Land and Freedom

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I happened to catch another viewing of Land and Freedom by Ken Loach this week.

What makes it a particularly unique movie is that it is a critique of the left from the left.

A young British communist travels to Spain to defend the the Republic and finds himself in a militia composed largely of anarchists and PUOM members ( independent Marxists ). The main character initially embraces the philosophy of collectivism and revolution now until an injury causes him to re-think his position while in convalescence. He decides to reject the cause of his lover ( an anarchist ) and join up with the better armed communist fighters. A battle between the two factions occurs and he ultimately goes back to his old militia partially no doubt to return to his lover.

There are two scenes in the movie that resonated with me. In one, workers of a local village have a forceful debate about whether to instantly collectivize a former land owner’s property. Their argument is simple: it is the only way to ensure that everybody eats. One man argues against it, essentially saying the land he works has produced because of his labor. The village wants to institute the principles of revolution immediately. Several militia members participate and one of the speakers cautions against it saying that it is wiser to fight against the forces of fascism, and worrying about the actual revolution later.

Later toward the conclusion of the movie, the militia is confronted by the communist forces and ordered to join up and put down their weapons. A verbal confrontation leads to an armed one and the results are predictable, a few defiant militia members are killed and the rest concede.

Loach’s vision is obvious: that the mainstream communist forces in Spain betrayed possible revolution and were more than willing to sacrifice the idealistic aims of the anarchists, independent Marxists, and peasants. Clearly, this is a simplistic view, neglecting the reality that the world community was reluctant to intervene save Mexico and Russia, and ultimately the Nationalist forces had an actual professional fighting army.

Americans joined the international effort in the Abe Lincoln Brigade and Canadians formed the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion. A memorial to the Abe Lincoln Brigade was dedicated in San Francisco this year.

It seems astonishing today that motivated people would join up to fight against Fascism with little government backing, on the spot training, and little to gain personally when we live in a world buffeted by things that keep us from a distance from one another and from all those ungrateful foreigners who just don’t appreciate Americans.

And I cannot help but contemplate Loach’s mournful message of betrayal. I am almost glad I cannot vote and while I would support the Dem candidate and I agree that is the pragmatic and most realistic goal for now, I must ask: how long am I expected to do this?

A presidential Dem must by virtue of being forced to appeal to the vast middle, betray progressives, shy away from any discussions about class and race lest they fuel the right. Americans don’t want change. They want reassurance. Obama for all his talk of hope and change is really a milder version of Reagan (minus some of the retrograde policies ), making people “feel good” because in the end that is what Americans want.They want to feel good. Clinton, for all of her blather about experience, brings experience that still assumes American supremacy. Both of them want to maintain hegemony.

Progressives are constantly reminding one another that the preventing the ascension of McCain takes priority over all else. Makes sense. But what if McCain wins even if I make my paltry donations? I won’t call myself a Dem, not truthfully that I ever did.

I blame the Republicans for the sorry state of our union not the Dems. But. I blame the Dems for being quislings, cowards, corporate appeasers, for constantly ignoring the American people and for making them think things will be different. The absolute best I can hope for is a less rightist Supreme Court if he or she wins and who knows if I can even trust them on that?

Progressives, independent leftists,and independent thinkers who don’t fit easily into a box will all be betrayed for pragmatism in the end. Pragmatism will create the illusion that we have set a new course.

There is some conventional wisdom in politics that leftists critique from the left and end up governing from the right. In other words they tend to be great in opposition. Not that we will ever find our here in the United States. The Democratic party is afraid of the American people, the Republican party just despises them.

Maybe Ken Loach was engaging in revisionist and naive fantasy history when he suggested that the worker rebels were betrayed and punished both by fascists and communists and that they ever had a hope of fashioning their vision. A realist would agree.

The realist in me expects very little even if we get a Dem president. Better than the alternative, but still a bitter stew.


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  1. I guess I reached a little too far with my comparisons, but what the hell. It is Saturday.

    • pfiore8 on April 26, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    we keep fighting the biological response to give into “might is right”

    and that’s the basis of pragmatism… not to fight something stronger, with more resources, yadda yadda yadda

    but intellect, growing and becoming more bold over these five or six millennium… is recognizing that we don’t have to adhere to that old paradigm anymore

    like the lawyer from Boston Legal… you don’t have to do what everybody tells you is pragmatic… because it isn’t always about winning

    pragmatic has to begin to mean standing on principle.  

  2. I read a great bio of Hannah Arendt by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, “For Love of the World.”  Arendt’s husband, Heinrich Blucher, was a member of the Communist Party after they moved from Europe to America during WWII.

    The Soviet Union had a stranglehold on the party in America, and it took a long while for the American Communists to realize what a butcher Stalin was.

    Arendt wrote about Blucher and those who very early realized the problems of the party and left it:

    Communism placed a decisive role in their lives.  Their chief responsibility was engaged there and their prominence, as long as it lasted, was the result of political activities.  Among their common characteristics is that they left the Party early; they were sufficiently informed to sense, if not to know articulately, the stages by which a revolutionary party developed into a full-fledged totalitarian movement, and they had their own criteria to judge this.  These criteria may not appear sufficient in the light of what we know today.  They were enough then.  Important among them were the abolution of inter-party democracy, the liquidation of independence for various national Communist parties and then total submission under the orders of Moscow.  The Moscow Trials, which were in many respects the turning point in this whole history, concluded the process.

