rhoi Cymru’n Gyntaf: Syniadaeth Plaid Cymru, Cyfrol 1 (Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, 2007), pp. 55-107. How could I have been so critical of his ideas then yet now have the temerity to defend him from accusations of Fascism? There is, of course, no shame in changing one’s mind. But Tim Williams seems to have been engaged in a selective reading of Rhoi Cymru’n Gyntaf. Either that, or he has overlooked that volume’s condemnation of the ‘one-sided and misleading’ treatment of Lewis by so many commentators, and in particular the ‘crude’ and ‘intellectually dishonest’ treatment meted out to him in an execrable HTV production, Tin Gods, in 2001 (p. 86f.)
 ‘On Tim Williams’s account’ being the operative phrase here. I do not claim to be an expert on Soucy’s work, but a reading of his French Fascism: The Second Wave, 1933-1939 (Yale University Press, 1995) suggests that Williams’s rendering of his ideas is misleading. While Soucy is clearly interested in the ‘grey areas’ and ‘cross overs’ between Conservatives and Fascism, he does not seek to collapse these categories together. See Robert Soucy, French Fascism: The Second Wave, 1933-1939 (Yale University Press, 1995), pp. 1-25. Indeed, Soucy’s rather orthodox attempt to trace the ‘common denominators of European Fascism’ (see pp. 24-25) is clearly compatible with the understanding of Fascism developed deployed in my own book.
 Stanley G. Payne, A History of Fascism 1914-45 (UCL Press, 1997), pp. 3-19; Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (Penguin, 2004), pp. 215-18.
 So according to Tim Williams, ‘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.’
 The Fascist Party in Wales? p. 43
 See the extraordinary account in Trevor Grundy, Memoirs of a Fascist Childhood – A Boy in Moseley’s Britain (Heinemann, 1998), passim but p. 21.
 On which see Jasmine Donahaye, ‘Using the ‘antisemitism’ charge,’ Click on Wales, 28.10.2014
 The article is still available at http://www.clickonwales.org/2012/07/economic-crisis-1-wales-needs-radical-transformation/
 Max Domarus, The Complete Hitler: A Digital Desktop Reference to his Speeches and Proclamations, 1932-45 (translated by Mary Fran Golbert) Available at: https://ia700405.us.archive.org/23/items/TheCompleteHitler-SpeechesAndProclamations-MaxDomarus/TheCompleteHitler-1932-1945-Vol1-4.pdf. The key pages are 1140-1161.
 Although it would appear that even the German sources for the Nuremberg speeches are incomplete and so it is not clear that any search will be definitive.
 Y Ddraig Goch, November 1938, p. 4. Based on my knowledge of the party’s publications, my best guess is that it was actually written by party secretary J.E. Jones, who seems to have produced copy for the party’s papers on a regular basis.
 Owain Tudur, ‘Cyfeiriad Hitler at Gymru,’ Y Brython, 20.10.1938, p. 1
 While it is true that Hitler did mention Palestine in the 12 September speech, the Domarus collection (op. cit.) suggests a rather different context to the one claimed in Y Brython: ‘I am not willing to allow foreign statesmen to create a second Palestine right here in the heart of Germany. The poor Arabs are defenceless and have been abandoned by all. The Germans in Czechoslovakia are neither defenceless nor have they been abandoned’ (p. 1159).
 For Pocock’s original usage of the term see his Virtue, Commerce and History (Cambridge Universty Press, 1985). My own usage derives from John M. Regan, ‘Irish Historians and ‘das Butterfieldproblem’,’ Myth and the Irish State (Irish Academic Press, 2013), pp. 224-52.
 The Fascist Party in Wales? p. 75.
48 thoughts on “On the making and making up of Welsh history: A response to David Melding, Robert Stradling and Tim Williams”
As I’d hoped wouldn’t be the case but expected it would, my critique of Richard Wyn Jones’s book on Saunders Lewis and the charge of fascism became an attack on me. I’m used to it. The usual suspects again though with a few twists. I hadn’t know about David Melding’s conversion to the national cause as the last time I talked with the current presiding officer of the Welsh Assembly he was a vehement opponent of devolution which he fought against in the 97 referendum. I did know about his conversion to Catholicism which I do think he should have mentioned as I suspect it colours his view of Saunders Lewis , another right wing convert to the faith. Rob Stradling’s views of both myself and the Spanish Republican cause are legitimate of course – it’s a free country – but again I don’t think it irrelevant that he too ,as far as I remember, has a strong commitment to the Catholic Church. My own secularist views were traduced as’ bigoted’ – though as a Welsh protestant atheist of the left I suspect I have more in common with the Welsh majority than Lewis, Melding or Stradling – when they are themselves parti pris and ,I suggest, disposed to favour Saunders and Richard Wyn Jones because of it.
As to ‘bigoted’ it would be hard to beat this by Saunders Lewis in his ‘Notes of the Month’ from the May 1927 edition of the official journal of the Welsh National Party, ‘Y Ddraig Goch’. Despairing about the census evidence showing a continued decline in Welsh speakers, Lewis makes the following extraordinarily offensive propositions about the Valley communities then experiencing terrible deprivation :-
‘Doesn’t the increase in the number of English speakers go together with the rise in the number of Communists , anarchists and the enemies of the settled civilisation of Wales?. Isn’t the increase in the number of speakers of English to be connected with the increase in the Poor Rates (TW: the burden on local ratepayers) and is it not from amongst monoglot speakers in Wales that the majority of those living on government charity are to be found? Isn’t it the Welsh speaking Welsh who cost least to local authorities and aren’t rates lowest every time in the most Welsh towns and places in Wales?’
I wonder why Richard Wyn Jones didn’t quote this kind of stuff when lamenting the ‘misrepresentation ‘ of Lewis . I repeat: it didn’t need ‘false’ or ‘opportunistic’ claims of Lewis’s far right extremism for him to be deemed an enemy by most of the Welsh. He just had to open his mouth.
As to the attack on me from some ‘academic’ who claimed they’d read Y Ddraig Goch and found no anti- Semitic cartoons in that journal not least because ‘it has no cartoons at all’ I do wonder what passes for intellectual objectivity and competence in our universities today. After just a few hours of reading Y Ddraig Goch (YDG)in the British Library (today) – I have been in Australia and had no access to YDG or my own research from two decades ago when writing the Lewis piece – I found between March 1931 and November 32 5 cartoons : March 1931 (p3); June 31 (p2); March 32 (p1); May 32 (p1);July 32 and November 32. Quite interestingly, Saunders Lewis writes in June 32 about the May 32 cartoon that he agrees with his reader that such cartoons are ‘worth a hundred articles’. I think an apology is in order and I expect one.
As to the two Welsh nationalist cartoons I referred to which depicted Jews, I am still tracking them down in the British Library or will find copies in my own collection at home in Wales. I made copies back then. They will be found. With the permission of the IWA I will come back to this discussion when I have done so. I stress: I have been proven right on the existence of cartoons in YDG – a ludicrous attack on me for the quality of my sources which says more about the professional standards of others and not me – and I will happily find a big hat for my attackers to eat when I find the others.
As to the broader issue of Saunders Lewis’s ideology and the nature of Plaid’s thinking, Richard Lewis really does need to explain what Saunders Lewis meant when he referred in YDG in the late 20s to Robert Fabre-Luce has having ‘identical objectives’ to Plaid Cymru. The authoritative Biblioteque National de France describes Fabre-Luce as ‘ a writer and militant of the extreme right. An anti-semite and overtly national-socialist, favourable to a rapprochement with Nazi Germany. One of the founders in 1933 of the ‘ European Racist Alliance ‘. A collaborator’. This isn’t random. Something has to be explained and no amount of slagging me off personally can divert us from the real issues here : why would the official Plaid journal claim kinship with Fabre-Luce unless it existed? Furthermore, when YDG prints an open letter from Breton Nationalist Olier Mordrel in October 1929 is it just bad luck and irrelevant that three years later in Breiz Atao , Mordrel, who actually went to Germany to actively collaborate with the Nazis, refers to ‘Jacobin rime avec Youppin’/Jacobin rhymes with Yid’? Remember, Ambrose Bebb ,one of the founders of Plaid, left Plaid on the outbreak of war when he realised Lewis was not willing to condemn Mordrel or fight against Mordrel’s sponsors. These things need explanation not personal attacks on me.
