Last night (3rd June) Bristol Radical Film Festival teamed up with Bristol Indymedia to conduct a screening/discussion of Mike Wayne and Deirdre O’ Neill’s latest film The Condition of the Working Class. Based on Friedrich Engels’ book of the same name, the film documents a newly formed theatre production company made up of working class people with a common interest in igniting revolutionary sentiment through the arts, as they construct a stage production of Engels’ 1844 text. Written in Salford, Manchester, “The Condition of the Working Class in England” offers a critique of industrialisation under capitalism, compiling Engels’ own observations and detailed reports to highlight the affects of the industrial revolution on the very population whose labour made it possible. Predictably, that population ended up with the stale end of the deal while the moneyed class could enhance both their wealth, as well as the social order that today allows them to continue their attack on working people.
“Everything changes, and everything stays the same”, reads the tagline of the film. While some members of the audience found that this offered little hope for the future, it of course depends on your outlook. Maybe this entails the level of change in the face of an oppressive “sameness” that a person imagines is possible. Perhaps it involves a desire to retain certain elements of society that are slipping through our fingers (the NHS, for example). In any case, it is important (though increasingly difficult, especially in the most deprived areas of the UK) to maintain positivity. For that reason I’ll take the statement to mean that there will always be struggle, and that, by definition, this gives rise to both hope and despair. This film is overwhelmed with neither. Instead, it initially uses the play as a catalyst to display the continuities between the conditions identified by Engels and those lived by the working class today. As it continues, however, the film identifies not only the continuities inflicted by a top-down social order, but the continuities of solidarity, community and resistance that involve the preservation of working class culture in the face of a stupefying and de-politicised mass media, to name just one eroding factor. Ultimately, it is the activity of the people constructing the stage play that provides the most solid continuity across history. This is how both Engels 1844 book and the 2013 stage production/film act as catalysts for working class consciousness, as well as preservers of working class culture.
This message produces hope over despair, and insofar as we continue to act to bring about social change and do some good in the world this balance is the real and lasting continuity.
You can see the trailer for the film here: [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evuKUkU9zGo?rel=0&w=560&h=315]
Mike Wayne and Deirdre O’ Neill are the sole members of the production company Inside Film, which runs film education projects with prisoners and other marginalised groups. For more information, and/or to buy The Condition of the Working Class go here.