Thursday, February 13, 2014

Football Wars (2012)

From the July 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1969 rioting by fans during a World Cup match between Honduras and El Salvador appeared to trigger a four-day military conflict –the so-called football war. In fact, the Salvadoran generals merely used the rioting as a convenient occasion for launching a planned attack on Honduras. The main cause of tension was land disputes between Salvadoran migrants in Honduras and local farmers.

Nevertheless, competitive sports like football do have connections with war. The Duke of Wellington is supposed to have said that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. The connections are especially striking where competing teams represent different nations and the memory of past wars is still fresh –or is artificially revived by nationalist politicians and publicists.

The Euro 2012 soccer finals, co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine, offer a veritable feast of national and racial hatred. When Russia played the Czech Republic in Lvov (western Ukraine) on June 8, Russian fans threw lighted fireworks and fought Ukrainian fans. When Russia played Poland in Warsaw on June 12, Russian fans clashed with Polish fans and police, leaving 15 injured. Fans from several East European countries have made black players on West European teams targets of racial abuse. And so it goes on. 

The East European media have played their part in fomenting hatred. For example, on the eve of the Russian-Polish match Polish newspapers took care to remind their readers of the ‘Miracle on the Vistula’–the victory of Polish arms in the war of 1920 with Bolshevik Russia.

When talking about ‘football hooliganism’ it is important to distinguish between spontaneous acts by excited fans and the much more serious violence orchestrated by the gangs or ‘firms’ that are attached to many football clubs. These firms are paramilitary organizations that supply commanders, provide training in armed and unarmed combat and conduct preliminary reconnaissance of unfamiliar terrain. They are often infiltrated or even controlled by ultra-nationalist political groups that recruit among fans.

On June 13, The Sun Today described a training and indoctrination camp set up on an abandoned Soviet military base near Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine by Patriot of Ukraine –the paramilitary auxiliary of the fascist Social-National Assembly (SNA). The SNA website ( –under the motto ‘Strength! Order! Wellbeing!’–explains that Patriot of Ukraine is “the revolutionary avant-garde of the Ukrainian social-nationalist movement”and was established to “purge the nation”and guard the SNA.

The SNA is related to the All-Ukrainian Union ‘Freedom’ (Svoboda), which has captured control of large areas of western Ukraine, including Lvov and other cities, and is poised to enter the national parliament. Both have their origin in the old Social-National Party, but Svoboda has cultivated a more respectable image. You can find videos of their torchlight marches through Ukraine’s cities at

The ‘national identities’ inculcated through competitive sports impart a sense of meaning and importance. They offer an illusory escape from humdrum lives. For the ‘hooligans’ there is also the temporary emotional release and addictive adrenalin rush of acted-out aggression –cheaper and perhaps less risky than alternatives such as drugs. The identity and meaning are sham, because ordinary working people live much the same lives and face much the same problems everywhere. National identities have nothing to do with real life. But they do the ruling class a great service by blocking any alternative identity rooted in real life –an identity capable of uniting working people throughout the world in the fight for a life from which we will not feel the need to escape.

Sport and the Spirit of Capitalism (2012)

From the November 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Today the scandal in professional cycling is doping: a hundred years ago it was racism.

Traditionally, things have tended to be difficult for the American athlete who happens also to be black. Jesse Owens, snubbed by his own President, had to travel to the 1936 Berlin Olympiad for the “warmest ovation of his life” – and a friendly wave from the Fuhrer himself – whilst a young Cassius Clay, disgusted by his homecoming reception some 24 years later, reportedly consigned his Rome Olympic Gold to the muddy depths of the Ohio. Practically unknown today, although in his time as famous as Owens or Clay, is cyclist Major Taylor. Why?

In the couple of decades straddling the turn of the twentieth century, cycling was as hugely popular in the USA as baseball or boxing. Before the arrival of the motor car and aeroplane, it was effectively the world’s fastest sport with its own galaxy of highly-paid superstars, drawn mainly from the ‘artisan classes’. However, as the century progressed this popularity steadily diminished until, by the outbreak of World War Two, it had sunk into almost total oblivion; its traditions and gladiators – particularly its black ones – forgotten.