And by the way , although I think there is a legitimate discussion about the differences between Saunders Lewis and Plaid members he was President and editor of their official journal for the first 12 years of the existence of the party. Prosser Rhys took a different view from Lewis and worried about his ‘Daily Mail’ view of politics (his words) and Bebb as we have seen left the party. WJ Gruffydd , having been an early supporter, left the party because of Lewis as did Iorwerth Peate. What didn’t they like about Lewis? Are they call to be dismissed as protestant bigots? Or did they genuinely worry that Lewis’s own religious and political fixations were problematical and indeed hostile to the kind of Wales hey sought? I think the latter. And I agree with them.
O dear, the handbags are out in force.
Seems that Tim Williams is intent on proving one of the points made against him by immediately accusing David Melding and Robert Straddling of attacking him because they are Catholic. Obviously it couldn’t be because they thought his article wasn’t very good or full of error.
I would be willing to give Tim the benefit of the doubt, as I also don’t have the time or the ability to to check old copies of y ddraig goch. But I can check who the presiding officer of the National Assembly is with a quick Google search, and if he can get that wrong I’m less willing to sympathise.
P.s. I also live in Australia and I’m not Catholic.
’ “This general line of argument reflected the tendency of Plaid supporters in the 1930s and 40s (discussed in my book) to posit a moral equivalence between English and German imperialism”.
Reading That Neutral Island A Cultural History of Ireland During the Second World War by Clair Wills it was the predominant view in Ireland.
Though support for Fascist organisation was limited Fine Gael’s roots are somewhat linked with Fascism when it emerged f ollowing the merger of its parent party Cumann na nGaedheal, the National Centre Party and the National Guard (popularly known as the “Blueshirts”, a name still used colloquially to refer to the party) it hasn’t really have fascists overtones.
And Fianna Fáil under Éamon de Valera. probably reflected sort of Conservative Catholicism that Saunders Lewis invoked that does not make Lewis a Fascist in the same way de Valera was not one.
I doubt any Plaid members would share Lewis viewpoint today but then we have the advantage of “historical hindsight” . Though maybe not historical accuracy.
Tim Williams’s sheer ignorance of critical facts has been found out brilliantly by Dr Jones – biased, partisan, ill-informed and fact free. Most of all, it was full of errors and a very poor and lazy piece of writing. He’s as wrong now as he was in 1997 when he led the No campaign with Nick Bourne, whom I have great respect for. Thank you Dr Richard Wyn Jones for the step by step demolition of Tim Williams smears, superb.
99% of the people of Wales know or care about any of this, what matters is where is Wales now in 2014. Is Labour going a good job in government? No i’d say. Is Andrew RT Davies doing a good job as Leader of the opposition? Fairly good. And is Leanne Wood doing a good job as an opposition & party leader? Yes probably. How will we face the challanges of budgets being slashed in our local authorities, improve the economy, using powers over varying our taxes, improving transport links and the problems facing the Welsh NHS, esp community hospitals and waiting lists. These are what matter to people. However, Tim Williams is the classic backward looking navel gazing political anorak that needs to move on and see the Wales of today not of 80 or 90 years ago, Wales has moved on, perhaps that’s what is bothering him. Good work Dr Richard Wyn Jones.
It is probably futile to hope that Tim Williams will read the comments here, as he does not appear to have read the comments on his own article. Had he done so, he could have saved himself some work, for he would have found the description by this ‘academic’ of the visual material in Y Ddraig Goch between 1926 and 1936 (he would also find the same and more in my article ‘Using the “antisemitism” charge’ published on Click on Wales on October 28th, including detail of three cartoons in the mid-1930s). His comment directed at me might more usefully have appeared there rather than here in a response to Richard Wyn Jones.
At the risk of taking up undue space, but in the hope that I might save Dr Williams the pain of returning to his own article or of reading mine, I reproduce that description here:
“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.”
I have to confess that I would be delighted if Dr Williams found antisemitic cartoons when he ventures into his own collection. In my publications on Welsh/Jewish cultural matters, I have tried to challenge the received wisdom that Wales is somehow exceptional in its attitudes to Jews, in either direction (it isn’t – it’s typical). That challenge is slightly undermined by the evidence of the visual culture, however – for in the visual culture of Wales, unlike in other countries, there is almost no imaging of Jews. Peter Lord, the art historian, would probably be inclined to burn down my house if I allowed the inference to be made that this is because the Welsh are unvisual – I encourage anyone who thinks so to consult his comprehensive Visual Culture of Wales series. But there it remains: in fifteen years of research I have not found evidence to challenge that initial discovery that in the visual culture, Welsh imaging of Jews is exceptional by its near total absence.
If I have overlooked such material in those years of Y Ddraig Goch each of the three times I’ve examined it that would be troubling, but if Dr Williams can find visual treatment of Jews that has till now remained undiscovered by historians, art historians, and me, it would certainly help me make the case more definitively that Wales is typical in its Jewish treatment rather than exceptional.
It’s always difficult to be confronted by one’s own research mistakes, but also always challenging and interesting to have to look at familiar material in new ways. I fear, however, that Dr Williams will investigate to no purpose – and if he read more carefully, he might save himself the trouble.
This all started with the publication by the book by Richard Wyn Jones – Plaid Cymru-Welsh Nationalism and the Accusation of Fascism by University of Wales Press on 2/4/14. As an English only speaking welsh ‘pleb’ this was totally unknown to myself and the other 99% of welsh people,however the response by Tim Williams on the 29/9/14 started the ball rolling!!.It seems there is a continuing ‘academic’ debate about the views of Mr. Saunders Lewis in the 1930’s which was one of the most troubled decades in history,however it followed the the 1914-18 war,collapse of Monarchy in Russia,two PROPER depressions and the emergence of fascism through Europe as a result of previous events. I would like to thank Dr. Tim Williams for his efforts,whether right or wrong at the margins,however the growth of influence of Plaid Cymru within welsh media and politics in general is of great concern to many people. This,seemingly constant effort to take us back to ancient history,and grievances is very a)time consuming,b)dangerous for ordinary people like myself as the REAL problems and their solutions(never total) are being ignored. Why does it take one person to challenge current welsh ‘orthodoxy’ to raise such ire,particularly as they are of no interest/concern to 99% of welsh people. In the 1980’s the UK Labour Party was subjected and nearly destroyed by ‘entryism’ of fanatics who were totally unrepresentive of ordinary people and exactly the same is happening in Wales. A group of welsh nationalists/welsh language fanatics have gained power vastly above their support in welsh population and we are all suffering with no hope in sight.
at ‘A MICK’
So let me get this straight…
One guy spends many months of his life writing a book about something totally irrelevant that happened 80-90 years ago (somewhat suspiciously attempting to defend it), and another guys reads it and spends an afternoon reading it and writing a critique. Yet somehow you have concluded that it is the latter who is the backward looking navel gazer who needs to stop dwelling on the past?!?! Nice to know you can always depend on balanced and unbiased comment here at the Institute of Welsh Nationalist Affairs!
@ Howell Morgan
How are we suffering?
I don’t think that I will be able to read Saunders Lewis poems and dramas again without recalling this intellectual struggle about his politics and that of his associates. Time to put the skeletons back in the cupboard where they belong.
I agree with the postmodernists Howell Morgan and SeaMor Bytts. History is irrelevant, especially given Howell’s data that 99% of Welsh people are obviously thick as planks. Similarly, he’s spot on about Welsh language fanaticism; the extremists have been at it for 3000 years now. Off now to join them and their UKIP fellow travelers in La La Land.
Click on Wales has dug up all this stuff with one purpose in mind, to smear Plaid Cymru. It has become like many other organisations in Wales part of the One Party State.It will not get another penny from me.
