First off: a disclaimer. Although I've worked on and used Marxist theory for many years and have learned a great deal from several prominent contributors to "Cultural Studies", for most of my life I have been largely an outsider to sports — neither playing competitive sports nor working in some aspect of the sports industry nor even involved as a fan. My own intellectual and political work has never involved either "sports scholarship" or political mobilization around some dimension of sports. Therefore, I was surprised to be asked to write this Foreword and accepted partly out of friendship and partly out of curiosity to see what kinds of relationships these authors have found, or imagined, among these three, partially distinct domains of intellectual and political activity.
As I was satisfying my curiosity reading the essays in this collection, it gradually dawned on me that not only were all of the authors academics, like myself, but almost all appeared to be writing from outside the entire world that they were analyzing. The one exception, I finally found, was Grant Farred who, toward the end of his essay, proudly professed to being one of "the most pathologically loyal" fans of the object of his study: the Liverpool Football Club. What about all the others, I wondered? Were the others writing here also passionate fans? Were they actively engaged in some other way with the sports industry? Were they weekend players? Had they ever been? When I turned to the brief biographies at the end of the book I was no more enlightened as to their own direct experience in the world of sport. Hmmm. For a change of pace, and so no one be left in the dark about the origins of my comments, I decided to explain my reactions to the texts included here within a personal narrative. (If, like Toby Miller, you are contemptuous of such narratives as merely banal fetishizations of the self, then I invite you to go directly to the essays and skip this Foreword.)
Play, Work and Sports
When I was young, sports seemed to be just an organized form of play, and therefore something fun. Play, for me, was also quite distinct from work. I considered myself to be playing when I was free to exercise my imagination, skills and creativity with few constraints. Work was when those things were subordinated to activities imposed upon me by forces beyond my control—most immediately my parents but behind them, I would eventually realize, lay the many coercive structures of capitalist society.
A country boy, growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s among the cultivated fields and wild forests of Ohio, both my work and my play were strenuous and physically demanding. When I was five my parents purchased some land where we built a house, cultivated a half-acre vegetable garden, landscaped some two acres of yard, planted and managed an evergreen nursery and grew wheat on the rest of the land. All of those projects involved work, often hard manual labor: hauling construction materials, cutting and shaping them, nailing or screwing or bolting them together, cultivating, planting, watering, weeding, harvesting, canning and freezing, pruning, digging and balling trees and so on. The older I got, the more numerous the tasks I was assigned and harder the work. Every day after school and for some of each weekend, I worked, often until evening. Vacations from school were usual and regular; vacation from all this work at home were brief annual events—in good years.
All of these activities were work in several senses. First, they were work in the vernacular sense of activities that took a lot of effort. Second, as a child, I also experienced them as work in the sense of undesired, onerous, imposed labor—things I had to do but had no desire to. Third, although in those years I didn't think in such terms, they were also work, or labor, as defined by Marx in Chapter 7 of Volume I of Capital where he analyzes "the labor process": people using tools to transform some elements of the non-human world into objectifications of human intentions, or will. Finally, all that work was also—to far too high a degree—the work of producing and reproducing labor power: the ability and willingness to work. We worked to supplement my father's low Air Force wage—with food from the garden and money from selling the wheat and evergreen bushes and trees. We worked to reproduce his labor power that he was selling to the Air Force, but we also reproduced that of my mother, my brother and myself. None of us thought of this work as play; we just did what we had to do. We worked to live.
So my early childhood "leisure time" — mostly evenings and weekends — was largely made up of reading and play, which were often closely interconnected. I was an avid reader of adventure stories such as Howard Pyle's Robin Hood, Rafael Sabatini's Scarmouche, James Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans, Jack London's White Fang, Zane Gray's The Last Trail or Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. My play, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, often involved strenuous play-acting inspired by those novels including such activities as: archery, making and wielding wooden swords and cudgels, hunting with bow or rifle in forests with my dogs, building make-believe forts, tree houses, ships, and so on. Long before anyone thought to create role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, much less video games such as World of Warcraft or the Age of Conan, my friends and I imagined and crafted our own worlds of rebels, medieval knights, pirates, and frontier pathfinders.
Now, clearly, some of this play involved work in Marx's sense of the labor process: we crafted sticks into cudgels, scrap lumber into forts and tree houses. Some of this play did not: role playing Robin Hood and Little John with those cudgels, creating fantasy scenarios in those forts and so on. What work there was, however, was clearly subordinated to play. All of this unfolded at a time in our lives before any of the many "functionaries of capital", as Marx called them, would try to structure and shape our play into the work of producing labor power. Other than the odd hour playing cards, or scrabble, or working jigsaw puzzles, such was our play and much of it was quite strenuous, very "athletic"—but it wasn't sport.
Sport was something organized by schools such as basketball, baseball or (American) football. Although such activities struck me as more formal, less imaginative ways to play, they nevertheless seemed like fun. So I played them all and did, at least at first, have some fun. I had fun playing and I had fun watching my friends play. I also watched others play, at school and on television, to learn from them. Elementary school sports—in those days, where I grew up—were organized games and most of those who bothered to watch were other players or players' friends and parents. There were no fans in the sense of people who lived vicariously through the actions of others, people whose lives were organized around the activities of their teams, whose moods shifted up or down with success or failure. (Well, maybe there were a few parents overly invested in their kids' success, but we saw very little of the kind of fanatic parental behavior—sometimes leading to violence— that has become far too familiar these days.)
