Friday, April 21, 2006

Bertram Wolfe, Khrushchev and Stalin’s Ghost: Text Background, and Meaning of Khrushchev’s Report to the Twentieth Congress on Night of February 24-25, 1956, (Praeger, New York 1957)
The most notable work on totalitarianism written by Brzezinksi is co-authored by Carl J. Friederich, entitled, Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy, (Cambridge, Mass., 1956).
Hannah Arrendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951. Arrendt also reported on the Eichmann Trial for the New Yorker; her writings were assembled in the book Eichmann in Jerusalem. She was buried at Bard College in 1975, where her husband, Heinrid Blucher taught for many years.
Boris Shragin, “The Limits of Knowing from Outside,” Russia, No. 1 (1981), 69, quoted in Stephen F. Cohen, Rethinking the Soviet Experience: Politics and History Since 1917, 23.
, Ibid. ix.
Ibid. 7
Denise Youngblood, Movies for the Masses: Popular Cinema and Soviet Society in the 1920s (Cambridge, England, 1992), and Richard Taylor, The Politics of Soviet Cinema, 1917-1929 (Cambridge, England, 1979).
Frederick Starr, Red and Hot: The Fate of Jazz in the Soviet Union (New York, 1994), and David McFayden, Red Stars: Personality and Soviet Popular Song, 1951-1991 (Toronto, Canada 2003).
Richard Stites, Russian Popular Culture: Entertainment and Society Since 1900 and also see the anthology, Culture and Entertainment in Wartime Russia.
Allen Guttmann, “Sport and Engaged Historian,” 2003.
Victoria de Grazia, The Culture of Consent
John Hargreaves, Sport, Power and Culture (Oxford 1986); Richard Gruneau, Class, Sports, and Social Development (Amherst, Mass. 1983).
The Big Red Machine Sources
Barbara Keys, “The Dictatorship of Sport,” 188.
Richard Stites, Revolutionary Dreams Utopian Vision and Experimental Life In The Russian Revolution, 3-5.
Nina Sobol Levent, Healthy Spirt in A Healthy Body: Representations of the Sports Body in Soviet Art in the 1920s and 1930s, 16.
Ibid. 189.
M. Raikhinshtein, “Rezenzii,” Iskusstvo 6 (1935): 143, quoted in Levent, Healthy Spirit in A Healthy Body, 18.
James Riordan, “Marx, Lenin, and Physical Culture,” Journal of Sports History, (Summer, 1976), 156.
Ibid, 158.
Stites, Revolutionary Dreams, 146-148.
Ibid. 155.
Levent, Healthy Spirit in A Healthy Body, 51
For more on the comparisons between Robespierre and his Marxist legacy see, George Rude Robespierre, Portrait of a Revolutionary Democrat,
Ibid. 29-30.
Gorky’s uncompromising style and unabashed criticism of Bolshevik doctrine during the Revolution provoked Lenin to chastise him by letter on multiple occasions. Bogdanov was seen an eminent Bolshevik thinker, and rival to Lenin, which also strained the relationship between the two men. However, the downfall of the Proletkult thinkers was their insistence to keep their organization independent from Communist Party control, a stance that ultimately gave the group little political weight.
Margarita Tupitsyn, “Superman Imagery in Soviet Photography and Photomontage,” in Nietzsche and Soviet Culture, 289.
John E. Bowlt, “Body Beautiful: The Artistic Search for the Perfect Physique,” in Laboratory of Dreams: the Russian Avant-Garde and Cultural Experiment, 37.
Ibid, 58.
Barbara J. Keys, “The Dictatorship of Sport: Nationalism, Internationalism, and Mass Culture in the 1930s,” Ph.D. Dissertation, Harvard University, 2001, 189.
Margarita Tupitsyn, The Soviet Photograph: 1924-1932, 146.
Levent, A Healthy Spirit, 82.
Ibid 81.
For a more detail account of the Moscow Metro as a Soviet monument see Andrew Jenks, “A Metro on the Mount: The Underground as a Church of Soviet Civilization,” Technology and Culture 41.4 (2000) 697-724.
Ibid. 33-34.
Katerina Clark, Soviet Novel, 103. Italics original.
Ibid. 101.
Stites, 19.
Karen Petrone, Life Has Become More Joyous, Comrades,” 24.
