Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Yesterday in the World of Sports, Capitalism and the old Cold War

by Norman Markowitz

I was going to dash off these thoughts about events yesterday but didn't have time.

First there was the North Korea-Brazil soccer game. Now I confess that I am not a follower of soccer(which the world calls football) but this was very interesting. I even followed the game on the New York Times blog which was filled with ongoing commentary. When the North Korean goal keeper gave up a goal, one blogger joked (I think but who knows) that he would be sent to "the gulag"(post 1970 generic term used in capitalist media for political prisons in socialist countries, regardless of the language, climate, or distance from Siberia).

But most of the commentators I came across had gone beyond this one dimensional way of thinking and many, including supporters of Brazil, praised the remarkable achievement of the North Koreans, the 105th rated team in the world, playing the 1st rated team in the world to the last minute, only to lose 2-1. This got me to thinking what W Bush the former president or Sarah Palin, the former sports reporter and right wing gadfly, might think. Bush probably wouldn't understand the game, confusing goals with home runs. But he would immediately denounce Brazil for playing a game with North Korea, a member of the "Axis of Evil" He would even suggest that patriotic Americans start calling the Brazilian Samba the Texas Waltz, as congressional Republicans once changed the name of French Fries to "Freedom Fries" in the House of Representatives Cafeteria after France criticized the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Sarah Palin would probaby make some comment about the subversive and immoral nature of playing a game with your feet after she announced that she was qualified to discuss this topic because she could see both Brazil and North Korea from her home in Alaska.
Having lived in New Jersey for most of the last forty years, a story about Mikhail Prokhorov, the new Russian "billionaire" owner of the New Jersey Nets(who are planning to move to Brooklyn) caught my eye. Let's call him "Smiling Mike," the name the U.S. press gave to an old Soviet ambassador during the Khrushchev years in the 1950s.
Smilin Mike was in Newark at the Prudential Center, where the team he has just bought will be playing for the next two years before the try to find El Dorado in Brooklyn. Corey Booker the African American mayor of Newark was present and they both tried to hit three point shots unsuccessfully until Booker finally made one. Booker joked that he would bet his salary against Smilin Mike's as to who would make the first shot. Although capitalists really don't live on salary, but on stocks, bonds, interest and dividends, Smilin Mike did not take him up on it.
Seriously, I thought that Smilin Mike and his "new Russian" fellow capitalists are among the oddest capitalists in history. His wealth comes from the privatizing of a complete economy that was built by socialist labor, by the labor and investment of the whole Soviet people. His wealth and those of his associates was based on the confiscation of Soviet public property, taken from directly from the whole people, not indirectly the way Rockefeller in the past or Bill Gates in the present, take their wealth, by using their capital, produced by investments in past labor, to "hire" present labor to produce things. Actually, what happened to the Soviet economy I would describe as theft on a scale unparalleled in human history.

But as an historian I remembered that many of the "great" American Robber Barons of the nineteenth and early 20th centuries fed their egos by purchasing large quantities of European art and marrying off their daughters to European aristocrats. In both areas they often lost a lot of money. By purchasing the Nets, a team that one 12 games out of 82 last year, Smilin Mike may join them. I doubt he will find wealth and fame in Brooklyn with his team, even though in recent decades, the leaders of financially strapped cities have often given sports developers anything they wanted in the hope that new teams and stadiums would revitalize local economies(which they almost never do, as working class housing and recreational facilities are destroyed, public funds are used to subsidize private investment as the fans drive in from the suburbs and go to great lengths to have nothing to do with the communities in which the games are played. I doubt also that the new stadium the Nets will have in Brooklyn, if and when they get there, will be called Prokhorov Field. It will probably have some business name, like Snickers Field, since I am told that Snickers candy bars became popular in the new Russia after the dismemberment of the Soviet Union
Finally, on the point of basketball, I watched the Celtics-Lakers game, and unlike Sam Webb, General Secretary of the CPUSA, whom I respect and support, I was rooting for the Lakers. But this of course is a secondary contradictions. Actually, many of my friends believed that I was rooting for the Lakers because I remain a lifelong Dodger fan, but I told them this had nothing to do with it. For many years in the 1950s and 1960s, I rooted for the Celtics against the Lakers and other teams for the NBA championship because they were from the Eastern Division and I as a Knick fan thought it was my duty to root for the Celtics. The Eastern Division team. Then I realized that I really didn't like the Celtics, this was blind traditionalism. Since then I have rooted for the Lakers when they have played the Celtics to make up for all the times that I rooted against them. Unfortunately, my team, the Knicks, have been owned in recent years by a super rich cable TV mogul, James Dolan, who has led the team as effectively as Mikhail Gorbachev, not Prokhorov, led the Soviet Union.