I ride a bike a lot. I raced a bike in European competition for many years. I also started the www-site – cyclingnews.com – which is now the largest of its type in the world. I started it as a way of bringing back news from Europe to my bike racing friends back in Australia who were starved of results and information about cycling. In the 1990s, I was regularly in contact with Lance Armstrong and spent time with him riding and recording his 1998 World Championship campaign in Maastricht. I knew team managers of some of the big teams and lots and lots of riders and other insiders. I know a lot about the insides of the sport – the bellissimo sport – the drug-riddled sport. One and the same. I also have a theoretical framework for analysing the practices in the sport that I think delivers understandings that go beyond the way the mainstream media react when some athlete tests positive to some substance that happens to be on one side of a very arbitrary and inconsistent line which demarcates legal and non-legal. Theses issues are dominating national news in Australia at present after the – Australiam Crime Commission – released the first of its reports on how drug and crime infested Australian sport is. It comes as no surprise.
I started what became known as cyclingnews.com as a grass roots news and results service because I found it easier to post the information I got everyday from friends, contacts and, increasingly, complete strangers – on the WWW rather than send them by fax or E-mail. Many people didn’t yet have E-mail although they did have access to the burgeoning WWW. The origins of the site are recorded Here.
The grass roots www site which became so huge (more than a million hits a day in 1998) that I had to hand it over. The only problem is that the site went from being a grass roots site based on the principles of open source collectivism to a privatised mega capitalist site aiming to please corporations. In my view, while the domain name remains the same the site I started lost its meaning. It created a new meaning, which is more consistent with the dominant paradigm in the sport – corporatism and profit. The way the sport has gone.
When I ran the site, I took on issues – including corruption among cycling federations, in particular, with respect to drugs in sport. My last statement as the originator of that site came on September 10, 1999 – Time to move on … .
One paragraph from that statement read:
And I cannot leave without commenting on the state of cycling administration around the world at professional and amateur levels. The international and national federations have been culpable in allowing drugs to be part of the sport. They have known all along about it. The only reason we get these pathetic statements from federations these days about stamping out drugs is because the French cops got into the act and started locking people up. Pathetic. In my own country, cycling is being damaged on a daily basis by an anachronistic, inept and corrupt organisation. The sport is badly promoted and barely alive. There are always selection scandals as favoured riders get put in teams in front of those who are not in the coterie. There are other scandals which get covered up. Cycling Australia should just resign en masse and hand the sport over to riders who care. The situation couldn’t get worse that is clear.
I was wrong. The situation did get worse but only because it is now public. The real world of cycling has always been thus. The public revelations about the organised and corporate nature of the practices are due to the work of a few fierce stalwarts such as USADA and David Walsh (the Sunday Times columnist). They have fought almost single-handled battles against the power elites in the sport, the media and in governments.
The French government also played a significant role when they decided enough was enough and set the cops onto the professional cycling teams.
These issues are now increasingly becoming public knowledge and the recent Lance revelations, including his admissions on US television, which became a world event have brought some (read: highly qualified “some”) of the practices of international cycling into our living rooms. It was compelling watching but hardly doing more than identifying the tip of the iceberg.
There are many out there who have made fortunes (or continue to do so) who still hide behind the veil of respectively or “cycling legend” or “cycling gold medallist” etc who comprise the below the waterline part of that iceberg.
Many of us know a lot more than has come out as yet but to validate it requires certain parties to speak out – and for many reasons, some legitimate, some not so, they are reluctant to produce the goods.
So some of those in high places, who run races, who coach or have coached, who commentate, etc would not be in those positions if the truth was known about their activities with respect to doping – doping themselves, their riders, other riders, etc.
On February 7, 2013, the Australian Crime Commission released the findings of their “12-month investigation into the integrity of Australian sport and the relationship between professional sporting bodies, prohibited substances and organised crime” (Federal Minister of Sport’s Press Release).
The Australian Crime Commission investigation was in liaison with the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
The brief of the investigation was:
- The market for Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs (PIEDs).
- The involvement of organised criminal identities and groups in the distribution of new generation PIEDs.
- The use of World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) prohibited substances by professional athletes in Australia.
- Current threats to the integrity of professional sport in Australia.
The report – Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport – is shocking to those who naively (and reasonably) think that sport is sport but not the least bit surprising to anyone who knows what goes inside.
The Report found that there was “widespread use of prohibited substances including peptides, hormones and illicit drugs in professional sport” in Australia:
Multiple athletes from a number of clubs in major Australian sporting codes are suspected of currently using or having previously used peptides, potentially constituting anti-doping rule violations. Officials from clubs have also been identified as administering, via injections and intravenous drips, a variety of substances.