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, 1979, 195-228.
Robert D. English, Russia and the idea of the West: Gorbachev, intellectuals, and the end of the Cold War, 26.
Jennifer M. Louis, and Victor E. Louis, Sport in the Soviet Union, 3.
Robert Edelman, Serious Fun: A History of Spectator Sports in Russia, 10-11.
Karen Petrone, Life Has Become More Joyous Comrades, 33-35.
Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 288-295.
James Riordan, Soviet Sport: The Background to the Olympics, 32.
Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 69.
Ibid 242.
Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 73.
Ibid. 84.
Ibid. 74.
Nikolai Podvoisky, O militsionnoi organizatsii vooruzhyonnykhsil, 9, quoted in Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 75.
Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 95-101.
Edelman, Serious Fun, 33-34
Leninsky sbornik, xxxv, 1945, 148, (Italics in original) quoted in Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 103.
Ibid. 88-89.
Izvestiya tsentral’novo komiteta RKP. July 20, 1925, quoted in Riordan Soviet Sport, 106.
Robert Edelman, Serious Fun: A History of Spectator Sports in the USSR, 35.
Riordan, Soviet Sport, 108.
Edelman, Serious Fun, 14.
Karen Petrone, Life Has Become More Joyous, 34.
Serious Fun, 10.
John B. Hatch, The Formation of Working Class Cultural Institutions During NEP: the Workers' Club Movement in Moscow, 1921-1923, Pittsburgh, 1990, 8.
Ibid. 18.
Ibid. 38.
For an eminent account of the NEP period, see E. H. Carr, A History of Soviet Russia, Vols. 4-7.
Riordan, Soviet Sport, 85. See also,
Moshe Lewin, The Making of the Soviet System: Essays in the Social History of Interwar Russia, New York, 216-217.
A. M. Landar, “Fizicheskaya kul’tura-sostavnaya chast’ kul’turnoi revolyutsii na Ukraine,” Teoriya I praktika fizicheskoi kul’tory, 1972, quoted in Riordan, Soviet Sport 107.
Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society,123.
Ibid., 107.
Keys, The Dictatorship of Sport, 187.
“Sport in the USSR,” Lalkar, January-February, 1998.
Riordan, Soviet Sport, 130.
Two notable examples of classifying the mid 1930s under “the Great Retreat” are Moshe Lewin in The Making of the Soviet System, 274, and Terry Martin, who also uses “the Great Retreat” discourse to characterize cultural traditionalism in The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939, 415.
Nicholas S. Timasheff, The Great Retreat: The Growth and Decline of Communism in Russia, 1946.
Krasnyi sport, July 27 1938, 2, quoted in Barbara J. Keys, “The Dictatorship of Sport: Nationalism, Internationalism, and Mass Culture in the 1930s,” 189.
David L. Hoffman, “Was There a ‘Great Retreat’ from Soviet Socialism? Stalinist Culture Reconsidered,” 652-653.
Keys, “The Dictatorship of Sport,” 188.
Ibid. 657.
John Hoberman, Sport and Political Ideology, 14, quoted in Riordan, Serious Fun, 8.
Robert Edelman, Serious Fun, ix.
For an authoritative account of early Russian leisure, see Louise McReynolds, Russia at Play: Leisure Activities at the End of the Tsarist Era, (London 2003).
Leon Trotsky, “Vodka, the Church, and the State,” Pravda July 12, 1923, trans. Sally Ryan
Matthias Marschik, “Between Manipulation and Resistance: Viennese Football in the Nazi Era. Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 34, No. 2 (Apr. 1999), 215.
Barbara Keys, “The Dictatorship of Sport,” 7
Ibid. 175.
Ibid. 196.
Peter Frykholm, “Soccer and Social Identity in Pre-Revolutionary Moscow,” Journal of Sport History, Summer 1997, 143.
Keys, Dictatorship of Sport, 176.
Frykholm, “Soccer and Social Identity,” 146-147. The author notes: “Workers living in the southeast of Moscow played soccer at the Kalitnikovskoe cemetery until clergy drove them away for “disturbing the eternal rest.”
L. B. Gorianov, Kolumby moskwskogo futbola (Moscow: Moskovskii rabochii, 1983), 28, 30, quoted in Frykholm, “Soccer and Social Identity,” 144.
