The Spike or Victoria College Review 1941
Fair Play? Never!
Fair Play? Never!
To set the cause above renown,
To love the game beyond the prize,
To honour while you strike him down,
The foe that comes with fearless eyes.
Sir Henry Newbolt.
'The Game for the Game's Sake.' On the face of it this consecrated phrase is just as silly as speaking of War for War's sake, Art for Art's sake, or—what is in precisely the same category—Beer for Beer's sake. Combat, culture, and liquor, all have their place. But they are ends not means. In themselves they are nothing. The formulation is meaningless. But is the role of sport in Capitalist society entirely meaningless? Can we consider it independent of space, time, and the historical development of man any more than any other aspect of social life? Of course not. Sport has just as much a social basis, a social function, as art, religion, philosophy, or any other aspect of the superstructure. If we are to speak of these as having an economic nexus, as being not entirely unconditioned by the state of productive forces and productive relations, we cannot deny a similar development to the pleasures of the people. What, in short, is the role of Sport in the class struggle?
The ruling ideology, we have been told, is the ideology of the ruling class. There is an ideology of sport. This is not to be denied. Whose interest, then, does it serve? The question is a fair one. Class ideologies must be admitted unless, of course, one does not 'believe' in the class struggle or rather, does not wish to believe in the class struggle, because it is an objective fact and was not invented by Marx when his carbuncles were troubling him a little more than usual. The ideology of the working class is a weapon of the working class. The ideology of the bourgeoisie is its armour.
Now if the idealogical role of religion can legitimately be considered as that of page 28 'opium for the people'—the phraseology is that of the Rev. Charles Kingsley—and the conception that of Alexander the Great, Bloody Mary, Maria Theresa, Louis Napoleon, Adolf Hitler or any other pannikin boss who's been handed the job of managing the people—might we not similarly speak of sport as the laudanum of the youth? That is the contention of this article.
Ask yourself for one moment what is the common justification for playing organised games? 'Why, to keep fit of course,' you'll reply at once. But fit for what? It can only be for the place where you spend one half of your waking life, that is, the factory. Therefore the harder you play the harder you'll work. But of course if the Capitalist state put it as nakedly to the workers as this the effect would soon be lost. No man would ever play to become a better work slave. Subtler, loftier, more 'ideal' reasons are required. Is that of sheer fun enough? If it were, surely it would be used extensively. But it's not. Indeed this strikes you at once, when looking through the orations of headmasters or the books of devotees, that the playing of games is never re-commended on the grounds that the players might like them and thoroughly enjoy themselves. That would be too grossly material indeed. In fact, people who are happy in their own little ways are never considered very satisfactory people in our Secondary Schools. To allow them to play the games they like would be unthinkable. Games are disciplines. They serve to build 'character,' the more spiritualised man, and that, of course, is, as we are continually reassured really what our schools are there for.
Now it would never do for the bourgeoisie to admit that competitive sports in bourgeois countries are exploited by capitalists, priests, and militarists, so that men and women may become more efficient workers, more religiously devout churchgoers, and more brutal soldiers. It would never do if it were perfectly plain to everybody that Capitalism benefits from athletics (as Russian Social scientists have put it) by 'developing within the competitors a feeling of "rugged individualism," a belief in the righteousness of the strong oppressing the weak, and the delusion that in every field there is the opportunity to win wealth and glory.'After all, as Lenin has said, the slave who has become concious of his slavery has already half ceased to be a slave. So, just as an ideology had to be created overnight for Fascism so an ideology has had to be created for Sport. A very pretty little structure it is too. Here's a fine sample.
A former president of the English Rugby Union is speaking.
We do not want so much personal prowess, kudos, or other bitternesses to come out of this game, but rather that it will quietly and invisibly but yet surely endow those who play it—of whatever station in life—with an instinctive appreciation of loyalties, principles, and ways of living of which the country was never more in need than now.