Marshall‘Major’ Taylor – as a performing trick-cycling youngster, he sported a mock-military tunic – was born into rural Indianan poverty in 1878, his slave parents having crossed into freedom from Kentucky. Effectively adopted by a wealthy white family as companion to their only son, he spent several happy years during which he was treated, and encouraged to view himself, as racially equal. Taylor was, therefore, no Jim Crow-era ‘uppity nigger’, never having been a ‘downity’ one in the first place.

Such lifestyle gave him access to the unheard-of luxury of a bicycle, upon which machine, when he duly returned, aged thirteen, to his birth family, he displayed such prodigious competitive prowess that, allied with his acrobatic skills, he was able to turn professional some five years later.

World champion
His rise thereafter was meteoric. Within a couple of years he had won both national and world titles, broken and re-broken no fewer than seven world records – and all in the face of appalling racial hostility. With cycling’s then governing body, the League of American Wheelmen attempting an outright colour ban to supplement prevailing member antipathy, Taylor experienced frequent difficulty both entering events – and then exiting them in one piece. Under the noses of prejudiced officials, he was routinely fouled and assaulted, at best having to single-handedly overcome the combined efforts of the entire field. Spectators and journalists, however, loved this gutsy, stylish rider – “the few hissed: the many cheered” – and promoters, recognising his box office appeal, welcomed him.

A devout Baptist, Taylor’s refusal to compete on Sundays effectively precluded further world titles and when physically attacked his response, invariably, was to turn the other cheek – and simply pedal a bit faster. Over several years he was, unquestionably, the best short-distance cyclist on the planet, idolised throughout Europe and the Antipodes, practically unbeatable in fair competition.

Retiring in 1910, Taylor, like so many sportsmen, struggled with life-beyond-adrenalin. He entered the fledgling motor trade but proved a better cyclist than businessman. Ever-generous and charitable, his fortune slowly evaporated, his marriage foundered, his health collapsed and dying penniless in Chicago in 1932, his unclaimed corpse was accorded a segregated pauper’s burial.

So much for ‘sport’ within class-divided, socially fractured society. In truth, how could it be otherwise? With life for billions a constant struggle for basic economic subsistence or paltry reward – a rat race – its recreational elements must surely reflect this. Where winning, acquiring, surviving are the overriding imperatives, then cheating, shortcutting, colluding will inevitably follow. And anyway, the race itself is pretty well fixed – odds fiddled, running order predetermined, from boudoir (parked Bentley or park bench) to battleground (boardroom or building site).

When the rat race is over
What then, when humanity has finally transcended the rat race? With the world’s resources now the common heritage how will societal attitudes towards sport have altered and in what ways might the calibre of performance have been affected? Will there actually be competitive sport?

The great post-war Australian coach, Percy Cerutty once averred that the finest athletic displays he ever witnessed were in Aboriginal communities where, uncluttered with and unfettered by what he called “Western values” and religious hang-ups, participants deported themselves with a natural elegance and fleetness of foot, and could endure levels of pain and suffering well beyond those of their ‘civilized’ counterparts.

Replicating that in a concrete stadium would, however, have been problematic. Chucking a spear across an empty field, jumping in triplicate into a pit of sand, lumbering endlessly around a plastic track with neither tasty kangaroo up front nor hungry crocodile behind to stimulate the pace? And what use would a communistic tribesman have had for a gold medal except to dangle it on his didgeridoo?

Such issues will be, of course, for society’s members – locally, globally, varyingly – to settle. Many will doubtless see sport purely as a means of healthy exercise and recreation whether strenuous and vigorous or painstaking and skilful; others may prefer to merely spectate or do nothing.

Some competitive elements and means of recording may well of course linger: football retaining its goalposts and referees, athletics its measuring tapes and stopwatches, judo its belt and points systems, but gone surely will be the all-pervading need to defeat, vanquish and rout: the tackle above the ball, the punch below the belt, the bouncer, the beamer and the hypodermic. Imagine: the Corinthian Spirit restored; amateurism regaining its true meaning and status within sport – and beyond. Imagine: world festivals replacing international competitions; sport for sport’s sake. Imagine too: divisive national flags recycled into cleaning mops; chauvinistic anthems supplanted by…Imagine.

