Saturday, October 06, 2007

# Posted 11:23 AM by Patrick Porter  

YET MORE APOLOGIES: Like Taylor, sorry to our readers for my lack of posts. While Taylor's computer was busy imploding, my wife and I bought a house. After a long time as a postgrad student bum doing everything in one room, having my own study is the sweetest pleasure.

Back to blogging. Historian Eric Hobsbawm has some interesting thoughts today in the Times. Hobsbawm is a 90 year old, unrepentant Stalinist who, amongst a lifetime producing some of the most powerful Marxist histories, also supported the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939-40.

However, his recent commentary on modern football as an emblem of the competing forces of nationalism and globalism, and the internal contradictions they create, is worth reading. Hobsbawm is

intrigued by the way that the game has mutated into a global business dominated by the “imperialism of a few capitalist enterprises” such as Manchester United and Real Madrid. “Neither the local nor the national identification is what defines the economy of football today,” he said.

'What defines it is that since globalisation it’s been possible for a consortium of wealthy clubs in a particular set of Western European countries to build themselves up as global brands which have relatively little contact with their original local roots and hire people from all over the world.

“They make money by selling goods, such as T-shirts, by television and to a diminishing extent by people watching [live] football.'

Indeed they do. (Although I tread lightly over his willingness to describe football corporations as agents of imperialism, given his support for Stalin's 'Winter War' on the Finns. Imperialism has varying intensity - there's spending lots of money to buy great players and price poorer clubs out of the market, and there's attempting to annex other countries with military force).

But his views on soccer themselves suggest a paradox: the nation-state is crumbling, he argues, but nationalism and national identity is integral to retaining peoples' enthusiasm and devotion to football.

Hobsbawm seems to view the globalising drive of big football clubs as a reactionary or sinister development. Looking at it from another direction, while the tendency for big clubs and corporations to overwhelm the others might be seen as a bad thing, it is also arguably a liberalising force in other ways.

Teams and clubs sign up foreign players, parochial loyalties and tribal prejudices must now mix with a sense of an international market and the nomadic movement of talent from country to country, and the very collision between new foreign players and racist fans, say, in Spain or Italy, generates tensions but also progressive results, such as the movement to 'Kick Racism Out of Football.' National identity can happily remain, but as a pleasing texture to life, not as an ugly force.

Imperialism in football? Maybe. But for my money, its better than narrow tribalism. Sometimes there are even worse things than big money.
(10) opinions -- Add your opinion

As a devoted Man United fan who has never been to Manchester, I've always been quite interested in the idea of football supporters as an "imagined community". I grew up nearly two hundred miles away from Manchester, but after a United game I'll talk about how "we" won or lost, and it can affect my mood for days.

It's ironic that a Marxist should bring this up, as one of the weaknesses of Marxism was its failure to come to terms with the "nation". In predicting its demise today, Hobsbawm is echoing Marx 150 years ago. Though Marxists acknowledge the idea of the "imagined community", they find it hard to see it as anything other than a disruption to more meaningful forms of economic association. Yet there seems to be something hardwired into the human psyche that attracts us to non-economic, almost sentimental associations - and if the "Geordie nation" can survive the depradations of the Freddie Shepherd era, I suspect more traditional forms of nation will be with us for a while too.
what's with the outdated red-baiting? It makes you come across as not having much to say. Hobsbawn's op-ed was excellent. That's it. You added little. Nice blog though.
As a red myself - and someone who teaches Marx - I don't think any "red-baiting" was intended. But Marxism and the nation is an interesting and important subject, going right back to the first and second internationals. Hobsbawm (whom I respect very much) has addressed this subject himself, and in a sense he's using football as a prism to look at it in a new way. I enjoyed the article - and Patrick clearly did too.

ask the Fins whether its 'outdated' to observe that a celebrated historian has yet to recant his support for the Soviet invasion of their country.

Like I say, I am fascinated by Hobsbawm and, also like Hobsbawm, am capable of thinking beyond the last five minutes, unlike you.
that should be 'Finns'...
Patrick takes his shots where he can get them....

Also, it's interesting how whenever anyone criticizes oxblog now, they have to add a little tribute like, 'Nice blog though', in order to mitigate the insta-reaction from dave or pat. It makes critical posters look 'balanced'...

Did it used to be that way?

Cool blog, btw...

I was actually drawn to Hobsbawm's views on football as a point of entry into thinking about the tensions between globalisation and nationalism.

But its also ok to point out when he talks about 'imperialism' that
Hobsbawm was a Stalinist. He supported a Soviet imperial invasion of Finland. And has never said that he regrets taking that stand.

Thus I find it curious for him to talk about imperialism when it comes to, say, Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson, but not Stalin's invasion.

You might explain why this is an unreasonable response. Or is it intellectually low-brow to mention these things?
On nationalism and football... Quite a few historians (I have in mind especially Michael Howard's brilliant 'The Invention of Peace') have noted that a necessary prerequisite for the emergence of 'nationalism' is (was?) 'war' (or, more precisely, that the citizens of a 'nation-state' were obliged to risk their life as part of the social contract).

In many parts of the world this notion has evaporated (both practically, with the end to conscription, and imaginatively: who really considers another European war with mass conscripted armies an imminent prospect?). Is it plausible then to suggest that football (a form of competition which, quite literally for the so-called 'hooligan' elements of the fan-base, could be taken as a sanitized, regulated form of 'warfare') finds its astonishing ability to ferment partisan group identities from similar roots as the historical emergence of nationalism? Or even that football is enchroaching/replacing nationalism in that part of our identity formation that enjoys, perhaps needs,'imagined' communities and friend/enemy distinctions?

Should we applaud, laugh at or bemoan the notion that the same imaginative forces that led millions to the trenches now have us clapping at a television screen, deriving vicarious (though nonetheless very real) pleasure from watching (usually) men rolling balls into a net?

I say: sort of. Hobsbawn in my opinion is correct on some counts. But the important thing for me (in this now rather bizzare argument I seem to be making!) is that Football managers/clubs (who, like the governments and leaders of nation-states now command extraordinarily powerful loyalties) do not command the lethal coercive machinery available to modern states.

This rather starined train of thought has left me contemplating Alec Fergason in military fatigues at the head of a armoured column, intent on global dominion. I will call it a day.
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