The Report found that “this use has been facilitated by sports scientists, high-performance coaches and sports staff” and “players are being administered with substances that have not yet been approved for human use”.
The links to “organised crime identities and groups” in the distribution of drugs to athletes and professional sports staff were established in the Report.
So far no names have been named and a host of sportspeople are coming out saying that the blanket indictment is unfair. Included among the list of sports people adopting holier than thou stances are some of those who would be exposed if the real truth came out.
What has all this got to with Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)? The answer is lots.
One of the problems that besets the world economy is the way that corporatism (narrow sectional interest) has compromised our policy making institutions.
For example, there is no secret to solving unemployment – produce jobs. There is no financial shortage to fund the necessary jobs – a sovereign government can do that whenever they choose. There is no shortage of productive things to do. There are millions of jobs that I could define which are not currently being done and which would improve the quality of our societies or communities.
The only thing missing is the political will or political leadership necessary for the government to announce that it was serious about eliminating unemployment.
The reason is that the dominant elites, which are increasingly being dominated, in turn, by large financial interests, which themselves are inherently unproductive, have developed a narrative to convince us that it is better to have millions of people doing nothing than advancing societies commonwealth.
If a person is not advancing private profit-seeking behaviour then the work is unproductive. We have bought that narrative from the elites. We have also bought the narrative that the unemployed are in some way letting themselves down – they are lazy, unskilled, lacking in something or other.
The idea that the lack of jobs is a systemic constraint imposed on individuals who are largely powerless to respond has been lost. Now we are somehow meant to believe that the individual – the micro scale – is all dominant and can overcome a macro scale shortage of jobs.
Why, you just create your own job, that’s entrepreneurship! But what would you “sell”? Anything that has a market? But if all the spending by buyers (irrespective of the particular products they buy) doesn’t add up to the total output being produced then isn’t there going to be some sellers who cannot sell anything? That’s competition. And so the denial goes on.
But the point is that the most disadvantaged citizens among them the unemployed are rendered as almost inanimate objects with all-defining characteristics – all lazy, all without entrepreneurial zeal – all just living on welfare.
We don’t publish stories about the huge welfare spending on corporates, which dwarfs the social security payouts to the poorest citizens. That would be too challenging for the narrative.
Further, the idea of a labour process – where valorisation occurs (which is a fancy Marxist-type term for converting workers’ unpaid labour into surplus value prior to realising it (hopefully) as profit) – has started to engulf all aspects of our lives – including sport – as the corporate monolith spreads.
One of the features of neo-liberalism is it capacity to commodify everything. That is create labour processes that produce commodities for profit. The labour process spread is one of the characteristic features of the last several decades.
The great American author and activist – Harry Braverman – wrote about this trend in the early 1970s. He clearly understood that capitalist profit-making would seek to impose its constructs on all aspects of human activity. Even those activities that were previously part of our non-working lives – our lives away from the oppression of work.
The aim was to make everything “work” by which a special meaning was attached – that activity that allowed private capital to make profits and accumulate more capital.
So activity or effort that helped communities – plant a tree or help an elderly person wash or whatever – was not considered to be work under this spread of labour processes. Such work was vilified as being unproductive and constituted boondoggling.
That is one of the reasons the elites are so opposed to government direct employment creation. They are scared that people might challenge the concept of “work” and start realising that effort expended outside of the “profit-making” machine is, in fact, highly rewarding, if not just because it connects us as humans and rewards our inner needs to be useful to each other and feel good when someone else is feeling good.
If that idea spread then the game would be up for the elites. We would not keep supplying more effort to private capital (with higher productivity) at diminishing or flat real wages growth. We would not tolerate millions of people being unemployed and being used as a rump (a reserve army) to suppress wages growth.
Importantly, we would start to see that governments could use their fiscal powers to create commmonwealth rather than private wealth and we would not tolerate corporate welfare at the expense of more general human welfare.
In his premier work – Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century (New York, Monthly Review Press, 1974) – Braverman wrote (pages 170-71):
Thus, after a million years of labour, during which humans created not only a complex social culture but in a very real sense created themselves as well, the very cultural-biological trait upon which this entire evolution is founded has been brought, within the last two hundred years, to a crisis, a crisis which Marcuse aptly calls the threat of a “catastrophe of the human essence”. The unity of thought and action, conception and execution, hand and mind which capitalism threatened from its beginnings, is now attacked by a systematic dissolution employing all the resources of science and the various engineering disciplines based upon it. The subjective factor of the labour process is removed to a place among its inanimate objective factors. To the materials and instruments of production are added a “labour force”, another “factor of production”, and the process is henceforth carried on by management as the sole subjective element.