It is more out of anger than sorrow I write. I knew before I wrote my critique of RWJ’s Welsh language book on Lewis that supporters of Saunders Lewis were immune to evidence. Lewis himself can say he is at one with Robert Fabre-Luce (anti-semite, racist, national socialist, collaborator), Barres (anti-semite, proto-fascist); that he is in sympathy with Maurras and his royalist thugs (anti-semites, proto-fascists, collaborators); that the ‘new state’ of the Portuguese dictator Salazar is to be admired, that he supports Franco in the Civil War and prefers Petain and Vichy to the activities of the French Resistance ; that Hitler may be an atheist but at least he’s to be preferred to the Brits as at least he , unlike the UK government , ‘knows that Wales exists’, the Welsh being as Y Ddraig Goch put it at in November 1938 , ‘the Sudetenland of Britain’ without unfortunately , as it also said at the same time, ‘its own Hitler’ to protect it; and that the ‘Hebrew snouted’ Jews are behind both the communist menace , capitalism , the media and the drive to war in 1939 : he can say all this himself but when I point this out I get character-assassination and assaults on my very truthfulness as a historian and commentator. He’s the odd one out not me.
The nadir of this tactical attack on me came when the IWA become the conduit for a quite shameful untruth about what I’d written about cartoons in Y Ddraig Goch. I know that one of the academics who had been at the debate about RWJ’s book had essentially said that there couldn’t be any anti-Semitic cartoons in YDG because there were no cartoons in YDG. This was quite a devastating thing to say and report and damaged my case and my personal standing – without any grounds as it turns out. It’s quite wrong. I have scans of 5 cartoons in YDG from the early period whose source dates I have identified already and which I will share with IWA. The charge made against me on this point is exposed as erroneous. I expect a public apology from the academic concerned.
Secondly, and with some thanks to my family in Wales for finding my notes and photocopies from 20 years ago when I was going to write a book on Lewis , I have now found one of the anti-Semitic cartoons in YDG. It is from May 1935 and it is on the very front page of the journal, large and bold. This has also been scanned and shared with the IWA. It has also been reviewed by a third party academic who confirms its ‘obvious anti-Semitic nature’. It is as plan as your nose.
The cartoon as I have said shows two caricatures – of the ‘Hebrew snouted’ capitalist and communist, both of which in anti-Semitic discourse must be Jewish and brothers under the skin, despite their apparent differences . While the ‘capitalist’ is bloated and the ‘communist’ looks leaner and Lenin-like (Lewis having wrongly identified Lenin as a Jew in a previous column), the one refers to the other as ‘my son’. They are related. The caption is as follows: ‘The Capitalist to the Communist: my son, I stole men’s property from them and I leave it to you to take their freedom’.
I know we will hear all kinds of apologetics and fancy interpretations of this as a way of getting round the facts, but there it is. Two Yids conspiring to run and ruin the world, left and right, Marxist and materialist. It is but a stone’s throw from this to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It’s actually quite difficult to find an alternative interpretation to this cartoon.
As to RWJ’s latest attempt to divert attention by throwing mud at me, his distinction between ‘Hitler says that Wales is a nation’ and ‘Hitler knows that Wales exists’ would carry more conviction if he had mentioned the existence of this warm reference to the Fuhrer in his book, before I drew attention to it. I add that having been proven right on the existence of cartoons and anti-Semitic ones at that in YDG, I am sure that we will find confirmation that ‘Hitler knows Wales is a nation’ was actually used by SL in a column , probably the first time Hitler mentioned Wales which was at Nuremburg in September 1937. It’s clear that my point remains: SL was delighted Wales got mentioned and thought Hitler morally superior to the Brits for doing so. Moreover, it’s the omission of this kind of evidence by RWJ that caused my intervention in the first place. His text is somewhat tactically silent on the kind of material I have found.
It has been said of Communist writers and historians dismayed by the discoveries of the bestialities of Stalin that they kept on looking for evidence of a period before the true faith was corrupted to show that the values were still valid . Thus the hunt was on for a kind of ‘Merry Leninist’ period in which socialism had been liberating and all had been for the best in the best of all possible worlds, with early Soviet peasants and intellectuals dancing round maypoles. Then they realised the Gulag began on day one under Lenin. I think something of the same happens with Welsh nationalist intellectuals when dealing with Saunders Lewis. They just cannot accept him warts and all. He must be the very model of the Wales we like to think we have not the Wales we have nor Lewis as he actually was. He cannot be a racist , anti-semite, philo-fascist who supported the far right in the European Culture Wars of the 20s and 30s. He cannot be because that wouldn’t fit with our self image or the image Nationalists wish to project.
In reality they wish to take out of Lewis everything which made him interesting – and an enemy of most of the Welsh as they were and indeed are. I end where I started. Lewis would have hated modern Wales and the monoglot English state to which it is heading. He was marginalised not by cynical Labourites using a libel of ‘fascism’ but by his own eccentricities and extremism. Even many Plaid members thought him a problem before the Second World War. His position on the War set back Plaid 20 years. He had nothing to say of any political use then or now. Get over it.
Re: “I have now found one of the anti-Semitic cartoons in YDG. It is from May 1935 and it is on the very front page of the journal, large and bold. This has also been scanned and shared with the IWA.”
Dear IWA – can you please show this cartoon?
Given not only his conceptual incoherence and his fast and loose approach to empirical evidence, but also his seeming inability to remember what he himself (let alone anyone else) actually wrote, there seems to be very little point trying to debate with Tim Williams. Let me simply invite readers to read the book itself and make up their own minds.
I do, however, take exception to his attempt to bully Jasmine Donahaye – with a Robert Maxwellesque threat of legal action lurking not so subtly in the background. So let’s be clear. In the course of his response to my book, Dr Williams claimed that there are anti-Semitic cartoons (his plural) in issues of Y Ddraig Goch from the late 1920s. There are none. In fact, there are (with one irrelevant exception) no cartoons. That his factual claim is incorrect was pointed by Jasmine Donahaye, who has then gone on to discuss a number of cartoons that did appear in the 1930s which may be relevant to the current ‘debate’. In helpful and properly scholarly fashion, Donahaye has even told us where these cartoons are to be found. They include one that Tim Williams is now claiming as anti-Semitic. In Jasmine Donahaye’s expert view – and unlike Tim Williams or myself, Donahaye is actually an expert on (anti-)Semitic imagery – the cartoon in question is no such thing. Yet Williams, utterly ignoring his own empirical howlers let alone his crude attempts to smear his opponents, is now demanding withdrawal and apology.
Dr Williams, as the Irish might say, ‘catch yourself on’.
Given that tim Williams says he has cartoons and others say they dint exist this should be easy to settle. Can we see them?
I echo Richard Wyn Jones’s assessment that there is little point engaging in discussion with Tim Williams. Williams has found no new material, but is offering as evidence material that I have by now discussed several times in this exchange.
In the matter of the particular cartoon on which he has now become so exclusively focused – which, of course, leaves other criticisms of his article conveniently unaddressed – he anticipates ‘all kinds of apologetics and fancy interpretations … as a way of getting round the facts’. He need not anticipate, as this ‘fancy interpretation’ has already been offered: I stated that neither this cartoon nor the others includes ‘any identifiable Jewish feature, let alone a hostile stereotype or caricature of a Jew’. Williams sees ‘two Yids’ in this cartoon, and states that it is ‘but a stone’s throw from this to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion’. His casual citation of that infamous and deeply damaging publication and his careless deployment of the term ‘Yids’ suggests an alarming degree of insensitivity about this discourse.
As I observed in my article, ‘what constitutes “antisemitism” is hotly contested’. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, it is being contested here for reasons that have little to do with seeking to understand or discuss attitudes to Jews. By making his comparison with the ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, Williams demonstrates the risk inherent in making exaggerated claims: identifying hostility where it does not exist undermines the capacity to identify it where it does exist.
Some elements of best practice in research include reading carefully, citing sources, and not relying on memory or unsubstantiated report as evidence. The evidence in this case, including my statement about Y Ddraig Goch in the 1920s and my assessment of Williams’s piece, is available in the audio recording of the debate, in my article, and in my comments – all of which is published on Click on Wales.
Simonini says: reading this debate it seems to me that someone has been following my political methodology described in ‘The Prague Cemetary’! Respect to Senor Eco. Plus ca change.
Can’t wait to see these cartoons. Dr Williams?
