Activities outside Parliament

True Internationalist Voice from the Valleys

October 2006

In the centenary year of the Parliamentary Labour Party it is pleasing and very appropriate that one of the most distinguished and remarkable members is recognised in an excellent biography. Remaining True: A Biography of Ness Edwards is a fine historical study of the Caerphilly Labour MP during the crucial years from 1939 to 1968 by the present member for the constituency, Wayne David.

I remember hearing Ness Edwards during the 1964 General Election. A fiery orator he was a striking contrast to the quietly spoken David Marquand, the Labour candidate in our Tory constituency. Ness was a siren reminder for the sedate middle class audience in my school hall of that generation of Labour pioneers who has established the Party as a mass party of the working class, a party of resistance against depression and fascism, locally and internally, a party of government, and a party which delivered a comprehensive welfare state to the people of Britain.

Whilst Ness Edwards was in the forefront of all these developments, as union activist, local councillor, Member of Parliament and Government Minister and his personal life-story is Labour's story in the middle decades of the last century, what makes him unique among his peers is that he was very much a renaissance man.

Born in 1897 in Abertillery which had been shaped by local iron-making, steel and coal mining which had created the most radical Chartist, Trade Union and Socialist Movements, Ness Edwards witnessed poverty and personal tragedy at first hand and set about from an early age to overcome adversity by individual and collective endeavor.

Like his contemporaries and fellow miners' sponsored Labour MPs from the South Wales coalfield, Aneurin Bevan, Jim Griffiths, George Dagger and D J Williams, he was very much a Gramscian organic intellectual.

An autodidact, he became alongside so many of his generation, what Neil Kinnock in his admirable foreword to the book 'a man of the people'. He was shaped by his class and his community and gave his life to serving them, 'remaining true' throughout his life, as the title reveals.

His political journey is similar to many other South Wales mining MPs of his generation: A conscientious objector during World War One, a student for two years at the Marxist Central Labour College; a Labour councillor and full time lodge secretary, miners' agent and leading figure in the successful struggle against the scourge of company unionism; and finally an uncompromising tribune of his constituency and a successful Port Office Minister.

What perhaps makes Ness Edwards out as distinctive amongst his contemporaries. I remember how the late Raph Samuel was overwhelmed by the significant copy of Ness' Workers Theatre. What was a rank and file miner doing undertaking such a study of proletarian culture in the midst of the tumultuous struggles of 1926? Alongside this unusual volume were the path breaking volumes on mining unionism in Chartism and the Industrial Revolution, all in South Wales. Here was a working class leader who truly in his life was combining theory and practice.

What also distinguished Ness Edwards was his definition of socialism. He believed that socialism included internationalism and excluded nationalism. This meant that he opposed the introduction of the all-Welsh rule at the National Eisteddfod. He saw Welsh Nationalism and Stalin's Soviet Union as the enemies of socialism and internationalism.

This excellent volume has been beautifully produce by Bruce Print published by Caerphilly Local History Society and was generously supported by the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust.

Ness Edwards held all his socialist views as a 'free believer' and to it is to the credit of his distinguished successor that his story has been faithfully told.

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