That kind of sport was certainly more fun than the obnoxious discipline imposed in classrooms, more fun than schoolwork, i.e., having to sit still, be silent, do what we were told, the way we were told to do it and subordinate our curiosity to someone else's curriculum. It was also more fun than homework—where what would have been free time, time for play, was usurped by more imposed work. In the classroom the imposition of discipline was obvious; at home it was worse—we were supposed to impose it on ourselves. Because the ideology of schooling pretended that school was for students, to prepare us for citizenship, to expose us to the cultural legacies of civilization, it would be a long time before I was to recognize that schoolwork, like the work I was doing at home, was the work of producing labor power. Instead, I just thought schools were doing a lousy job of all those things they claimed to be doing. Organized sports such as baseball or basketball may have had rules, but for a few years it didn't seem weird to speak of "playing" those games.
In Junior High School, however, organized sports began to be transformed from play into something else. On the one hand, they began to take on, more and more, the character of a deadly serious, ferociously competitive endeavor in which fanatic coaches insisted on such frequent and intense "practices" as to suck up all our available energy and leave us physically and emotionally exhausted. On the other hand, they were increasingly transformed into a spectacle whose primary purposes seemed to be to provide a distraction from issues "better left to experts" and a training ground for future fans—spectators who repeatedly invest time, energy, money and emotions.
For those of us who participated in various athletic activities, we were, less and less, allowed to play games; we had to work at them. All of us little homo ludens were being reshaped into homo fabers. Coaches didn't just make friendly, useful, constructive comments on what we did, they designed strategies and "plays" that we had to memorize and execute under their direction. We were being driven, step by step, into that world of alienated sports that Rob Beamish analyzes in Chapter 6. Little by little our will was subordinated to that of the coach. Beneath an inspiring ideology of rising to our potentials and developing strong group bonds, lay a repressive reality of meeting someone else's goals and competing with each other to be part of the "starting line-up" and not bench warmers.
We were worked by coaches, but we were also supposed to learn to work ourselves. School sports, it turned out, was just like the rest of school. Just as in the classroom, "practices", "workouts" and games involved the imposition of supervised discipline; just as with homework, all of us budding athletes were also supposed to craft our bodies (by working out and managing our diets—alcohol was the taboo in those days, not steroids) and hone our skills at home. Years later I would appreciate Foucault's distinction between incarceration and centralized discipline, on the one hand, and decentralized biopower, on the other, because of these experiences in both classrooms and sports. Toby Miller's essay here on Foucault and the critique of sports provides a nice doorway to what seems to be a whole literature exploring these relationships.
Winning, whether in contests among ourselves or with teams from other schools, was the overriding preoccupation and passion of coaches. They, in turn, sought to inspire or intimidate us into the same focused fanaticism—whether by forcing us to pray together for God's help in whipping the other team or by yelling and berating us to try harder, play smarter. Growing up with a father in the Air Force I couldn't help seeing the frequent resemblance between the behavior of our coaches and that of drill sergeants browbeating new recruits. Among those of us who were actually playing, competition was used by coaches to get us to drive both ourselves and each other to work harder.
Beginning in Junior High but fully developed only in High school, all that competition, whether imposed or internalized, provided the drama of an elaborate spectacle, whether under "Friday night lights" (football or baseball) or those of a gymnasium (basketball, wrestling, gymnastics) or the glare of the sun (track and field). I never ceased to be amazed at the number of students drawn to these spectacles—a few on stage (the players, the coaches, marching bands, drill teams and cheerleaders), most in the stands or bleachers (fans). Those on the field were easier to understand; they not only had the satisfaction of exercising their skill, but they were also performing for a big crowd and hoping for recognition and appreciation. Given the popularity of sports, performing well almost guaranteed enhanced social status in school. This was primarily the case for boys (male sports were the most valorized in those days) but also for girls who stood out in cheerleading and organizing pep club activities.
The thing that puzzled me the most were the fans. Whether at pep rallies or at the games themselves, how could so many people get so excited about what a handful of other people were doing? A few were friends of players or kids who played the various games informally among themselves—them I could understand. But the vast majority were not—their enthusiasm was a mystery. Vicarious participation? Need for community being satisfied by participation in what Sartre called a serial group—a group only because of a common point of reference? Yet, clearly, over time fans knit themselves into something more than that through repeated interaction related to their team and its successes and failures.
What did seem apparent to me at the time was why the school administration supported and plowed so many resources into these spectacles: they kept very large numbers of students busy—either involved in or worrying about their team's future chances. They were also a central mechanism for inculcating school spirit and identity among students who, in reality, had no control over the repressive organization of their schools, their curriculum or their time. Keep in mind that I'm talking about sports in rural Ohio where most folks either earned their income from farming or from working at the local Air Force Base. It was a world much closer to the one portrayed in George Lucas' film American Graffiti (1973) than the big city world Grant Farred analyzes in his account of Liverpool and the Liverpool Football Club.
By that time my reading had widened considerably. While I had read Homer's Odyssey as an adventure story, that was impossible with Plato's Republic. Because by then I was working hard at being a receiving end in the Fall, a center in the Winter and a first baseman in the Spring, Plato's emphasis on how athletic training could be good for something beyond mere play or amusement, e.g., training for leadership, made some sense to me and gave historical perspective to some of the claims made by our coaches as to the virtues of personal hard work in sports. More and more, however, Aristotle's critique, in his Politics, of the Lacedaemonians for brutalizing their children through the imposition of excessive athletic exercise seemed all too relevant to what I was experiencing. The pitting of one team against another team more and more reminded me of the Ancient Greeks and their use of competitive athletics to prepare citizens for war. The spaces in which these so-called "games" took place looked less and less like "playing" fields and more and more like bootcamps and spaces of incarceration. After two years of trying to balance the demands by coaches on my time and energy and my other, more intellectual and playful interests, I called it quits and abandoned organized sports.