I enjoy written & verbal debates from academics on divisive issues, but it is disappointing when one of them appears to chose to move away from factual happenings – in order to justify their own opinions. You lost the argument in 97 Tim, and have done so again.
Having now personally viewed the cartoon which has become so disputed I am very surprised that ‘an expert on Anti-Semitic imagery’ can claim that ‘neither this cartoon nor the others includes any identifiable Jewish feature, let alone a hostile stereotype or caricature of a Jew.’ The cartoon has two caricatures of a capitalist and a communist. Both have hooked noses reflecting the dominant anti-Semitic imagery of the era. The caption includes the address of one by the other as ‘my son’ a common representation of an address used by Jews which appears in literature and theatre of the time as stereo-typically Jewish. The caption also refers to the one character having stolen ‘ men’s property from them’, a clear reference to the dominant anti-Semitic theory that a Jewish conspiracy dominated capitalism and the capitalist class. These elements in singularity would cast doubt on Jasmine Donahaye’s assertion. In plurality, assembled in one image they seriously question the objectivity of her interpretation. In my own research on Welsh Nationalism for my PhD and later book I did not centrally address the issue of fascism in Wales and nationalist politicians, however the connections were self-evident particularly through the influence of Action Francaise. It is not a condemnation of contemporary Welsh Nationalism to recognise the dominant attraction to fascism of most European nationalist parties and the clear connection between fascism and right-wing Catholicism. Indeed Dafydd Ellis Thomas (1983) recognised and disassociated himself from this past in his condemnation of Saunders Lewis and Ambrose Bebb for their appropriation of ‘Liberal and Labour nationalism’ . Thomas forged a party in the 1980s which could be described as Gramscian left and demonstrates the flexibility of the concept of nationalism and its adoption within wider class struggles, including by fascism throughout Europe in the 1930s.
Movements advance by recognising their skeletons, exposing them to daylight and by disassociation of tainted heroes. Could Wales be that brave.
Dafydd Ellis Thomas (1983). Freud Cymru. Radical Wales.1: 18. Plaid Cymru. Cardiff
Any signs of those cartoons yet?
Here is the cartoon is question for you to make up your own minds:
@ Dave Adamson.Thanks for your contribution/explanation as carton has only just appeared on link at 9.54 on 6/11Without an interpretation of welsh used in cartoon most of us would have lost,however cartoon itself is ‘offensive’ even to a non Jewish person.’.It looks like game/set/match to Dr. Tim Williams.There are very wider issues involved in this matter and hopefully these will also be explored in near future.
I cannot claim to be an expert on imaging but it does strike me that the image of the capitalist with a hooked or aquiline nose is very similar to the stereotypes used by the Nazis in their visual characterisation of Jews. The communist figure, I would suggest, is less clear cut. It is more striking as a resemblance of Lenin. The central message of the cartoon appears to be “neither capitalism nor communism”. The Plaid of the time is presumably seeking to position itself between the two.
You see what you expect to see, I suppose. The guy in bed has a roman nose and the standing figure looks like a caricature of V.I.Lenin, who had some tartar in him but was not Jewish. Inconclusive.
The gulag did not ‘start on day one’. It was already in existence at the time of the Russian revolution. Most of the old Bolsheviks including Stalin did time in Siberia, courtesy of the Cheka, the Stlinist secret police, forerunner and model for the KGB. The Russians have always run their country that way and still do – ask Pussy Riot.
Erratum: Cheka were Czarist secretpolice
In his virulent attack on Richard Wyn Jones’s book, Tim Williams doesn’t bother to say what exactly he means by the word “fascism”. This is important since it lies at the heart of his argument. His thesis, therefore, falls to pieces because he doesn’t provide us with a definition,
The fact that Saunders Lewis said some unkind things about the Jews doesn’t make him a fascist, any more than it does Orwell or Churchill. The fact that he was a Roman Catholic certainly doesn’t makes him a fascist; nor does the fact that he was a man of the right make him a fascist. And when Tim Williams makes great play of the linkage between the ideas of French thinker Maurice Barrès and Lewis’s political outlook, again that does not make him a fascist. Besides, Barres was at his most creative during the closing years of 19th century. and Fascism as a political movement didn’t exist at that time.
Fascism came to existence at the end of the 1914-18 war. It was a product of that war. Its core membership was made up if right wing ex-servicemen belonging to the paramilitary Arditi in Italy and to the Freikorps in Germany. Violence was fundamental to their political identity, as was the authoritarianism of their leadership. They aimed to continue the war by political means, and to seize power in the same way. During the course of the 1920s carbon copy movements were set up an along the length and breadth of continental Europe, and in England we have Oswald Mosely’s Union of British Fascists. None of these movements had any resemblance whatsoever to Plaid Cymru and it is ludicrous that such smears were made at the time. It is even more ludicrous that Tim Williams should seek to resurrect them – all for political point scoring.
@R.Tredwyn. You are correct in that Stalin spent time in internal exile in Siberia courtesy of the Tsar prior to the revolution as did many other people,however the CHEKA was created by LENIN after the revolution. Whilst things were hard in the camps run before the revolution,they did not compare the ‘gulags’ run by the communist party. There can be no doubt that Stalin did present a threat to the Tsarist state,however millions of innocent people were sent to the gulags and did not return. The communist system has killed/imprisoned hundreds of millions of people,and yet in the left in the UK there were many ‘fellow travellers’ who supported the system. We can than Reagan/Thatcher for standing up[ to them and the latter was ‘mobbed’ by grateful people in former eastern European countries.You don’t read about that in socialist wales!!!
Diolch IWA. To this west Walian hick the bloke in the bed reminds me of the late Sir Lew Grade (minus cigar), and standing above him is someone who looks like the baddy out of an ‘Aladdin’ pantomime. I guess a case could be made by others cleverer than myself regarding usage of anti-Semitic caricatures, but I think you’d need a very large crowbar in this instance.
Tim Williams has made a specific and serious allegation about Plaid Cymru’s newspaper Y Ddraig Goch ‘screaming’ in 1938 that ‘Hitler knows that Wales is a nation’. He has been shown that there is no substance for that charge. Will he now apologise?
The depth and intricacy of this debate is beyond me – but a thought I have had on the whole thing as I have followed it has been articulated perfectly by Dave Adamson above:
“Movements advance by recognising their skeletons, exposing them to daylight and by disassociation of tainted heroes. Could Wales be that brave.”
@CA Jones: totally agree about Aladdin; I’m going to go for Alfred Hitchcock as the character in bed, but can see the Lew Grade connection.
Howell, I certainly don’t want to defend the political or penal methods of the Russian communists. And I don’t think you’ll find many in “socialist Wales” who would. But as a matter of fact, the czarist regime had a secret police and you could be imprisoned without trial or banished on the basis of their reports. You are right, however, that the term Cheka was used after the revolution, not before. My mistake.
The pre-revolution secret police were called the Okhrana. The current Russian secret police are called the FSB. The system is not as murderous as it was at its worst between 1929 and 1952 when it exhibited the very worst of totalitarian features. The collapse of the system in the 1980s was accurately predicted by Trotsky in 1936. The influence of either Reagan or Thatcher was negligible though Gorbachev gets some credit. The collapse has been used by capitalists in the West as an opportunity to increase their exploitation of the workers, multiply their own incomes and casualise much employment. No rose without a thorn.
My own opinion? I have read a fair amount of Saunders Lewis, mostly his literary criticism (which is without doubt superlative) and creative work (good but not brilliant in my opinion) rather than his political journalism/party propaganda, and I have to say that I’ve hardly seen anything approaching unpleasantness never mind the evil of fascism. I’m happy to accept that might reflect me as a reader, my temperament, ‘blindness’ from ingoing prejudices, etc. (reception theorists can make of that what they will), but as an inveterate liberal, I can’t honestly put my finger on anything I’d get overly excited about. I may have missed something, and as I said there are no doubt reams of stuff I haven’t read which others have, but in my opinion at this stage of my reading the burden of evidence really is on those who wish to prove JSL was ‘something other’ than what the broad body of learned Welsh opinion thinks he is, which was summarised rather neatly I thought hundreds of comments ago now as a ‘European modernist’ with all its connotations, implications and resulting bedfellows (including a very high proportion of English artists and intellectuals of the period).
