maybe we need a little Marx

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November 5, 2009 by Katie.

This post was prompted by a photo accompanying a New York Times article covering the protests in D.C. over the healthcare bill that was just passed in the House.  The part of the photo I’m concerned about it this: MARX with a circle and slash through it.  What does Karl Marx have to do with healthcare?!

My immediate reaction?  Poor Karl Marx.  The guy gets dragged out for fear mongering on a regular basis in this country.  Unfortunately, it’s usually for yet another misinformed analogy.  Here we are again.  Conservatives are calling Obama a socialist and Marx’s name as reappeared.  Then I got to thinking…why?

Let’s begin with the different connotations Marx usually carries for your average American.  First, there’s the continuing obsession with the once looming specter of Soviet Communism.  Second, there’s the disapproval of the post-WWII European welfare state.  Lastly, there’s Marx’s actual philosophy: human beings should not be alienated from four things: the object of their labor, their species-being (or, simply, the fact that they’re human), themselves, and their fellow men.  According to Marx, capitalism causes all four types of alienation.

For the purposes of this article, let’s skip over the first two.  Neither association is very factually correct and more importantly, neither of them deals directly with Marx and his ideas which is primarily what I want to discuss.

As David McLellan says in his biography of Karl Marx, individual rights lead men to see other men as limitations.  Therefore, they are not free together but are in competition for freedom.  This, it seems to me, is the foundation of pro-universal-healthcare arguments.  Our Declaration of Independence does not say that men should compete for freedom so that those who are smarter, better, or more manipulative will get a greater share of freedom than others.  It says that all men should be free and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  It implies that a person’s freedom ends when he or she begins to infringe on another’s freedom.  We happily honor this mantra when it comes to murder, stealing, etc.  Why do we cut it off when it comes to healthcare?

When someone doesn’t have healthcare and is thusly stripped of the ability to fully care for their person properly, they no longer have as much freedom as their neighbor.  It’s as simple as that.  When insurance companies, doctors, and employers decide to put their own profit above universal healthcare, they are deciding that their freedom to make money is more important than someone else’s freedom to care for his or herself.

So, back to the beginning.  Do people need to leave Marx out of their protest signs and fear that any kind of divergence from a 100% profit driven society will take away the privilege of rampant consumerism as they know it?  Yes, they most certainly do.  Contrary to my first reaction, however, Marx does have something to do with healthcare.  And maybe we need to listen to him for the good of our capitalist democracy.

Suggested reading:

The Communist Manifesto – Marx
Karl Marx – David McLellan
Marx for Beginners – Rius (it’s a comic book!)

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