In my high school Latin courses we read the usual obligatory material, such as Caesar, Virgil and Cicero, but that literature led me to other Roman writers, including Catullus (poems) and Petronius (The Satyricon), as well as writers of historical fiction about the period such as Shakespeare (Julius Caesar, Coriolanus), Lew Wallace (Ben Hur), Howard Fast (Spartacus) and Henryk Sienkiewicz (Quo Vadis). One result was that alongside a suspicion that high school sports and school spirit were conditioning for patriotism and war, grew the conviction that the sports spectacle and everything associated with it was more closely akin to the circuses of Ancient Rome than anyone around me was willing to admit: vehicles of social control. When Stanley Kubrick's film Spartacus came out in 1960 (my sophomore year in High school) I fantasized the revolt of an entire football team tearing off their uniforms at half-time, declaring their freedom and charging out of the stadium. Alas, it was not to be.
In high school I also become as hostile to competition in the classroom as I had become towards competition in sports. Like coaches, teachers and administrators encouraged competition, systematically pitted student against student and rank ordered us in a grade hierarchy. Where others studied hard for grades, I blew off such work preferring to read for pleasure (including the Beats and French poets such as Rimbaud and Baudelaire), to listen to music (not Rock & Roll but Cool Jazz, especially Miles Davis) to pursue biochemical research (on closed ecological systems) and, of course, to hang out with my friends. Sports events by that time were merely an excuse to get out of the house and were usually bypassed in favor of long conversations with my friends or sexual frolics with my girlfriend. I wasn't exactly Holden Caulfield but I was certainly deviant and not about to be a jock. Years later, after reading Foucault's Discipline and Punish (1975) and Peter Linebaugh's antidote to Foucault's top-down focus on control— his chapter in The London Hanged (1991) on 18th Century jail breaker Jack Shepard—I rediscovered Caulfield and my own act of excarceration vis-à-vis sports. Reading Doug Foley's account of the "Great American Football Ritual" in his book Learning Capitalist Culture (1990) made me realize that my friends and I were not the only ones who used sport events to escape school and parental control to brief times of freedom.
My first year or so in college, I continued to eschew sports. Although there were no intercollegiate sports at the school I attended (Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio), there were plenty of intramural sports like baseball, basketball and football. Self-organization and the absence of authoritarian coaches did something to restore the element of play to such activities and remove the character of spectacle, but I continued to prefer long rambles in the local nature preserve, science research, intellectual and political arguments and eventually: political action in the Civil Rights Movement.
It was not until a year of study in France that I returned to any kind of serious athletic activity; I discovered the traditional culture of mountain climbing in the Alps. In that tradition, mountain climbing was overwhelmingly a non-competitive team activity of intimate cooperation and mutual aid in a startlingly beautiful but also frequently dangerous environment. Climbing the rock, ice and snow of the high mountains was physically demanding but not, in those days, a sport (unlike contemporary rock climbing). Achievement was celebrated but there was no hierarchical rank-ordering typical of competitive sports. As I had done when I did play sports, I learned from others (famous climbers such as Gaston Rebuffat or Lionel Terray) by watching their films and reading their books but it was the beauty of the environment and the intellectual and physical challenge of dealing with the complexities of the high mountains that motivated me; there was no competition and no winning or losing other than succeeding or not succeeding in doing something you set out to do. Later, upon returning to Antioch I would teach both archery and rock-climbing—without any competition.
Spectacle and Fandom, Patriotism and War
Later, at Stanford University during graduate school, my personal athletic activities (mostly non-competitive mountain climbing in the Sierra Nevada Mountains) contrasted sharply with the Stanford administration's heavy investment in highly competitive intercollegiate sports of all sorts, but especially football. For the first time since high school I couldn't avoid seeing, once again, the twin phenomena of the sports spectacle and mobilization of enthusiastic fans. But this time it was on a much larger and much more commercialized scale and within a very different historical context.
The only commercial operations I can remember during the years that I was in high school were the selling of tickets and refreshments at sporting events and of annual school pictures and yearbooks. At Stanford and, I soon realized, at every university involved in intercollegiate sports commercialization was rampant. Ticket and refreshment sales were limited by the number of games, but the merchandizing of T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, and all kinds of other junk to fans went on continuously. And while the university profited from such small-scale sales to individuals, it profited far more from the millions of dollars contributed by alumni whose school spirit was carefully kept alive through the sports spectacle. Universities like Stanford are non-profit in name and law only; they maximize their net revenues and, like openly profit-making corporations, plow those revenues into expansion. Spending money on sports was, among other things, just one more investment strategy. Although new to me, I soon realized it was not at all new in U.S. universities. Thorstein Veblen and Upton Sinclair wrote eloquently of the subordination of "higher learning" to business goals early in the 20th Century, long before Trotskyist Ernest Mandell (whose 1972 book Late Capitalism inspired Frederic Jameson and is discussed here by David Andrews) decided that "late" capitalism was driven by monopoly profits to invest in universities. (Economist Paul Baran of Stanford and Paul Sweezy, editor of Monthly Review, made an argument similar to Mandel's in their 1964 book Monopoly Capital.)