But don’t take my word for it. Read what I’ve read and come to your own conclusions.
SELECTED POEMS (translated into the English by Joseph P. Clancy) (University of Wales Press, 1993)
CEIRIOG (Gwasg Aberystwyth, 1929) [biography and analysis of the poet Ceiriog]
DANIEL OWEN (Gwasg Aberystwyth, 1929) [biography and analysis of the novelist Daniel Owen]
DRAMÂU SAUNDERS LEWIS CYF I & II (University of Wales Press, 1996) [two volumes of his complete theatrical works in the original Welsh]
THE PLAYS OF SAUNDERS LEWIS Vol. 4 (Christopher Davies, 1986) [3 plays translated into English. There are 3 other volumes]
SAUNDERS LEWIS: LETTERS TO MARGARET GILCRIEST (University of Wales Press, 1993) [reproduction of his letters to his wife, in English]
MEISTRI’R CANRIFOEDD (University of Wales Press, 1973) [Republishing of major essays on Welsh literary history in Welsh]
YSGRIFAU DYDD MERCHER (Gwasg Aberystwyth, 1945) [republished essays on various literary and cultural topics in Welsh]
PRESENTING SAUNDERS LEWIS, AR Jones & G Thomas (eds), (University of Wales Press, 1993) [with extensive excerpts of primary sources translated into English]
SAUNDERS LEWIS, Bruce Griffiths (University of Wales Press, 1989)
Again, I am taken aback by Tim Williams’s insensitivity to the fraught matter of semitic discourse, and the way he is putting it to political use – and now in the service of trying to shore up his own reputation. Has he or his associate visually read the cartoon at all? It unambiguously depicts a deathbed scene. They are father and son: the progenitor, The Capitalist, is bequeathing his legacy to his progeny, The Communist, and is addressing him, accordingly, as ‘my son’. It is a depiction of one political ideology, capitalism, as progenitor of another, communism.
The characterisation of The Communist simultaneously as Lenin and the devil (the beard is pointed – a common diabolical visual motif), echoes with the point made by Richard Wyn Jones that the most serious political threat as understood by Plaid Cymru in the period was that posed by communism (p. 54 in the English edition of the book – see also the audio recording of the debate).
The motifs of hostile Jewish stereotype in the period are available to anyone who wishes to risk doing a Google image search for ‘antisemitic cartoons 1930s’: such hostile stereotype relies on exaggerated tropes, including a caricatured ‘Jewish’ nose, the ‘Jewish’ beard and sidelocks, grasping hands, and money motifs (not to mention child sacrifice and other grotesque visual and textual references). Had the artist, a well-known and successful caricaturist, wished to present someone in terms of Jewish ethnic stereotype, he was eminently capable of doing so. In the context of antisemitic imaging in the period, to read this cartoon as antisemitic – and further, to find it a mere ‘stone’s throw’ from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – is to dispense with visual literacy.
Once again this highlights the very serious mistakes in Tim Williams’s article – indeed, far from deflecting attention away from these mistakes, as would seem to be the intention, the focus on this cartoon rather reinforces them.
Though Williams’s numerous mistakes have been pointed out to him, he has not acknowledged or corrected them.
The unfounded allegation that Richard Wyn Jones omitted discussion of several antisemitic cartoons in the 1920s is in fact the least of these mistakes. Given that it has published this cartoon, perhaps the IWA ought to publish other material, too – for example page 42 of the book, to show discussion of ‘Y Dilyw 1939’ which Tim Williams claims is not mentioned by the author; or perhaps the passage by W. J. Gruffydd, which Williams downplays as ‘salon antisemitism accidentally said out loud’. This material, and the non-existent cartoons, constitutes some of the flawed ‘evidence’ Williams uses to advance the wholly bogus charge of apologetics against Wyn Jones.
To charge someone with being an apologist for antisemitism is a very serious matter indeed. That charge needs to retain its force – and it can only do so if it is used carefully and accurately. To make this charge in the service of a political agenda, as Tim Williams has done and continues to do, plays directly into the hands of those who seek to discount the significance or reality of hostility to Jews.
Part of the problem here, surely, is that the attention given by Tim Williams to the cartoon has come to stand in for the wider debates, in which he appears to have been comprehensively routed, where he accuses Richard Wyn Jones of a series of things which show how grotesquely he is prepared to frame his arguments in order to discredit his opponent on historical matters for what appear to be party-political ends. I too am rather worried by the slide into ‘Protocols of Zion’-speak, which show a dangerous tendency towards hollowing out meaningful and nuanced discussion, tactical overstatement (and that’s putting it charitably) and the subjugation of any kind of interpretative nuance to mere point-scoring.
The cartoon itself, for which thanks, appears to show a communist with Lenin’s looks at the bedside of an obese capitalist who may or may not be Jewish. It’s certainly possible that the caricature, nasally-speaking, hints at Jewishness, but if so it misses many of the more obvious caricatural markers prevalent at the time which would have made it clearer. At best, it’s a possibility with the fat guy in the bed, and not at all for the bloke standing over him, and the point of caricature is, surely, that it be recognisable.
My own experience of anti-Semitic cartoons in the French Nationalist context (a Nationalist, Catholic and monarchist context that feeds in part into Welsh via Maurras and co.) in the period 1890-1939 is of imagery that is immediately recognisable, crude, and full of very specific physiological markers that designate Jewishness as imagined by the anti-Semites.
But to rest any sort of blanket judgment of a complicated Welsh-specific history on that is to devalue the debate, which I guess is what Dr Williams wishes to do.
The fact that those who support him in this tribalist ping-pong are the kinds of people whose main contributions to this site involve paranoid complaints about Welsh-speakers says a great deal about the sort of constituency he caters for, intentionally or not. And as for his contemptuous reference to ‘some academic’ to designate a scholar who has written substantially on Wales and the Jews, we can infer something of the status accorded by a certain strand of Welsh Labour intellectuals to anything that disrupts their world-view.
The nadir, frankly, is the implicit (maybe I mean explicit) accusation that RWJ is somehow an ‘apologist’ for anti-Semitism.
Is it or is it not antisemitic? Is there more than one cartoon in YDG? Is this the ‘smoking gun’ that will ruin the reputation of Saunders Lewis (or Tim Williams)?
I think it’s time to move on and examine the other evidence that will substantiate the the rival claims, otherwise we risk this cartoon rivaling the controversy that surrounded the publication of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons.
It’s true that the cartoon doesn’t use really obvious visual Jewish stereotypes, but there’s enough there to be at least suspicious.
The suspicion increases with the cartoon’s textual Jewish stereotypes – the linking of capitalism and socialism via the sneaky Jew was a standard fascist theme and ‘Third Way’ fascist nationalism was the antidote.
Saying that, I don’t think Lewis was a fascist. It’s more that pretty much all insurgent nationalist currents of the era borrowed from fascist ideology, as it was seen as having reconciled romantic nationalism with the new industrial world, just the job for some parts of a squeezed petit-bourgeoisie.
Even if Lewis had clear far-right sympathies, I’d say the bigger point is that these didn’t translate into the kind of street-fighting criminal gangs usually associated with fascists. Nationalists attacking state property once in a while isn’t the same as fascist-nationalists attacking left-wing meetings, Jewish groups and so on, on a daily basis.
Dr Williams said there was more than one cartoon. Are there?
Saunders Lewis and the selective memory and outrage of Welsh nationalists : ‘It’s funny, you don’t look anti-semitic’
I am continually shocked by the selective memory and outrage of fans of Saunders Lewis. Perhaps it’s ignorance as I suspect that many of my attackers don’t speak Welsh or simply don’t know the original sources. I worry that Richard Wyn Jones has no such defence.
‘Hitler knows that Wales exists’ : not as a mere ‘geographical expression’ but as a nation. RWJ has a go at me for my reference to Y Ddraig Goch (YDG) saying ‘Hitler knows that Wales is a nation’ when the actual quote (translated) was ‘Hitler definitely knows that Wales exists’. While I confess to a sin of omission for mis-remembering the precise translation – my book review was done by remote in Australia without access to my own notes from YDG made 20 years ago as I have said from the start – at least I actually mentioned the excited response of YDG to Hitler’s reference to Wales in his Nuremburg speech. It is weirdly absent from RWJ’s recent snow job on Lewis. Much else is also. My sins are minor by comparison.
