Part of the series Wales’ next step
You may be among those that have asked, so what’s the story? Or reflected on a question that is asked fairly often, namely: ‘Why?’
What follows sets out some considerations on the purpose of Undod, at this time.
The starting point is the need for a group that clearly articulates the kind of independent, socialist Wales we need to develop. Where YesCymru and AUOB Cymru are organisations that campaign for the principle of independence, the role of Undod is to express the potential of that independence in terms of creating a fairer Wales, one which takes care of people and the environment alike.
The response of many considering the question of independence for Wales is to ask how it would change things. Our job is to articulate the possibilities for everyone. Rather than being an unnecessary diversion from YesCymru, therefore, it’s a natural development of a maturing movement; we can look northwards to the success of the Scottish independence movement developing through numerous groups, among them Radical Independence.
Some may want to insist that such activity can take place within our parties, as Plaid Cymru has always included the nationalist left, while a large percentage of the Labour Party’s voters now express support for independence, and the Labour for an Independent Wales group represents members of that ilk.
One obvious response to that suggestion, of course, is that they are composite parties that weaken or even dismiss the relevant arguments and ideas. Yet the emphasis that people place on the importance of parties is understandable in a society where we have tended, on the whole, to assume that it is parties that ‘do’ politics, and that any supplementary activity takes place in the third sector and the public sector.
It has not helped this perception that the trade unions – to a large extent – have disappeared from the political consciousness (although the Corbyn era drew our attention to them a little more, and this crisis has given them a voice). With the exception of the language movement, there has been little public recognition of other campaigners in Wales for some time.
Thanks in part, however, to YesCymru and AUOBWales, and our embryonic alternative media, you have probably noticed that that is starting to change, and this is a fundamental part of the change that we need.
Broadening what ‘politics’ means
There is an urgent need to raise awareness about how politics happens in every aspect of our society, in the everyday life of all of us – from our homes to distant international organisations. As a whole, we are less aware than previous generations of how the politics of a nation is affected by all sorts of developments, not just political party events.
This is no accident: it is partly an effect of Thatcherism, partly an effect of a deliberate ploy by a professionalised political culture, which has led us to overlook the fact that influence is possible. This reflects the way in which our civil society has been distanced from party politics. The organic links between the professionalism and structures of the parties and people’s everyday lives are much weaker.
So if we are to have the opportunity to exercise that influence, we need to understand how political power works, and how people’s attitudes are shaped. The contemporary culture that has rejected reflective discussion has led to a lack of respect for individuals and broad sections of society. A three-word slogan has dethroned reason. So we need to enable each other to think in different terms. This is work that Undod can contribute towards, to join the dots around us so that we know what we’re dealing with.
This political culture is a serious weakness, of course – beyond the considerations of the movement for independence. As you take an increasing interest in politics in Wales, it becomes increasingly obvious that our public sphere – that space where society’s ideas permeate the political institution and influence it – is extremely brittle and ineffective. The most obvious example for all of us is the lack of an influential media in Wales that communicates to, and reflects the majority of our population – a media that could lead national conversations (one which the Welsh Government currently craves during the pandemic, despite spending the last 20 years ignoring the call to devolve broadcasting).
So, another political movement, one that is intended to attract people from all walks of life, that aims to contribute and campaign at a community level, and which has the hope of acting now in order to create the Wales of the future, is a development that can help to respond to a definite need within our contemporary society.
The path to independence
Of course there is a particular need to consider how another organisation can contribute to the aim of moving Wales towards independence – in a nation that has been at best somewhat conflicted about the principle of autonomy. It is fitting for us to look to political developments in Catalunya and to a lesser extent in Scotland, where civil society has been at the forefront.
In terms of pushing and developing the independence agenda, what was notable in the case of Catalunya was the influence of grassroots organisations, contrary to the ‘established’ pattern of parties leading the way. A strong element of that was also seen in Scotland, even though it was the SNP that placed independence on the agenda through its manifesto: as the referendum became a reality, an independence movement flowered and the political discourse was transformed. A great deal of good resulted from the referendum in terms of the wider political culture of the country- which no doubt influenced the quality of the debates around Brexit (do you remember that?).
