Putting a brave lace on it: comrades ot the International Brigade in land and Freedom

Ladybird, ladybird and its dealings with social workers. Characters in this latest film are given ample time to air POUM revolutionary philosophies as well as argue for the Popular Army.

There is a wonderful section where the narrative pauses and the villagers, whom the Militia have just liberated from the Fascists, heatedly and intelligently debate the pros and cons of land collectivisrn. Destiny is placed back in the hands of the people. it is a moment, like many in the film, that simultaneously educates and empassions the audience. The overall story may be a tragedy, but it is a tragedy that is both profoundly moving and joyously uplifting. The film’s political stance cannot be easily dismissed as Left-wing idealism, for Land And Freedom is one of those rare films that reminds us how cinema can indeed be a powerful and expressive medium.

‘We used to say that one good shop steward in a factory was worth ten radical filmmakers.’ says Loach ofthe value of his work, ‘and I think there’s something in that. but it’s a valid thing to do. It does throw something into the general stream of people’s thoughts. Films, by and large, have a fairly small impact because the weight of cinema is so much the other way; it’s so much about reassurance and supporting the status quo, and simply exploiting an audience both in the film and in the p0pcorn. To expect one or two small films to make much impression isn’t realistic, but I think this may be slightly different, and may leave more questions in people’s minds.’

What the film does show - and the reason why

it ultimately holds such a positive message - is that the experience of the Spanish Civil War was not one of across-the-board failure for the Left. ‘lt was a brief moment when the clouds parted and you could see what people could achieve,’ explains Loach. ‘Why it collapsed is important to understand. We can’t just throw up our hands and say. “Well, the Left always divides. they will always fight each other, it will never work”. it was for a very precise political reason that the Stalinists destroyed the Revolution. Remember. it was a detachment of the Republican Army, under Communist control, that put the landlords back in power. We have to understand that; if we understand it, we can deal with it better next time.

‘In Europe, we have over twenty million unemployed, and when you walk through cities, you see homeless people. old people dying in poverty and alone. all the welfare services collapsing. You see so much that needs to be done, and you see the twenty million people who could do it, not able to. This situation cannot go on forever. It may change to the Right, but it will probably change to the Left. There has to be an opportunity, a possibility, for change. And when that happens, we have to learn from experience, just like the ones they had in Spain.’

Land And Freedom opens the Drambuie Edinburgh Film Festival on Sunday 13 August at 8.15pm in the MGM, with a second screening at 11pm. It goes on general release on Friday 6 October.


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The most famous accounts of the Spanish Civil War have been passed down to us in Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls and Orweli’s Homage To Catalonia, giving the impression that this was an intellectual’s tight against Fascism. T he reality, however, was that the vast majority of British volunteers came from working-class backgrounds, their political instincts fired up at a time oi severe unemployment and hunger marches.

Bitter over the British government’s policy of non-intervention, groups of Scots joined up, mostly with the international Brigades. Stories had filtered through about torture and assassinations following the Army’s bloody overthrow of the democratically elected Popular Front - a coalition of felt- wing Republicans, Socialists and Communists - in 1936. The Scottish volunteers tended to come from communities reliant on heavy industries shipyards, toundries, mines - with the largest numbers coming trom Clydeside, Aberdeen, and Glasgow which probably sent more men to the War than any European city outside Spain. it is reckoned that 467 Scotsmen tought in the conflict; 134 died and 30 were taken prisoner.

During the 19203 and early 19303, Glasgow had earned itself the nickname ‘Red City’, as huge numbers at political meetings took place in local hails or in the streets it nowhere else was available. The working-class communities were well versed on the world political situation. ‘lt was the natural way of things that young people lelt that, rather than Just talk , about being anti-fascist, the opportunity had afforded itseit to do something concrete,’ said Barry McCartney, one volunteer.

These men had no romanticised illusions about what they would face; they may have seen it as a ‘crusade’, but a vital one to stop the spread at fascism, already strong in italy and Germany. ‘it was the event of a lifetime, the highspot oi my lite,’ reckoned another international Brigader, Bob Cooney trom Aberdeen. “Freedom is infectious. So we went to Spain so we could defeat Hitler. Those who went to light in Spain were the apprentices ot freedom who became treedom’s crattsmen.’ (Alan Morrison)

Quotes from veterans are taken from Apprentices 0! Freedom by Judith Cook (Quartet, 1979).

The List 1 l-17 Aug 199517