And if some future Major Taylor is observed swooping around a velodrome with a posse of somewhat paler gentlemen in his wake, there will be no question whatsoever of bullwhip or hood: he’ll simply be pedalling a wee bit faster.
Andrew Armitage

Running Commentary: Freddie's Fall (1982)

The Running Commentary column from the March 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Freddie's Fall

Speaking in the House of Commons on February 9, Margaret Thatcher added her trickle to the gush of praise poured on Sir Freddie Laker after the collapse of  Laker airways: "Whatever his difficulties now, nothing can take away from the great service he has done. He brought the possibility of travel to people who never dreamed they would have it."

Immediately after the crash a "Sir Freddie Friendly Fund" was set up to which thousands of members of the working class contributed in a bid to relaunch the business of the man who sold us the world. Like the pupils at some public schools who are made to say "thank you" to the master who has just beaten them, these workers were expressing a curious gratitude. Laker did not provide any "great service" for anyone, unless of course we are talking about the milking of "his" workforce to gain great wealth.

Laker services were really performed by the people who built and piloted the aeroplanes, navigated the routes, controlled the air traffic, handled the luggage and worked in the airports. What Laker actually did in this business has been described as "providing the initiative", "being the spark plug" and "organising the show". This means that he was a "good" business man: good at negotiating (arm twisting and trickery), good at managing people (authoritarian and arrogant), a shrewd operator (ruthless) and good at investing (putting ink on to cheques).

Laker Airways was established to make profits for its owners, not as a loving venture to enable poor people to enjoy visits to exotic places. The airline went into receivership with debts totalling over £210,000,000 and there is a plain similarity between its troubles and those of the Polish government. Both organisations were engaged in heavy borrowing in the middle 1970s in order to finance expansion (in 1973, Poland had the third fastest national growth rate in the world) and both were eventually unable to satisfy their creditors who had become particularly anxious with the onset of the recession.

The profit system is founded on competition and it is ironic that one of today's most outspoken worshippers of the advantages of "free enterprise" has been squashed by the system of which he was so fond.


The British Movement has recently formed a Women's Division. In an Organiser's Directive, BM members were told to "encourage  wives and lady friends to join and become active. Most women work for either large concerns or are out throughout the day meeting people so they are often in a better position than the men for spreading our ideas".

What ideas? Well, apart from the notions of "keeping Britain white" and "fighting Godless Communism" which are moronically repeated in slogans throughout BM publications, there don't seem to be any. A recent copy of British Tidings, the BM newsheet, does not reveal very much. We are informed that the development of the Women's Division will play a vital role in enlarging the Movement "to work in an organised way for our Country's future".

The Newsheet continues: "They will have their own uniform. For younger women there will be the very attractive British Movement jump suit in dark blue with usual badges. Party badge, England shoulder flash and where necessary, an armband." LIke the Chinese "communist" uniform, only nicer?

But what members of this organisation are supposed to discuss as they march about in uniforms is nowhere made clear.

However, if members of the British Movement share John Tyndall's view about children's education, we should not expect them to be brought up to have very much to talk about. In the National Front magazine Spearhead (October 1976) Tyndall wrote: "In every school curriculum there should be a number of hours in the week set aside for activities which should bring the young child into contact with rudimentary military procedures . . . there should be a much greater emphasis on physical fitness and the object should be to produce a hard, tough youth capable of great endurance and with a combative spirit".

Perhaps it would be cheaper and more efficient to forget books and education courses altogether and simply train the children by hitting them repeatedly over the head with blunt instruments.


Warren Hawksley is the Conservative MP who last month tabled an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill to the effect that any male aged between 10 and 14, or young person aged between 14 and 18, found guilty of assault, provocative language or criminal damage should be liable to be whipped.

Hawksley, who no doubt had an expensive education so that his thoughts might be more sophisticated and refined than those of the hoi polloi, has even specified the instruments with which the blows should be struck: canes for children while the over-14s get the birch rod.

There are one or two points Hawksley does not make entirely clear. Will governments continue to be exempt from committing criminal damage when they authorise the production of weapons of war? Will priests and politicians continue to be exempt from provocative language charges when they tell us that our poverty is ordained by heaven or that the unemployed should solve their problems by roving round on a bicycle? Will the police and the army continue to be exempt, in practice, from charges of assault as they go about their duties?

