Reaction to Land & Freedom
UNDER HITLER’S SHADOW: EUROPE 1929-45
Dr. Anthony J. Steinhoff, HIST 3270, Fall 2010
What seem to be the major sources of conflict between the P.O.U.M. (the group that David, the film’s protaganist joins) and the other leftist/Republican forces?
In regards to the conflicts between the leftist/Republican forces – I think the sources of it are largely ideological. It is not enough, however, to just leave it at that – because it is much more multi-varied and complex. It is my personal opinion that both Socialism and Communism are both overly-idealistic and archetypically conflationary ideologies. They have a pie-in-the-sky egalitarian metanarrative, but always de-evolve into hegemonic totalitarianism because they throw out so many other dynamics in the formulation of their steadfast assumptions. Both Socialism and Communism necessarily must include the idea of ‘the other,’ (which in Marxist ideology is the “bourgeoisie”) and that it is oppressing a ‘victim,’ (rhetorically defined as the “Proletariat”). Marxism (and Socialism, to a lesser degree, but arguably still on the same ideological-political continuum) uses this ‘us’ vs. ‘them’/’victim’ vs. ‘oppressor’ dichotomy to gain a degree of purchase with its audience.
The issue is that it is a reactionary dynamic – in terms of its teleology – and therefore necessarily has an intrinsically reactive ontology. Therefore, it is not something that you just ‘put to bed,’ as it were. Hence, once a controlling totalitarian figure (Stalin, in this case) co-opts its energy, it suppresses the non-submissive groups forcefully, just as it had itself forcefully asserted its own growth. In the film, the P.O.U.M. is referenced as being a ‘trotskyian’ group. Trotsky trumpeted the idea of a “continued revolution” – which was against the interest of the Stalinist control, hence it was oppressed. As is typical of reactionary dynamics – the reaction is more often then not worse then that which caused it. This is a motif that is born out in the movie. They organize to defeat the fascists – but in the end – are brutally oppressed and killed by those who would otherwise be their ideological partners and friends. In virtually every case countries with communist or strong socialist tendencies are ruled by the fist of a strong man – and not the collective will of the people.
If David had been a real person, do you think he would have regretted ever going to Spain to fight?
I think he would have.
I tried to make it a point to not do any research on Ken Loach, the producer of Land and Freedom. The reason for this – is that I am pretty sure that he is trying to make a political statement, and I wanted to try to maintain an even-handed review/reaction. I think the words that are spoken by the character in the end, “had we succeeded here – we could have changed the world,” are more then just the character speaking, but I suspect that he is a foil for the feelings of the director/writer, in that I suspicion that it may well represent a deeper statement of frustrated futility on his part. Looking back, even if you make an effort to objectively look back at this time in political history – it is a huge mess. It is a series of abusive governments, succeeded by thugs who evolve into even worse oppressors – all the while trumpeting such and such wonderful ideals while paving the way with the bones of both enemies and selves. It is a history literally written in blood. There are always lofty ideals – and brute force tyranny behind them. I think that the most telling aspect is that David does what most people would do; or more importantly, wish that they might be able to do (which he could – unlike most others): get back/immigrate to Britain.
I think that he would have recognized that there were no good guys in the whole affair – only people being controlled by others with dogmatic idealisms, which promised freedom and land – but in the end brought slavery and utter poverty.
3) Why do you think Loach decided to name his film “Land and Freedom”?
His argument is that that is essentially what the people are fighting for. The irony in the statement is that by definition, property ownership is taboo – so that if there is any ownership of anything, it is to be by everybody – hence the scene of the protracted argument over what do to with the property of the executed priest. Most (if not all) anti-capitalist groups – with their anti-meritocratic leanings – claim to represent fairness in “freedom” and “land” but historically these have been empty promises. Everything is eventually taken from everybody by force – and only a select few are self-appointed adjudicators (ironically, a functional hegemony) over the presumed proletariat. I think that Loach makes an effort to humanize the insurgents. The words of one of the characters that the insurgency was “Socialism in Action” is a telling phase. Several times I thought to myself – how many years down the road will we be watching Iraqi/Afghanistan insurgents falling in love, singing songs, and eating together on film, perhaps on A&E or a Showtime Television ministries. I am sure that it would win many awards and be warmly received by the critics.
Would a Nationalist (Franco-backer) agree with this decision?
No – I don’t think that they would. The nationalists were ideologues functionally (in terms of how the actual outcome of things would serve to be, not in terms of what they claimed to represent) bent on self-preservation as well. In the end – everything is rhetoric; there are no true Kantian absolutes. They would argue against these terms in terms of serving their larger ideological goals. To both groups, the terms of “land” and “freedom” are merely rhetorical postulates employed for the purposes of propaganda. There is no doubt that each would claim and argue to accurately represent and embody each – in terms of how each functioned, in the end; they merely served as an antithesis to each.
Today, there is a lot of talk of ‘postcolonial’ and ‘deconstruction’/ ’anti-foundationalist’ theory. A number of writers/theoricians who represent these schools of thought, are themselves avowed Marxists. The character of William Ayers, who was put on trial for a terrorist bombing and who was a founding member of the Weather Underground, a 60’s radical, Marxist group, later “grew up” and literally became a college English professor. He could easily be a modern real life “David.” Ayers was recently in the news, because he was denied Emeritus status by the Iowa Board of Regents. Christopher Kennedy, son of slain Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, put it pointedly when he said “I am guided by my conscience and one which has been formed by a series of experiences, many of which have been shared with the people of our country and mark each of us in a profound way.” He then went on to state that he could not give the honor of the title “to a man whose body of work includes a book dedicated in part to the man who murdered my father.”
The Marxist/anti-Capitalist thinking of the 1930’s has abandoned the battlefield, and all of its frustrations, for the fields of young minds offered in the University. Today, the rhetorical dialog of delineating “the other” goes on; as well as their demonization of what they perceive and endlessly expound as being the greed of the rich and the exploitation of the masses by greedy capitalists. Recent economic hardships brought on in part by the legitimate abuses of some capitalistic systems, has reignited the conversation – and the ghost of Marx is once again filling the heads of an idealistically-driven generation with dreams of complete equality and financial prosperity and whom, more importantly, are willing to put up a brutal fight for it. But is this possible? Or – as did David discovered – will we merely once again fight among ourselves, only to once again bring ourselves under the thumb of a merciless tyrant? Unlike David, we won’t be able to just run back home to our family. We will be buried on our own battlefield – under our own soil.