Stepping Up to the Plate: How the Reds Helped Integrate Baseball

Mass spectator sports possess tremendous contradictions. Sports are products of industrial capitalism whose development mirrors the history of industrial capitalism. The 'big leagues' in all major sports control most of the wealth, commercialized 'amateur' college sports serve as minor leagues for professional football and basketball in the US, and mass spectator sports have been spread throughout the world through the influence of great imperialist powers, primarily Britain, its colonies and the US, who developed and codified the sports of world football (soccer), rugby, hockey, cricket, baseball, basketball and American football. For example, US marines brought baseball to the Caribbean and British colonialists brought cricket to India and other lands.

Contradictions, however, are not one-sided. While most spectator sports 'teach' competition and aggression, they also provide for working-class people a practical example of solidarity. Latin American Marxist sociologists, for example, have contended that working-class people often express a solidarity and enthusiasm in soccer stadiums that they cannot show in their workplaces or in the larger society. Workers also see in the games more justice than in the larger societies – the teams that work together best usually win, and the 'stars' really are outstanding players not rich capitalists who have gained their wealth by inheritance, speculation or serving the corporate power structure. Even in colonies, as C.L.R. James showed in his classic study of West Indian cricket, Beyond a Boundary, and others have also noted, colonized peoples learn to literally beat the colonizers at their own game, transforming institutions of cultural hegemony or domination into centers of resistance.

Communists don’t stand on the sidelines bemoaning contradictions but 'accentuate the positive' within those contradictions to advance working-class and democratic struggles. In the United States, the best example of this in sports culture remains the struggle to integrate professional baseball, which should be seen as one of many democratic struggles of the 1930s and 1940s in which the Communist Party USA, its press and its activists played a leading role.

The story of baseball’s integration doesn’t start in Brooklyn in 1947 with Jackie Robinson....

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