By the way, the ‘Hitler knows that Wales exists’ statement was made not because Hitler was giving the Nazis some kind of geography lesson. If you read the DG piece objectively it was made because YDG was contrasting England’s failure to recognise Wales’s existence as a nation with a separate point of view, to Hitler’s awareness of it. They were quoting Hitler’s view that England should stay out of the Sudetenland issue and worry about other minorities, such as for example , in Hitler’s words ‘Palestine, and closer to home , Wales’. (YDG November 1938).
Plaid complained not at Hitler’s policies but the fact that the English newspapers quoted this speech but left Hitler’s reference to Wales out. To add to the picture of the Nazis ‘knowing that Wales is a nation’ better than the English, I refer readers to Lewis’s excitement in his column in Y Faner (‘Cwrs Y Byd/Course of the World)’ on 24 November 1939 that what he called Wales’s view of the war had been ‘a subject (for discussion) on German Radio’. Why? Because the Germans knew that ‘there was in Wales independent thinking in the present war in Europe and that that thinking expresses/assumes the form of (literally ‘dwyn nodau’) a country and a nation’.
By the way, Plaid via YDG made it clear at the time of the Czech crisis that they supported Hitler’s position on the Sudetenland and compared the Welsh with the Sudetenlanders. ‘ if only Wales had its Hitler to take its side’ was their cry. Indeed, Wales needed to emulate Hitler’s strength of the kind he had shown with the Czechs. In his speech to the 1938 Plaid Summer School Lewis said: the Germans had discovered that ‘only strength counts….and so Germany gave Hitler authority. From that moment Germany ceased behaving like a cowed country. It rose in its greatness like a man’. Wales should learn from Hitler’s experience that ‘neither reason nor justice are enough’. Acts of law-breaking were required (remembering Lewis had gone to prison for the burning of the bombing school at Penyberth), as ‘one path only leads to the entrance to the Welsh parliament. That path runs through the prisons of England’. None of this was in RWJ’s book on Lewis and the charge of fascism. But there’s a lot more missing.
‘Welsh Nationalism is Welsh Nazism’: says Aber student body
How about this? Following Plaid’s statement in support of Hitler’s position on the Sudetenland and after years of perceived philo-fascistic anti-semitism , the Aberystwyth student body passed a motion (in December 1938) that ‘Welsh Nationalism is Welsh Nazism’. Did I make that up? Was it perhaps a piece of Welsh protestant bigotry? I add that at that time many if not most of the Aber students would have been Welsh speaking. This stuff is on the record. Not mentioned by RWJ.
But then no mention is made in his book on Lewis of the Bangor students opposed to Plaid under Lewis who formed Gwerin a short lived leftist group which sought a rapprochement between Welsh socialists and anti-Fascist Welsh patriots. A related group of Welsh students also founded Y Tir Newydd at this time (1937/38) which pulled no punches in its attack on the Plaid leadership. As they said of Plaid in the wake of Munich:-
’ They defend Fascism at every opportunity, they spit on democratic institutions ,they calumniate every attempt to contribute to the only kind of nationalism the Welsh people wanted, that is nationalism based on human freedom’. Read Y Tir Newydd. I have.
In response Lewis attacked the ‘younger generation’ in a speech called the Christian Revolution, for ‘betraying Wales by inviting us to a marriage with Marx’. It was this kind of content by Lewis which led one member of Plaid to write ‘they believe that the Christian tradition is represented by Fascism or something like it’. Most damaging was a series of interventions by Prosser Rhys, the editor of Y Faner in that newspaper in the Spring of 1938. In his book on Plaid (Rhoi Cymru’r Gyntaf) RWJ quoted Rhys’s March 1938 denunciation of the Plaid leadership’s ‘Daily Mail style ‘ politics but did not in his recent book on Lewis quote other telling comments from Rhys at this time , such as this , noting the, ‘..definite tendency in the papers of the Plaid –very definite on occasions – in favour of the reactionary and anti-democratic forces…We are told that Plaid is neither Left nor Right .Yet what would you call people who tend to support Franco in Spain, who are indifferent to the suffering of the Basques, who do not an unkind word about Fascism, who didn’t see much wrong in Imperial Japan swallowing China – what would you call people like this if not men of the Right?’.
Prosser Rhys’s punchline is worth quoting, given he had been an early member of Plaid: ‘Is it a democratic government aimed at Wales which is being aimed at? If it is why is Y Ddraig Goch in so much sympathy with anti-democratic movements in other countries? Why does it believe that the democratic and radical movement is anti-Christian and that it is people like Mussolini and Franco who keep the flame of Christianity alight in Western Europe?’ .
I get personal abuse for pointing this stuff out, but the truth will out.
Plaid and the Spanish Civil War
By the way, RWJ seems not to have noticed that Prosser Rhys and other correspondents to Y Faner in early 1938 are clear which side Lewis and Plaid under him were on in the Spanish Civil War – and it wasn’t that of the Republic or the Basque Nationalists who supported it. The idea that Lewis took a neutral stance is wrong. He didn’t support the Republic or its backers in the small nations of Spain. He supported Franco. There was no ambiguity about. Franco was part of the Christian Revolution in Europe backed by Lewis. We don’t need Rhodri Morgan’s dad’s evidence for this (true though that is), from a private meeting. We have contemporary sources on the record such as Rhys’s worries and indeed correspondence in the Plaid English newspaper , The Welsh Nationalist , from Cyril Cule , a Plaid sympathiser who had gone to fight for the republic in Spain , airing his concerns at the view taken of the Civil War by the Plaid leadership.
Lewis and anti-semitism: none so blind as those who won’t see
As to my charge of anti-semitism , D. Tecwyn Lloyd’s Welsh language biography of Lewis (John Saunders Lewis , Vol 1, 1988), which I have just re-read makes this matter quite clear. Pointing out that until Lewis’s comments on the Jews there had been no anti-semitic discourse in the Welsh language press, Lloyd says that there was only a ‘difference of degree between the filthy insanity of Julius Streicher in his Der Sturmer in the days of the Nazis’ and Lewis’s comments (p262). He also says given the ‘cruelty and atavistic madness’ which flowed from ‘this most awful prejudice’ – anti-semitism – one may find it ‘strange to see Lewis deploying it’(p261). Nor did Lloyd think Lewis’s own ‘madness’ about the Jews was short lived.
What led Lloyd to such strictures – remembering he was no toady to Britishness but a pretty radical patriot in his own right and a Plaid supporter – was Lewis’s views on the Jews aired in YDG on several occasions, and not casually. As I have said before – to much abuse – Lewis was no mere ‘salon anti-semite’ with a desire not to mix with Jew socially. His was a political anti-semitism . At the heart of this was adherence to the ‘Jewish World Conspiracy’ theory ultimately derived from the forged libel that was the ‘Procols of the Elders of Zion’, as refracted through Lewis’s reading of the deeply anti-semitic French far-Right. Basically this meant that the Jews were, as TS Eliot (another fan of French extremists) put it, ‘underneath the lot’. That is, all evil in modernity, particularly materialism and ‘rootless cosmopolitanism’.
Amongst Lewis’s most virulently anti-semitic writing was reserved for Sir Alfred Mond the founder of ICI, for a time the MP for Carmarthen, and one Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov . Lenin was a gentile of course but identified as a Jew by Lewis, because as Lloyd again says, ‘it is part of anti-semitic prejudice to claim that Jews are the organisers and leaders of all political revolutions – in the service of their own self-interest’. Furthermore, only true believers of the Jewish World Conspiracy theory would lump Mond and Lenin together as ‘Napoleonic Jews’.
‘Napoleonic Jews’: Mond, Marx and Lenin Mond , according to Lewis in YDG in December 1926 was ‘one of the most sinister and dangerous men in the politics of our age’. He is ‘the closest in character to Lenin seen in Britain. Both of them are Jews. ..The strength of such Napoleonic Jews is that they are completely free from the narrow traditions of country and community….Just as Russia was nothing more than a cardboard pawn in the ideas of Lenin so too is Britain only a small corner in the world of Mond’s thought’.
