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Spring 1936, a young unemployed communist, David, leaves his hometown Liverpool to join the fight against fascism in Spain. He joins an international group of Militia-men and women, the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista). After being wounded he goes to Barcelona, where he decides to join another group of fighters. They remain in Barcelona and end up fighting other anti-fascist groups. David is disappointed and decides to go back to his old band. Written by
Walter de Rijk <W.C.A.de.Rijk@let.uva.nl>
Though set in Spain during the time of the civil war of 1936-39, Loach's film belongs more to the genre of anti-Stalinist cinema than it does to films about Spain. The main theme of the film is the young man's discovery about the reality of the political movement to which he has devoted his life. And the climactic moment in the film is when he rips up his Communist Party membership card.
The crimes of the Stalinists are portrayed throughout the film -- they deny decent, modern weapons to those sections of the front which they do not control; they actively engage in repression against the POUM and the anarchists in Barcelona; in the pages of the British Daily Worker which we briefly see on the screen, we are shown the daily barrage of lies they spread (such as Trotsky's 'support' for Franco fascism).
Anyone who sees this film as simply a black-and-white, good vs evil portrayal of heroic young people aiding the brave Spaniards in their battle for freedom is missing what is, I believe, its main point. It is not primarily about Spain.
Seeing a film like this, I cannot forget the more typical Hollywood portrayals (at least in the last generation) of Communists. A film like "The Way We Were" shows the American Communist Party only during those moments when its positions would today be considered palatable (supporting the Spanish republic, backing Roosevelt and the US war effort in World War II, and later calling for nuclear disarmament).
It doesn't show the time of the Moscow Trials, nor the real role played by the Soviet Union and its agents in Spain, nor the Communist Party's opposition to fighting Hitler and the Nazis in 1939-41, nor the post-war period when the Party did what it could to encourage nuclear proliferation by passing on atomic secrets to Stalin.
Land and Freedom does try to show one of the Comintern's uglier moments, to its credit.
A film like this was made possible by the fact that Loach comes out of the British far left, and the British far left has long been dominated not by Stalinists but by their Marxist opponents -- primarily the Trotskyists of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Whatever disagreements I or others may have with the SWP (and they are many), at least they rejected Stalinism.
What we need are more films like this showing the real role played by Communist Parties all during the history of the Soviet regime. For example a film set in any European country during the period between September 1939 and June 1941 (the time of the Hitler-Stalin pact) which honestly portrays Communist parties as allies of the Nazis (even in occupied countries like Norway and France) would be welcome.
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