‘Man against disease’
The medical Left and the lessons of science, 1918–48
in Scientific governance in Britain, 1914–79
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In the period between the end of the First World War and the creation of the National Health Service, developments in biomedicine provided models for the social and political action of left-wing doctors and medical scientists. First, medical science was a co-operative, team-driven, venture. Thus it provided a model for a co-operative society in which, for example, health services were collectively organised for the common good. Second, science was perceived by them to be based on rational and logical principles, and therefore provided an alternative to consciously irrational movements such as fascism. Third, the body itself showed the virtues of collaborative endeavour. In a healthy body, parts worked together efficiently and harmoniously; if any part were diseased, the organism as a whole suffered. By analogy, social pathologies such as unemployment resulted in ‘sick’ and malfunctioning societies. Fourth, doctors in particular were uniquely positioned to see medical issues from both a scientific and a social standpoint. This chapter explores these consciously articulated models for socialist, scientific medicine, focussing in particular on the work of David Stark Murray, pathologist and political activist, and John Ryle, socialist and founder of the new specialism of Social Medicine.


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