Stressing that it is a ‘vile and a rude thing to try and besmirch a man by calling him a Jew’, Lewis explains that he has to because ‘it is the Judaism of Mond which explains his aims’. He adds: ‘Let it be noted that it is Jews who formulate the economic ideas of the modern world, men like Marx and Lenin and Mond, men who do not inherit any national or community tradition’. And their aims? World domination of course: ‘In a world arranged on an international basis, according to the ideas of Marx or Mond, the Jews would rule. This is the secret fact which clarified Mond’s aspirations’.
Moreover, Mond ‘will achieve his objective when the Christian principles of the discourse of nations are displaced completely and the ideas crowned of a nation which has been homeless (lit:’ffoadur’:refugee or wandering) throughout the world and despised throughout the ages’. For the sake of avoidance of any doubt, Lewis is not here referring to the Swiss.
Y Ddraig Goch and the Judeo-Bolshevik-Capitalist nexus: a cartoon paints a thousand words
The identification of what has been called the Judeo-Boleshevist-Capitalist nexus was the very essence of post First World War anti-semitism. It was a very modern form of an old prejudice with anti-semites seizing on the prominent role which what Robert Wistrich calls ‘non Jewish Jews like Marx’ played in socialist, communist and other radical movements , ‘to construct a new myth of the Jew as the ‘rootless cosmopolitan; enemy of all national values, religious traditions, social cohesion and bourgeois morality’ (Wistrich, Anti-semitism, the oldest hatred, p53). Hitler made the link in Mein Kampf and in later speeches, where he spoke of the existence of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world, in which Jewish capitalists had joined forces with Judeo-Bolshevists. Der Sturmer popularised this critique. Lewis had the same bug.
The cartoon he published in YDG in May 1935 which I brought to the attention of IWA (which you can see here http://www.clickonwales.org/wp-content/uploads/00000001.jpg) can only be understood in this context. It basically shows a Mond –type Capitalist in a conspiracy with a Lenin-type Communist – both racially caricatured, both related– to take both men’s wealth and freedom. I wish I didn’t have to point this out to detractors but the cartoon doesn’t make any sense without understanding that the ‘Judeo’ bit of the ‘Bolshevist-Capitalist’ nexus is inscribed in the drawings. It didn’t have to be spelled out to regular readers of Lewis’s anti-semitic discourse. As Tecwyn Lloyd understood, it’s as plain as their noses. Lewis ‘not anti-semitic’? Yes, and I understand that there is no word for snow in the Eskimo language.
Testament of the Capitalist
The Capitalist to the Communist : my son, I took men’s property from them
and I leave it to you to take away their freedom’.
Hooray says SL:’ Hitler completely abolished the financial strength of the Jews’
When Hitler came to power, Lewis returned enthusiastically to his theme. In welcoming Hitler’s triumph, Lewis in the June 1933 edition of YDG wrote that ‘At once he fulfilled his promise – a promise which was greatly mocked by the London papers for months before that – to completely abolish the financial strength of the Jews in the economic life of Germany. The Jews have been persecuted, doubtless the innocent along with the guilty (lit: ‘niweidiol’:harmful). We do not know, and we weren’t allowed to know, how much Jewish money was paid to the offices of Fleet Street, but there was unanimous and effective propaganda in all the London and English newspapers against Germany. In one day, English opinion which had for years been strongly in support of Germany, was entirely turned against her. The Welsh followed like sheep through a gap’.
Mond remained talismanic for Lewis and indeed Plaid .Even in the depth of the war (November 1941 YDG) he was referred to as one of the ‘estroniaid arriannol’/foreign financiers which were the enemies of Wales. As Plaid blamed the War on userers ( YDG May 1941) and their influence over Parliament and Fleet Street and saw it as a ‘War for English imperialism and the financial supremacy of London’(YDG February 1941), there can be little doubt that the Jews were ‘underneath the lot’ again. Saunders Lewis
‘An advantage to Wales if England loses the War’: Lewis’s ‘neutralism’ took sides
As to that War, not being a pacifist, Lewis didn’t oppose the War on pacifist grounds. Moreover, though Lewis called for Wales and Plaid to be neutral in the War – a position which shocked most Welsh people and many Plaid supporters – until it was clear Germany would lose the War, he was neutral on the side of Germany. While Lewis didn’t advocate taking up arms against England on the side of Germany, he did rather favour a Germany victory in Europe partly because it would accelerate European unity ,partly because it would weaken England, which he saw as Wales’s main enemy and partly because he saw a German victory in the West as the first phase of the main event – the War on Soviet Russia and communism.
It was England he said which kept Wales in servitude (‘ Cendl gaeth yw Cymru’/Wales is an enslaved nation as YDG said in December 1939) and our duty is to worry about Wales not Hitler. In a speech in Llanberis quoted in Baner ac Amserau Cymru (25.1 39) Lewis actually said : ‘one advantage ..which could come to Wales from the war is for England to lose that War and for its empire to be destroyed’. It’s because of such statements that his old Party comrade Ambrose Bebb withdrew from active involvement with Plaid with the outbreak of War – when he had also been shocked by the departure of Breton Nationalist leaders to Berlin to offer active collaboration. Bebb declared at the time in words which speak volumes as to the real Plaid leadership position,’ A victory for Germany would be the greatest of misfortunes, even for us in Wales. Plaid takes one viewpoint, I a different one’.
Nazi Germany forging ‘new European economic unity’ says Plaid…
Up until it became obvious that Germany must lose, Lewis can be found calling for a peace treaty between England and Hitler, on terms which would have favoured Hitler. After all, Plaid blamed England for ‘being responsible for the continuation of the War ‘ (YDG August 1940) and in May 1941 the Party newspaper was still urging ‘the government of England to be reconciled with the Government of Germany, …now that the situation has changed to the disadvantage of England’. Interestingly, YDG warned England in May 1941 that given that German was forging ‘European economic unity’ (and what it regarded as self-sufficiency under German hegemony)even if it did sue for peace, England had to accept a new reality. This is that its previous ‘ability to interfere in continental Europe and to win to it alliances there has ceased to be ‘. This sounds very much like the sort of language collaborators like Henri De man in Belgium and Vichy intellectuals were using in support of the New Order in Europe under Nazi leadership as being superior to a Europe dominated by England.
….and Hitler ‘more human by far’ than Churchil: says Lewis
Lewis himself is on record as preferring Petain to de Gaulle and to condemning the actions of the French Resistance. He also preferred Hitler to Churchill, again on the record . In his Cwrs y Byd column in January 1942 Lewis compared the New Year’s Messages of the Fuhrer and the Prime Minister of his own state.
Here is his considered response:’ Churchill was at his worst and most loathsome. A lot better and more human by far was Hitler’s message to Germany, complaining that the war had confounded so many of his plans for a better world for the people of his country’. Yeah, right. That same ‘neutralism’ was echoed in Lewis’s frankly bizarre , positive , quoting of Himmler in Cwrs y Byd (April 8 1942) about prison camp conditions in Germany offering ‘ a better standard of life and refreshments than are available to unemployed miners in South Wales’.
A coda on Plaid and Fascism: a leadership which was seen and saw itself as in debt to the European far Right
What animated Lewis – as he was very clear about – was the politics and philosophy of the European extreme right, particularly in its French form. Lewis was as a political thinker and as a Christian, no liberal. His masters were not ‘Conservatives’ ( a very English term for a uniquely British political formation ) and Lewis himself is best thought of us a revolutionary of the Right. His masters were Barres and Maurras a recognition of whose ‘greatness’ Lewis still advocated after he and Action Francaise were excommunicated by the Pope, wrongly, Lewis said. These were the founders of a virulent strain of anti-democratic , anti-semitic, extremism which fatally disrupted French politics in the 30s and laid the basis for collaboration with the Nazis in the War – and which Lewis cannot be said ever to have rejected. They influenced him always. Maurras, always got a good rap in YDG even when he became a collaborator – for which he was later sentenced to death. But then warm words were also available for more minnow sized intellectuals of the far right – subsequently collaborators all – such as Robert Fabre-Luce, Henri de Man, Joris Van Severen etc ad nauseam.
