Wind that shakes the imperialists

by David Granville

THE VITRIOL and bile which has poured forth from Britain's right-wing media in response to Ken Loach's new film, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, should come as no surprise given their role as cheerleaders for British imperialism.

In much the same way as political Zionists have created the concept of the 'self-hating Jew' to undermine opposition from those of Jewish background to the ongoing tyranny, occupation and territorial annexations inflicted upon the Palestinian people by the Israeli state, the right-wing media here have developed their own corresponding bogey for anyone with a progressive, anti-imperialist bent - the self-hating Brit.

Ken Loach is clearly one of these in spades. The same is true of all those who stand in opposition to British imperialism, whether in Ireland, the Balkans, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact, Loach could easily could have chosen other periods from the history of the British Empire where, as Rajani Palme Dutt once commented, "the sun never set and the blood never dried", to explore the issues dealt with in the film.

The fact that he chose Ireland however, is particularly welcome given that it serves to remind British viewers of the colonial background to the struggle for Irish unity and independence that remains with us to this day.

Like Morning Star film reviewer Jeff Sawtell, I have my gripes, politically, with some of Loach's films. However, The Wind That Shakes the Barley is brave, well-crafted and important film, which is a long way from being the crudely anti- British rant that the right-wing media would have the public believe.

Yes, the brutality of the colonial authorities' response to the legitimate desire of the Irish people for independence, as expressed democratically in the General Election of 1918, and the arrogance of imperialist mindset, are referenced with unflinching and, at times, blood-chilling, clarity. And so they should be, as anyone who knows the history of the conflict can testify.

However, the film is as much about the tensions and contradictions which emerge when individual aspirations and community/national solidarity clash in times of crisis. It also raises questions about the nature of treachery and betrayal from a variety of perspectives from within the conflicts covered by the film - British vs Irish, anti-treaty republicans vs Free Staters; neighbour vs neighbour; and, ultimately, brother vs brother).

It also accurately reflects the the thinking of the Irish socialist and revolutionary James Connolly on the subject of the brutality and the brutalising effect on all participants of war. One of the film's most poignant moments comes when the main protagonist on the republican side, Damien (played by Cillian Murphy), executes a young informer.

There's nothing approaching glorification in the way that Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty deal with Damien's dilemma and his agonised hope that the outcome of the struggle they are involved in will justify such brutal and emotionally painful acts.

It's a theme which is returned to later in the film, as civil war which breaks out between former comrades following the signing of the Anglo-Irish treaty ending the war with Britain, establishing the Free State as a dominion of the Empire and effectively partitioning Ireland.

Writing in The Worker in January 1915, in the midst of the inter-imperialist slaughter of the first world war, Connolly took up the issue of whether warfare, however inevitable or justified, could ever be 'civilised'.

Arguing that it could not, he stressed that all war was "an atrocity", a "relic of barbarism", and only possible as a result of being "governed by a ruling class with barbaric ideas". The only way for "the working class of all countries" to escape from the "horrors of war", he insisted, was to remove "that barbaric ruling class" from power.

As with so much of Connolly's work, his argument is as valid today as it ever was. Referring to, at the time, recent developments in warfare technology - in particular the dum-dum bullet - Connolly went on to reject any notion that there could be "humane methods of warfare". No doubt, if he'd been with us today he'd have been addressing the use of so-called 'smart bombs', depleted uranium shells and white phosphorous.

"No there is no such thing as humane or civilised war!" wrote Connolly. "War may be forced upon a subject race or a subject class to put an end to subjection of race, of class, or sex. When so waged it must be waged thoroughly and relentlessly, but with no delusions as to its elevating nature, or civilising methods."

The Wind That Shakes The Barley unambiguously reflects Connolly's thinking. The drawing of parallels with other imperialist invasions, occupations and atrocities, right up to the present day, is inevitable. Loach no doubt intended it to be so.

This point, at least, has not been lost on the owners, backers and political writers of the likes of the Mail, the Times and the Sun.

Loach should wear their fury as a badge of pride. After all, it's only when the attacks are so co-ordinated and bilious that you really know that you're on the right track.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2007-02-16 13:16:01.
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