Sport and the Russian Revolution

” Individuals will divide into “parties” over the question of a new enormous canal, or the distribution of sanctuaries in the Sahara (such a question will exist too), over the regulation of the weather condition and the environment, over a new theatre, over chemical hypotheses, over two contending propensities in music, and over a finest system of sports.”
– Leon Trotsky, Literature and Transformation

At the start of the twentieth century sport had actually not flourished in Russia to the exact same degree as in countries such as Britain. The majority of the Russian population were peasants, investing hours every day on back-breaking farming labour. Free time was challenging to come by and even then people were typically exhausted from their work. Obviously people did still play, taking part in such traditional games as lapta (much like baseball) and gorodki (a bowling game). A smattering of sports clubs existed in the bigger cities but they stayed the protect of the richer members of society. Ice hockey was starting to grow in popularity, and the upper echelons of society loved fencing and rowing, using expensive equipment the majority of people would never have actually had the ability to pay for.

In 1917 the Russian Revolution turned the world upside down, motivating countless individuals with its vision of a society built on uniformity and the fulfilment of human need. At the same time it let loose a surge of imagination in art, music, poetry and literature. It touched every location of individuals’s lives, including the video games they played. Sport, however, was far from being a concern. The Bolsheviks, who had led the transformation, were confronted with civil war, getting into armies, widespread starvation and a typhus epidemic. Survival, not leisure, was the order of business. However, throughout the early part of the 1920s, before the imagine the revolution were crushed by Stalin, the argument over a “best system of sports” that Trotsky had actually predicted did certainly happen. 2 of the groups to deal with the question of “physical culture” were the hygienists and the Proletkultists.

As the name suggests the hygienists were a collection of physicians and health care experts whose attitudes were informed by their medical knowledge. Typically speaking they were important of sport, concerned that its emphasis on competition positioned participants at risk of injury. They were equally disdainful of the West’s fixation with running quicker, throwing further or jumping higher than ever before. “It is totally unneeded and unimportant,” stated A.A. Zikmund, head of the Physical Culture Institute in Moscow, “that anyone set a new world or Russian record.” Rather the hygienists promoted non-competitive physical pursuits – like gymnastics and swimming -as methods for individuals to stay healthy and relax.

For an amount of time the hygienists influenced Soviet policy on concerns of physical culture. It was on their guidance that certain sports were prohibited, and football, boxing and weight-lifting were all left out from the programme of events at the First Trade Union Games in 1925. However the hygienists were far from unanimous in their condemnation of sport. V.V. Gorinevsky, for example, was an advocate of playing tennis which he viewed as being a perfect exercise. Nikolai Semashko, a physician and individuals’s Commissar for Health, went much more arguing that sport was “the open gate to physical culture” which “establishes the sort of will-power, strength and skill that must distinguish Soviet people.” Leeds united shirt

In contrast to the hygienists the Proletkult motion was unequivocal in its rejection of ‘bourgeois’ sport. Indeed they knocked anything that resembled the old society, be it in art, literature or music. They saw the ideology of industrialism woven into the fabric of sport. Its competitiveness set employees versus each other, dividing people by tribal and national identities, while the physicality of the video games put unnatural strains on the bodies of the gamers.

In place of sport Proletkultists argued for new, proletarian forms of play, based on the concepts of mass involvement and cooperation. Frequently these new games were huge theatrical displays looking more like carnivals or parades than the sports we see today. Contests were shunned on the basis that they were ideologically incompatible with the brand-new socialist society. Participation changed spectating, and each event consisted of an unique political message, as is apparent from some of their names: Rescue from the Imperialists; Smuggling Revolutionary Literature Across the Frontier; and Assisting the Proletarians.

It would be simple to characterise the Bolsheviks as being anti-sports. Leading members of the celebration were pals and comrades with those who were most vital of sport throughout the disputes on physical culture. A few of the leading hygienists were close to Leon Trotsky, while Anotoli Lunacharsky, the Commissar for the Knowledge, shared lots of views with Proletkult. In addition, the party’s mindset to the Olympics is usually offered as evidence to support this anti-sport claim. The Bolsheviks boycotted the Games arguing that they “deflect workers from the class struggle and train them for imperialist wars”. Yet in reality the Bolshevik’s attitudes to sport were somewhat more complicated.

It is clear that they related to participation in the brand-new physical culture as being extremely important, a life-affirming activity enabling people to experience the flexibility and motion of their own bodies. Lenin was encouraged that entertainment and exercise were essential parts of a well-rounded life. “Young people especially need to have a zest for life and remain in good spirits. Healthy sport – gymnastics, swimming, treking all manner of exercise – must be combined as much as possible with a range of intellectual interests, study, analysis and examination … Healthy bodies, healthy minds!”

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