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Grace Carlson

Grace Carlson

Big Bankroll Provides Best Immunity
to the Dread Scourge of Tuberculosis

(5 May 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 18, 5 May 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Some day in the future, I expect to have one of my grandchildren say to me, “Grandma, what is tuberculosis?”

Then I’ll answer her:

“Well, Dorothy, tuberculosis is a disease that used to kill lots of people in olden times, but under Socialism we have almost wiped it out. That’s why you haven’t heard very much about it.”

But I don’t suppose that Dorothy will be put off with an easy answer like that.

“But Grandma, it says in this old pamphlet that I found in your trunk that people who died from tuberculosis were ‘victims of social neglect’. What does ‘social neglect’ mean?”

“That’s a pamphlet the National Tuberculosis Association put out way back in 1944. They tried to tell the people then that doctors knew how to cure tuberculosis, but that –”

“Social Neglect”

Dorothy will interrupt me. She’ll be that kind!

“But Grandma, that’s silly. It says here, ‘In 1943, in the United States, tuberculosis killed 57,000 including 2,700 children under the age of fifteen years.’ The doctors wouldn’t have let all of those people die if they knew how to cure them!”

“What I was trying to tell you, Dorothy,” (I’ll have to be firm with her) “is that the doctors knew how to cure tuberculosis back in 1944 but there were so many poor people who didn’t get enough to eat and couldn’t afford the right kind of medical care that nothing could be done for them if they got tuberculosis. That’s what ‘social neglect’ is – when Society keeps from the people the things they need to make them well and happy.”

“Then why didn’t the well people see that the sick people got what they needed?” Dorothy will demand to know. It will be very difficult for the child trained under Socialism to live by the Marxist principle, “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” to understand the cruelty and irresponsibility of the capitalist system.

Even today, medical scientists who are active in the fight against tuberculosis express their disgust that a preventable disease like tuberculosis should still exist and kill so many thousands of young people. Considerably more than half of the 57,000 deaths from tuberculosis which occurred in 1943 were of individuals in the age range of 15 to 45, that is, individuals in the most productive years of life.

Can Be Wiped Out

Called by one medical writer, “the ancient enemy of mankind,” tuberculosis has left its characteristic marks on the bones of persons who died before history was recorded. Over the centuries tuberculosis has killed more people than wars have. Up to 1900, tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in the United States; today, it is in seventh place. But it could be wiped out completely! No one should die of tuberculosis in 1945 when medical science has perfected so many ingenious techniques for treating tuberculosis patients.

But thousands of people will die from tuberculosis in the United States this year. The vast majority of them will be workers. The National Tuberculosis Association has gathered some interesting statistics on this point, which they present under the heading, The Worker’s Chances of Dying from Tuberculosis.

  • 2 times as many farmers die of tuberculosis as do bankers
  • 4 times as many bakers die of tuberculosis as do bankers
  • 4 times as many plumbers die of tuberculosis as do bankers
  • 4 times as many truck drivers die of tuberculosis as do bankers
  • 7 times as many miners die of tuberculosis as do bankers
  • 9 times as many waiters die of tuberculosis as do bankers
  • 11 times as many laborers die of tuberculosis as do bankers.

If a case of tuberculosis is discovered in an early stage, it is not difficult to cure the patient and restore him to productive life. But workers do not get the benefits of early treatment. Their general bodily resistance to disease is already weakened by their bad living conditions – crowded, poorly-heated homes, inadequate clothing, insufficient food. So they are an easy prey for tuberculosis germs.

How to Prevent It

The great majority of workers continue at their jobs for weeks and months after they show signs of illness before they seek medical advice. Even where there is a union, little sick leave is granted by the employer. Long periods of illness for the breadwinner of the family mean hunger, cold and worry for the worker’s wife and children. Small wonder, then, that workers struggle along at their heavy jobs for a long time with the burden of coughing, indigestion, pain in the chest and other symptoms of tuberculosis rather than risk unemployment. By the time they get treatment, it is often too late.

Dr. H.E. Kleinschmidt, Education Director of the National Tuberculosis Association, said two years ago, “Tuberculosis is only one of the evils growing out of greed and social injustice but it alone is enough to justify zealous crusading for the day when every family will be assured a decent standard of living.”

But these doctors who know so much about how to cure tuberculosis don’t know how to prevent it, because they don’t know how to “assure a decent standard of living” for every family. But in the Socialist Workers Party, we know how that must be done. And when my little grandchild says to me some day, “Grandma, what did YOU do in the war against tuberculosis?”, I won’t have to turn MY head away!

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