This was said in 1932. Naive you say? But he goes on 'In these confused times if they had a really vigorous game in which they could throw off their superfluous energy fairly and squarely the youth of this country would become saner than ever.'It's not very difficult is it to detect the nature of the 'insanity' he feared? The whole piece concludes with a recommendation. They are quite frank about it these bourgeoisie.page 29
We don't want the game to lose one inch of ground in our industrial centres. In our schools and colleges, it has spread like wildfire. Let administrators, old players, referees, and influential and wealthy people, do all they can to see that the game flourishes too among the others who would enjoy it equally well.
Well, the 'influential and wealthy people 'hardly need to be taught to suck eggs. They are all Bodgers. All the whiskey Czars give money to the Salvation Army. For the encouragement of temperance of course. That goes without saying, just as it's obvious that the whole machinery of the capitalist state is merely designed to see that men are treated as ends and never means only.
You have the whole fascinating story in the history of the thing. 'Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.'We hear it before we learn to lisp. But the legend is not a contemporary one. In fact, when they asked him, the old warrior looking back those seventy odd years could distinctly recall hop scotch and puss in the corner only. Organised games first began to become a part of English life in the forties and fifties of last century. The dates are not accidental. England was then the first industrial nation of the world. The bourgeoisie had thoroughly subdued and amalgamated themselves with the old feudal aristocracy. The exploitation of India and the opening up of new colonial markets was beginning on the grand scale. The Chartist movement had just collapsed and the systematic corruption of sections of the English working class with the super profits of Empire had begun. It was impossible to abolish the class struggle without as Marx said 'abolishing Capitalism the condition of their own parasitical existence. 'To effectively grind the last drop of blood out of the 'brightest diadem of the Imperial Crown' it was necessary that the English imperialists should leave a safe rear before them. England must not any longer be allowed to consider itself 'two nations' nor must the English working men pride themselves any longer that Marx had called them 'the prize fighters of Europe.' In short the workers must be compelled to forget that 'the victory of the working class will be conquered by the working class alone. 'And how better could this be done than to have them believe that their interests and the interests of their boss were one.
Various techniques were used to further the process of class collaboration. There was the technique of diverting the working class from the heady ideology of the class war up the garden path of reformism and 'the inevitability of gradualness.' There was too of course the good old standby—spiritual gin. But this was become a little shopworn. There remained Sport. It has become the best of all. Transform the real war into a mimic one! Replace the battles of the streets with the battles of the fields! For the clenched fist shadow boxing! Class collaboration! After all it's only a game!
Let's get back to the root of the sportsman's ideology—" Fair Play, " those blessed words. I quote a German-writing in 1928.
Today the English morality is influenced less by the cleric's sermon than by the decision of the referee. Every English youngster understands that certain things which from instinctive or practical motives he would like to do, simply must not and cannot be done Thus fair play becomes the keynote of English Morality and the playing field an incomparable moral training ground. There is no walk of English life in which this appeal is not understood nor in the long page 30 run unheeded—even in politics .... A patriotic slogan will give rise to misunderstanding and controversy out of proportion to its utility, but the simple terminology of the playing fields has been engraved upon the Englishman's table of commandments with a chisel of steel .... Fair play governs the relations with one's neighbours, especially in those things which put a man on his mettle, competition, war rivalry and love. Fair play means regard for one's neighbour and seeing the man and fellow-player in one's opponent. Even the youngest English child learns that it is wrong to take advantage of the weak, and unmanly to illtreat a beaten adversary.
Here you have it in all its lovely simplicity. The author I said was a German. In these few words is explained the collapse of the Weimar Republic. Understanding their purport you can at last understand why the bloody hand of Fascist barbarism holds all Europe in its grasp. The reason is this. The German Social Democrats played fair. They played the game according to the rules but the rules were made by the enemy.
And what are the rules? The first of them is this. It is the mark of the 'sport' everywhere we are told.
'Never hit a man when he is down.'
We must not sing then the rebel song of the ages, must not with Milton rejoice at The Deliverer
O how comely it is and how reviving,
To the spirits of men long opprest!
When God into the hands of their deliverer
Puts invincible might . . .
or with James Connolly welcome the fact that
The slave who breaks his slavery's chains,
A wrathful man must be.
