Rotten to the Core?
How America’s Political Decay Accelerated During the Trump Era
THE leaders of Soviet Russia have always considered sports to be a matter of primary importance to the state and have made their position clear in numerous Communist Party decrees and Pravda editorials. They have stated that there can be no "sport for sport's sake," that hunters, for example, must not merely look for game but consider themselves explorers with obligations to Soviet society. Their preoccupation with the utilitarian and socio-political aspects of sport is reflected in their definition of the term fizkultura (physical culture) which the July 13, 1925, decree of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party interprets as follows:
Physical culture must be considered not only from the standpoint of physical education and health and as an aspect of the cultural, economic and military training of youth (the sport of rifle marksmanship and others), but also as one of the methods of educating the masses (in as much as physical culture develops will power and builds up endurance, teamwork, resourcefulness and other valuable qualities), and in addition, as a means of rallying the broad masses of workers and peasants around the various Party, soviet, and trade union organizations, through which the masses of workers and peasants are to be drawn into social and political activity.
Thus, sports can have no independent existence in the U.S.S.R. and are merely a means to an end--the consolidation of state power through mass training and indoctrination.
Prior to World War II the Communist Party in Soviet Russia utilized physical culture and sport primarily to build the country's defense potential and facilitate other domestic purposes; but in the past ten years these have played an increasingly important rôle in furthering the foreign policy objectives set forth by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. At the end of 1946 the U.S.S.R. was represented in only two international athletic bodies, but between 1946 and 1955 it joined 25 more. Official recognition of the Soviet Olympic Committee in May 1951 made it possible for the U.S.S.R. to participate in the 1952 Olympic Games. In 1955 Moscow permitted the international exchange of athletic delegations between the Soviet Union and the outside world to reach its postwar peak, with 187 foreign athletic teams coming to the U.S.S.R. to play against Soviet teams while 162 Soviet athletic teams went abroad to compete. The government has sought both to provide maximum competitive experience for Soviet athletic teams in preparation for the 1956 Olympic Games and to increase the number of teams dispatched to distant lands for political purposes. An example is the "Lokomotiv" soccer team that traveled to Indonesia, Burma and India. It played against an Indian team in Calcutta on December 1, the day after the huge mass meeting held there in honor of the touring Soviet leaders, Bulganin and Khrushchev.
A considerable body of Soviet Marxist dogma concerning bourgeois and proletarian sport has been formulated by Bolshevik theoreticians. Soviet Marxists maintain that under capitalism the bourgeoisie hypocritically proclaims the nonpolitical nature of sport while doing its utmost to distract toilers from the class struggle and to instill in them the base instincts which warmongers with criminal aims may utilize to advantage. To support their claim they invariably cite the following passage from an article by Maxim Gorky on the nature of sports in bourgeois lands:
Sport there has one simple and clear purpose: to make man even more stupid than he is. There the cry "Down with reason, extinguish thought!" resounds louder and louder. This is a cry of fear and despair. Thought must be blinded and rendered impotent in order that there may be substituted for the power of reason unquestioning faith in the authority of the class state and the church; reason must be blinded so that it will not perceive the light that has been lit in the U.S.S.R. In bourgeois states they utilize sport to produce cannon fodder. . . .
After the start of the Korean war in 1950 Gorky's reference to "cannon fodder" was repeatedly quoted to "prove" that Uncle Sam was a warmonger using sport to train American youth for war.
This purportedly authentic picture of the political and martial nature of bourgeois sport is then contrasted with Soviet sport, whose avowed purpose is to destroy everything old and sordid that obstructs the growth of the new and pure proletarian culture. Under the benign supervision of the Communist Party, the Soviet government and wise leaders like Comrade Stalin--"the best friend of the physical-culturists"--sport is alleged to have been placed at the service of the masses, to have increased their cultural growth and their well-being, and to have developed their spiritual and physical capabilities. Bolshevik theoreticians laud Soviet sport for dedicating itself to the cause of peace, conveniently forgetting the once popular slogans--"The Red Army-- The Real School of Physical Culture" and "Physical Culturists --The Red Army's Reserve." They also overlook embarrassing martial spectacles in the field of sports such as fencing with carbines to which rubber bayonets have been attached, still a regular event at all U.S.S.R. fencing championships.
