Ken Loach speaks to Neil Faulkner about the inspiration behind his new film The Spirit of '45 and how a new struggle is needed to defend the Welfare State
Veteran director Ken Loach has been making radical films since the 1960s. His work is noted for its gritty realism, vivid depictions of working-class life and struggle, use of ordinary people as actors, and the spontaneity of performance and camera-work.
Loach’s films include such classics as Cathy Come Home (1966), Kes (1970), Which Side Are You On? (1985), Land and Freedom (1995), Carla’s Song (1996), My Name is Joe (1998), Bread and Roses (2000), and The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006). They range from documentary exposés of social conditions, through raw-edged reconstructions of working-class experience, to the high drama of mass struggles like the Irish War of Independence, the Spanish Revolution, and the Miners’ Strike of 1984/85.
His new film, The Spirit of 45, is on general release from 15 March, and is scheduled to be shown in 40+ cinemas, with Q&A sessions afterwards, across Britain on Sunday 17 March. The film is in documentary format and combines original footage with the voices of participants. Its main theme is the building of the welfare state in the 1940s, its sub-theme the attack on it which began in the 1980s and is now reaching a critical point. And the message is clear: either we unite and build a mass movement of resistance to austerity and neoliberalism – or we lose the welfare state.
We spoke to Ken Loach about his reasons for making the film and his thoughts on the state of the Left.
Why did you decide to make this particular film now?
It’s a period that’s been written out of history. The 1945 Labour Government had a great programme of reform that reflected how society was thinking coming out of the war. People had won the war collectively – there was no other way to do it – and they thought instinctively that they should then go on to make the peace collectively.
This was a very powerful sentiment, but it was destroyed by Thatcher and her ideology of the individual in the 1980s, and this is now dominant in all three main parties.
We used to think you face problems and overcome them as a society, together, collectively. But now people are atomised. And this is really a form of class repression. Because working people have to unite and work together if they are to change things.
You chose a documentary format for The Spirit of 45 rather than drama. Why was that?
The people who were alive and active then, in the Forties, are now old and they won’t be with us forever, so it seemed important to record their experiences and feelings while it was still possible.
The other thing is that, with a documentary, you use the actual pictures, so no-one can accuse you of making it up, which they can always say about drama.
You use black-and-white film even for the modern interviews intercut with the contemporary footage. Why is that?
It’s very irritating, I think, to be constantly jumping from black-and-white to colour, but it also makes the way the film bursts into colour at the end much more vivid. The footage we use at the end is from the time – from 1945 – which makes it even more effective.
Why, in your view, did we get the welfare state after the war, and why is it now under attack?
The 1930s was a fairly quiet period for industrial struggle. But then people were organised collectively to win the war. There was state planning, some public ownership, full employment, and so on. The whole community was organised as a single force with a single aim. It seemed obvious to people that that was a good way to get things done. The general view after the war was that we should now do the same to create a better life.
But the Labour Government were social-democrats, not socialists. The reforms were popular, but they were largely accepted at the top as a way of helping capital to make money. The nationalised industries and public services created a better framework for capitalism at the time. They weren’t seen as an end in themselves, so you didn’t get investment in the state-owned industries or any kind of workers’ democracy inside them.
Because of that structure, they fell into disrepair. By Thatcher’s time, it was possible to make privatisation look like the progressive thing to do. This fitted with the fact that capitalism was in a long-term downward spiral. The profits were not there. The squeeze was on. The space for social-democratic reform had disappeared.
So how do we save the welfare state?
There is no middle way. A sort of compromise was possible after the war, but not now. Capitalism is out to destroy the welfare state.
So far, the Left has failed to meet the challenge. There have been numerous abortive attempts to get the Left together. Nothing has come of any of them. We have to face up to that failure and get everyone involved in a united movement.
The left in the unions, the left in the Labour Party, the small left parties, groups like UK Uncut and Occupy, the various campaign groups, everyone has to come together.
If people hang onto their own identities, if they refuse to support each other’s events, if we cannot avoid the egos and the sectarianism, that will kill it. We have to overcome this.
Ken Loach is a lead signatory on The Guardian letter supporting the call for a People’s Assembly on 22 June this year. Register now for what is looking to become an historic event that will launch the kind of united mass movement against austerity we so desperately need.
From the Coalition of Resistance site
Neil Faulkner is a freelance archaeologist and historian. He works as a writer, lecturer, excavator, and occasional broadcaster. His books include ‘A Visitor’s Guide to the Ancient Olympics‘ and ‘A Marxist History of the World: from Neanderthals to Neoliberals‘.
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