Louise McReynolds, Russia at Play, 105.
Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 26-28.
Keys, 189
Keys, Dictatorship, 186.
Edelman, Serious Fun, 49.
Keys, Dictatorship, 216.
Keys, “Soviet Sport and Transnational Culture in the 1930s,” 420.
Keys, Dictatorship, 223.
Keys, “Soviet Sport and Transnational Culture in the 1930s,” 420.
Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 131.
Boris Bazhanov, Vospominaniia byvshego sekretaria Stalina ([Paris]: Tret’ia volna, 1980), 235, quoted in Keys 201.
Karen Pertone, Life Has Become More Joyous, Comrades, op. cit. See chapters, 1,2, and 8.
Mikka Gronow, Champagne with Caviar, 121.
Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 142-143.
Alexander Starostin, Rasskaz kapitana (Moscow 1935), 3, quoted in Keys, “Soviet Sport,” 421.
Keys, “Soviet Sport,” 421.
Keys, Dictatorship, 222.
Keys, “Soviet Sport,” 422.
Barrie Courtney, “Soviet Union, International Results, 1911-1935, Details,” Rec. Sport Soccer Statistics Foundation,, 2004. 03/16/2006.
Keys, Dictatorship, 223.
Keys, “Dictatorship,” 227.
Ibid. 230.
I. D. Chudionov, Osnovnye postanovleniya, 155, quoted in Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 126.
Riordan, 127.
Edelman, Serious Fun, 61.
Ibid. 62.
Robert Edelman, “A Small Way of Saying No,” 1452.
Keys, Dictatorship of Sport, 251.
Andrew Jenks, “A Metro On the Mount: The Underground as a Church to Soviet Civilization,” Technology and Culture 41.4 (2000), 700. “Kaganovich was no intellectual, but a fanatically confident man of action. Unencumbered by complex thoughts, he was determined to fashion a new society out of the social quicksand Stalin's leadership had helped create.” Kaganovich was a member of the Central Committee and joined Politburo in 1930. Unofficially he was known as “the Butcher of the Ukraine” and “the Kremlin’s Wolf.” He was mentor to Nikita Khruschev, and has been accused of being one of the architects behind the Ukrainian famine (Holodomor) that killed nearly ten million people. My larger point is to draw the connection between Beria and Kaganovich.
Andrei and Denis Vdovin, “untitled” August 6, 2003.
Kosarev was just one of seven Komsomol leaders to be purged, see Riordan (ed), Soviet Youth Culture, 73.
Keys, Dictatorship of Sport, 250.
Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 134.
Edelman, Serious Fun, 59.
Ibid. 253.
Ibid. 255.
Nikolai Starostin, Futbol’ skoz’ gody, 42-43. quoted in Riordan, “The Strange Story of Nikolai Starostin,” 683.
Edelman, Serious Fun, 65.
A. Ekart, Vanished Without a Trace, (Marx Parish, London), 1954, 207, quoted in Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 167.
Edelman, Serious Fun, 4.
Ibid. 12.
Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 132.
Keys, Dictatorship, 199.
Edelman, Serious Fun, 52.
Ibid. 53.
The symbolic end to general egalitarianism was the termination of rations and the introduction of the piece rate pay system. However, a hierarchy of wages had existed in Communist society since the Civil War. See, Privelege in the USSR.
Sheila Fitzpatrick, Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times—Soviet Russia in the 1930s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 71-75.
E. Thomas Ewing, “A Stalinist Celebrity Teacher: Gender, Professional, and Political Identities in Soviet Culture in the 1930s,” Journal of Women's History 16.4 (2004) 92-94, 108.
Nina Slobol Levent, Healthy Spirit in a Healthy Body, 56.
Keys, Dicatorship of Sport, 268.
Edelman, Serious Fun, 10.
Edelman, “A Small Way of Saying No,” 1468.
“Interview with Robert Edelman, “Red Files: Soviet Sports Wars,” unedited, interviewer unknown., 01/26/2006. Red Files is a documentary released by PBS in 1999 detailing Soviet history from the Soviet perspective with newly available footage from the Soviet state archives.
F. Legostaev, Fizicheskoye vospitanie i sport v SSSR (Munich, 1951), 25, quoted in Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 134. A radiogram would produce what is similar to a telegraph. I assume the value of this item is due in part to the USSRs lack of communication infrastructure available to the general public.
