Sport and the Russian Revolution

“People will divide into “parties” over the question of a new gigantic canal, or the distribution of oases in the Sahara (such a question will exist too), over the regulation of the rainy day and the climate, over a new theatre, over chemical hypotheses, over two competing tendencies in music, and over a new best system of sports. ”
– Leon Trotsky, Reading and Revolution

At the start of the twentieth century sport had not flourished in Russia to the same extent as in places such as Britain. The majority of the Russian population were peasants, shelling out hours each day on back-breaking agricultural labour. Leisure time was difficult to come by and even then people were often exhausted from other work. Of course people did still play, taking part in these traditional games as lapta (similar to baseball) in addition to gorodki (a bowling game). A smattering of activities clubs existed in the larger cities but they remained the preserve of the richer members of society. Ice hockey had been beginning to grow in popularity, and the upper echelons of contemporary society were fond of fencing and rowing, using expensive devices most people would never have been able to afford.

In 1917 the Russian Revolution turned the world upside down, inspiring millions of people featuring a vision of a society built on solidarity and the fulfilment of human need. In the process it unleashed an market of creativity in art, music, poetry and literature. It touched every area of people’s lives, including the video game titles they played. Sport, however , was far from being a priority. Often the Bolsheviks, who had led the revolution, were confronted with sencillo war, invading armies, widespread famine and a typhus high incidence. Survival, not leisure, was the order of the day. However , over the early part of the 1920s, before the dreams of the revolution ended up crushed by Stalin, the debate over a “best system of sports” that Trotsky had predicted did indeed be held. Two of the groups to tackle the question connected with “physical culture” were the hygienists and the Proletkultists.

As the name implies the hygienists were a collection of health professionals and health care professionals whose attitudes were informed by means of their medical knowledge. Generally speaking they were critical of sport activity, concerned that its emphasis on competition placed participants vulnerable to injury. They were equally disdainful of the West’s preoccupation having running faster, throwing further or jumping higher than older models. “It is completely unnecessary and unimportant, ” said A new. A. Zikmund, head of the Physical Culture Institute with Moscow, “that anyone set a new world or Russian language record. ” Instead the hygienists advocated non-competitive real pursuits – like gymnastics and swimming -as means for people to stay healthy and relax.

For a period of time the actual hygienists influenced Soviet policy on questions of natural culture. It was on their advice that certain sports were restricted, and football, boxing and weight-lifting were all avoided from the programme of events at the First Trade Institute Games in 1925. However the hygienists were far from unanimous in their condemnation of sport. V. V. Gorinevsky, like was an advocate of playing tennis which he / she saw as being an ideal physical exercise. Nikolai Semashko, a doctor along with the People’s Commissar for Health, went much further reasoning and arguing that sport was “the open gate to real bodily culture” which “develops the sort of will-power, strength plus skill that should distinguish Soviet people. ”

Unlike the hygienists the Proletkult movement was unequivocal inside the rejection of ‘bourgeois’ sport. Indeed they denounced any scenario that smacked of the old society, be it in art, materials or music. They saw the ideology of capitalism woven into the fabric of sport. Its competitiveness placed workers against each other, dividing people by tribal and even national identities, while the physicality of the games put made with chemicals strains on the bodies of the players.

In place of sport Proletkultists argued for new, proletarian forms of play, founded on the key points of mass participation and cooperation. Often these brand new games were huge theatrical displays looking more like carnivals or parades than the sports we see today. Contests were definitely shunned on the basis that they were ideologically incompatible together with the new socialist society. Participation replaced spectating, and each affair contained a distinct political message, as is apparent from a few of their names: Rescue from the Imperialists; Smuggling Revolutionary Literature Through the Frontier; and Helping the Proletarians.

It would be simple characterise the Bolsheviks as being anti-sports. Leading members with the party were friends and comrades with those who was most critical of sport during the debates on physical customs. Some of the leading hygienists were close to Leon Trotsky, even though Anotoli Lunacharsky, the Commissar for the Enlightenment, shared quite a few views with Proletkult. In addition , the party’s attitude into the Olympics is normally given as evidence to support this anti-sport claim. The Bolsheviks boycotted the Games arguing they will “deflect workers from the class struggle and train these individuals for imperialist wars”. Yet in reality the Bolshevik’s thought patterns towards sport were somewhat more complicated.

It is clear that that they regarded participation in the new physical culture as being highly important, a life-affirming activity allowing people to experience the mobility and movement of their own bodies. Lenin was convinced which recreation and exercise were integral parts of a well-rounded life. “Young people especially need to have a zest for life-long and be in good spirits. Healthy sport – gymnastics, swimming, hiking all manner of physical exercise – should be combined wherever possible with a variety of intellectual interests, study, analysis and scrutiny… Healthy bodies, healthy minds! “

News Reporter