Some two years after Barnes’ barnstorming epic, former top notch cricketer and fellow Oxbridge graduate, decides to tread pretty much the same territory and for me he does a rather solid job. He presses many of the same buttons as Barnes exploring the contradictory nature of sport and the conflicting motives of both athlete and spectator.

The first couple of chapters set the tone of what is to follow with Smith setting out his philosophical stall very much in the manner of Barnes. Sport, smith tells us, ‘appeals equally to two apparently contradictory world views. First, the notion of a golden age of true heroes from which we have gradually declined. Second, the evolutionary view of human progress the sees sport as perpetually improving. Which is right? Or is there some way that both theories can be true?’ Thus Smith embarks on an examination of both positions seeking as he does to find a unity in these opposites. Smith also has an eye for the antithesis between nature and nurture, facts and opinion, amateurism and professionalism, experience and raw intuition. He even uses the exact same Dylan quote as Simon Barnes to illustrate this perpetual duality within every athlete. Smith tells us that a study of the contradictions within sport will lead us to ‘questions about evolution, destiny, psychology, the free market, history and many other disciplines.’ It’s an excellent read both from a purely sporting perspective but also as a general study of what makes us tick. It falls short of Simon Barnes only in that Smith tends to be a little didactic, a little mechanical in his approach whereas Barnes has that ability to tell a story and the philosophy flows more naturally from the people and the events.  

There is a strange little oddity however, about Smith’s work which is worth exploring. He seems to have a bee in his bonnet about the free market and the failures, as he sees it, of socialism/Marxism/communism. In the very last chapter Smith goes off on an interesting tangent firstly polemicising against the political Marxist views of C.L.R. James, the former West Indian cricketer and then launching into a tirade against Marxism itself. Smith elucidates, ‘Marxism displaces one establishment-preserved revealed truth ( class, aristocracy, the Old Establishment) with another. But the principle is the same. The Marxists were high priests of received wisdom. We have got the truth, they said, and it is locked in our tabernacle that we drag around. ……Thus the revolution reinstates that which it despised.’ P181

Now every science has its own language and those within that science tend to agree on the meaning of words or at least they know exactly where and how they interpret words differently. Smith casually interchanges the words socialism, communism, Marxism and revolution in the very same way that the bourgeois press always does and without any attempt to define what he understands by each of these very precise terms.  And this from a man who has read History at Cambridge. Had Smith been paying attention during his lectures on Marxism  he would be aware of the never ending debates within Marxism itself as to what exactly constitutes socialism both in its early and mature stages and further, when would it be possible, and under what material conditions would it require for socialism to transform itself into communism. As for the highly contentious role of the communist vanguard party, Smith should go back and read or re-read Lenin’s, ‘What Is To Be Done’. The question of attempting to build socialism in a very backward society like 19th century Russia or 20th century China are many and complex and cannot be simply dismissed as a problem of the Party. Smith, coming from an obviously privileged background should avoid offering up trite platitudes. Yes, a serious ongoing polemic is required to deal with what both Marx and Lenin referred to as the Dictatorship of the Proletariat as a necessary pre stage for building socialism, and how the revolution during this period can prevent itself becoming the dictatorship of the Party, or worse still the dictatorship of the Central Committee or in the worse scenario the dictatorship of the Great Leader.

Smith should know from reading history that many of the dictatorial tendencies that developed in the Bolshevik Party were the result of the foreign intervention in the Civil War by fourteen armies of the capitalist countries that sought to strangle the Russian Revolution in its womb. Smith would also do well to consider the possibility that for all the supposed failings of the Russian Revolution, its successes were a major spur for Capitalist Britain to introduce the Welfare State as a means of discouraging the British working class from taking its own revolutionary course. As for Britain, so for the rest of Western Europe.

Smith should try to understand from his vantage point of privilege that a bloody revolution is not a game to be played out on the playing field of Eton. It derives from centuries of grinding poverty and stultifying cultural backwardness, the very poverty and backwardness that the British Empire perpetuated for near on two centuries. While the world starved, Britain grew rich and the elites played cricket. (Why does he think that the West Indies and India want to beat England at cricket so badly?)  Food for thought Mr Smith.

And as for the free market mentality that Mr Smith lauds so highly, he may wish to revise his thoughts on this one in light of recent developments in the world economy. Joe Citizen has been subsidizing the so called free enterprise system with our hard earned tax revenues for the past two centuries. This has now reached the point that the entire rotten edifice would have come crashing down were it not for the state bailouts of his beloved ‘free market’. Don’t believe everything they tell you at the establishment’s esteemed halls of learning Ed.

Finally, my advice to Ed Smith is to employ the same dialectical thinking to the questions of revolution and social development as he adeptly showed in his thesis on sport. Well worth a read though.

Last Updated ( Monday, 29 October 2012 12:44 )