No a good healthy proletarian hate is anathema, even a little anti-Fascist zeal is taboo. The Spanish Republicans were, then, jolly good sports and entirely above reproach when they exiled Franco and the rebel generals to pleasant retirement in the Canaries instead of shooting them out of hand for the dogs they were. One day the Spanish people will demand an explanation for that and they will not be wearing cricket gloves when they ask. And of course, to go further, it was simply only playing the game for Blum to comfortably house the Cagoulards until the day of their deliverance came and they went out into the streets to take over for Hitler the government of the country they had been so active in betraying. There is no fifth column in the Soviet Union. But as we know these Russians are utter cads. When after Whiteguard Generals caught in arms against the Republic had repeatedly broken their parole and joined the Counter Revolutionary armies parole was no longer given. Instead the Revaluation began to behave in the plebeian manner. The Red Army won the Civil War. The Revolution has continued to behave in the plebeian manner. The Red Army is winning another war.
The second maxim of the sportsman is this.
'Two to one is not fair play.'page 31
This is to say that while it is entirely proper for a policeman to batten an unarmed demonstrator's head in and boot him to death it's not at all a fair go for his mates to give him a hand. The working class must never become conscious that as Shelley put it
We are many, they are few.
The bourgeoisie are just as aware as Lenin was that organisation is the sole weapon of the proletariat in its struggle for victory.
Thirdly that which chiefly distinguishes the 'sport' above all others is his realisation of this:
After all it's only a game, or it's the spirit of the game that matters.
This is the language of social democracy, of social pacifism everywhere, the language of those whom Daniel de Leon so splendidly characterised as the 'labour lieutenants of capitalism. 'It's really a quite insignificant triviality as to what is the goal of the Labour movement. The issue before the working class is not whether in the words of Goethe they are to be 'either a hammer or anvil' Ends are unpleasant things. People are apt to misunderstand them. It's best to decently obscure them. Then nobody can accuse you of aiming at them. Though of course you trot them out for the workers every now and then to give them an airing and to reassure the people that though you aren't yet in a position to bite the tiger you are still very assiduously licking him. Bernstein, the apostle of German Social Democracy, was right they say. 'The movement is everything, the goal nothing. 'This is how they speak. 'The workers, poor fellows, are thoroughly mistaken. The boss is not such a bad fellow after all. He can't very well, of course, encourage your getting together. When workers get together they might want to do something. Why not collaborate on the field of sport. Life's a game. Your children are not hungry, worker. Your wife's not dying. You are not unemployed. Your daughters are not really on the streets. People overeat too much anyhow. You're run down. You need a little exercise to build yourself up. Come out to the nets for a work out. Forget all your worries and don't listen any longer to these dangerous reds.'
Capitalism by means of sport carries into the lives of human beings that fractionalisation which distinguishes its industrial processes. A man is no longer a good man who plays a game now and then. No, he is a good footballer, a good runner, a good rower, and this tends to be the sole end of his being. Men are no longer encouraged to seek the Socratian ideal to see life steady and to see it whole. Hegel's magnificent injunction to 'be a person' is ignored. This is understandable because if the slaves of capital were to proceed in understanding beyond their little parts they might begin to understand why a society which prides itself on its individualism has no room for individuals.
To sum up, the role of the sporting ideology in capitalist society is this. It serves to encourage the workers to climb out of their class rather than to rise with it. Cooperation on the job, fatal to the boss, is transformed into the sham co-operation of the playing field. In short, knowing very well that the class struggle lies in the objective dialectic of history and is not to be denied the bourgeoisie have perverted the playway of mankind into a weapon of class war and have made it an anodyne more powerful than battlefleets.page 32
All this has nothing whatsoever to do with the playing of games as they are played at Victoria, for the sheer fun we get out of them, though I suspect there is a very real correlation between Victoria's healthy attitude to sport and its reputation for being somewhat more 'politically conscious' than most University Colleges. Nor are these attitudes entirely unconnected either with the fact that one Secondary School in the Victoria College district which does not enforce compulsory games has been said to have produced more radicals than all the others put together.
The proper attitude to games as parts, important, necessary parts but parts only of the whole personality and activity of men and women can only be found in a society which cherishes individuals, a society which has been built 'not to restrict personal liberty, but in order that the human individual may feel really free.' That is to say a society 'in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all. 'We know now that such a society is no longer a dream.