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Cary Brunswick

July 28, 2012

Crying 'Marxist' alone is not a valid argument

It is strange that so many people like to throw around the "Marxist" label whenever someone advocates a little more planning for our economy or supports a more-inclusive and less-profit-making health-care system.

Conservatives who opposed President Obama's bailout of the financial sector, health-care reform and any other attempts to bolster aid for the downtrodden often refer to him as Marxist or socialist. Typically, these are the same critics who insist he is a Muslim with a phony birth certificate.

Some respondents who dislike some of my columns, which have addressed our wars, economic justice, good books or the Affordable Care Act, call me a Marxist, as if with that one word my ideas can be discredited. Of course, in some quarters, they likely are.

One area resident who frequently sends e-mails to editor Sam Pollak and me, and some of his conservative friends, actually refers to me as "Karl," as in Marx.

It is true that "Marxist" is a scary word in our culture, and with good reason given the historic attempts by leaders in countries such as Russia and China to implement the 19th-century political economist's ideas. But Marx was a materialist who believed economic conditions would inevitably lead to a transition from a capitalist to a socialist society. Revolutionaries in the 20th century were authoritarian idealists who forced the transitions on societies that were not prepared for them.

That, unfortunately, is why Marxism is associated with dictators who have squelched people's freedoms in order to remain in power to try to achieve their goals. In reality, Marx was all about working people obtaining freedom from inhumane conditions that left them with little else in lives that were destitute and joyless, and the freedom to do what they do best and satisfy their basic human needs.

So, when I am called a Marxist for advocating a single-payer, universal health-care system, I have to respond by saying that, yes, he surely would have supported such an advance. But, of course, he never advocated it. Health care as we know it was not an issue 150 years ago.

Back then, sickness and disease often meant death because our general knowledge of the causes of health problems was lacking, and penicillin and antibiotics for treatment did not yet exist.

Marx, however, made numerous references to the health of working people, because so many were driven to early graves by the conditions in the factories where they worked. In studies presented in his book "Capital," he documented the mutilations and deaths caused by the lack of regulations regarding training and safety in major English and Irish industries.

It was clear that if you got hurt on the job, you were done for. There was little chance of complete recovery, no one to pay the bills and you likely would be unable to work again. In other words, your family was condemned to worse than poverty.

But there was progress without the revolutions Marx thought necessary. We have the rise of unions and their pressure on liberal government leaders to thank for better working conditions -- and eventually health insurance and health-care systems such as Medicare.

Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian who sought the GOP presidential nomination earlier this year, was a physician who noted during debates that health insurance was not an issue as recently as 50 years ago. In opposing all government intervention, he vaguely said if people needed health care and didn't have money or insurance, it just got worked out and taken care of.

Needless to say, life has changed. A century ago, the average lifespan was about 30 years shorter than today. It apparently costs a lot of money to keep people alive longer. Throw in the profit motive for health insurers and it's easy to see why insurance and health-care costs are out of control.

Yes, Marx would have been in favor of universal health care, just like most other advanced nations have instituted, though some like to bad-mouth our European counterparts with names such as socialist or communist.

Universal health care would have appealed to Marx because he thought a strong central government was needed to plan a nation's economy so industries produced the products that enlightened leaders thought the society needed. Just think, if we had a planned economy today, much of our manufactured "stuff" wouldn't be made at all, let alone in China.

The point is that "Marxist" shouldn't be such a dirty word, and when I am called one, I won't be ashamed. I'd realize that the name-caller just doesn't get it.

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor of carybrunswick.com. He can be reached at brunswick@earthling.net.

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