Probably the answer to these questions is "Yes", since the institutions mentioned could not exist if they were forbidden to behave in those ways. And, speaking of the police, it was interesting to hear a police-recruit instructor advising his rookies on the subject of arrest, in a documentary last month ("Training Recruits"—Police, BBC 1, 8 February): "If you deal with working-class people they do not mind at all that much being arrested . . . but wealthy people sometimes take offence to being arrested."

Puny Benn

If you believe the mass media then you will consider Tony Benn to be a socialist of the most extreme kind. A man who wants revolution. A man who, perhaps unlike Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, wishes not to tinker with capitalism but actually to end it. In fact, Benn does talk about socialism more than most politicians in the Labour Party; but when you actually examine what he says you will discover that the change he desires is not all that radical.

Some of his "extremely militant revolutionary" followers must have been a bit put out when he appeared recently in a television interview (After Noon Plus. Granada, 29 January). For ten minutes or so, two interviewers interrogated Benn about the changes he would like to see and Benn outlined a programme of measures concerning the Welfare State, nationalisation, the Civil Service and the House of Lords.

One of the interviewers observed that this list of policies were merely a collection of individual changes: "You are widely regarded as a revolutionary, is it fair to call you that?" Benn rubbed his chin and thought carefully, while "You tell 'em Tony!" must have been shouted at thousands of television screens by proud militants. "Revolutionary change", came the reply, "it's a funny word, isn't it. No. I believe in reform."

Who gets Away?

As the "holiday season" draws closer we are bombarded from all sides with glossy advertisements advising us to forget the drabness and monotony of workaday life for a while and get away from it all. The popular idea of a pleasurable break from wage slavery is to be herded into buses and planes, shunted to sunshine and shingle for a couple of weeks and then shunted back home for another fifty weeks of displeasure.

The wealthy do not have this problem—for them life is one long holiday; and while unemployment is a blight to us, worsening our living standards, unemployment for the wealthy is a reason for delight. Last year, in one of his customarily penetrating insights into the workings of society, Prince Philip said: "A few years ago everybody was saying "We must have more leisure—everybody's working too much'. Now that everybody's got so much leisure, they're complaining they're unemployed. People don't seem to be able to make up their minds what they want, do they?" (Daily Express 11/6/81).

This year the Prince will receive a social security cheque for £160,000, excluding his free lodging in five royal palaces and his wife's two private estates, free travel on Royal planes, train and yacht and other expenses. He will not be clocking on every day, signing on every two weeks or longing for a vacation to taste paradise for a while in a two-star hotel in Barcelona.

Dick Giordano, the managing director of BOC International, is another example of a member of the wealth-owning class who will not be found yearning for a few days in each year when he can do as he pleases as long as it doesn't cost too much. It was announced last month that he had enjoyed a 76 per cent pay increase, taking his "earned" income to £477,000 a year. Meanwhile, households with a weekly income of £50 to £60 in 1979 on average spent £55.64 on holidays (Poverty in the UK, Peter Townsend). Holidays are very often cheap and short-lived bids to escape from reality. But there can be no individual escape from a social system.
Gary Jay

Letter: Capitalism and Apartheid (2014)

Letter to the Editors from the February 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Editors

I would question the claim made in the article ‘Where Mandela Failed’ (Socialist Standard, January 2014), thus:
‘Mandela had to let the big mining corporations operate as usual. They too had in fact been opposed to apartheid as it was impeding the normal operation of capitalism in South Africa. They wanted, and got, a non-racial capitalism.’
I think this is far too sweeping if it is intended as some kind of timeless statement of fact and buys too readily into the liberal myth that capitalism and apartheid were fundamentally at odds with each other (as Merle Lipton argued in her seminal 1985 work, Capitalism and Apartheid) and, in so doing, lends itself to an unduly mechanistic explanation for the demise of apartheid which discounts or downplays the role or political action and human agency – in particular, the township uprisings and the huge costs this imposed on the state.

