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Grace Carlson

SWP Election Tour

Letter to a Student

(7 February 1949)

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 6, 7 February 1949, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Your letter inquires about the “necessity of medical reform in the United States.” This is a big problem and I will not pretend to answer it fully in one letter. But inasmuch as a more rounded personal discussion on the subject seems to be ruled out for the moment, let me jot down few ideas;

In reply to your question as to whether the proposed Dingell-Murray Bill is “really socialism," I would give an emphatic No! In fact, I might use the words of Federal Security Administrator Oscar Ewing, who says that the proposed national health insurance program is “no more socialistic than fire insurance.”

Of course, the bureaucratic American Medical Association does not agree with this estimation. Their vociferous spokesman, Morris Fishbein, describes this Truman-sponsored bill as “the first step towards socialization of the entire United States economy.” As a Marxist, I am a profound believer in the necessity of socializing the “entire United States economy” if the world is to be saved from atomic disaster, but I know that the initiative for such a revolutionary move will never come from Harry Truman or any other representative of the American capitalist class.

Harry Truman’s Fair Deal, like F.D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, is only an attempt to make the millions of American workers believe that capitalism can bring them health, and security and a chance for happiness – or, as the Declaration of Independence puts it, “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But in its declining days American capitalism cannot do any of these things. What is the proof?

Here is the record of private medicine in the richest country in the world:

  1. Twenty-three million persons have some chronic disease or impairment – one out of five.
  2. Five million young men were rejected for war service because of inadequate physical or mental health – 40% of all young men from 18 to 35, the prime of life.
  3. One out of every 22 persons in the United States spends time in a hospital for the mentally-ill.
  4. Twelve thousand mothers die every year in childbirth. Over 100,000 babies die annually before the end of their first year.
  5. Every year, 14,000 children die of whooping cough, measles, diphtheria and scarlet fever; 4,000 from tuberculosis; 19,000 from diarrhea and dysentery; 35,000 from influenza and pneumonia; 4,000 from cardiac conditions.

Upon the heads of the American Medical Association bureaucrats and the system of private medicine and private enterprise for which they speak rests the terrible responsibility for these wasted lives!

These are emotionally tinged words, to be sure, but how else can one speak of the horrors of want in the midst of potential plenty?

If you find it possible to stop in to visit us, I can weight you down with leaflets and pamphlets and statistics favoring the Wagner Bill and a program of socialized medicine. We are for the Wagner Bill as a forward step on the road toward better health for American workers. I hope that you will support this bill in your college paper.

Far more important, I hope that you will come to see that only under socialism will we have a real program of socialized medicine. In a socialist society, doctors will be freed from the fetters of private profit. They will be able to apply the benefits of modern science to all who need medical care – and in the measure in which each one needs it. In the socialist society, health will not be just a negative thing, i.e., the absence of pain or disability. We will return to the original Anglo-Saxon meaning of the word “health” – wholeness. Under socialism we will offer a whole, full, long, rich and productive life to all.

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