Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Friday, August 08, 2008

A Marxist critique of the Olympics

Chris Bambery in this week's Socialist Worker has a critique of the Olympics opening in Beijing, and building on his analysis in Marxism and Sport, a critique of sport more generally. It's all good stuff, though I suspect there are some who will take issue with the way in which he ignores some of the contradictions within sport. For example, he writes that

Sport has been used as a tool of imperialism. Trinidadian Marxist CLR James showed how cricket was used in the British West Indies to disseminate ideas that were central to maintaining colonial rule.

Now this is of course true as far as it goes. Cricket was promoted by colonial officials at the height of the power of the British Empire in order, some of those - like say Lord Harris - doing the promoting, thought, to precisely uphold the values of Empire. Cricket then was tied up with Englishness and Empire during this Victorian period - the 'Golden Age' of the game.

But those who do read CLR James's Beyond a Boundary will of course see something else, that actually the way cricket was organised and structured in colonial Trinidad according to race and class actually meant that sometimes cricket matches took on enormous political significance. Moreover, when the West Indies and other teams like India played England at an international level - particularly once the grip of colonialism was being steadily undermined off the pitch by national liberation movements, cricket matches could help embolden those struggling to build say a new West Indian national consciousness or say Indian national consciousness. Lets quote, (oddly enough for this blog), the former Conservative Prime Minister John Major, in his history of cricket, More Than a Game:

'The Marxist historian C.L.R. James argued that, in the West Indies, cricket had a magic that was a guiding light for the dispossessed and the disenfranchised. From a polar opposite political position, Lord Harris argued that cricket upheld the values of a nineteenth-century empire. From their disparate viewpoints, James and Harris had instincts in common: both believed that cricket touches deep and conflicting emotions, and offers added value to society. They are right. Sport, and cricket specifically, can have a dynamic effect upon a community, and can spring from the very core of a nation.'

Now today, of course, things are slightly different again. The enemy of cricket now is less imperialism - though like racism, until the socialist revolution, that will sadly always be one factor shaping the game - but rather the enemy is capital and corporate power in particular. David Renton writes about this particular threat here. Renton is also author of a new biography CLR James: Cricket's Philosopher King, and if anyone wants to hear someone who knows far more than me discuss what James might have made of cricket today, then he will be speaking at the Salford Working Class Movement Library on 4 October at 2pm.

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