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Ken Loach - Land and Freedom - Reviewed

Reviewed in Revolutionary History, Vol. 6, No. 2-3, p275-6, summer 1996

In this review, translated by Ian Birchill from El Pais, (14-15 April 1995), Wilebaldo Solano, the former General Secretary of the POUM, replies to the Spanish Stalinist leader Santiago Carrillo, and sees in Loachs film the living image of the extermination of the Spanish Trotskyists by Stalin, culminating in the murder of Andreu Nin. [Note by Revolutionary History]

In a different period Santiago Carrillo would have reacted to a film like Loach’s with coarse insults. At present he has no solution other than to combine a relative and studied moderation with a few deceptions Times have changed a great deal since the collapse of the USR and the crumbling of Stalinism.

It is obvious that Land and Freedom has left Carrillo defenceless. And it even appears that this splendid film, in which Ken Loach dazzles us with the beauty and dramatic quality of his images, has made something of an impression on him. Hence his praise for the characters of David, Blanca and Maite. SO, I shall tell him that ‘the English Communist David’ was inspired by a militant of a friend of mine who is still alive. He came to Barcelona and joined the POUM militias because, during the first months when Stalin was practising the policy of non-intervention, the Communist International forbade the sending of foreign militants to Spain. He, like other British, French and Italian Communist militants, chose to fight with the POUM, and some died on the Aragon front.

Let us specify that, in those days, although the wave of terror in the USSR had begun, it had not yet reached the terrible peak of the first great Moscow Trial. This explains why, in the first months of the revolutionary process, the POUM took part, together with the PCE (Spanish Communist Party), the PSCU (Calatan CP) and the other left organisations, in all the revolutionary bodies and committees, and above all in the Catalan Militia Committee and the Popular Executive of Valencia. And furthermore, this worked in such a fashion because there existed a genuine revolutionary fraternity, and because the aims of all could be summed up as revolutionary war against Fascism, which was the main enemy for everyone. Things changed when the Soviet intervention occurred. Stalin was trying to consolidate an alliance with France and Britain, and the Spanish Revolution was an encumbrance to him or was ‘inopportune’, as was acknowledged by the Communist historian Fernando Claudin.

In 1974, in the film The Two Memories, produced by Jorge Semprun in Paris, Carrillo attributed the repression against the POUM and the murder of Andreu Nin to the Russian intervention. Then, for reasons unknown to us, Carrillo watered down these statements at various times. When he was asked for his testimony for the documentary Operation Nikolai, made by Catalan television (TC-3) with documents obtained from the Moscow archives, he said he did not have the time. Moreover, in spite of the repercussions of this historic film (which, unfortunately, has still not been shown by Spanish Television throughout the country), Carrillo also did not have time to make any comments or give an opinion on one of the most shameful episodes of Stalinist policy in Spain – the murder of Nin.

Anti-Franco unity was broken by the policy which Stalin imposed on the PCE and PSUC, and which Carrillo and his friends followed slavishly. From the time of the trial and execution of Zinoviev, Kamenev and Smirnov (which was denounced as a crime only by the POUM), a policy was initiated which planned to eliminate the POUM, to reduce the influence of the CNT, and later, to eliminate Largo Caballero and the Socialist Left. The purpose was, as is clearly apparent in numerous documents found in the archives of the Communist International, to establish a ‘democracy of a new type’ or a ‘people’s democracy’ like those which were imposed on the countries of Eastern Europe after the Second World War. For this it was necessary to contain the revolutionary process and to go into reverse gear, cancelling the gains of July 1936 (committees, civil liberties, collectivisation in industry and in the countryside, militias, Catalan and Basque sovereignty, regional authorities, etc.) And this is what happened with incredible tenacity and perseverance, violating all democratic, Socialist and revolutionary principles.

Shortly after the May Days of 1937, the repression against the POUM, the offensive against the CNT and the removal of Largo Caballero enabled the PCE to infiltrate itself into the state apparatus, and to control a significant part of the army, the police and the secret services, to reduce Catalan autonomy to a minimal form, to destroy the collectivisations and workers’ control, etc. The consequences of all this were catastrophic for the fight against Franco. Now we know that even General Berzin and other senior representatives of the Soviet state sent as advisors to Spain had the courage to denounce this policy, for which they were sentenced and executed in Moscow.

Many of us hoped that Carrillo and his friends would end up by recognising all these facts, and make a critical assessment of their policy (and not one of those wretched self-criticisms invented by Stalinism.) But it seems that they are persisting in living with the myths and platitudes of Stalinism in an age in which it is necessary to renew a great many things, to destroy that which is no longer useful, and to open a new perspective for the struggle against capitalism and for the Socialist future.

Ken Loach has done no more than draw back the veil from a period of history by evoking a dramatic episode from the Spanish Revolution, and doing so with a talent and a mastery which have taken the breath away from the selfsame Carrillo. We should applaud him, hoping that his work will inspire Spanish filmmakers of the new generation who want to defend historical memory and maintain critical thought.

Wilebaldo Solano

4 other articles about the film

Some articles on the Loach film, Land and Freedom.
One likely to have been supportive of AlexanderMick O'Riordan and Peter O'Connor denounce the film on 30.1.96
International Brigader Bill Alexander Condemns the films politics.
3 supporting the politics of the film Betrayed from within. Veterans of the Spanish Civil War have been inspired to speak publicly about the true story of their struggle by the success in Spain of Ken Loach's new film, 'Land and Freedom' Written by Jonathan Steele in the Guardian, September 29, 1995
The Hidden Story of the Revolution Review by Andy Durgan from New Politics, vol. 6, no. 1 (new series), Summer 1996.




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