In Catalunya the usual pattern was inverted more radically as parties of all colours responded to the surge in activity and campaigning. In the case of a country such as Wales, where traditional political force has been bound (so far) to the Union and Westminster, and where the mechanisms for influencing that power inufficiently developed, the work will be more difficult.
Yet the current ongoing crisis (of which Covid-19 is the latest episode) – and the growing suffering of communities across the country – has created the necessary conditions for change. Under the circumstances, what could change the situation drastically is a chorus of voices from outside the political establishment – in order to promote the need and aspiration for change.
The importance of a movement
The aim of parties is to gain power through the constitutional process (voting, elections, local and national government institutions); the intention of a movement is to transform political reality through activity in communities and organisations.
There would naturally be an expectation of overlap between two such entities, but while one concentrates on persuading the electorate to vote for them, the other is free to devote itself entirely to the principles and ideals that drive it.
There is a very different dynamic between a party – which feels the pressure to respond to current political realities and is consequently constrained in its policies and actions – and a movement which does not aim to win votes, but which has the freedom to promote its principles in an uncompromising manner, seeking to transform the political situation. Moreover, whilst one naturally focuses campaigning on knocking doors to win votes, a movement such as Undod will look first to try and change circumstances in local communities. Politics does not just happen in a parliament and other formal institutions such as councils. It’s in the food on the table, the roof over your head, and the work you do. And in the absence of those things.
In this respect, Undod’s emphasis on addressing the challenges communities face now is key, as is the need to imagine Wales anew, and to try to influence for the better. With two so-called progressive parties in Parliament, one of which has had its hands on power since the beginning, there is room for scrutiny and criticism from the outside and increasing ambition, emphasising the radical possibilities every time. This is our intention in the coming months as we seek to restore Wales in the face of Covid-19.
Cometh the hour
Considering the historic moment that we are living through, the creation of transformational images of Wales are of paramount importance – and to discuss what is possible to the most radical degree. Not just in order to influence parties, but to offer hope and an ideal to the wider society.
It is a dangerous, scary time; we do not yet know the nature of what is to come, but we know enough to recognise – in the face of a combination of Covid-19, the unhinged nature of Brexit, the climate of extreme intolerance it has engendered, and the high tide of neoliberalism and austerity – that an explosion is possible. And let us not forget, above and beyond all this is the climate crisis.
It is increasingly obvious to many of us that all this is linked with extreme capitalism, and this enemy of our well-being is now facing a mountain of damning evidence – not least the climate emergency, driven by the consumption at the heart of our system. But a cornered enemy is a dangerous one, willing to do anything to preserve wealth in the hands of the privileged few.
One can grasp in the ideas of the Sardinian Antonio Gramsci the possibilities and also the dangers of such a time, as political reality reveals itself to society; Covid-19 exposes the grim attitude of the Tories and the British state towards the working class and the people of Wales.
His greatest admirer here in Wales, the famous historian Gwyn Alf Williams, emphasised the need for a mass movement in order to challenge the hegemonic (dominant, omnipresent) force: one to ‘serve’, to ‘liberate and clear a path’, a movement which Gramsci, ‘if he had been a Welshman, would have called the gwerin’s struggle to secure its republic.’
We need that hope and vision now. We need a clear path ahead. We know from history what can happen to people under siege and under stress when there is no hope. During different periods in the past, there has been an ideal to enable the people of Wales – as Gwyn Alf and Emyr Humphreys both argued – to recreate themselves. That is the type of reinvention that we need.
It is in such circumstances that offering a detailed, practical vision for an alternative Wales, and working now to achieve it, is necessary – a vision that also offers food for the soul, a stimulus to the spirit, and one that, above all, emphasises that love and compassion can conquer.
We ask you therefore to reflect on the thoughts above, to consider joining the cause, and to contribute to the effort to change Wales – and the wider world – for the better.
Rali Caernarfon photo by Dafydd Owen
GIF by Tad Davies