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Issue #1589      April 17, 2013

Ken Loach: Bring back The Spirit of ’45

The outspoken film director renowned for his social-realist directing style, his socialist beliefs, and for turning down an OBE, talks to Amy Hall about why now is the time to reignite the spirit of 1945.

What’s your earliest memory?

Catching my fingers in a collapsing deckchair. I still carry the scar!

What are you politically passionate about?

Where to begin? The cruelties, inequalities and oppression brought about by capitalism and its offspring, imperialism. The corollary in the development of a leadership for the working class that can bring about revolutionary change. That in turn means developing class consciousness and fighting the propaganda that suggests “we’re all in it together”.

Are you hopeful in the people’s capacity to make history?

Yes, the collective strength of working people is irresistible. But I am fearful of the consequences of failure.

Who or what inspires you?

People who fight back. Rank and file trade unionists like the miners and dockers in our country, or the Industrial Workers of the World in the US. The people of Nicaragua, Chile, Cuba and, earlier, Spain, who fought to establish a socialist society against the intervention of the capitalist governments of the US, Britain and others. The Partisans who fought fascism; Palestinians; the people of Western Sahara and all those who resist the vicious oppression of those who take their land and liberty.

Your latest film, Spirit of ’45, is about the building of the Welfare State and the unity of socialism in post-World War Two Britain. What inspired you to make this documentary now?

The period has largely been written out of history because it doesn’t suit any of the main parties. But as the economic system collapses around us I think it’s important to remember these few years when the beginnings of an alternative were starting to emerge.

And in order to tell the memories of people who were active at the time we can’t leave it too long. As the system fails, we need to think creatively about new ways of organising ourselves, because the mass unemployment and cuts and everything else that people are suffering cannot go on indefinitely.

Do you think the same kind of unity and spirit is possible now?

It’s certainly possible, but it would need a major change of consciousness. I think we could do that if we had the leadership and a project which everyone could see was in their interests. We need a strong Left within the unions, a strong Left winning positions in the leadership and cutting the ties with [Britain’s opposition party] New Labour.

The worrying thing is that the 1930s were a very quiet decade politically, with very little industrial conflict, and yet with mass unemployment and deprivation. And in order to generate that spirit we had to fight fascism. The danger is that fascism comes again and we find ourselves in another battle – that would be tragic.

If you could show Spirit of ’45 to anyone who would it be?

I hope the young ones will see it. We showed some young people the [Labour Party] Manifesto of 1945 and they were saying “wow, if only we had that now – that’s what we want”. They were particularly struck by the care to build theatres and concert halls and libraries when now they’re shutting all those things down. They just liked the broad humanity of it, the sense of a decent society.

Some of your previous documentaries were banned. Have you had any problems with this film?

Not really, because it’s made as a cinema film; the ones which were banned were made as television programs. It’s not that people won’t get stuff banned now, but production is so micro-managed that you won’t even get as far as shooting it. Back in the 1980s we could at least get it shot; then, when people found it was saying something they didn’t like, they banned it. Now people can’t get the commissions unless it is seen as acceptable to the establishment.

What’s your biggest fear?

That we do not overthrow the power of the big corporations before the planet is irretrievably damaged.

Where do you feel most at home?

The West Midlands, walking around my home city of Bath, and on the football terraces.

New Internationalist  

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