The Third International after Lenin

Friday, November 20, 2009

Leon Trotsky on sport

In 1925, in Where is Britain going? Leon Trotsky had suggested that any future ‘British Revolution’ will ‘inevitably awaken in the English working class the most unusual passions, which have hitherto been so artificially held down and turned aside, with the aid of social training, the Church, and the press, in the artificial channels of boxing, football, racing, and other sports’.
Such an analysis of sport was of course far more sophisticated than the position the official Communist movement were to take subsequently, which went from a crude denunciation of sport as ‘bourgeois’ during the ‘class against class’ Third Period ‘line’ during the late 1920s and early 1930s, and then embracing sport in an uncritical manner during the Popular Front period and thereafter (pick up any copy of the Morning Star to see the residues of this aspect of British Communism).
A decade later, in 1935, writing on the French Left, Trotsky lambasted the futility of socialist and trade unions counter-posing worker’s youth organizations in the recreational sphere to providing clear political leadership in the class struggle. ‘In the sphere of philanthropy, amusements, and sports, the bourgeoisie and the Church are incomparably stronger than we are. We cannot tear the working class youth away from them [i.e. away from the bourgeoisie and the Church] except by means of the socialist program and revolutionary action.’ [See Leon Trotsky, On France (New York, 1979), p. 114.]
However, it might also be worth remembering that the ‘International Conference of the Youth of the Fourth International’, held in Lausanne on 11 September 1938, declared ‘we demand our right to happiness!’ ‘The duty of the working class is to help create a youth that is strong and capable of throwing all its physical and mental strength into the fight against capitalism’ and so ‘the Bolsheviks-Leninists demand’ among other things ‘free access to all sports fields’ and ‘stadiums’. [See Will Reisner (ed.), Documents of the Fourth International, p. 282.]
I'll leave readers of Histomat to draw their own conclusions about Trotsky, orthodox Trotskyism and sport from the above, but for now if anyone reading knows me and is feeling silmulaneously both generous and short of ideas about what to get me for Xmas or anything, then one of the superb new Trotsky T-shirts from the good people over at Philosophy Football (see above) would be more than satisfactory. Failing that, some of the Trotsky, Gramsci or Luxemburg mugs or coffee sets available from Red Stuff would be perfectly acceptable as well....

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