This is our truth, tell us yours
Cwmardy is a classic novel of Welsh life. It’s also a hard read, possibly harder than it needs to be. It’s written in three languages; English, Wenglish and the self-conscious doublespeak beloved of Communist party activists in the 1930s.
It’s possible to write all sorts of good novels about industrial workers and industrial disputes in their social context. Some such novels contribute to history; Alexander Cordell’s research into the life and sentencing of Dic Penderyn for instance.
Cwmardy shines a light onto the bitter and cruel disputes that marked the long decade after the General Strike and the start of the second world war in South Wales. Unfortunately it’s an obscure light since Lewis Jones was an unashamed communist who wanted to reflect the CP view of life. A certain tension is inevitable given that Jones was, within the CP, something of a dissident, but outside it, a loyal party activist.
In the process the whole novel acquires a slightly unworldly quality. The story it tells is, as is the nature of real life, messy and complicated. Jones was writing about miners, but had ceased to be one some years previously. The CP wasn’t even sure if it wholly approved of organized work within established unions, and the South Wales Miners Fed was still a much looser, more anarchic body than any good Stalinist could praise.
The idea that the story of a dispute can be told more than one way, and often demands a wariness about the intentions of the story teller, hardly needs saying. Nevertheless Lewis Jones was a great writer telling a story that needed to be told, but from within the constraints of a political party he needed but also resisted.
I wish I had the talent to write the real story of places like Nine Mile Point, and the men who had survived war and the trenches only to fnd themselves in an endless trench warfare of resisting scab labour and scab unions in the 30s. It’s a story that deserves to be told.