But if all this is true, then it also means, as Anouk Bélanger and Rob Beamish separately emphasize, that among the "products" of the work of sports—in universities as well as in the professional sports industry—is not only labor power but the spectacle itself. And while the players (and even the fans) who produce those spectacles never earn a surplus value on their efforts, universities most definitely do profit. Moreover, as Brett St. Louis makes clear, this profitability is not just a matter of individual colleges but of networks, organized in the National Collegiate Athletics Association and in conjunction with the out-and-out big business of professional sports leagues like the National Football League or the National Basketball Association. And finally, as Jayne Ifekwunigwe details, all this profit making has become racialized and gendered through the mobilization of celebrity athletes such as Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods or Venus and Serena Williams.
The Vietnam War build-up made linkages between competitive sports, school spirit and patriotism both more and more obvious and more and more immediate. In the midst of war the obligatory standing and singing of the national anthem at every game smacked of political conditioning in a way I hadn't noticed in High school. For many of us football drills in the Stanford Stadium and ROTC drills outside it seemed frightfully parallel. So did the apparent ignorance of fans and patriots. Later I would realize that when it came to historical knowledge, fans were generally far, far more informed about their team's past activity than most patriots were about U.S. history. As essays such as Grant Farred's demonstrate, the investment of fans in their consumption of organized sports generally involves not only money and the commitment of time and energy but the accumulation of a wealth of sports history—far more than most patriots' investment in learning about domestic conflicts and foreign interventions by their own governments. By the end of the 1960s, despite the Civil Rights Movement and the inner-city uprisings in places such as Watts, Newark and Detroit and the ongoing struggles against racism by groups such as the Black Panthers and Brown Berets, most self-proclaimed patriots could only respond to demands for an end to the war in Southeast Asia with pathetic chants of "America, Love It or Leave It" or the even more moronic "Commies go home."
As such struggles unfolded on and off-campus, the efficacy of sports discipline and sports spectacle-as-distraction was, at least partially, undermined. As millions of students mobilized against the war and against racism, a few athletes, like a few Hollywood actors, spoke up or took stands against the injustices of the day. Even those of us uninvolved with sports took notice and cheered the courage of medal-winning John Carlos and Tommie Smith when they raised black-gloved fists in protest at the Mexico Olympics in 1968. I say partially undermined because unfortunately while millions saw the protest of those two athletes, their focus on the Olympics per se blinded observers to widespread repression taking place in Mexico at that time, including the Tlatelolco Massacre which had taken place in Mexico City only ten days before the games began—a massacre in which police and military shot 200-300 student protestors.
This year (2008) thousands are trying very hard to prevent the Chinese government from using the Games to distract attention from its widespread repression of protests in Tibet and elsewhere. As Garry Whannel makes clear, the Chinese government—like so many others before it—has been doing its best to "market itself" through the Games. It has been refreshing to see how the Torch Relay—originating with the Nazis in 1936 (see Beamish's essay)—has been repeatedly subverted by protests all across the world.
The Stanford administration would have the year 1970 remembered primarily as the year Mexican-American quarterback Jim Plunkett won the coveted Heisman Trophy (and on New Year's Day 1971 Stanford beat Ohio State at the Rose Bowl) but for others it would be remembered as a year of struggle: of the anti-war movement and, later that year, of a Native American student intervention into Stanford sports.
For many Stanford students 1970 is remembered as the year of the Cambodian Invasion and of the creation of the April 3rd Movement. That moment of creation occurred when several thousand students came together in Dinkelspiel Auditorium to discuss what actions to take next to subvert Stanford's role in the war. It was one of those moments, evoked by Anouk Bélanger in her essay, when a space designed for spectacle was appropriated and transformed—in this case into a space of dialogue and collective self-determination. After much debate about the University's Applied Electronics Laboratory (AEL) where classified war research was being carried on to find electronic measures to counter Vietnamese ground-to-air missiles defending against U.S. carpet bombing of cities and rice fields, the massed students voted to occupy it and shut down the research. Roughly eight hundred of those students rose up, trooped across campus to the AEL and did just that—holding it for eight days and converting it, as they had done with the auditorium, from a place of work for the capitalist state into another space of self-organization and action. Locks were picked, files were exposed, hidden research was made public, conference rooms were converted into day-care centers and a commercial printing press in the basement was appropriated to produce a daily Street Wall Journal of revelations that was plastered up around campus.
For Native American students, 1970 is remembered as the year they created an autonomous group (Stanford American Indian Organization) and launched a struggle to remove the Indian as the school's sporting mascot—graphically portrayed as the profile of a Native American wearing a feather headdress— and acted out in costumed flesh at sporting events. While Alan Bairner in this volume, discussing Gramsci's Marxism, cautions about the limitations of such efforts, within the context of the university and the time, those efforts should be seen as only one terrain of struggle within a larger series of actions to open spaces and gain resources for students' self-determination. Not only did the struggle at Stanford succeed (after only two years the university administration capitulated and the Stanford Indians became the Stanford Cardinals), but it was only one thrust in a broader campaign that resulted in the creation of a Native American Cultural Center, a new program of Native American Studies, the hiring of professors for that program and the mobilization of funding for students wishing to pursue such studies.
Those actions, and those results, must also be seen within two broader movements: an emerging Indigenous Renaissance that was happening not only in the United States but elsewhere in the world and parallel struggles of other students for Black Studies, Women's Studies, Chicano Studies, etc. Such efforts have often been linked and mutually supportive. Obviously, such struggles proliferated across academia in the 1970s forcing university after university to better meet the needs of many of its more militant students.