And progressively, these “labour processes” (market-values) subsume our whole lives – sport, leisure, learning, family – the lot. Everything becomes a capitalist surplus-creating process.
If we judge all human endeavour and activity by whether they are of value in a sense that we judge private profit making then we will limit our potential and our happiness.
One of the contributions of Labor and Monopoly Capital lay in its challenge to the academic Marxism of the day. The left (which called itself the “New Left”) had taken over university departments and in its urge to be “post modern” lost the essence of the Marxist tradition.
I note that not all of my MMT colleagues would agree with me that Marx is an important part of understanding the basis of MMT. I am not suggesting that MMT is part of Marxist doctrine – it could be but it doesn’t have to be. But I think you cannot understand the capitalist monetary system unless you understand class dynamics.
The post modern left that dominated progressive left academic activities from the late 1960s saw Marxim as a study of culture while ignoring the underlying dynamics of workplace change. The working class was elevated to “object” level and the human aspects of the shop floor were downplayed.
If you read Labor and Monopoly Capital, you will find that Braverman tried to reorientate the debate on the left back to the essence of work and the dynamics of surplus value production as it affected the way people worked and lived.
He was particularly interested in how workplaces were changing as the corporate structures became more concentrated and politically powerful.
Its publication also was in a period where there was a lot of industrial unrest in Europe and elsewhere, which were, in part, motivated by the growing de-skilling that mass produced workplaces had forced onto labour.
Another point to emerge from Harry Braverman’s work is that technology – which was at the forefront of de-skilling – was not in itself the problem – rather it was the way in which the class system saw that technology deployed. It was management that sacked workers not machines.
Harry Braverman’s work emphasised the fact that the logic of capitalism was that all our interests would be “dominated and shaped” by the aims of capital. Workplaces were structured, evolved and redefined to ensure that capital kept the upper hand over labour.
New workplaces were formed to spread the capacity of capital to accumulate and become more powerful. Non-work activities where effort was leisure were increasingly sought as being venues for new workplaces where leisure became work and outcomes led to profit not enjoyment.
The capitalist firm also became more complex over time. Harry Braverman traces the development of firm organisation and demonstrates how increasing concentration allowed firms to create a strata of workers who were not directly productive but who supervised and devised better ways to extract surplus value.
He also traced the development of Taylorism – the so-called method of Scientific Management, which was hardly scientific – more turning his Quaker meanness into more profit for capitalists. In his analysis, he used Taylor’s example of the steel worker “Schmidt” (aka Henry Noll) to demonstrate how hard a worker could work and how stupid workers were – grunt before brains (which needed to be closely supervised).
Schmidt worked harder than almost any normal person could ever work – intentions aside. So normal folk were cast as laggards despite just being reasonably normal.
And normal people were cast as dumb – “a man of the mentally sluggish type” (quoting Taylor) – although this is code for the fact that capitalists hated the humanness of their workers – the free-spirit, jocularity and resistance to oppression etc. Those characteristics didn’t fit the mould. Every second of a worker’s time had to be controlled to ensure it was for the company.
Harry Braverman wrote of this:
The merit of this tale is its clarity in illustrating the pivot upon which all modern management turns: the control over work through the control over the decisions that are made in the course of work.
He wrote in detail about the tendency of capitalist labour processes to separate the conception and execution and degrade the work being done. A creative free for all is, in general, bad for oppressive institutions such as capitalism.
He saw the evolution of capitalism as being the process by which skilled work involving judgement and autonomy is replaced by unskilled controlled work with little autonomy and that as new skilled processes evolve they, in turn, are replaced.
None of this requires that workers are actively coerced to surrender to this process of industrial transformation. Indeed, one could take a Gramscian position and accept that workers are complicit in their own creative destruction. The point is that management is in charge and use various methods to fulfill their objectives – coercion sometimes, consent other times.
It also doesn’t mean that worker resistance is not important in modifying these forces. That resistance can occur directly or via political action through elected governments. Direct resistance is more likely in mature industries whereas in new labour processes the capacity of workers to organise is less developed and more problematic.
The spreading of the labour process, where increasingly, every hour of every day is ripe for commodification is dealt with in detail in Harry Braverman’s chapter on “The Universal Market”.
All this is relevant, I think, to the latest sporting scandals. Sport was the antithesis of “work”. It was part of our play to soothe our souls (and bodies) after the hours of work for the boss.
