Bethune’s Socialized Medicine and the Public Health Crisis Today – The Bullet


Pritha Chandra and Pratyush Chandra
The Bullet

“…that consumption and the other pulmonary diseases of the workers are conditions necessary to the existence of capital.” — Karl Marx

We are at war! The heads of states throughout the globe are posing as chieftains in this quixotic war against an enemy who no one understands. War rooms are being set up to manage data, propaganda, public reactions, and to control supplies, while the foot soldiers – doctors, nurses, other medical and supporting staff – toil to deal with the actual and potential carriers of the enemy, including themselves. Of course, along with them are the baton-wielding workers of the agencies of surveillance – the police, security guards, etc. who are made to assist drones and other AIs to manage the panic and the surplus-ed population (migrants, homeless, and poor) on the streets.

Today, when international and national statesmen are opportunistically posing public hospital workers and those in so-called essential services as ‘warriors’, perhaps it is time for us to understand the reality behind and beyond these spectacular rituals of salutations. For this, we need to pay heed to what Norman Bethune meant when he exhorted his medical colleagues to “organize ourselves so that we can no longer be exploited as we are being exploited by our politicians.” He too called upon them to engage in a collectivized attack

“Medicine must be entirely reorganized and unified, welded into a great army of doctors, dentists, nurses, technicians and social service workers, to make a collectivized attack on disease and utilizing all the present scientific knowledge of its members to that end. Let us say to the people – not ‘How much have you got?’ – but, ‘How best can we serve you?’”

Norman Bethune (1890–1939) was a Canadian surgeon, and a pioneer in the field of thoracic surgery. He was a Communist and an anti-fascist who steeled himself in the Spanish Civil War, fought tuberculosis not just as a doctor but as a patient too, and died in 1939 in the Chinese liberation movement against the Japanese, after getting infected while treating patients without the necessary medical equipment. Norman Bethune was a product of an era that saw the beginning of the industrialization of medicine and medical practices. He made his medical practice a ground for critiquing capitalism and the political economy of modern medicine. We seek to discuss some of his ideas here, and the context in which they were conceived. These ideas gain new meanings in the light of the medical crisis that we face today.

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