That said, the degree to which such struggles and their success have retained their autonomy and continue to play an important role in the efforts to transform society or have been co-opted and neutralized by the educational system requires closer examination than I have given it. As a university professor myself, I am keenly aware of just how such co-optation works, as well as how the pressures to work (study for students, write and publish for professors) limit the time and energy available to pursue social change, on campus or off. From what I have been able to observe, within the university where I work, as well as elsewhere, resistance to such repressive pressures and the struggle to use campus resources for autonomous purposes continues.
It was participation in the struggles of the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement and then the Anti-Vietnam War movement, that drove me to explore Marx's writings and those of his interpreters and then to critique both. Most interpreters, I found, read Marx as a theorist of capitalist domination whether through economic or cultural means. Although frequently useful in identifying mechanisms of domination, neither approach centered our struggles and our ability not only to challenge but sometimes to rupture those mechanisms. But by the end of the 1960s and early 1970s our struggles had ruptured those mechanisms, had thrown the Fordist social factory and the Keynesian management of exploitation into crisis and launched an irreversible cultural revolution—the most powerful components of which were based on the prioritizing of our own needs: of the waged for unalienated work, of women for an end to patriarchy, of so-called minorities for an end to discrimination and for greater self-determination and of many for more rewarding relationships among themselves and with nature—all of which required the liberation of time and energy from work both to better understand those needs and to find ways to meet them.
Thus, along with many others, I reread Marx to see to what degree the man himself centered our role as collective subjects, our desires and our ability to reshape the world. Was his labor theory of value an a-historical theory of labor as the unique source of value (and thus a totalizing analysis that ignored other factors of production and other values—such as freedom from ethnic, gender or racial discrimination) or was it a theory of how capital was able to convert our abilities into mechanisms of domination? I had been taught the former in a graduate course on the history of economic thought, but eventually concluded that the latter interpretation was not only more accurate but made sense. My write up of my analysis was subsequently published as Reading Capital Politically (1978, 2000).
In my reading, Marx's Capital does not constitute the totalizing grand narrative it has often been accused of being, but rather a theory of capital's effort to totalize the world—human and non-human—within its peculiar way of organizing life around the endless imposition of work maintained through myriad means. In other words in Capital, and elsewhere in his work, capitalism is analyzed as a social system in which human agency, both individual and collective, is subjected to a series of constraints which people have resisted from the beginning and from which we have repeatedly struggled to free ourselves ever since. At the heart of those constraints is imposed work (which still occupies the vast majority of most people's time and energy—a brutal fact ignored by those who have argued that control via work has been replaced by control via consumption and other cultural means) and thus work involves, as Beamish points out in his essay, alienation.
But Marx's analysis of alienation—of how people are alienated from their work, from the product of their work, from each other and from the ability to realize their potential as a species—can be applied not just to commodity-producing waged labor, but to all kinds of unwaged activities that capital has been able to shape into forms which produce and reproduce one very singular commodity: labor power. Education is reshaped as schoolwork. Preparing and sharing food or taking care of children are reshaped as housework. Athletic activity is reorganized as sport—some waged, some unwaged. Each cluster of activity becomes work and each kind of work involves alienation.
In Marx's day more and more people, men, women and children, were being forced into waged work, so that they all had less free time; but I take issue with Ben Carrington's assertion that for Marx "the leisure field is simply assumed to be a space for the re-creation of labor power." In Marx's writings there are two major situations of leisure: that of waged workers outside hours of paid work, that of the unemployed. It is true that in Chapter 23 of Volume I of Capital, Marx says what while the reproduction of labor power is an essential part of the reproduction of capital as a whole, "the capitalist may safely leave this to the workers' drives for self-preservation and propagation." But he was also acutely aware of workers' struggles for less work and analyzed the history of those struggles in great detail in Chapter 10. Success in gaining shorter working hours meant more hours of leisure. More hours of leisure, even at subsistence level wages, meant more time for workers to do more than simply reproduce their labor power. Indeed, the success of workers in reducing the length of the working day was clearly due, as Marx well knew, to workers using their leisure time to organize themselves into unions and into movements to fight for that reduction. Moreover, Marx also knew that capitalists realized this and actively intervened to undermine such self-organization. For example, he saw how capitalists actively sought to pit Irish and English workers against each other: "this antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes." Obviously such use of the press and the church was predicated on the working class using at least some of its leisure time to read and to worship.
Marx was also aware of, and despised, propagandistic writings, such as those of Harriet Martineau, designed to convince workers to accept their fate as dictated by "political economy." Most obviously, Marx himself spoke to gatherings of workers and wrote for them. Clearly he did not think his lectures or his Communist Manifesto were contributions to the reproduction of labor power, and was delighted when the French version of Capital was published serially in a worker's newspaper. It is true that Marx dealt little with workers' use of their leisure time, but not because he assumed all they could do was reproduce themselves as labor power for business. On the contrary, what we have in Marx are the bare bones of an analysis of struggles in the sphere of "culture." As workers succeeded in working fewer and fewer hours a day and fewer days a week, capital would intervene more and more to avoid leisure time being used to enhance struggle and to shape its activities in its own interests.
From this perspective many of the discoveries of bottom-up labor historians and the insights of cultural theorists, from the Frankfort School through Critical Theory to Cultural Studies have been vital in identifying just how such interventions have been carried out, how more and more domains of human activity have been transformed into work for capital. As several of the authors in this collection point out, much of that work can be appropriated to complement Marx's own writing.