YDG supported autocracy in Portugal, Christian Revolution in Spain , Mussolini’s Italy, Petain’s Vichy and , until History started going the other way , Hitler’s New Order in Europe, notwithstanding Lewis’s concerns at Nazi paganism and statism. While Lewis stressed a rhetorical moral equivalence between fascism and his real enemy – England – in reality, he could see advantages for Wales from a German victory in the War and said so. This is no shock given Lewis’s view that England was Wales’s gaoler and oppressor and the greatest threat to her civilisation – not Hitler. His views on the Jews are consistent with his politics and , frankly, with his affiliation to the European Catholic Reaction of the 20s and 30s which had very little positive to say about either the Jews or democracy and which saw in fascism an ally in its bigger struggle against communism , socialism and godlessness.
Condemned not by anti-Catholics or Labour opportunists but because of what they said and did
We have seen that whether or not I am right in describing Lewis on the spectrum of Fascism , others in Wales , many of them Plaid members and Welsh speakers, very few of them ‘protestant bigots’ , were concerned enough at Lewis and his values to air them in terms similar to mine, at the time. They were subsequently vindicated in their eyes by Lewis’s attitude to the War which offended most of the Welsh. All in all, it was not anti-Catholic prejudice or Labour opportunism that damaged Lewis’s and thus Plaid’s standing in the eyes of the Welsh. What damaged them was the ordinary Welsh person’s response to what Lewis and Plaid said and did as the height of the European crisis. It was after all in Plaid’s own heartland , on the rocks at Tryfan above Caernarfon that YDG itself noted that in August 1942 a graffito could be seen saying ‘ Saunders Lewis should be shot’.
‘…gone to the same source as the leaders of Fascism’: Plaid’s own view
I think the words of a Plaid article on a Summer School discussion on fascism in June 1934 sum up the challenge for those who have abused me for drawing attention to the Party’s own positive response to thinkers and politicians of the European Far Right. In explaining that Plaid wasn’t fascist and indeed was an enemy of it because of its statism, YDG (Lewis ) nonetheless notes that :-
‘there are in this political teaching virtues and excellence…One cannot read anything authoritative on the movement in Italy …without falling in love with the ideals of the movement and its patriotic spirit. It can be seen at once that many of the ideals of Fascism…are a very important part of the ideals of the Welsh National Party. Neither accident nor coincidence accounts for that. Nor borrowing for that matter. But rather that we in the Welsh National Party have gone to the same source as the leaders of Fascism to look for vital water with which to renew the desert of our social life. That source is the best traditions of the countries of Europe before the capitalist and industrial revolution that destroyed Christian society and the graciousness of civilisation’.
‘The same source’: that’s about right.
I cannot speak or understand Welsh, but I do write about newspaper depictions of dissident opinion in the period in question. My impression of the cartoon is that it looks similar to others published in German and French publications which were unequivocally anti-semitic. Next time I use relevant archives I shall look for examples. As for the general argument: Dr Williams appears to be a meticulous historian whose objective is to deploy evidence to analyse and interpret the past. Among his critics there appear to be a number who prefer to use history to promote their vision of the future. I prefer Dr Williams’ arguments. As for the argument over translation of a phrase. As I say, i speak no Welsh,. but Dr Williams appears to have conceded that he translated from memory and, surely, the point of significance is that he did not distort the essential meaning of the phrase.
Of all the adjectives one might choose to use to describe Tim Williams’s approach as a historian, contra Tim Luckhurst’s assertion, ‘meticulous’ is surely among the least appropriate. Indeed, the longer this exchange continues, the more obvious it becomes that Dr Williams has failed to engage in any serious way with the book that is the ostensible cause of his increasingly lurid interventions. His latest, extraordinarily long ‘comment’, provides further evidence of seemingly casual disregard for the facts.
So, for example, those relying on Dr Williams’s account of the content of my book may indeed believe that I ignore the fact that Aberystwyth students passed a motion ‘That Welsh Nationalism is Welsh Nazi-ism (sic).’ Apparently it’s ‘Not mentioned by RWJ.’ Those who have actually read the book will know this is another claim that is simply untrue. Indeed, the debate in question is actually the subject of the first paragraph on page 1.
Similarly, those relying on Dr Williams may also gain the impression that I chose not to mention Lewis’s anti-Semitic remarks directed against Alfred Mond and other ‘Napoleonic Jews’. Those who reached page 42 will know better. It’s there. Just after a discussion of the poem ‘Y Dilyw’ which Dr Williams claims that I overlooked. D. Tecwyn Lloyd’s absurd Julius Streicher comparison is also discussed (on page 43.) I could go on. Given, however, that the normal rules of evidence and argumentation do not seem to apply in the case of Dr Williams, there seems little point in doing so.
There is no doubt something admirable about the way that friends of Tim Williams have been rallying to try to save whatever remains of his reputation as a result of these exchanges. Such personal loyalty has much to commend it. But might I suggest that they do those who have tried to engage seriously in this debate the basic courtesy of reading the book themselves rather than relying on Dr Williams’s hopelessly misleading and error-strewn account of its contents?
Once more Tim Williams is shown to have ignored the facts. It may be just carelessness, not a deliberate intention to deceive. Either way, it has now been brought to his attention that his allegation about Plaid Cymru’s newspaper Y Ddraig Goch ‘screaming’ in 1938 that ‘Hitler knows that Wales is a nation’ has no substance. For the second time, will he apologise?
By his own admission Dr Williams has stated that “my book review was done by remote in Australia without access to my own notes from YDG made 20 years ago”. Clearly, it would have been better to have referred to these before writing his review.
This ‘no notes’ Ed Miliband moment hasn’t helped his reputation as a historian and political commentator.
Tim Williams asserts
‘Rob Stradling’s views of both myself and the Spanish Republican cause are legitimate of course – it’s a free country – but again I don’t think it irrelevant that he too ,as far as I remember, has a strong commitment to the Catholic Church. My own secularist views were traduced as’ bigoted’ – though as a Welsh protestant atheist of the left I suspect I have more in common with the Welsh majority than Lewis, Melding or Stradling – when they are themselves parti pris and, I suggest, disposed to favour Saunders and Richard Wyn Jones because of it.’
Rob Stradling replies
Tim and I worked in the same academic department for a year (or possibly two) in the early 1980s. We had a number of common-room conversations at that time. I recall enjoying his company, and in particular being impressed with his courage in exposing (in his doctoral thesis) the paucity of hard evidence behind the myth of ‘the Welsh NOT’. Catholicism may have been one topic we discussed (at this distance, I can’t remember). But by the 1980s I had completely discarded any belief in RC doctrine. For decades, on relevant occasions, I’ve described myself as a ‘cultural Catholic’, in that I retain a strong interest in RC affairs and history. In my writings on early-modern Spain I have – for example – sought to illustrate how Anglo-Saxon colleagues (I’ve no known English ancestor) tend to underestimate or even dismiss the authentically religious motives of Habsburg Spain and its empire. This liberal myopia, certainly related to Butterfield, but also to Kingsley, one-time Professor of History at Cambridge, not to mention Macaulay, Tawney, et al., has seriously distorted our perspectives on Spain. What Spaniards call ‘The Black Legend’ – briefly put, the ‘ruthless cruelty’ of Spanish colonialism and the ‘hypocrisy’ of claiming any religious element in its dynamic – is deeply ingrained in the ‘British’ historical consciousness, to the extent that it dictated reactions to the Spanish Civil War by virtually all contemporaries on the left – but especially so in Wales. I knew not a few academics who disdained to set foot in Spain until ‘the fascist Franco’ (sic) was safely dead; and friends who were revolted by Spanish religious practice (e.g. the public Easter rituals and the parades of pasos and cofradías). Since turning research attention to the later period, I’ve been concerned to expose the shortcomings of Spanish Republican democracy – the most serious of which was the persecution of the Church actually enshrined in its Constitution – and (more importantly) to argue that in terms of atrocity, there is no viable distinction to be made between the two sides. (Orwell’s lot, the POUM – for example – killed more priests in Aragon than did even the Anarchists.) These and similar propositions remain seriously unwelcome to most scholars in the U.K. and (though less so) the US.
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