Since sport is a matter of primary importance to the state all athletes up to and including those with the title of Honored Master of Sport are subject to a rigorous code of conduct both in training and in the course of championship competition. Suspension and loss of the honorary Master of Sport title will result from "misdemeanors incompatible with the calling of a Soviet athlete." G. Novak, holder of many world records in weight lifting since 1945, was stripped of his Honored Master of Sport title in 1952 for "amoral conduct." Another example of the Spartan approach was to be seen at the 1954 U.S.S.R. outdoor tennis championships, in which a semi-finalist was judged to have defaulted his match for appearing on the court five minutes after a designated hour. From this our young players will learn the lesson of punctuality, commented Sovietskii Sport. Chess players are also vulnerable. Several Grand Masters participating in the 1953 U.S.S.R. chess championships were subjected to sharp criticism for having been too prone to settle for "toothless ties."
An apolitical attitude is not tolerated in Soviet athletes. No sport can be outside the realm of politics. The code of political conduct for chess players, as announced in an official decree issued three years ago, requires Soviet Grand Masters and Masters to work systematically to improve their comprehension of Marxist ideology in addition to perfecting their techniques in chess. It is not uncommon, therefore, to find leading Soviet chess players manifesting their political orthodoxy by delivering anti-American tirades like that of Grand Master A. A. Kotov at the fourth All-Union Conference of Peace Supporters in Moscow in 1952.
The highest governmental body dealing with Soviet athletic policy is the All-Union Committee on Physical Culture and Sport. Successor to the All-Union Council of Physical Culture, it is directly responsible to the Council of Ministers. From his headquarters in Moscow, the chairman for the past ten years, N. Romanov, directs the Union Republic Committees, which in turn control City Committees (of which the most prominent are those of Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, Tbilisi and Minsk). The All-Union Committee maintains direct supervision over 15 institutes and 38 "technicums" of physical culture as well as several institutes for scientific research in physical culture. Within both the All-Union and Union Republic Committees are so-called special sections, comprising a cadre section and a secret section, staffed by M.V.D. agents who handle security checks and recruit informers among athletes.
Through these special sections the M.V.D. can assert substantial pressure on the All-Union and Union Republic Committees. Its leverage derives primarily from the great power wielded by the M.V.D.'s own Dynamo Athletic Club, oldest and most influential in the Soviet Union. This nation-wide organization of the secret police and organs of state security controls approximately 120 stadia and operates an extensive network of stores selling athletic equipment. When the physical culture movement was revitalized under the decree of the Central Committee of the Communist Party dated December 27, 1948, M.V.D. Colonel General Apollonov exercised fully as much authority as the chairman of the All-Union Committee. However, since the demise of L. P. Beria, the power of the M.V.D. in physical culture and sports has been somewhat reduced. In this connection it is significant that the fine hockey teams of the Air Force and the Central House of the Soviet Army were unexpectedly combined into a single team representing the Central Sports Club of the Ministry of Defense, which then humbled the Moscow Dynamo team in the 1955 U.S.S.R. ice hockey championships.
Another very important agency engaged in implementing athletic policy directives is the All-Union Leninist Communist Union of Youth, often termed the "soul of mass sport." Its central committee is credited with drawing up the comprehensive plan establishing a minimum level of general, all-round physical development for Soviet workers as part of the expanded physical culture program called for by Stalin at the Sixteenth Party Congress. The plan's official title is the "All-Union Physical-Culture Complex" but it is popularly known as the G.T.O., whose initials stand for "'Ready for Work and for Defense." The comprehensive G.T.O. plan developed in the early thirties comprises three sets of standards for Soviet citizens aged 14 to 40, both male and female. The original norms were made more exacting by specific government decrees in 1939 and 1954. The basic mission of the All-Union Leninist Communist Union of Youth is to draw the youth of the land into physical culture groups called "collectives," whose members are given only a limited amount of time to pass the G.T.O. athletic tests in order that quarterly or annual G.T.O. quotas may be fulfilled according to plan.