Seeking further for other interpreters who had recognized and highlighted the centrality of our struggles—in Marxist jargon the self-activity of the working class (multitude?) writ large to include all kinds of waged and unwaged persons—I discovered a whole series of Marxist authors as well as some anarchists with strikingly similar perspectives. One of the most important, for me, especially with respect to sports, was C.L.R. James.
Originally from Trinidad, and a participant in the Trotskyist movement, James parted ways from orthodoxy in the 1940s around a number of issues including the nature of the Soviet Union, the role of the party and the particularity of black struggles. But at the heart of his interpretation of Marx and of his politics was the recognition and appreciation of the ability of people to not merely resist, but to take the initiative in struggle against the capitalist constraints on their lives. Whether in his History of Negro Revolt (1938) or his Black Jacobins (1938) the struggles of the exploited formed the heart of his historical studies. That centering of our struggles made his work, that of the various groups he helped organize (the Johnson-Forest Tendency, Correspondence, Facing Reality) and that of those influenced by him (Socialism ou Barbarie, the Italian New Left) of intense interest to me.
But as I researched his work—and the tradition I would come to call "autonomist Marxism"—I was surprised to discover his intense involvement in cricket, first as a player and fan and then as a well-known cricket journalist. Widely played not only in Britain but in its colonies and ex-colonies, cricket was a terrain upon which colonizer and colonized, or ex-colonized, could meet and battle in an overt manner. Little by little, reading James' book on cricket, Beyond the Boundary (1963), despite my inability to make head or tail of the subtleties of the game described in his book, I began to see how it was possible for someone— in this case a black Marxist intellectual—to be passionate about an organized sport, to be a player, a fan and a professional commentator while still analyzing it in a critical manner, taking into account race, class and the whole cultural, ethical and political context within which it has been played. Because, to me, it was a revelation, I must admit to being somewhat disappointed to find the book largely ignored in this collection. Ben Carrington and Ian McDonald relegate it to the "pre-history" of Marxist analysis of sport, apparently because it does not "explicitly draw upon Marxist categories"—despite Carrington's own recognition that for James sport "could, under specific circumstances, offer a space through which oppositional politics could be fought and won." It is not even mentioned in Brett St.Louis' discussion of James' ideas in his chapter on "Post-Marxism, Black Marxism and the Politics of Sport". But this is a Marxist text, one written by a seasoned Marxist intellectual who had broken with his orthodox past, despite being written in the vernacular for popular consumption. As a book on the second most popular sport in the world, written by a Marxist deeply appreciative of the realities and potentialities of working class autonomy, I would recommend it to anyone interested in exploring the relevance of Marxism to the political understanding of sports. I also can't help but wonder if there are any comparable analyses of other sports, e.g., squash or rugby in colonial and ex-colonial areas.
Ian McDonald claims that the revolutionary element of Marx's work has been lost in contemporary cultural studies of sports. For me this would be true to the degree that those studies fail to center and analyze our self-activity and struggles to escape domination. The point, as the man said, and McDonald quotes, "is not to interpret the world, but to change it" and changing it is only facilitated by theory when it helps us understand our own strengths as well as the obstacles that confront us. In Marx's own analysis, our living labor appears as the only source of whatever dynamism the system has. The possibility of our self-activity rupturing capitalist efforts to harness it appears as the only path to revolution, i.e., getting beyond capitalism. Historically, resistance to being reduced to mere workers, as Marx says in the Grundrisse, forced capital to repeatedly innovate and find new methods of control, e.g., by forcing people to work in factories where their work could be overseen and better controlled. Resistance in factories has repeatedly forced business to revamp the technological organization of work and the division of labor, e.g., using machines to regulate the rhythm of work in order to decompose worker's self-organization. Workers' successful struggles at home for higher wages has forced the search for new markets, cheaper resources and new pools of more easily controlled labor abroad, e.g., imperialism in the past, "outsourcing" and Empire today. It was workers' successful struggles to hammer down the length of the working day, week and year that freed children from mines, mills and factories and created mass leisure time forcing capital to try to colonize that time, e.g., mass public schooling, entertainment of all sorts, including subordinating athletics to the sports spectacle. We have a consumerist capitalism and "culture industries" only because workers have been successful in pushing up wages and other forms of income so that they have had money to spend, beyond subsistence, in the leisure time their struggles have freed from waged labor. In short, we have "Cultural Studies" and the need for Marxist analyses to deal comprehensively with domain after domain of "culture" because workers' struggles and capitalist responses have made them terrains of conflict.
Resistance and Self-valorization
Resistance, properly speaking, involves people resisting phenomena such as exploitation and alienation. Workers resisted the extension of the working day; communities have resisted the destruction of homes to make way for the building of a sports stadium. But our struggles become more than resistance when we strive to find new ways of being and doing. Such struggles are acts of what Marxist Antonio Negri once called self-valorization, or moments in the exercise of what he more recently calls—following Spinoza—constituent power, or the power to create a radical newness beyond capitalism—newness capitalists must then try to either crush or co-opt. Almost always such radical newness (like all newness, even within capitalism) is crafted out of the existing elements and forms. Just as the history of capitalism has involved the capitalist takeover of 1) more and more human activities and their transformation into alienated work-for-capital and 2) more and more non-human parts of nature and their conversion into "natural" resources and raw materials to be worked up by that alienated labor, so our struggles have involved, repeatedly, the liberation of activities and things from capitalist uses.