    Young-Bruehl adds:

    The former Communists were, in Arendt’s understanding, a totally different breed from the postwar ex-Communists for, unlike the ex-Communists, they “neither looked for a substitute for a lost faith nor … concentrated all their efforts and talents on the fight against Communism.”

    (emphasis mine).  I always found that bolded part very interesting and have never forgotten it.

    I don’t think we have a viable left in America today.  I think we have new information and tools to revitalize the values that have always made the left attractive to folks like us.

    I agree that even with a Democratic President and Congress, those issues I care about most deeply will not be addressed.  But I also have no problem voting Dem, because I don’t have those kinds of expectations towards them.  Two separate issues to me.

    For although I agree completely that the Dem leadership in Congress has been completely ineffectual in stopping these criminals, there are Dems in Congress who have done the right thing and who will continue to fight … and I support individual local candidates running for office as well and have contributed to their campaigns.

    We need a new paradigm, and I think one has emerged … it’s left for us to discover it and join with folks of like mind to move that paradigm forward into reality.  We have a chance to do that with a Dem Congress.  There is no chance at all with the Repub party.

    • brobin on April 26, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    Because when you have the ability to take a stand, you have the ability to just walk away and not take that stand.  I know for damned sure you would vote for whom you felt would be the best representative for YOU, locally and nationally.

    That is how it should be.  Only the closed minded do not understand that simple premise.

  3. a Spanish Civil war vet and  life long activist died recently, I might try and do an essay on him.

  4. I live in a solidly R area, far west Texas where W claims to be from, and it is changing here.  Our Democratic caucus had historical turnout, almost everyone I spoke with was astonished to find out they weren’t the only Democrats in our small town.  Perhaps the most amazing event was the old cowboy who had voted for Bush twice and was enraged enough to caucus, run for delegate to county and show up there–for Obama!  Don’t give up yet folks, it will take effort but it will be worth it.  I see all around me plain good people who are now recognizing that they were bamboozled by the Rs.  They are turning and more importantly they have very long memories.  It won’t be nearly so easy to frighten them into voting against their self interest next time.  What we need to do now is win and then deliver.    

  5. and was surprised that a filmmaker would suspend the action for so long to have a scene like that. Very much like the scene in Loach’s film The Wind That Shakes the Barley, where there is a debate over the justice of a ruling by a Republican court during the Irish civil war.

    • Diane G on April 26, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    I have nothing of substance to add to this or the great conversation after; just I love this place. 🙂

    • Turkana on April 26, 2008 at 11:24 pm

    with the theocrats, kleptocrats, and neocons, and a party that is the theocrats, kleptocrats, and neocons. the former isn’t nearly as bad as the latter, but anyone expecting real change understands neither what real change will necessitate nor what it will mean. as gore says, we first need a change in consciousness. and that’s why he didn’t run. and that’s why those who are running aren’t even in the right paradigm.

  6. For me, at least, the answer to this question . . .

    I am almost glad I cannot vote and while I would support the Dem candidate and I agree that is the pragmatic and most realistic goal for now, I must ask: how long am I expected to do this?

    . . . is “one more time.  Just one.”

    Obama and the Dems gets four years to end the occupation of Iraq and begin restoring the Constitution.  If they can’t bring themselves to do that, then I won’t be able to bring myself to vote for them again.

    • Viet71 on April 27, 2008 at 1:58 am

    pragmatism.  It’s always happened.

    The people need leadership.

    Two or ten million marchers will sign up.

    But we need leaders.  Leaders who understand what the 3 branches of government represent.

    The 1st Amendment carves out a wide area.

  7. I have always expected to be sold down the the river by the Repugs, but the virtually total sellout by the dems is truly disillusioning.

    I blame the Dems for being quislings, cowards, corporate appeasers, for constantly ignoring the American people and for making them think things will be different.

    Too tragically true.

    • Temmoku on April 27, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    I went to see it when it opened out here in Chicago at the Music Box…an hour and a half drive for me….it was a tremendous film. I have the DVD of it.

    Like all grassroots movements, it was taken over and bullied by the “official” movement. A true people’s movement was viewed as threatening to the “official” line and needed to be controlled. Fascism has its center and its control over everyone including the clergy which distrusted the egalitarianism of the grassroots….it was significant how the women felt disenfranchised when the “Party” came in and “straightened” the lefties out. The move toward uniting under a more “moderate”-type umbrella as the Soviet-controlled left really destroyed the “purity” of the movement. And, as such, the lack of central organization and the betrayal of the grassroots ensured that the Left would never be able to defeat the superior organization and ultimate goal of a more focused enemy led by Franco. But the spirit of the movement still lived….it still lives.

    A lot of messages are there and warnings too. Staying on message is one. Not betraying the grassroots is another. Incorporating rather than alienating….etc…etc.

    I loved this film. It never could have been made in the US. Our mindset cannot conceive of it.

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