The film Casablanca (1942) has become a permanent icon of a certain kind of educated culture, at least among older generations. The cast will still be familiar, I hope: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Marcel Dalio, Conrad Veidt, Claude Rains. Its phrases have become part of our discourse, such as the endlessly misquoted "Play it again, Sam" or "Round up the usual suspects". If we leave aside the basic love affair, this is a film about the relations of the Spanish civil war and the wider politics of that strange but decisive period in 20th-century history, the era of Adolf Hitler. Rick, the hero, has fought for the republicans in the Spanish civil war. He emerges from it defeated and cynical in his Moroccan café, and the film ends with him returning to the struggle in the second world war. In short, Casablanca is about the mobilisation of anti-fascism in the 1930s. And those who mobilised against fascism before most others, and most passionately, were western intellectuals.Read the whole article here.
Today it is possible to see the civil war, Spain's contribution to the tragic history of that most brutal of centuries, the 20th, in its historical context. It was not, as the neoliberal François Furet argued it should have been, a war against both the ultra-right and the Comintern - a view shared, from a Trotskyist sectarian angle, by Ken Loach's powerful film Land and Freedom (1995). The only choice was between two sides, and liberal-democratic opinion overwhelmingly chose anti-fascism. Hence, asked in early 1939 who they wanted to win in a war between Russia and Germany, 83 per cent of Americans wanted a Russian victory. Spain was a war against Franco - that is to say, against the forces of fascism with which Franco was aligned - and 87 per cent of Americans favoured the republic. Alas, unlike in the second world war, the wrong side won. But it is largely due to the intellectuals, the artists and writers who mobilised so overwhelmingly in favour of the republic, that in this instance history has not been written by the victors.
War of Ideas
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