Flashback to Spanish civil war

Nick Clarke reviews A greater tomorrow by Hector MacMillan

In A greater tomorrow, which toured theatres in Scotland this month, Hector MacMillan has successfully looked at the issues, emotions and spirit of the international volunteers who went to fight fascism in Spain 60 years ago and located that fight in a contemporary setting. Like Ken Loach’s film, Land and Freedom, it pays homage to the heroism and courage shown by working class people across the world who were prepared to show genuine solidarity with the newly-formed Spanish republic in their fight against Franco’s fascist coup.

The central character, Jock Cunningham - excellently played by Derek Anders - was a Lanarkshire miner, who like many of his contemporaries was inspired by the Spaniards’ fight not only against Franco, but also against Hitler and Mussolini.

MacMillan sets the play in the present, with a determined Jock preventing the bulldozing of his home, a converted railway carriage. This resistance leads to him re-living his memories from Spain in flashback. The production begins very slowly - it seems an age before the Spanish war is even mentioned. However, by the start of the second half, the pace picks up and it climaxes in the extremely moving portrayal of the Battle of Jarama.

The singing of the Internationale in several languages as the volunteers regrouped to fight against the odds, illustrated the solidarity, internationalism and sacrifice of those that fought with the international brigades. Jock’s passionate defence of the role of the brigades took him, and others, into direct conflict with the leadership of their Party - the Communist Party of Great Britain.

These tensions are shown through the debates between Jock and Harry Pollitt. The former is recalled to London and Pollitt, CPGB general secretary, defends the Moscow line. This illustrates the way communist politics was completely subordinate to the CPSU and Stalin’s diktats.

The Pollitt-Cunningham arguments are cleverly constructed, but require a knowledge and understanding of communist politics at that time for the full impact to be effective. The official communist movement had hijacked the Leninist concept of proletarian internationalism and the spreading of socialist revolution. They replaced it with diplomatic internationalism, influenced by Stalin’s theory of socialism in one country, which led to the class collaboration of the popular fronts.

Another important aspect of the war was the support the Catholic Church gave to Franco and fascism. This collaboration was exposed to the audience through a debate between old Jock and Sister Fidelma, the nun who befriends the defiant old soldier.

The visual effects were stunning. The imaginative use of newsreel footage from Spain and Britain, interspersed with recorded speeches, worked well in building the atmosphere and creating the illusion of the masses marching even on a fairly small stage. The importance of a production like this is that it brings important historical events to a new audience and shows the courage of ‘ordinary’ working class people when inspired to fight for their class.

We must learn the lessons of the past and the mistakes. The ‘Stalinisation’ of the world communist movement led to a perversion of Marxism. The role of communists today has to be to build a Party fit to fight for the liberation of humanity. It must be based on open ideological struggle. There must be unity in action decided democratically by the will of the majority.

Nick Clarke