Like all myths, this particular one has an element of truth in it but what is not sufficiently acknowledged is the other side of the argument. In fact, the big mining corporations – above all, the giant Anglo-American corporation – did very nicely out of apartheid and, historically speaking, were instrumental in pushing for many of the early measures that put in place the migrant labour system, which measures formed much of the legislative groundwork upon which the system of apartheid was later formally erected – like the Native Reserves policy, the Pass Laws and the imposition of poll and hut taxes to force black peasants into the money economy and so make them dependent on employment in the mines. The labour intensive nature of mining required a huge labour force and the corporations worked hand in glove with the state to ensure a steady flow of cheap black labour. Behind the shrewdly crafted image – mainly for foreign consumption, I suspect, and also to safeguard substantial foreign holdings, in the case of Anglo-American, in places like Canada and the US – which portrayed corporations, like Anglo-American, as the valiant and fearless foes of apartheid, these same corporations where involved up to their greasy necks in a cosy incestuous relationship with the racist state in which each saw good reason to cooperate with the other. The state relied heavily on the tax revenues it obtained from the mining companies while, reciprocally, the mining companies benefitted enormously from the racist repression that the state enacted.

As John Summa put it in an article appropriately entitled ‘Anglo-American Corporation – a Pillar of Apartheid’:
‘Anglo-American has an anti-labor history that involves the use of the repressive services of the apartheid security apparatus, as well as its own security personnel, to control and exploit workers. Being the world's largest private employer of black labor and the world's largest producer of gold and diamonds means Anglo is also one of the world's biggest exploiters of cheap black mine labor.’ (The Multinational Monitor, September 1988)
It was pragmatism rather than principle than governed Anglo-American's relationship with the Apartheid state. Its putative opposition to apartheid was more often than not forced upon it by the rise of worker militancy (like the wave of mineworkers strikes in the 80s)– the very thing that you downplay– than by rhetorical commitment to the so called free market. Anglo-American's call for black trade unions to be granted official recognition– like the National Union of Mineworkers– was made, not out of concern for the rights of workers, but out of expediency in the face of unofficial wildcat strikes where a mechanism of negotiation and worker self- discipline was lacking. Ironically this same NUM has become the object of much hatred and contempt among black mineworkers for siding with the authorities in the Marikana miners' strike in 2012 in which police shot dead some 44 miners.

One of the main arguments in favour of the liberal position that capitalism and apartheid were somehow fundamentally irreconcilable was that the latter made for an endemic shortage of skilled labour by restricting skilled and semi-skilled occupations to the minority white population only: the so called ‘colour bar’. The problem with this argument is that, firstly it does not apply so much to industries like mining and agriculture which remained largely labour intensive (although newer mines opened up after the WWII tended to be more capital intensive and this may have lead to some opposition to the colour bar from some of the more progressive mining companies from the 1970s onwards, but certainly not all). The article, however, conveys the impression that it was the mining sector that was in the very vanguard of capitalist opposition to apartheid which, I suggest, is somewhat misleading. Secondly, Oppenheimer himself and others in the white liberal establishment were, as a matter of fact, quite amenable to the idea of retaining the colour bar providing it could be made less restrictive. This was what lay behind the concept of the so called ‘floating’ colour bar which could be raised as and when the need for more skilled labour become more pressing and, indeed, to an extent the government went along with this idea in practice. In theory, this could have gone a long way to address the problem of skills shortages, together with the government policy of encouraging white inward migration from Europe and elsewhere but, of course, other factors intervened which are precisely the ones you have tended to overlook in your analysis.

If there is any merit in the argument you put forward here, and undeniably there is some, it would relate more to the manufacturing sector (and also, to an extent, the high skill end of the larger services sector) rather than the mining sector as such (which along with agriculture, formed the traditional twin bastions of the apartheid economy). Manufacturing became increasingly important in the post war era and it was here that the problem of skill shortages was most acute and obvious. However, even in the case of manufacturing, the relationship with the apartheid state was ambivalent, to say the least. Some branches of manufacturing, such as armaments production, ironically prospered precisely because of the imposition of sanctions against Apartheid. The same, incidentally, could be said of Anglo-American which, because of the pull out of foreign capital– disinvestment was able to massively expand its portfolio of acquisitions bought at knock down prices, including some manufacturing businesses too.
Robin Cox (by email)

There is no fundamental disagreement here. You make some good points which illustrate well how capitalist interests are often divided and in conflict among themselves, and how capitalist and state aims do not always coincide—Editors.