Film Review from the November 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard
'Home Town Story' (Director: Arthur Pierson)
The editor of an American small town newspaper embarks upon a press campaign against the high profits made by various large factories. He eventually “treads on the corns” of MacFarland, the owner of a local surgical apparatus factory. MacFarland interviews the editor and explains that in capitalist production it is not only the capitalist class that reaps a profit. The consumer also gets an interest by getting from the commodity a utility value greater than the commodity’s price. All the modern advantages of scientific and mechanical progress, MacFarland further contends, are due to the expansion of capitalism.
The editor rejects this argument and proceeds with his campaign.
Eventually his school-girl sister, through a land slide, is trapped in a disused shaft. With the use of vast excavating machinery an entrance to the shaft is cleared. The child is rescued but so terribly injured that her life can only be saved by an operation within two hours. She is flown to hospital in MacFarland’s plane and is successfully operated upon. It transpires that the surgical apparatus used in the operation is one produced in MacFarland’s factory.
These events lead the editor to abandon his campaign and to boost henceforward the mechanical advancement and social advantages achieved by capitalist production.
All this may sound convincing to those lacking knowledge of capitalism’s processes. To the Socialist it is both hypocritical and fallacious.
In the economics of capitalism “profit” means only one thing—i.e., the interest or dividends arising from the workers’ mental and physical energy. The capitalist in real life is not concerned with the utility of his commodities as long as those commodities will sell and bring profit.
This quest for profits is the force which has hastened the expansion of capitalism and brought the mechanical and scientific advancement necessary for profitably expediting capitalist operations. Roads have been laid to facilitate the conveying of commodities; many and various means of transport have been manufactured to carry the workers to and from work, and commodities from sellers to buyers. It can even be said that the advancement in medicine and surgery is largely prompted by the capitalist desire to maintain greater physical fitness and productive capacity among the workers, and, in war, to patch up the wounded that they may fight once more.
And what of the mechanical and scientific instruments of destruction produced and brought into use when the seeking of markets, etc., eventually brings war? What of the submarines, the bombers, the guns, the poison gases, the atom and hydrogen bombs? Were these produced, and can they possibly be used, for the benefit of mankind?
The machinery which within Socialism would lighten the work of the community is, under capitalism, the means of throwing many wage slaves into the ranks of the unemployed. The planes which in a classless society would be for the convenience of all are, under capitalism, destroyers and mutilators of men, women, and children. The vast weapons of destruction which would be non-existent and unnecessary in a sane social order are, under capitalism, vital necessities for carrying on the wars of capitalism.
In isolated and individual cases highly developed machines of modem science and invention may be used solely for humanitarian reasons. As a general rule, however, modem machinery is used only for speeding up production or increasing the lethality of capitalist wars.
If the makers of “Home Town Story” had tried to give a true picture of capitalism they would have found nothing to vindicate it, but much to condemn.
F. W. Hawkins