The Struggle to Defend Socialised Healthcare
“[T]he death of the poor man is the worst eventuality for the creditor. It is the death of his capital together with the interest.” – Marx, Comments on James Mill
In the beginning was Value. For the sake of accumulating it, all things were made that have been made. Man himself was judged according to it, became an accessory to it, in Value was the life of all mankind which had been alienated from the species. And this Yahweh of the modern day bourgeois did not disappoint. It went further, became flesh, and dwelt among its people as the Christ figure – Money (“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” – John 1:14).
And just as Christ healed the sick and injured, so the Money-Christ used its healing arts to perform miracles, for a price of course. It produced an abundance of drugs to heal all ailments, a plethora of instruments and techniques to fix what was broken, and above all it did not fail to derive from this a gift for its most devout worshippers. Upon them descended the Holy Ghost – Profit, and the accumulation of Capital.
But this state of affairs was, and is, unstable. Nowhere was the power of Value over human life, the dominion of Capital, more evident than in the fact that physical and mental health, the bodily life of the human being, had been affixed with a price tag. The natural moral sense of many revolted against the crude assumption of capital in this most sacred domain.
The class struggle conceals itself in many ways. It knows at least 72 transformations, and one of the guises of this contemporary of Sun Wukong is that of morality. The success of socialised healthcare in Europe and its defeat in America lies not in America’s lack of moral sentiment, but in the relative strengths and weaknesses of their respective working classes after the second world war. Atlee’s post-war Labour government saw the introduction of the National Health Service to the UK, an indication of the strength of the British working-class.
But through the Thatcher era and beyond the class has seen numerous attacks to its organisations. New Labour and its ‘post-class’ ideology saw no real about face in direction, it merely cemented Thatcherism as the new consensus. And the current decade so far shows no indication of a reversal of fortunes. As a result of these attacks on the class, the symbols of its previous strength, including the NHS, have increasingly come under attack.
The Conservative government has slowed funding increases, while waiting times for emergency and non-emergency patients are rising, and the number of beds available on wards is falling, the spaces being occupied by patients with chronic illnesses who have no support network in place in their communities which would allow them to leave.The strategy by the government is obvious – strangle the funding, increase the workload blame the problems on the institution as a whole, and bring in private companies to ‘solve’ the problems.
Attacks on healthcare are inevitably attacks on the working class. The bourgeois does not need national healthcare, his God provides the miracle cure, he pays for private healthcare. Workers cannot afford such luxury. The struggle to defend social healthcare is a class struggle. We have seen examples of the power afforded to Capital when it can control the healthcare of its workforce in the US.
But care must be taken to avoid illusion, for the truth is that the social scope of the NHS is limited. Although access to healthcare by the end user is free, the production of the medicine and medical equipment which is used by the healthcare system is still in the hands of Capital. “Big Pharma” colludes to raise the price of drugs, which the health service is forced to buy at radically inflated prices. But contrary to some points of view, “Big Pharma” is not the disease, but the symptom.
Under capitalism man relates to his fellow man as private property owner, the relationship is one of exchange, in which the value of two products is equated. This value comes into its own when all commodities are compared to one commodity which has been singled out as the medium of exchange, the value of all things is expressed as a price. And the man himself has his price – his wage, the value of his labour-power. This is how Capital views the working-class, as in the Marx quote we began with, not as human beings, but as an asset, as means to an end, never as ends in themselves.
Capitalism cannot do other than treat every aspect of man as a value, a price and a means to profit. A truly social healthcare requires a truly social existence, in which this Holy Trinity is seen for what it is.