The principal measure of athletic proficiency in the Soviet Union is the Single All-Union Athletic Classification System. In 45 recognized sports, from auto racing to checkers, five levels of proficiency have been generally established, starting at the bottom with Class C (the so-called "third category") and proceeding upward through Class B and Class A to the coveted Master of Sport category, and finally to the title of Honored Master of Sport. (In most sports there are also three junior categories.) The All-Union Committee on Physical Culture and Sport sets the standards for each category of the Single Classification System. It has raised them twice in recent years. To qualify for a category rating under the Single Classification System a Soviet athlete must first pass the tests in one of the three sets of standards established by the G.T.O. plan. Before being awarded the Master of Sport title, for example, one must pass the advanced level G.T.O. tests with the grade of "excellent."
The G.T.O. plan and the Single Classification System reflect the two underlying principles of Soviet athletics--massovost (mass-ness) and masterstvo (proficiency). A broad base of mass participation in physical culture must exist before the skill of individual athletes can be developed on a national basis--this has been the policy of the Central Committee of the Communist Party for more than three decades. Massovost is held to be primary, while masterstvo derives from it. Mikhail Kalinin, former chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R., explained the primacy of massovost in these simple terms:
In our country physical culture is sport for the people, in our country millions participate in the physical culture movement. And it is obvious that talented athletes will sooner be found among these millions than among thousands, and that it is easier to find talented athletes among thousands than among hundreds.
The fact that the Soviet Union is internationally prominent in sports in which it has a mass base (chess, gymnastics, rifle marksmanship, etc.), but woefully weak in sports lacking any mass participation in the U.S.S.R. (tennis, figure skating, fencing, etc.), points up the importance of massovost.
One of the principal agencies for promoting massovost is the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions, which has primary responsibility for establishing physical culture collectives in industrial and commercial enterprises and for recruiting production workers and office employees for these collectives. To this end, orders from the Central Council are transmitted to Union Republic, area and regional councils and on down to local councils and to factory and plant councils at the production site. In actual practice this chain of command is surprisingly weak: Pravda revealed on July 21, 1951, that in over two years officials of the Central Council had not set foot in the large Torpedo Athletic Club at the Stalin Auto Works in Moscow. Trade unions first became active in the physical culture movement in 1935, when the Moscow City Committee of the Communist Party permitted unions in the Moscow area to establish their own athletic clubs. Today the Central Councils of 30 unions are operating athletic clubs throughout the country. Assigned to the individual factories and plants are physical culture organizers who must get the assigned quota of their factory's labor force into sufficiently good physical condition to pass the G.T.O. requirements. To achieve his goal the fizorg (physical culture organizer) often makes use of the device known as "socialist competition," challenging the fizorg of another factory to a contest in producing the assigned quota of parachute jumpers or rifle marksmen, for example, in the shortest possible time.
In accordance with specific provisions of the 1948 decree, increased publicity has been given to the physical culture movement through the press, radio, television and films. "All-Union Day of the Physical-Culturists," which falls on a Sunday in either July or August, is celebrated with more and more fanfare and publicity each year. Considerable excitement accompanied the announcement that a tremendous drive would be launched to discover new athletic talent in rural Russia by means of a series of local and regional competitions in rural areas, followed by rural-urban competitions in major cities and towns. The winners in these competitions will qualify for the so-called "Spartakiad of the Peoples of the U.S.S.R.," a mass pre-Olympic tryout scheduled for July and August of 1956 in a gigantic new stadium now under construction on the outskirts of Moscow. There will be competitions in 21 sports in which nearly ten thousand picked athletes representing all the Union Republics of the U.S.S.R. will be entered.
