True security can only be found in a community of citizens who honour their obligations to each other
I love the Frank Capra film – It’s a Wonderful Life – it is pure socialism (in the word’s truest and best sense) wrapped in Americana.
Bedford Falls is an image of America, torn between two forces: George Bailey and his comrades work to free people from poverty by helping people buy their own homes. George is in the citizenship business. Set against him is Old Man Potter, a capitalist who sees exploitation as his right. On the surface both are men of property and of money; but one is governed by that money, while the other is governed by principles love and duty.
The final scene, pictured above, shows how George Bailey is rescued from the plots of Potter by the townsfolk, who are his friends – in Latin the word ‘socius’ – the source of the ‘social’ in socialism – is a companion, fellow-traveller or ally. They pool their resources in order to free George from the bankruptcy being threatened by Potter (a bankruptcy built on Potter’s theft).
It is easy to understand this final scene as a sugar-rush of human sympathy and compassion, triggered by love and admiration. But really what this scene shows us, in allegory, is the emptiness of Potter’s power – the power of money. It is a choice – a social choice – to live in fear or awe of money and to think of those who have it as being beyond justice. The redemption of George Bailey (for this is what redemption means quite literally) is based on the realisation of the community that it they who make the money, create the power and determine the course of the community towards or away from justice.
Of course, the people of Bedford Falls would not have declared a revolution – they would have saved George and then got back on with their lives – torn between justice and the pressures and impositions of Potter and his power. But – in this one heady moment – you can picture a revolution being made – the discovery that the power of Potter is the power we give him. We make property and its rights – it has its proper role – but once we allow it to fall into the clutches of the monopolists, the elites and the greedy we will keep paying for it. And the only redemption is collective – we need to wake up the trick being played up on us – seeing that truth on your own changes nothing.