Academic journal article Capital & Class

Welsh Devolution as Passive Revolution

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Welsh Devolution as Passive Revolution

Article excerpt

There is a dearth of critical, theoretical analyses of Welsh devolution (Goodwin et al. 2006). There has recently been a welcome return of critical works on state restructuring and rescaling, particularly within the field of economic geography (e.g. Cooke and Clifton 2005; Curtice and Seyd 2009; Goodwin et al. 2005; Hudson 2007; Jones et al. 2005a, 2005b; Morgan 2006, 2007; Rodriguez-Pose and Gill 2005). These works have successfully demonstrated that devolution was not accompanied by the transfer of any powers which might have facilitated the improvement of the Welsh economy, thereby rendering the notion of devolution as an 'economic dividend' (one of the main 'selling points' of devolution) rather ludicrous, as well as criticising the Welsh government's economic strategy, which has perpetuated Wales' position as a 'lumpen region'

within the world economy (Walker 1978). Yet, these sophisticated geographical analyses are primarily concerned with 'the territorial reconfiguration of state capacities' (Jones et al. 2005b: 338), that is, the 'interior' branches or state apparatuses which have altered with devolution (Poulantzas 1969: 248)--they do not analyse the political processes of devolution. This article offers a new theoretical lens through which devolution and subsequent political events in Wales (and indeed Scotland and Northern Ireland) may be approached.

This article argues that Welsh devolution is best understood as a process of passive revolution. Passive revolution is a moment within the history and development of the state, whereby seemingly radical changes to society are in fact carefully managed in a way which preserves capitalist hegemony. (1) The concept has recently undergone a fecund renaissance (e.g., Morton 2007a; 2010; Thomas 2009; 2013) and has been usefully applied to empirical case studies of state restructuring and modernisation across a diverse range of developed and developing countries, including Scotland (Davidson 2010), Turkey (Tugal 2009), Mexico (Hesketh 2010; Morton 2011), Bolivia (Hesketh and Morton 2014), Brazil (Del Roio 2012), South Africa (Satgar 2008), Russia (Simon 2010), Germany (Bruff 2010) and Venezuela (Brading 2014). The concept of passive revolution, underpinned by a re-reading of the post-war British state as a historic bloc, allows us to understand the political developments which have occurred in Wales since devolution.

Bruff (2010) importantly reminds us that passive revolution was conceived by Gramsci at least in part as a heuristic concept that enables Marxists to understand 'the history of modern states and class struggles ... in terms of both general trajectories and historical specificities' (Morton 2007b: 612). More than most, then, passive revolution is a living concept--like Marxism itself - which was meant to 'travel' (Said 1983). Yet, this is not to say that it is a 'one size fits all' concept which may be rigidly imposed onto diverse national experiences: like Bruff's analysis of Germany, this analysis of the Welsh experience uses passive revolution as a framework for understanding developments on the ground. While devolution fits the bill of a passive revolution in many ways, in others, the fit is clearly imperfect and incomplete.

Wales and the British state

Part of the reason that devolution has not been adequately theorised and understood in Wales is because popular understandings of the state in Wales tend to oscillate between a reading of the British state as either inherently exploitative (a position still commonplace among Welsh nationalists) or as essentially benevolent (a reading popular with the Labour party in Wales). The former interpretation is best associated with Michael Hechter's (1975) Internal Colonialism, which characterises Wales as standing in a 'classically' colonial relationship with England, with the state deliberately extracting a surplus from Wales, which is then locked in a state of dependency. …

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