Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Doctors are Wage Slaves (1945)

From the December 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

Many of Marx’s statements appear more strikingly true to-day than they did in his lifetime; the greater development of the capitalist mode of production has seen to that. In the Communist Manifesto Marx stated:— 
  “The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.”
The effects on the man of science are readily seen by reflections on the atom bomb; on the priest, in the churches' justification of the recent war; and on the physician in his increased employment in the military and industrial forces of the capitalist countries. The use of the physician in war and peace has been found by the capitalist class to be a very profitable proposition. It has at the same time occurred to many workers now to view the doctor in industry in the role of an employer’s man.

The correctness of this is well illustrated in a recent copy of The Lancet (October 6th, 1945) by the very materialistic approach given to new aspects of disease by the medical profession.. Three papers in this issue are devoted to the exposition and treatment of lumbago. This condition has hitherto been regarded as a rheumatic manifestation; now it is being realised that strain may cause a displacement of part of the spine and bring about the characteristic signs of lumbago. In The Lancet editorial this discovery is related to industry and the Services, and the comments of two American doctors employed by an insurance company dealing with workmen’s compensation are given. These medical men point out that strain is now regarded as a causal agent and may occur during working hours; the onus of responsibility may be thrown on the employer.

Medical discoveries have now ceased to be of primary interest to the sufferer and are considered mainly from a monetary aspect with the doctor eager to serve his employer, as anyone unfortunate enough to have beheld the undignified spectacle of conflicting medical witnesses in compensation cases will realise.

The function of the doctor in the Services and in industry is well summed up by the editorial when it states: “The factory physician or the unit medical officer is mainly concerned with palliation and return to duty. . . .'

However earnestly the young doctor may start out after qualifying, he soon comes to grips with the system under which he must practise in order to live. He may be loath to recognise it and may make various vain endeavours to put back the clock such as his resistance to salaried service like the National Health Service, where the State would pay the doctor on the basis of work done.

As capitalism operates through commodity production, service becomes a commodity, whether it be banking or medical attention, and is purchasable. The employer of the industrial medical officer purchases the doctor’s labour-power. The doctor gives the service of medical attention and the employer sees to it that the attention shall serve the employer’s interest.

Thus we see that all who must sell their labour-power in order to live do so at the dictates of capitalism, though men and women in many professions imagine they are exempt. Capitalism is a levelling force, and makes the interest of all workers one. The sooner that workers, be their tools the stethoscope or the carpenter’s saw, the test-tube or the power-driven tools of the factory, realise their common interest and strive together to overthrow their common enemy, the sooner will men of science and medicine not have to prostitute their knowledge. Only under Socialism will their knowledge be used for the benefit of mankind as a whole, unhampered by monetary considerations.
W. P.

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