In order to put the massovost principle into effect a large and expanding physical plant and an adequate supply of athletic equipment are essential. The state budget for public health, which includes appropriations for physical culture and sport as well as for sanitation and hygiene, rose more than 12 billion rubles between 1952 and 1956, reaching a total of 35 billion rubles this year. Millions of rubles have gone into additions to the Soviet athletic plant: 400 stadia have been built since 1945 and the U.S.S.R. now has over a thousand; eight institutes and eleven "technicums" of physical culture have been added since 1941, raising the number to 15 and 38 respectively. While these figures indicate an appreciable growth in the physical plant, they give no idea of the extent to which demand for adequate athletic facilities has exceeded supply. The winter resort patterned after Davos and St. Moritz built near Alma-Ata to provide speed skaters with ideal conditions for breaking world records is definitely atypical and is restricted to Soviet skaters of championship calibre. Athletic equipment, even in the stores operated by the Dynamo Athletic Club, continues to be in short supply, a situation resulting not only from insufficient output and the inferior quality of goods produced but especially from inefficient distribution and marketing of athletic equipment. However, the shortage of sporting goods does not affect outstanding Soviet athletes; the state provides them with the best equipment made, whether Soviet or foreign.
As the center of the world Communist conspiracy, the Soviet Union has not forgotten that sports can prove to be of great use as a weapon in the class struggle. The K.S.I. (Red Sport International) was founded in Moscow in 1921 to "train physical-culturists for the class struggle." Although it no longer functions as the Comintern's athletic affiliate charged with combatting S.A.S.I. (Sozialistische Arbeiter Sportinternationale), the athletic organization affiliated with the Second (Socialist) International, agents trained by the K.S.I. are still at work trying to penetrate the national sections of S.A.S.I. in Western Europe. As a result of systematic infiltration, French Communists gained effective control over the F.S.G.T. (Fédération Sportive et Gymnastique du Travail). Faced with a fait accompli the French Socialists in the F.S.G.T. withdrew and formed the U.S.T. (Union Sportive Travailliste), which represents the ideals of Socialist Léo LaGrange, France's first Minister of Sports and Recreation as a member of Léon Blum's cabinet. Although subsidized by the French government to the extent of 3,000,000 francs in 1955, the U.S.T. is still much weaker than its rival, which has ample Communist Party funds to draw on for such purposes as publishing a weekly newspaper and an illustrated magazine, and organizing costly propaganda spectacles like the annual cross-country race sponsored by the French Communist daily, L'Humanité.
Another aspect of Soviet sports that gives Americans pause is the policy of direct state subsidization of athletes of championship calibre. This practice was most actively promoted from 1934 to 1938 by I. I. Kharchenko, chairman of the All-Union Committee on Physical Culture and Sport, and by N. K. Antipov, his predecessor. In return for extensive material aid athletes were obliged to help train additional cadres of athletic instructors as well as perfect their own particular skills. Such coaching work was held not to violate the athlete's amateur standing. The arrangement, as Antipov outlined it in 1934, was as follows:
We must have a talk with each Master Instructor, clarify his material position, assist him, and give him the sort of job that will bring benefits to the physical culture organization and will give him the opportunity of engaging in systematic private training under excellent conditions. Now is the time to move from general talk to concrete activity. . . .
Our instructor, by bourgeois concepts, is a professional, of course. We have thousands of such people and we shall have even more. How can there even be a question about allowing our instructors to enter competitions? In our country an instructor is just as much an athlete as anybody else.
This state-sponsored practice of removing potential champions from farm or factory to sinecures in the field of physical culture was carried to extremes in the period 1936-1938. According to Krasnyi Sport, several million rubles were spent on athletic subsidization in the Moscow area alone in 1938. Through devious channels much of the subsidization money reached the pockets of pseudo-athletes. Consequently, in 1939 it was decreed that future subsidies would go only to athletes certified as outstanding by the All-Union Committee on Physical Culture and Sport. These athletes served as the nucleus of the expanded postwar sports program, and a number of the older and more experienced ones were appointed to fill the newly established posts of State Coach in each major sport.
