Category Archives: Red Sport

The Trotskyist Milers run again

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guest post by Soren Goard

battersea

On Monday, four of us Trotskyist milers ran the Sri Chinmoy 3 x 1 mile self-transcendence relay in Battersea park. Run and Become, the party responsible for the race, seems to see itself as the Pret a Manger of the sports shop world. It likes to sell running shoes and gear by hinging it onto higher principles and ethics. However those ethics are less about the economic origins of the garments and more about a semi-religious vision that everyone can and should run. All the time. In specially fitted and astoundingly expensive running shoes. I went to the place once, because my partner needed a sports bra. The high walls are covered in 10ft pictures of Sri Chinmoy and his mantras, which of course fits the semi-religious metaphor nicely.

This is, of course, slightly unfair. Its probably good to have a place which takes running seriously – injuries are more likely in unsuitable shoes. And whilst I turned up at Battersea Park on Tuesday half-expecting something involving Kool-Aid or large wicker structures, it was completely normal. Pedestrian even.

Having slightly messed up organising the teams, we ended up with 4 of us for a race which required groups of 3. Sam, my arch nemesis who infuriatingly fooled me in the Trotskyist miler earlier this year, decided to defect to a ‘real’ running club. Me, Dave and Robin were left to fend for ourselves. It was a 3x1mile relay and our times were actually pretty good. I got my personal best, 5.17, a whole 30 seconds faster than the Inter-Sect Trot-Off I mentioned above. In all honesty I was still anxious that there was not, in fact, some kind of cruel punishment for those who failed to meet an adequate time/level of transcendence, which definitely motivated me to run faster. Robin, having only just escaped from a gruelling Welsh labour camp, and its accompanying diet that consisted solely of lamb and thick sliced bacon, got 7.03, which he was happy with. David got 6.18, so we had an overall time of 18:39 and placed 28th. Some of the teams that came in the top ten were achieving three four-minute miles, which is a bit of a mindfuck. What was really galling though, was being beaten summarily by David Harvey’s doppelganger. Zizek would have been at least bearable.

Sam ran 2 seconds faster than me. 2 seconds. It was a good time and I think he was proud of it. I will have my revenge nevertheless.

Did we transcend our individual selves and achieve a greater one-ness with athletic enlightenment? From what I can tell this was Sri Chinmoy’s shtick. One of the many gurus who got big out of the 1960s, Chinmoy developed a kind of competitive meditation, where you achieved clarity of mind through a transcendence of your physical limits. Chinmoy would demonstrate this through superhuman tests of endurance and, later in his life, superhuman shows of strength.

There’s probably some truth in that idea. We’ve all had that point where physical exertion stops being ridiculously painful and perversely sweaty all of a sudden and you actually start to lose yourself, but most of the time you’re torn quickly out of that celestial plane by a low hanging branch or when you slip on a Durex wrapper (who has sex in a layby on Brixton Hill? Why?). Personally, I find running is good because you can forget how much bullshit is going on by making your body doing ridiculously unnecessary exertion. And I’m happy with that; there’s a lot of bullshit going on. But I didn’t get that in Battersea Park – it was over so quickly.

The Trotskyist milers will be running next on Sunday 31 August at Victoria Park in Hackney as a fund-raiser for Rosa Malloy-Post. more details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/224184284401202/.

The Workers Olympics of the 1920s and 1930s; not subordinating Play to Sport

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As we near the Olympics, and (more to the point) the various events in London which have been planned to satirise the Olympics’ supposed fixation on the body beautiful, this is as good a moment as any to look at the content of the anti-Olympics events of the 1920s and 1930s, which embodied a different balance of play and sport.

Kruger and Riordan’s The Story of Worker Sport opens with a brief resume of the scale of the Worker Olympics, the most prestigious events emerging from the Worker Sports tradition: “In 1925, a year after the Paris Olympic Games, 150,000 workers attended the first Worker Olympics at Frankfurt am Main. In 1931, one year before the Los Angeles “official” Olympic Games at which 1,408 athletes competed, over 100,000 workers from 26 countries took part in the second Worker Olympics at Vienna. More than a quarter million spectators attended the Vienna games. Five years later, in opposition to the 1936 Nazi Olympics at Berlin, a more grand Worker Olympics was planned for Barcelona; however, it never took place. The Worker Olympics easily surpassed their rival, the bourgeois Olympics Games, in the number of competitors and spectators and in pageant, culture, and new sports records.

In a chapter on the German Workers Sports movement Kruger describes the Frankfurt Workers Olympics of 1925 as follows: “The first Worker Olympics took place in the newly built Frankfurt stadium in front of 150,000 spectators. At the opening ceremony, a choir of 1200 people sang, giving the sports festival a cultural content. In a festive drama presentation, 60,000 ‘actors’ took part in the ‘Worker Struggle for the Earth’. The winning German women’s sprint relay actually beat the world record (the achievement was unratified because it was not sanctioned by the IAAF). All participants were required to take part in the cultural festivals, and all were permitted to compete in individual events to stress the performance of the general athlete rather than the specialist…”

Athletes from 19 countries took part in the games. The message of the games was “No More War”, with the red flag and Internationale replacing national flags and national anthems. Alongside sporting events there were performances of poetry and song, chess contests, lectures and art.

The games were a complex fusion of the collective and the competitive. As the example of the sprint relay shows, at the top end, athletes were serious about competing to the best of their physical ability. But even at this competitive end, there were subtle difference between the Worker and the bourgeois Olympics: a greater emphasis on plebeian sports (such as weightlifting) and non-sports (chess, hiking) and on activities which while sporting were really there for show and could only awkwardly be fixed into a competitive sports model (gymnastics).

Women were of course welcome (in contrast to the bourgeois Olympics, at which they were barely tolerated).

The priorities were co-operation in alliance with competition, and participation rather than spectating.

The forgotten anti-fascist Olympics Games

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[By "Ant Fasci", written for upcoming protest against the EDL in Walthamwtow]

Barcelona’s forgotten Olympics – 6000 athletes from 22 countries went to compete in an alternative 1936 Olympics to Hitler’s fascist games. The day before the opening ceremony the Spanish military coup was set in motion, triggering the beginning of the Civil War, and the Peoples Olympiad was cancelled.

Many of the athletes took to the streets in Barcelona and joined the pitch battles against the attempted right wing take over. The first brigadists were actually athletes there for the games and first columns to go to the Aragon front were made up of competing athletes. It was an impressive display of political solidarity from the sporting world yet remains an almost forgotten footnote of history.

The 1936 Berlin Olympics were remembered at the time as a propaganda triumph for Hitler’s ruling Nazi party, despite the best efforts of black American athlete Jesse Owens. Germany topped the medals table and the observing world powers were given a convincing enough display to warrant Germany’s reintegration back into global politics.

For anarchists and radicals, and especially the militant labour movement of the time, the 1936 Summer Olympics would be an opportunity to express direct opposition to the racist policies of the nascent fascist state, and set about organising an alternative Olympics in Barcelona. Calling itself the People’s Olympiad it brought together thousands of athletes from around the world in a show of international solidarity against the rise of European fascism.

In Spring of 36 Spain elected a republican Popular Front government which immediately pulled out of the summer games in protest at the IOC’s continued support of Hitler’s regime and began preparing an anti-fascist festival of sport. As Antonio Agullo, who helped organise the track events, remembered “the idea started from the small sports clubs in the barrios”. It was embraced by the Communists who used it as a propaganda tool although the Soviet Union pulled back from sending any athletes.

Barcelona and the Catalonian region in general was an anarchist stronghold with a militant working class tradition and as such a the ideal setting for the games. In addition to the usual sporting events, there would be chess, folkdancing, music and theatre.

Thousands of sports men and women from around the world were registered to compete including athletes from US, UK, Holland, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, the Scandinavian countries as well as Palestinian, Polish and Canadian athletes. There were also teams from Germany and Italy made up of political exiles from those countries. Many were sponsored by trade unions, workers’ clubs and associations, socialist and communist parties and left-wing groups as opposed to state-sponsored committees and represented their regions or localities rather than their country.

The Barcelona Games was to begin on July 19th but with the outbreak of the civil war immediately followed by a general strike it was swept aside as workers and radicals mobilised to defeat the nationalists and fascists. At least 300 of the athletes joined the initial columns to the Aragon front and many more stayed in Barcelona joining the incoming international brigades. In fact Felicia Browne, the artist and first British volunteer to be killed in the Civil war, was there specifically for the Games.

[The above article was written by campaigners publicising 'We Are Waltham Forest' Stop the EDL in Walthamstow! Protest, August 18th, More details here: http://community-languages.org.uk/waltham-forest-trades-council/]

[Flier for anti-EDL protest here: stopedl_flyer01-6]

All out for the red start

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All out for the red start

Marie Schmidt was 20 then
Every day she worked all day
She produced commodities
Yet she remained in poverty.
As she learns from watching films
Marie lives – she waits and waits
For the miracle to come.
Success comes with her start!

Walter Vogel was a small
Employee in a company,
Almost famished he lives by
His fantasy of being grand.
If promotion doesn’t come
Sport is used as substitute.

Always start on Red!

[This is the second song by Siegfried Moos that I've posted, after Red Sportsmen don't believe / that sport alone can liberate. Moos was a songwriter, poet, and left-wing-activist. There were three characters in Moos’ ‘Alles am der Roten Start’: Vogel, a lowly white collar worker who is often hungry, and strives to be important, and ends up turning to sport; Marie Schmidt, a young factory worker, and Anton Schmidt, who is unemployed. The musical in which it appeared was first performed to an audience of 4000 people in Berlin in summer 1932, and ended with calls to vote for the Communist candidate in the pending presidential elections. Travelling to Britain after the Nazis seizure of power, Moos became an academic and then eventually an adviser to Harold Wilson's first government. Those wishing to know more about him should read his daughter Merilyn Moos' semi-autobiographical novel, The Language of Silence]

Red sportsmen don’t believe that / Sport alone can liberate

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Many thanks to Merilyn Moos for sending me her unpublished biography of her father Siegfried Moos, an important figure in the Berlin Workers’ Sport movement of the early 1930s, captured in Brecht’s film ‘Kuhle Wampe’ (above). The following song by Moos is a nice antidote to our own Olympic year:

This is Sport by Siegfried Moos (trans by Irene Fick)

This is the sport of the ruling class
This is the essence of capitalism:
Each person breaks with the masses,
And pursues his search for profit.
And if it means forfeiting life,
That wont stop him; he must succeed

II
1. Capital is fearful of the thoughts
Of those that toil for famine wages.
To distract the oppressed from the struggle
Hear the radio, press: Look at the sporting aces!

2. But not enough: the profiteers
Of capital, not satisfied with this distraction, say
In order to forget your class, you must
Use sport to prepare for our war.

III
1. The sportsmen call: do not be silent!
Attention now: No need to wait!
Stop bending over backwards.
Now attention! Go! Wait no longer.
Hone your muscles! Focus your eyes!
Sharpen your brains! Work your lungs!
We must be fit for our struggle,
Right until we reach our goal.

2. Recruit today to strike tomorrow.
Today we struggle and discuss.
No one will stop us, we will not be hushed,
Red sportspeople on the march.
Hone your muscles!…

3. Red sportsmen fight for all,
For the causes of their class
Unforgiving against all those
Who oppose the broad masses.
Hone your muscles!…

4. Solidarity of sportsmen
of all countries, of all races.
Solidarity of sportsmen
For the final battle of the classes.
Hone your muscles!…

IV
Red sportsmen don’t believe that
Sport alone can liberate.
Then join the red fighting front
To be soldiers of the class struggle.
Hone your body, recruit in word and deed;
Always prepared – march into struggle “Red Sport”!