Friday, March 5, 2010

The Winter Olympics and Memories of the Soviet Union

by Norman Markowitz

I confess that I didn't watch much of the Winter Olympics, except for the hockey games, some of which were on a cable station that I no longer get thanks to the way our predatory unregulated cable "providers operate."

But while watching the U.S. Canada game in a Gym yesterday, I was told by a man from Russia that all through Russia, "new Russia," there is anger and frustration at the disastrous showing of the Russian team. Gone are the days when the Soviet Union led the U.S. every four years in the Summer Olympics(the Winter Olympics were something of a lost cause) and cold war propagandists blamed this on Soviet men pretending to be Soviet women, Soviet women with male hormones, drugs, referees who were Communist agents, anything that they could. Gone even is the spirit of the 1980 "miracle on ice," the U.S. gold medal victory over the Soviet national team which sports reporters were hyping through the week in order to build up ratings for the games.
Today in the New York Times, new Russia's mod President Dmitri Medvedev began to call for a purge of the "new Russian athletic" establishment. The coach of the Hockey team,"Vyacheslav Bykov was quoted as saying "let's put up a bunch of guillotines and gallows. there are thirty five people on the Hockey team Let's go to Red Square and dispatch with them all."

Actually, a number of those players are high paid NHL players and any such action, which is of course what old cold warriors would attribute to "Soviet tyranny" would probably lead to IMF retaliation, if not WWIII.

This is the kind of blustering one expects from capitalist bosses and politicians. Another Russian, Gennady Shvets, spoke very intelligently about what had happened by linking it to the downfall of sports after the fall of the Soviet Union. If we make a list of all those who should be held responsible then it should be half the population of the country because, unfortunately many took part in the destruction of athletics or passively looked on." "In the 1990s everything was destroyed When stadiums were turned into markets and pools into VIP saunas, athletics collapsed."

Of course one might say that that is really what happened to the Soviet Union itself where in "many took part in the destruction .or passively looked on." With far less capital and facilities than the U.S. the Soviets used principles of socialist planning to develop an Olympic athletic program, nurturing athletes without recruiting them for big money programs and showing in effect that competition could work well in a socialist society if it were not dog eat dog as it is in capitalist society. The Soviets were able to defeat the U.S., even with its very advanced sports facilities(very superior from what I know to anything the Soviets were able to develop) because here the investment was in was professional spectator sports, baseball, football, and basketball(all of which I follow closely and have since I was a child). In colleges and universities, basketball and football are referred to as "revenue sports" while everything else is called condescendingly "Olympic sports."

Having taught for thirty-eight years at a university where today the football coach is the highest paid "state employee" in New Jersey, I am probably no one to to make any criticism of the "new Russians" when it comes to the sports policy. But, sadly, unlike the Soviet epoch, they are really not around anymore, in athletics or anything else. Those who destroyed the USSR in effect looted and destroyed a sports infrastructure which was socialist and have replaced it with a lower division form of capitalism, just as they destroyed a socialist planned economy and replaced it with the chaotic capitalism of "new Russia," where class privilege rules in a society of many glittering new Potemkin villages covering up the insecurities and poverty of the majority of people.

Some comrades and others have long criticized my being a sports fan as a kind of surrender to capitalist escapism, to televised capitalist bread and circuses. Now there may be a kernel of truth in that, but in the "new Russia" of capitalism, the old pride in Soviet Olympic achievements, however "escapist" that may be to some, is gone with Soviet power and Soviet socialism.