In prewar days the state admittedly provided its best athletes not only with jobs and money but also with privileges and priorities in respect to living quarters, food supplies and vacations at resorts on the Black Sea coast. In the postwar period there have been occasional references to athletes holding sinecures and stories about athletes who sought to hold two or three positions simultaneously, thus subjecting themselves to severe criticism for sovmestitelstvo--the Russian term for multiple sinecures. Today such sinecures are skillfully camouflaged and never publicized. A very common practice is to provide athletes with a commission in the armed forces or M.V.D. that will serve as a "cover" for their full-time athletic activities. Olympic champion Emil Zatopek, the phenomenal Czech whose only duty as an officer in the Czech army is running, has his counterpart in the Soviet Army-- Vsevolod Bobrov. Bobrov is the best hockey player in the U.S.S.R. today. Since he was recruited in Omsk ten years ago, he has had a brilliant athletic career playing under the auspices of the Central House of the Soviet Army. Athletes like Bobrov readily accept any army or M.V.D. commissions in order to secure greater political and economic security for themselves and their families and relatives.
A striking feature of the postwar expansion program in physical culture was the cash bonus system benefiting athletes who turned in record-breaking performances and who placed first, second or third in U.S.S.R. championships in individual sports. The first part of Pravda's announcement (October 22, 1945) giving details of the new bonus system read as follows:
In order to stimulate the further growth of athletic proficiency the Council of People's Commissars of the U.S.S.R. has given permission to the All-Union Committee on Physical Culture and Sport to give out cash awards for outstanding performances. Thus, for example, an award ranging from 15,000 to 25,000 rubles will be given for establishing a U.S.S.R. record that surpasses the world record, and from 5,000 to 15,000 rubles will be given for establishing a U.S.S.R. record.
This cash bonus system, one of the least subtle features of Soviet professionalism or "state amateurism," was put on a clandestine basis long before the U.S.S.R. submitted its official application for admission to the International Olympic Committee. Although at the meeting of the International Olympic Committee held in Vienna early in May 1951 the Executive Committee questioned the amateur status of Soviet athletes, the Russian delegates replied that this practice had been discontinued and that henceforth the U.S.S.R. would abide by international amateur standards. The I.O.C., taking the Russians at their word, promptly voted 31 to o, with three members abstaining, for the admission of the Soviet Olympic Committee. During a visit to Moscow in the summer of 1954, Mr. Avery Brundage, then President of the International Olympic Committee, again broached the subject of the genuineness of Soviet amateurism. N. Romanov, chairman of the All-Union Committee on Physical Culture and Sport, assured him his suspicions were groundless.
Soviet athletes participated in Olympic competition for the first time at the 1952 Games in Helsinki. Although they made a very creditable showing, their failure to win the unofficial team title caused Moscow to manipulate mass media behind the Iron Curtain in such a way as to create the impression that the Soviet athletes had triumphed over all. The fiction became a reality at the Seventh Winter Olympics held this year in Italy. The spectacular success of the Russians there will heighten interest in the track and field events of the Sixteenth Olympiad, to be held in Melbourne from November 22 to December 8. Although competition is between individuals, the Soviet Union's fanatical desire for national supremacy on the athletic field has served to place undue emphasis on team scores. We may be certain that a Soviet victory at Melbourne this year would be counted a major triumph in the Cold War.
At the foot of Mt. Kronion in the peaceful Olympia, the Alpheus and Kladeos rivers flow past the silent ruins of ancient Greek temples and altars. It was from this spot that the man who in 1896 revived the Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, expressed the hope that "l'Olympisme peut constituer une école de noblesse et de pureté morales autant que d'endurance et d'énergie physiques." It would be difficult to find a spirit more alien to de Coubertin's ideals of moral purity and nobility than the Soviet concept of sport as an element of state power and control, a means of ideological indoctrination, a tool at the disposal of the army and the secret police, a source of propaganda, and as a weapon of class warfare for international Communism.