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.