When 19th Century workers fought for the 8-hour day, one slogan was: "Eight hours of work, eight hours of sleep and eight hours for what we will." In other words eight hours for self-determined, self-valorizing activity of whatever kind they might desire. When communists from Germany immigrated to Texas in the wake of the failed Revolutions of 1848 and created utopian communities in the Hill Country, they were not only continuing their struggles but trying to create seeds of a new world. When the children of those who stayed behind created workers councils in Germany at the end of the First World War, they too were creating something new. When small groups of young people in the 1960s created "communes" they were quite self-consciously creating spaces for self-valorization as well as launching pads for further struggle.
We need to be able to recognize, identify and understand such moments of self-valorization as they emerge within and against the constraints imposed by capital and the degree to which they are able, however temporarily, to break free of those constraints and craft something truly new. Such moments emerge repeatedly, all around us. It's just a matter of seeing them. How do children learn, despite being forced to do schoolwork? What have been the successes and failures of efforts to liberate learning from schools? How have people freed cooking and eating from the mere reproduction of their ability and willingness to work? How have people pursued athletic activities outside of capitalist organized sports?
These are not easy questions to answer. I have posed them to myself with regard to my own mountain climbing that most definitely took place outside the capitalist organization of sports. At first, climbing seemed like pure self-valorization; it heightened my awareness, developed me physically, provided an opportunity for close bonds with others, taught me about a part of the earth I had never known and I loved it. But further consideration forced me to realize that the degree to which my climbing might be judged to involve self-valorization depended not only on the content of the activity itself but its relationship to my other activities, especially work and political struggle. While climbing I was certainly diverting my time and energy from work, but what of the energy gained in climbing? When I came back from a climbing trip did I plow all that energy into work—in which case climbing, like daily sleep or weekend relaxation could be seen as reproducing my labor power—or did I use it for political struggle to further resist work and explore other forms of self-valorization? It was quickly obvious that I did some of both; it wasn't an either/or situation, it was a question of degree. And that realization made my use of that energy into a political project.
This collection provides a useful survey of capitalist methods in the management of sport for profit and for its own reproduction. Fortunately, it also contains a few references to resistance and even a couple of references to athletic activity that escape, to one degree or another, capitalist control.
The most sustained discussion of resistance is by Anouk Bélanger and concerns local reactions to things like capitalist investments in urban sports spectacles. She writes of resistance "designed to insure more equal access, more democratic control of certain spaces, such as stadiums, arenas and parks, or in some instances, simply as a form of protest". As she shows, such resistance may be narrowly focused or may be interlinked with movements against other capitalist investments involved in gentrification. Such resistance seems to have been widespread enough to force capital to negotiate "with the local imaginary and popular culture." She also points out, but does not explore, how "spaces are also used by different people in various contexts, and these spaces can be put to use in divergent, potentially even subversive ways." While things like our use of Dinkelspiel Auditorium at Stanford for anti-war organizing or the squatting of buildings in Italy for the construction of centri sociali autogestiti come immediately to mind, I wonder what kinds of subversive activities have been carried out in existing, capitalist-built sports facilities—other than the kind of momentary protests such as that by John Carlos and Tommie Smith mentioned above.
But such resistance has also proliferated outside of cities, contesting not urban, but rural spaces. For example, resistance to the destruction of natural areas or farmland by investments in golf courses have occurred around the world, e.g., Austin (Texas), Ragland (New Zealand), Sorowako (Indonesia), Avila (Spain), Mt. Gyeyang (Korea), Pacaltsdorp (South Africa), Jalisco or Tepoztlan (Mexico). Sometimes, such resistance has linked to struggles elsewhere, e.g., the successful resistance of Austinites to the efforts of Freeport McMoran Corporation to build a golf course and luxury homes in the Barton Creek watershed drew not only upon the history of U.S. government citations of Freeport for pollution violations in the United States but also the struggles of the indigenous Amungme in West Papua against Freeport's mining operations and resultant pollution to demonstrate Freeport's history of environmental (and human) destruction. Sometimes, such resistance has given rise to international campaigns of support, e.g., the case of the "indigenous ecologists" in Mexico who were protesting Grupo KS's plans for building an 18-hole golf course and 800 luxury home inside El Tepozteco National Park. The internet has been used to circulate news and mobilize support, across Mexico and across national borders, condemning the shooting and jailing of protestors and the sacrifice of nature to profit.
In many of the above cases the struggles have been truly those of resistance—of trying to stem the expansion of capitalist investment in sport complexes. But in some cases they have been aimed at rolling back previous losses. One such case was the successful campaign to reverse the loss of indigenous Māori land that had been taken from the Tainui Awhiro people in New Zealand and turned into first a military airfield and then a golf course. Protests and civil disobedience led to arrests and a series of court cases that ultimately culminated in the return of the land to the Māori for their own uses.
But beyond contestation over the space of sports lies the issue of the appropriation of athletic activities themselves. While capitalist organized sports spectacles seem omnipresent, do they truly succeed in instrumentalizing and totalizing all, or even most, athletic activity? Certainly some of the articles in this collection give that impression. For example, as David Andrews nears the end of his essay celebrating the theoretical insights of Mandel and Jameson, he laments: "Thus currently there would appear to be no sustainable, viable, or indeed, even imaginable alternatives to the late capitalist, corporatist, iteration of sport." From what I can make out through this collection, there seems to be considerablely more attention paid to the resistance of the consumers (fans) and primary producers (athletes) of capitalist organized sporting events than to the appropriation of athletic activities by others.
