New Internationalist

Ken Loach: Bring back the Spirit of ‘45

April 2013

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 trades 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 organizing 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 programmes. 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.

  1. * The Spirit of '45 is out on DVD on 15 April 2013.

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 461 This column was published in the April 2013 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

Comments on Ken Loach: Bring back the Spirit of '45

Leave your comment


  • Maximum characters allowed: 5000
  • Simple HTML allowed: bold, italic, and links

Registration is quick and easy. Plus you won’t have to re-type the blurry words to comment!
Register | Login

  1. #1 Calcutta 05 May 13

    Congratulations on turning down the OBE; Calcutta is an admirer of Ken Loach films in general.

    However, bringing back the spirit of '45, from an internationalist perspective, is also bringing back the colonies with accelerated post-WWII pillaging as in the suppression of the Malaya rubber plantation uprisings using concentration camps (an original British empire tactic anyway), brutal suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya (not to mention the naval rebellion in India).....and then fixing the global financial order through Bretton-Woods and commodity prices (basically commodity=imperial booty) to ensure Britain continues to financially punch way above its weight to create the Keynesian ’neverland’ where the left will eternally play around like Peter Pan & Wendy, not wanting to grow up. Nobel laureate author JM Coezee has referred to this denial of responsibility of the past as the ultra-successful post imperial ’collective guilt management’ of the most successful of empires (see his ’Diary of a Bad Year)....

    Keynes, by the way, according to testimony in Graham Farmelo's biography of Dirac published recently, used to spy on the left wing pro-Soviet Cambridge academics in the inter-war years and supply information on them to the MI5 or its pre-war equivalent...hence what he said about creating a welfare state on the imperial pillage is understandable. It was not because Keynes thirsted for truth and justice but was the architect of cold-blooded mass guilt-management and re-branding of post-war Britain, thwarting a social revolution in communistic lines.

    The spirit of '45 from the rulers' angle is largely based on this guilt-management and the common problem for the lefties of this Keynesian ’neverland’ is that, the historical perspective has changed....the rulers, alas, no longer want to pay so much for keeping communism at there aren't that many colonies (and the elite of the ex-colonies have woken up to get a greater share of the pillage of their own countries' natural resources and their own poors' labour).

    Mahatma Gandhi (amongst many others) believed, if the goal is good the means should be good....wanted to mention Gandhi's comment in the context of the Spirit of '45 because when asked what he felt about ’western civilisation’, Gandhi said he thought ’it would be a good idea’!! That's an internationalist perspective of imperial 'civilisation' where the sun never used to set, but also the blood never used to dry.....

    The only way forward for the well-intentioned left like Ken Loach in the West is out of this Keynesian neverland and joining the cause of the poor of their ex-colonies not in a BINGO(Big International NGO)/missionary spirit but in a truly equal spirit. That would be the true spirit of '45, internationally speaking.

    Best wishes from the Victorian Black Hole...


Subscribe to Comments for this articleArticle Comment Feed RSS 2.0

Guidelines: Please be respectful of others when posting your reply.

Get our free fortnightly eNews


Videos from visionOntv’s globalviews channel.

Related articles

Recently in And finally...

All And finally...

Popular tags

All tags

This article was originally published in issue 461

New Internationalist Magazine issue 461
Issue 461

More articles from this issue

New Internationalist Magazine Issue 436

If you would like to know something about what's actually going on, rather than what people would like you to think was going on, then read the New Internationalist.

– Emma Thompson –

A subscription to suit you

Save money with a digital subscription. Give a gift subscription that will last all year. Or get yourself a free trial to New Internationalist. See our choice of offers.