Health Communism

Health Communism

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A searing analysis of health and illness under capitalism from hosts of the hit podcast “Death Panel”

In this fiery, theoretical tour de force, Beatrice Adler-Bolton and Artie Vierkant offer an overview of life and death under capitalism and argue for a new global left politics aimed at severing the ties between capital and one of its primary tools: health.

Written by co-hosts of the hit “Death Panel” podcast and longtime disability justice and healthcare activists Adler-Bolton and Vierkant, Health Communism first examines how capital has instrumentalized health, disability, madness, and illness to create a class seen as “surplus,” regarded as a fiscal and social burden. Demarcating the healthy from the surplus, the worker from the “unfit” to work, the authors argue, serves not only to undermine solidarity but to mark whole populations for extraction by the industries that have emerged to manage and contain this “surplus” population. Health Communism then looks to the grave threat capital poses to global public health, and at the rare movements around the world that have successfully challenged the extractive economy of health.

Ultimately, Adler-Bolton and Vierkant argue, we will not succeed in defeating capitalism until we sever health from capital. To do this will require a radical new politics of solidarity that centers the surplus, built on an understanding that we must not base the value of human life on one’s willingness or ability to be productive within the current political economy.

Capital, it turns out, only fears health.

Reviews

  • This book changed the way I think about health, power, state capacity, extraction, social welfare, and resistance. It is an immensely useful tool for wrestling with the most urgent questions facing our movements in these terrifying times. Readable and filled with concise histories and clear examples to illustrate nuanced analysis, it will no doubt become required reading among those struggling against the death cult that is racial capitalism.

    Dean Spade, author of Mutual Aid
  • Beatrice Adler-Bolton and Artie Vierkant bring us a galvanizing proposition: Unlike the rest of us, capital is not alive; it merely animates itself through our host bodies. This book shares the impressive truth that we are all surplus in the political economy of health, whether we are presently 'healthy' or 'sick.' Adler-Bolton and Vierkant teach that our shared condition of vulnerability is ever ready to transform into our collective strength.

    Jules Gill-Peterson, author of Histories of the Transgender Child
  • Beatrice Adler-Bolton and Artie Vierkant have been a lifeline for many during the COVID-19 pandemic through their Death Panel podcast, deconstructing the failed American response with a knife that cuts like truth. Here, they do something even more remarkable: imagine a better future. Health Communism doesn’t tinker around the edges. It makes a direct assault on the idea that health can survive under capitalism, where the sick are simply disposable, while the system making a killing along the way. No one talks like Adler-Bolton and Vierkant do - those in public health and medicine are too deeply embedded in the status quo to even acknowledge the searing logic of their words. They stake out the far edge of what is possible and remind us that only the journey towards that horizon will make us free.

    Gregg Gonsalves, Yale School of Public Health and Yale Law School