Now, I don't know for sure, but I'd be willing to bet money that there are millions of people who engage in athletic activity outside of capitalist management—and by outside I mean outside of both professional sports and school sports at all levels. Some of that activity may, effectively, simply reproduce labor power; no doubt some people exercise just to be able to continue working which is one reason why many businesses, from the 19th Century Krupp Steel Works to 21st Century Motorola Inc. have provided "physical fitness" facilities to their workers. However, some, perhaps a great deal, of athletic activity provides both physical and mental energy that bolsters struggle rather than work for business. When waged workers use corporate facilities to regain energy lost on the job so that they can struggle for better working conditions, higher wages or less work, it's a nice piece of détournement as the Situationists might say.
But most athletic activity that escapes capitalist management probably takes place beyond the walls of corporations. Perhaps not far beyond. According to Jeremy Brecher in his book Strike! (1972), Louis Adamic, the author of Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence in America, 1830-1930 (1931) told how he visited Akron to find out how the great Depression Era wave of worker sit-downs had begun and learned that the first sit-down had occurred not in a rubber factory but at a baseball game when players from two factories sat down on the field to protest a non-union umpire. The method was soon carried by the workers into their factories. Clearly not only was playing baseball helping those workers survive their obnoxious, unregulated conditions of work but sparked an idea of struggle that swept through and beyond the U.S. labor movement to become a world-wide tactic on all kinds of terrain.
As Ian McDonald points out, Marx's analysis of alienation implies the possibility of non-alienated self activity, including that of an "empowering culture of sport and physical activity." Reversing Marx's analysis of the four kinds of alienation, we can postulate that non-alienated athletics would presumably involve: (1) athletes' control over their own activity in individual and collective self-expression, (2) activity that creates bonds among players, (3) activity whose "product", whether immediate satisfaction or spectacle, would be under the control of the players and (4) be organized as a creative realization of human species-being. Have such non-alienated athletics existed? Can we find moments of such non-alienated activity? When, where and to what degree? Determining the answers to these questions requires finding and analyzing examples of self-organized sports. McDonald argues that "sport does not have its equivalent of avant-guard artistic movements, or revolutionary cinematic and literature movements." But does the absence of organized "movements" mean the absence of self-organized athletic activity that contributes to social struggle, potentially to revolutionary struggle? I don't think so.
Because I never played intramural sports in college, I'm not sure exactly how those self-organized, athletic activities are appropriated by students. I don't know to what degree they merely contributed to the recreation of the students' labor power and to what degree they contributed to resistance to schoolwork. But I did see, in the 1960s, how within the anti-war movement, as well as among Black and Chicano struggles, one form of collective revitalization that built solidarity among protesters were pick-up games of baseball, basketball or soccer.
I have also discovered, in more recent years, how self-organized games have played a role on other terrains of struggle. Two examples. First, to avoid having the migra called in by growers, undocumented farm workers in Maricopa County, Arizona launched a huelga de tortuga or partial slow-down strike in which they picked fruit in the morning, but then played soccer in the afternoon. Not only were they having fun but playing clearly contributed to solidarity. Second, within the indigenous Zapatista movement in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, soccer is a common form of re-creation— not just of labor power but of a spirit of struggle that has not only challenged neoliberalism and demanded radical democracy, an end to racial discrimination and indigenous cultural autonomy in Mexico but also catalyzed the emergence of the alter-globalization movement around the world.
With soccer the most popular game in the world, I would encourage radical sports theorists to investigate what I can easily imagine to be similar uses of soccer among struggles elsewhere. And the same goes for other sports, e.g., what has been the role of pick-up basketball on inner-city courts across the United States with regard to the struggles going on in those neighborhoods? What contribution has self-organized cricket made to struggles in Africa? Beyond the media amplified spectacle of capitalist organized sports that seems to have preoccupied a great many "cultural theorists" are self-organized athletic activities important parts of social movements and moments of what Félix Guattari called "molecular revolutions" all over the world? I don't know. But I would like to know before I succumb to David Andrew's and others' pessimism about the possibilities of "viable" alternatives to capitalist organized sports.
To radical sports theorists who say that they can not even "imagine" alternatives, I would recommend both the investigation of what people are doing right now, on their own, and what they have done in the past—the exploration of those attitudes and practices of human athletic and sports activity across the globe that were not or have not been instrumentalized by capital. The kind of research I am thinking of is the sort carried out by those who have searched for alternatives to Western attitudes and practices vis-à-vis the rest of nature. Dissatisfied not only with capitalism's rapacious exploitation of nature but also with Judeo-Christian-Islamic and Enlightenment traditions of an anthropocentric tendency to view the rest of nature as just resources for human use, self-described "deep ecologists" have sought sources of stimulation for their efforts to imagine more biocentric approaches to the human-nature relationship. It is obvious to me that those explorations have been fruitful and have contributed much to the struggles to save the earth, and humankind, from capitalist exploitation and destruction. I suspect that similar research in the domain of athletic and sports activity might also be fruitful.
To conclude: coming from years of working with Marxist theory, but from outside the domain of sports studies, I have found this collection of essays to provide a rich and provocative introduction to what is clearly a wide ranging critical literature. Beyond the insights offered by the essays themselves—interventions into that literature—is the abundant material referenced by each of the authors. Many are the articles that I marked "Ref" in the margins; some I have already looked up, downloaded and read. Many more I will explore in the future. I began reading this collection curious about what I might find. Reading has left me more curious than ever, not only about what else has been written but about the subject itself: the actuality and potential of sports as a terrain of struggle against capitalism and as one interesting form of self-valorization beyond it.