Max Shachtman

In This Corner

(16 May 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 33, 16 May 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

There are few things more admirable and encouraging than the work of the scientist who ventures into plague spots in order to isolate, analyze and counteract the cause of diseases and pestilences so that mankind may be spared their ravages. Without prospect of monetary reward or interest in it, unconcerned with sensational and transient successes, he quietly risks his own life in order that the life of man may be easier and safer. Poisonous swamps and jungles, poisonous beasts and microbes must be wiped out in order that the human race shall not be wiped out. Selflessly performing this noble task, he is indeed the priceless servant of society, counterpart in another field of the country doctor, eulogized in our recent literature, who ministers conscientiously to bis flock for miles around and Under the most difficult circumstances.

The New School of Social Medicine

Of an entirely different kidney are the practitioners of a new school of social medicine which has developed as a distinctly post-war phenomenon. We do not mean the “society doctors” who prescribe harmless but expensive pills to neurotic dowagers. The reference is to the reformist medicine men who readily acknowledge that capitalism is sick – some even say it is dying – but declare that they will move heaven and earth to bring it back to life. Even when it was young and lusty, the bourgeoisie never did like the ominous words of Marx about the proletariat being the grave-digger of capitalism. It likes them much less today, as it listens to its arteries harden and watches its gangrenous limbs decay. How relieved it must feel, then, to hear spokesmen of the labor movement state that their efforts are henceforth directed towards doctoring and rejuvenating the patient!

Among the recent products of the school are Dr. David Lasser and Dr. Herbert Benjamin, bosses of the Workers Alliance of America. Testifying before a Congressional Committee, Dr. Lasser blushingly admitted that he used to be a socialist but now believes in capitalism, believes in “making it work” and is devoting his modest talents to seeing to it that it does work. His tender sentiments were echoed by Dr. Benjamin, an ex-revolutionist and therefore still a member of the Communist party, who also guaranteed to do his best to relieve capitalism of any and all maladies, from gout, hernia and arthritis to leakage of the heart and water on the knee.

If memory serves us, it was either Fritz Tarnow, head of the German trade unions, Dr. Naphthali, his theoretician, or Rudolph Hilferding, the German social-democratic leader, who coined the phrase some ten years ago about substituting for the terrifying words “grave-diggers of capitalism” the more pleasant phrase “doctors at the sick-bed of capitalism.” In any case, all three of them and their colleagues set to work restoring German capitalism to health. After several years of continual blood transfusions from the workers to the capitalists, which left the former anemically haggard and paralyzed, without satisfying the increasingly irritated patient, the Nazis were called in to take up where the social-democratic doctors were forced to leave off. Although the patient hasn’t died, neither has he been cured; but many are those who now realize that if the social-democratic doctors had spent their time fortifying the working class to resist the effects of capitalism’s poisonous disintegration, the Brown-shirted doctors would not be where they are today.

The Way to Make Capitalism “Work”

Blandly unconcerned with the German experience, the distinguished quacks, Drs. Lasser and Benjamin, have taken the oath to “make capitalism work.” Now we do not deny that capitalism, even today, can be made to “work” after a fashion. There is one infallible remedy for its ills, the one that has sustained it throughout its existence: a steady flow of good, substantial profit. If anyone ever discovered another way of making capitalism work, we have not been told about it. The flow of profit, rich with shiny yellow corpuscles, is as indispensable to the life of capitalism, as the flow of blood is to the life of Lasser and Benjamin.

Now, as the latter know – and who doesn’t? – the capitalists do not make profit by taking in each other’s washing or drinking up each other’s champagne bottles. They make it out of the labor of those they employ in their enterprises. What is more, profits are not made by raising the wages of labor and shortening the work-day; quite the contrary. The longer the work-day, the smaller the wages, the faster the speed-up, the more intense the exploitation – the higher the profit.

To accomplish his task of “making capitalism work,” the social doctor of the new school must therefore help the poor old invalid cut wages, lengthen the work-day, cut out “wasteful and costly strikes,” cut down relief for the “surplus, superfluous population.” The “dialectical method” of the new social doctor consists in saving capitalism by enslaving labor, bringing color to the cheeks of the capitalists by draining it from the veins of the workers, preserving the life of a decaying order by dooming to misery and starvation the only class capable of establishing a healthy social order.

That is precisely what the Lassers and Benjamins have been doing. When they boasted before the investigating committee that they were opposed to strikes and discouraged them, they were stating a truth of key significance: simultaneous with their announcement of devoted medical service to decrepit capitalism they present their credentials as strike-breakers. To prove that they are ready to “make capitalism work” they show how completely they have anesthetized and paralyzed the W.A.A.

Like all practising doctors, they ought to hang out a shingle. The following text is recommended, for it:

Dr. Lasser & Dr. Benjamin Consulting Physicians to Capitalism
Supply of Unemployed Guinea Pigs on Hand
Healthy Flow of Profits Guaranteed or
Money Refunded
Emergency Service Any Time, Day or Night
Service Charge Cheap – Very Cheap

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