Increasingly, sport is now work – a labour process creating surplus value.
There was a good treatment of the way in which capital has invaded sport by Bob Stewart in 1989.[Reference: Stewart, B. (1989) The Nature of Sport under Capitalism and its Relationship to the Capitalist Labour Process, Sporting Traditions, 6(1), 43-61]
Bob Stewart traces the characteristics of modern sport that define it as a work place rather than a leisure activity, which is an “activity … performed for its own sake, or as an end in itself”.
These include achievement, quantification, specialisation, rationalisation, technology and bureaucracy – all of which increase the capacity of supervisors and managers to control outcomes. The pursuit of certainty also then leads to forces which try to reduce the ultimate uncertainty – the score or outcome of the game.
Sport is evolving out of its early “craft industry” phase and the deskilling is already underway. Followers of Australian Rule Football will realise that the modern game is very different to the game of the 1970s where individual prowess and kicking and marking (catching) skills have given way to micro ball control techniques which rely on a narrower set of physical attributes.
In trying to ensure certainty for the financial backers, sporting teams have made the games to be like work.
Sportsmen and women of modern corporate sport are almost robotic in their demeanour. They are moving advertising hoardings who have been forced by various restrictions on their creative spirits to suppress opinion and mouth meaningless responses to the press when asked of their views.
The press continually talk about role models. So a young man or woman who goes out partying at a weekend and gets drunk or snorts some coke or gets into a fight (usually because they are set on by thugs aiming to bring an AFL (football) star down to his knees) is treated harshly by their clubs and the organising sporting bodies.
They rave on about the need for “role models”. I love that expression. We want our young sports players to be god-like – like nothing that we are. The problem is they were already like that because they can kick longer, run faster, jump higher than the average – drugs or no drugs.
So why would we want them to be robots. Sport was always just part of our “non-work” pursuits.
It is a similar story to the religious denomination which prevents its priests from marrying and thus attempts to suppress a basic human urge. We know where that restriction, in part, has taken us to, and it is not pretty at all.
Clubs now have a bevvy of sports scientists who tell players what to eat, when and where. They use all sort of technologies to measure and control.
And as the pressure for profit expands and the related industries see a chance to get in on the action (for example, pharmaceutical companies) the control techniques become more sophisticated and violate the laws that were meant to protect sport as a healthy pursuit.
Doping should be seen as part of that development. Far from fingering a cyclist here and there and saying it is all Lance’s fault, why not go after the companies that fund the teams or sell the junk. For example, why is is hard to identify HGH production that exceeds any reasonable health grounds.
Why do we focus on the worker rather than the boss in this issue? If we focused on the boss and the financiers who are making the profits then we might get somewhere.
It is as mad as car companies that produce speedy cars that are deliberately designed to be driven reasonably (that is, in efficient gears etc) at multiples of the speed limit. Is it the driver who is at fault? Or the companies that know their products will have to be used illegally? Same goes for arms manufacturers.
There are all sorts of denial by capitalists who know all they care about is their own profit. When they engage in social responsibility it is typically nothing to do with their concern for humanity but rather as a way of getting advertising diversity.
The future is education but then that sector has been increasingly invaded by managerialism and the capacity of academics and teachers to speak out and oppose capitalist strategies that undermine public purpose has been compromised as a result.
I am not saying the individual rider is absolved from responsibility. Cheating is cheating although where the demarcation is drawn between legal and illegal is arbitrary and nonsensical. Why isn’t an anti-inflammatory that allows an injured rider to train through injury when otherwise they would have to rest not performance enhancing medication?
Why isn’t socio-economic inequality which allows athletes from rich nations have superior food and nutrition not considered performance enhancing when compared to runners from the poorest African nations?
These arbitrary separations between legal and illegal has no real rationality.
I am on the riders’ side – they are workers, well-paid in some but subjugated and dehumanised – made mechanical. When they get caught cheating I don’t see the companies that profit from them taking the toll. Just the worker.
It has ever been thus.
A bit of a different blog today but, in general, related to capacity of corporate interests to subjugate public purpose for their own ends.
Governments have to step in and regulate sport more tightly to ensure it advances public purpose rather than fills the profit aspirations of companies. Governments should also encourage the formation of sporting trade unions to protect the players. If the capitalists want to turn it into a labour process then the workers should be represented.
As individuals we should resist the spread of labour processes and stop buying merchandise and supporting unethical companies that are associated with drug cheats or labour relations which violate decency.
And the rest of it.
That is enough for today!
(c) Copyright 2013 Bill Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.