Histomat's guide to the World Cup.
Or, why English socialist football fans should support 'Anyone but England'
With the World Cup almost upon us, many socialist football fans in England are in a quandary about who they should support. Though it is a 'World Cup', things are of course never quite as they should be under capitalism. David Runciman in an article on the African teams in the New Statesman highlights some depressing statistics.
51 = No. of African sides at the start of qualifiers for 2006
5 = No. of places reserved in finals for African teams
51 = No. of European teams at the start of qualifiers
13 = No. places reserved for European teams
6 = No. of teams from the southern hemisphere.
£676,000 = average income of players in English Premiership
£900 = average income in Togo
Mike Marqusee, an American socialist sports lover, has highlighted the essential fact of the World Cup - the corporate takeover of the sport in general:
'Fifa can offer businesses an unrivalled global platform...It's estimated that $1bn will be spent on World Cup-related advertising, boosting annual ad revenues by a full percentage point...Paradoxically, globalisation turns national identity into a prize commodity. Corporate and media interests in this country will seek to channel emotion (and spending) into support for the England team. Great numbers will follow the event not because they love football but because they have been persuaded that England's World Cup run is important to them. Inevitably, political forces will seek to exploit that heavily hyped attachment.'
As if the corporate takeover isn't bad enough (many firms have produced 'I love England' badges for their employees), then the political consequences don't bear worth thinking about. All of the main three capitalist political parties are doubtless gearing up already to associate themselves with supporting England - and it is likely that Blair will try to use a good Cup run and the associating 'feel good factor' to hang onto power - though one suspects the hapless croquet playing fuckwit Prescott will not be used in too many New Labour photoshoots playing football. Indeed, one expects Prescott will soon be shuffled off to become 'Lord Hull', a fitting end to the political career of a one time union militant who decided the needs of British capital were more important than those of the people who elected him.
Given then the huge corporate drive to get people to support England - which millions of people are so alienated by life under capitalism that it is understandable that they will buy into - it is a little surprising to find socialists so happy to be proud of their support for 'Ingerland'.
Over at the Socialist Unity blog, Andy Newman proudly defends the nationalist position. English socialists should support England because 'England play the type of game we want to watch', we know the players and so 'can identify with them', and logically 'it would be great for the sport of football if England were to win the world cup'.
One sees here some of the advantages of giving up on Marxism as a means to explain the world - you can simply embrace spontaneity and go along with the flow of 'common sense' opinion, 'the day to day ideology of the bourgeoisie' as Gramsci (apparently) put it somewhere, wherever it may take you. It is of course easy to simply support England - but isn't there are problem in lining up with our ruling class, even just on a question of sport? Somewhere?
Ed Rooksby is one non-Marxist socialist who thinks so. 'I'd usually support England, you know. I think, however, that I might just find myself able to leave that football nationalism stuff behind this time...I think I shall support France or Spain - somewhere fairly hip and glamorous...Clearly, I'm going to be careful about this - it's probably best not to walk into a pub full of squaddies and shout 'allez la France!' However, a few well placed anti-patriotisms should provide some considerable source of amusement. I'm going to need some steel though. I hope that some of my visitors here will keep checking up on me to ensure that I've not reverted to England-supportery. It might not be easy. I am weak.'
Anti-patriotism is better than patriotism, but the problem with going for France or Spain is that they too are imperialist countries. But then, as Comrade Rooksby admits 'I'm not really doing this out of principle - I've said before that the whole 'anyone but England as a tool of socialist politics' idea is completely laughable.' Therein lies the source of his 'weakness' - while opposed to the English ruling class, he refuses to cut his ties completely with their ideas - of nations and so nationalism.
Here one has to remember the Marxist Benedict Anderson's point that nations are 'imagined communities', full of invented traditions about their past. People want to identify with a collective of some sort, to avoid the alienation from humanity that they feel from being screwed at work. As Chris Bambery, in an article on Marxism and Sport:
'Even the love of being in a crowd reflects the atomisation and lack of community we suffer under capitalism, a pale reflection of what real human solidarity would be like. The buzz, the excitement, comes because people see it as a break from the mundane reality of everyday life. But the buzz goes quickly and it isn't a break from capitalist reality. Trotsky once had occasion to refer to how the creative potential of working class people is caricatured by popular pastimes. Writing on Britain, Trotsky points out, "The revolution will inevitably awaken in the English working class the most unusual passions, which have been hitherto been so artificially held down and turned aside, with the aid of social training, the church, the press, in the artificial channels of boxing, football, racing and other sports". Elsewhere he adds, "In the sphere of philanthropy, amusements and sports, the bourgeoisie and the church are incomparatively stronger than we are. We cannot tear away the working class youth from them except by means of the socialist programme and revolutionary action".'
Taking a position of 'Anyone but England' during the World Cup does not mean being a killjoy or doing this in an overly dogmatic fashion. One has to be creative about this. Here, Dave Renton offers some good pointers:
'For buried in the worst of it are bound to be some moments worth savouring: the 11 June group match between Portugal against Angola, for example, could easily go the way of 2002 and Senegal's humiliation of France. For five centuries, Portugal were the dominant power in that country. They introduced the Angolans to starvation and slavery. Would it really be so wrong for a left-winger to take pleasure if Portugal lost? It will also be interesting to see how team USA goes down in Germany: a country which once had the last two Michael Moore books at 1, 2 and 3 in its bestseller charts (numbers 1 and 3 were the German editions, an English-language edition was at number 2). And ignoring their odds (which are pitiful) I think a modest socialist case could indeed be made for backing Trinidad and Tobago: the team was built from nothing, and managed for most of the post-war period and until as recently as 1971 by none other than Eric James, CLR's brother.'
Personally, I think every English socialist who supports England when they play teams like Trinidad - former colonies of Britain - or say Iran - which we are gearing up to attack - deserves ridicule if not utter contempt. The position of 'Anyone But England' is only 'laughable' if one thinks that the English working class are somehow too 'backward' or 'ill-educated' to make a socialist revolution here. In fact it is the only principled position one can have - the colour of the socialist flag is red - or, for the next month or so, perhaps red and black: