Category Archives: Red Sport

A new life of CLR James



I am grateful to Christian Hogsbjerg for giving me a copy of his account of CLR James’ emergence as a writer in the conditions of 1930s Britain (Duke UP, £16.03). It is a compelling book, of the right length for its material (280 pages), which sheds significant light on three aspects of James’ development, first his debt to revolutionary Nelson, second the impact of cricket on his Marxism, third, his (re)discovery of Toussaint L’Ouverture.

James himself stated repeatedly that he learned his revolutionary politics among the Lancashire weavers, and in particular in the small town of Nelson, to which he travelled in 1932 as Learie Constantine’s ghost-writer. Hogsbjerg tracks down details of James’s career as a visiting member of Nelson’s second XI. He finds examples of Nelson being described as a Little Moscow in the 1920s. He locates the source of James’ copy of Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution – loaned by a fellow bibliophile Fred Cartmell. He vividly portrays the almost insurrectionary 1931-2 “More Looms” cotton strike, the immediate prelude to James’ arrival in the town. And he finds notes of James’ meetings for the ILP branch in Nelson.

Hogsbjerg revisits James’ appointment as Neville Cardus’ deputy on the cricket page of the Manchester Guardian. He places the 1933 West Indies’ cricket tour of England – James’ first major assignment – within the immediate context of the preceding ‘Bodyline’ Ashes and a hypocritical scare that the Windies might now attempt leg theory against England. He follows James’ rejection of Donald Bradman – not a builder of social movement but a mere accumulator of runs. And he digs out a later piece in which James attempted to explain bodyline in terms of the ides to be found in Spengler’s Decline of the West (another book loaned by Cartmell): “it was the violence and ferocity of our age expressing itself in cricket”.   

From the perspective of a socialist activist living in Weimar Germany, Spengler might have been a bitter reactionary; but for someone who had been educated in the British colonies, the idea that the direct rule of the French and British empires was doomed to an imminent end had a different, more optimistic meaning. James rediscovered Toussaint, Hogsbjerg argues, in 1934, after moving to London, in a period where he was surrounded by both Trotskyist and Pan-Africanist friends, and was attempting a complex merger of these two strands of left-wing politics. Hogsbjerg detects other socialist influences on James’ Black Jacobins, including the French historiography of 1789, Marx, Jaures, and Kropotkin. James had a vision for the immediate future in colonial Africa, predicting what Hogsbjerg characterises as “a fluid and confused situation … with some whites immediately fighting in the ranks alongside black Africans”, in a single process of “international permanent revolution”.

I enjoyed the book, and recommend it to anyone who cares about James’ life and intellectual development. It is pleasing to find that even after three decades of James scholarship there are still new things to be said about one of the most inspiring and iconoclastic of the Trotskyists.

Always start on Red



A review of Merilyn Moos, Beaten but not Defeated (Chronos Books, £17.99)

Siegi Moos (1904-1988) lived through extraordinary events, A teenage observer of the Bavarian Soviet, then at the end of the 1920s a Berlin Communist, he was a prominent figure in some of the least well-known organisations of the KPD milieu (the Red Front Alliance for Struggle or RFB, the Berlin Proletarian Freethinkers, the Red Sport movement,and agit-prop theatre). On exile to Britain from 1934, he was temporarily one of the leaders of the KPD exile organisation in London, before for 30 years after 1938 voluntarily exiling himself from the political left.

His daughter, Merilyn Moos, has written a generous and candid biography of Siegi, which does not hesitate to address episodes about which her parents never spoke. One of the most significant is her mother Lotte’s decision in 1934, a year after having married Siegi, to fall for a second activist Brian Goold Verschoyles, and then in 1936 to leave for the USSR to be with him. Brian was some kind of Soviet spy, while Lotte was critical of leaders of the Soviet Union, and Brian’s punishment for the treachery of a relationship with a “Trotskyist” was to be sent to the war in Spain (a sanction which may have appealed to him, opening up at least the possibility of escape over the Pyrennees). When she continued to correspond with Brian in Spain about the fate of the POUM, Brian was captured by his Soviet handlers and killed. Although Lotte and Siegi were reconciled, right up until her own death seventy years later, Lotte kept mementoes of Brian close to her.

For many readers, the most striking parts of the book will be those in which Merilyn Moos locates Siegi within the German revolution, which most of us know through only the books published by Broué and Harman. Siegi was in the Berlin leadership of the Freethinkers, a group campaigning for divorce and abortion rights, which had shifted towards the KPD after a long period as one of the SPD’s many workers’ clubs. By around 1930 he was the editor and chief theorist of a Berlin magazine, Arbeiterbühne und Film, which was the publication of an organisation of several hundred agit-prop theatre groups, including 30 in Berlin alone. He wrote lyrics for the Red Sport movement, several of which were set to music by the composer Stefan Wolpe, including a musical All out for the Red Start, performed to about 4,000 people in Berlin in February 1932.

Siegi is at times a slightly distant presence. Moos argues that because of his background in Bavarian circles he took anti-fascism more seriously than others of his comrades, and did not share the language of the Third Period or the KPD’s attacks on the SPD as “Social Fascists”. Beyond this, she struggle to get beyond the silence of her parents (neither of whom talked about their youth, and both of whom were dead before this book was finished) to the ups and downs that Siegi must have experienced within a Communist Party that a week before its dissolution in 1933 was the third largest party in Parliament with 17% of the vote. In particular, I would have liked to have seen more about the RFB – the KPD-allied but in large part-independent movement of anti-fascists within which Siegi and the freethinkers and agit group groups moved.

Siege’s journey is much better documented during exile. The domestic catastrophe of Lotte’s affair with Brian was interwoven with a series of political defeats, including emigration, having to learn a new language, marginalisation within the KPD London group, and a period of internment as a suspected enemy alien. These setbacks provide the book’s title, while Siege’s redemption is established in the series of steps he took from the late 1960s onwards to re-establish a practical relationship with the ideas of his youth: buying Labour Worker, reading pamphlets produced by the Solidarity group, writing about the betrayal of the German revolution of 1919, supporting his daughter against an attempted witch-hunt within her own union NATFHE, joining the Hackney Writers’ Workshop run by Ken Worpole, and publishing poems of the struggle.

The book ends with an account of Siege’s death in Homerton Hospital, wiggling his toes to the beat as his daughter sang him the Internationale, and with Lotte at Siege’s memorial service reading – aptly – from William Morris’ Dream of John Ball:

“I pondered all these things, and how men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name…”

Thoughts on Running



A guest post by Anna Mobbs

Black, narrow and muddy, the path ahead curves enticingly around the next tree. I can smell the elder trees, blackbird and thrush sing about their space, the drone of a high plane . A smile spreads from my heart to my face. I know that for the next 20 minutes there will be no people around me, I can enjoy the challenge of uneven ground as I quicken my pace and feel my thoughts drift like the seed husks floating through the air.

Since running longer distances  I have felt the London I live in kaleidoscope. Places I rarely bother to go to have become minutes away. I have also felt my neighbourhood expand as I have explored the rivers near my home on foot. There have been moments of beauty and surprise (a naked runner! Only seen in fog or summer dawn)

3 years ago I tried running as the cheapest exercise available to get fit.  I ran one mile and then my legs refused to go further.

I joined a running club which was aimed at people like me, the coach is an inspiring woman, for £1 every time you turned up she encouraged distance, then speed, and tricep dips and squats, and or sit ups. Sunday morning exercise in the snow, rain, sun or gloom she was there and the women who were also there run in solidarity with each other. I stopped.

A year later I started again, this time I was running at that group and joined a group at work. This exercise thing was good. I started running home with a colleague. The summer came, I nearly expired in the combination of pollution and heat. I stopped.

Then at the new year David Renton coaxed me out of my torpor and with another friend we ran around a bit of Bath. It was not that difficult. I ran again on my own and then the Hackney half marathon was announced and as it was running near my front door I thought why not?

Well I can tell you why not. Longer distance running at the pace I achieve means quite a long time with your own thoughts. As a full time public sector worker and mother of two you’d think a bit of time to think would be good, but actually I was having the same thoughts again and again … A bit like when I experience insomnia.

Then there have been the grumbling of my hips and knees, sometimes hurting so much I have not been able to sleep despite fatigue. Recently the heat has made running uncomfortable and some days I have set off thinking ‘it’s only 5 miles’ but after a couple I am longing for it all to be over.

I am going to do the inaugural Hackney half marathon on Sunday  and I plan to run regularly afterwards because running is also rather wonderful. First I am truly amazed that if I ask my body to do something then my body says ‘yes’. I sometimes can’t remember the person who had to stop after a lap round the park. Experienced runners talk about running as something we are evolved to do. My ‘happy zone’ is between mile 5 and mile 9 at the moment. Who is that person who knows that about herself?

It’s not just distance though, I had the wonderful experience of being led on a run by a fell runner. He routinely competes in 20 mile hill races. He ‘slowed down’ for me for a 9 mile training run. I did the first 5k and then 10k  the fastest I had ever managed. I did not expect to run like that and yet my body did it.

So much of our travelling in London is to get to places it’s easy to forget how to move. My running has been about covering ground. The absence of a  destination with my increasing sense of strength and ability has been truly liberating, transformative even. It’s hard to explain. I have run myself out of my self imposed limits. Whether we can run, walk,  wheel or dance, in moving we can enjoy our breath; enjoy life and live.

The Trotskyist Milers run again


guest post by Soren Goard


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:

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


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


[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:]

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