Mixed Media: ‘The Doctor’s Dilemma’ & ‘The Strange Agency’

The Doctor’s Dilemma by Bernard Shaw at the National Theatre

Bernard Shaw’s 1906 ‘serious comedy,’ The Doctor’s Dilemma, was recently produced at the National Theatre starring Aiden Gillett as Sir Colenso Ridgeon and Tom Burke as Louis Dubedat.

Shaw based Ridgeon on Sir Almroth Wright, a celebrated and fashionable bacteriologist, who when asked by Shaw what he would do if there were too many applying for a certain treatment, replied, ‘we should have to consider which life was worth saving’. This would become the central plot of the play where Shaw indicts privatised medicine because of its lack of impartiality, its pecuniary interest, rationing, moralising, unaccountability, ineffective treatments, negligence, and sees private doctors as competitive tradesmen in ‘a conspiracy to exploit popular credulity and human suffering’. The Doctor’s Dilemma is an argument for the creation of a public health care system such as the NHS in 1948 (which Shaw himself welcomed as an example of ‘gradualist Fabian socialism’).

Lenin felt that Shaw was ‘a good man fallen among Fabians’, and Alick West saw Shaw as a ‘second Proudhon’. In 1882 under the influence of Henry George and reading Marx’s Capital, Shaw wrote: ‘the importance of the economic basis dawned on me’, and was on the point of joining the Marxist SDF but instead opted for the Fabian Society. Shaw disagreed with Marxian concepts such as the labour theory of value and the class struggle and wanted ‘to place socialism on a respectable bourgeois footing’.

Shaw’s 1912 The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism was republished in 1937 and Hardy in the Socialist Standard wrote that Shaw’s views were ‘essentially utopian – that there will be money incomes under socialism, and that the capitalist foundation can be made to support a socialist system of society’. The welfare state and the NHS established from the 1942 Beveridge Report and the 1944 White Paper are Fabian ‘socialist’ constructs within capitalism. Marxists see the welfare state and NHS essentially as the ‘redistribution of poverty among the workers’ from those without to those with dependants, maintaining a sufficiently healthy and efficient working population, keeping unemployed workers from becoming unemployable, and insuring the capitalist class against working-class discontent. For the capitalist class the welfare state and the NHS meant increased profits and were seen as ‘a necessary expense of production’.

As we said in the Socialist Standard June 1944, ‘only under socialism can doctors truly serve their fellow workers, and a real health service for all be established’.


The Strange Agency Live in Tottenham

The Strange Agency, an Anarcho-Socialist ‘prog rock’ quartet from West Wales was the highlight at the ‘Paranoid Olympics’, a Mad Pride fund-raiser for the Campaign Against Welfare Benefit Cuts in Tottenham recently.

The Strange Agency (possibly named in homage to the 1960s Marvel Comics superhero, Dr Strange) are Craig High, vocals, Dave Bates on guitar, Issy Bates on bass guitar, and Steve Johnstone on drums. Their début LP, Strange One, was reviewed by Classic Rock Magazine in September 2012, which declared that: ‘Had this unruly bunch of West Wales long hairs been signed to Stiff Records in 1976, you can’t help but think chart success would surely have been theirs’. Dave was previously a long-term member of former Hawkwind front man Nik Turner’s band, and Craig also worked with Turner on a dub/psych version of the 1973 Hawkwind single Urban Guerrilla, which was about the anarchist Angry Brigade.

The Strange Agency played a set of nine songs in Tottenham which displayed Craig High’s political lyricism from helping out your neighbour in Digging Holes – also notable for the John Cipollina guitar style of Dave Bates – toStanley, a tribute song to the film director Kubrick, famous for the anti-nuclear bomb film Dr Strangelove, and the psychedelic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Twisted Instinct is a powerful tour de force, referencing LSD discoverer, Albert Hoffman, and musically it was Blue Cheer’s cover of Summertime Blues or James Williamson’s guitar on Iggy and the Stooges album Raw Power. The lyric ‘Do they know what we are after? signals a call to overthrow the system.Digital Inferno is an attack on capitalist war, The Storm identifies the bankruptcy of bourgeois capitalism and Judeo-Christian civilisation, Corporate Buildings highlights the oppression of financial capitalism, A Global Warning shows that capitalism is the enemy of nature and the urgent need for a green socialism. Whirlpool attacks political apathy and urges people to ‘mobilise your picket lines’ and ‘mass action is a must’.

Craig High’s vocals are articulate and literate Punk, and his trilling ‘r’s’ are reminiscent of John Lydon while Dave Bates’ guitar has its origins in Hendrix. With Craig also on clarinet or blues harp, the Strange Agency effect is a 1960s and 70s psychedelic and progressive melodic rock sound. Think of a heavier Tom Verlaine and Television circa 1977.

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