Karen Petrone, Life Has Become More Joyous, 30-31.
Lewis H. Siegelbaum, Stakhanovsim and the Politics of Productivity in the USSR, 1935-1941 (Cambridge, England, 1988), exact page.
Sarah Davies has even gone as far to say that the Great Terror may have met such little resistance because it was often portrayed as a necessary measure to eliminate corruption and other privileges that were not shared among the majority of the population.
Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Cultural Front, 216-237.
TH Rigby, “Authority, Power, and Policy in the USSR,” The Development of Civil Society Under Communism, ed. Robert P. Miller; see also: Sheila Fitzpatrick, “The Bolsheviks' Dilemma: Class, Culture, and Politics in the Early Soviet Years,” Slavic Review, Vol. 47, No. 4. (Winter, 1988), 599-613.
Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 128.
Edelman, “A Small Way of Saying No.” 1451.
Edelman, Red Files Interview
Olesha, Iurii Karlovich, trans. Andrew R. MacAndrew Envy, and other works, by Yuri Olesha. (Garden City, N.Y., Anchor Books 1967). Op. Cit. see also, Ronald D. LeBlanc “The Soccer Match in Envy,”
The Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Spring, 1988), 55-71.
Keith A. Livers, “Lev Kassil' : The Soccer Match as Stalinist Ritual,” in Constructing the Stalinist Body : Fictional Representations of Corporeality in the Stalinist 1930s, (Lanham : Lexington Books 2004)
Keys, Dictatorship of Sport, 267.
Keys, Dictatorship, 265.
Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 133.
Ibid. 132.
Edelman, Serious Fun, 69.
Holt, “Football and the Urban Way of Life,” 79-80.
Moshe Lewin, The Gorbachev Phenomena, 88.
Stephen F. Cohen, Rethinking the Soviet Experience.
Victoria de Grazia, The Culture of Consent: Mass Organization of Leisure in Facist Italy (Cambridge 1981), 172-177.
Keys, Dictatorship, 10.
Ibid. 225
Edelman, Serious Fun, 75-76. “The precise measurement of time, distance, and height, revealed success or failure just as production statistics had come to demonstrate the success or failure of “socialist construction.”
Ibid., 55.
Anthony King, “New Directors, Customers, and Fans: The Transformation of English Football in the 1990s,” sociology of Sport Journal, no. 14 (1997), 236.
Richard Holt, “Football and the Urban Way of Life in Nineteenth Century Britain,” in Pleasure, Profit, and Prosletysm: British Culture and Sport at Home and Abroad, 1700-1914, ed. J.A. Mangan (London: Frank Cass, 1988), 73.
Simon Kuper, Football Against the Enemy, 46.
Edelman, “A Small Way,” 1455.
Ibid. 1455
For an authoritative account of early hooliganism in both sport and society see, Joan Neuberger Hooliganism: Crime, Culture and Power in St.Petersburg, 1900-14, (University of California Press, 1993)

Edelman, Serious Fun, 53-54.
Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 133.
John Fiske, “Bodies of Knowledge, Panopticism, and Knowledge,” unpublished paper, quote in Eric Dunning, Sport Matters: Sociological Studies of Sport, Violence and Civilization, (Routledge: New York 1999), 2.
John Hargreaves, Sport, Culture, Power, 222.
Edleman, “A Small Way of Saying No,” 1471.
The security forces of the USSR have been organized under different names at different times. The following names are the etymology of the police organs for the time-period of this project: Cheka, GPU, OGPU, NKVD; all forerunners of the infamous KGB.
V. Verkholashin, “Dinamo—eto sila v dvizhenii,” Sport i vek (Moscow 1967) 136, quoted in Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 94.
Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 94.
“Dinamo History: 1920s,” Football Club Dinamo-Tbilisi official website,, 03/30/2006.
Andrei Starostin, Povest' o futbole, (Moscow 1973), 54, quoted in Edelman, “A Small Way,”
Edelman, “A Small Way of Saying No,” 1447-1448.
Second Russian internet source
Ibid. 1455.
During the NEP Period, tickets to a Moscow city league game drew over 10,000 spectators a game, at the considerable cost of 60 kopecks.
Edelman, “A Small Way of Saying No,” 1454.
“Spartak History,” Official site FC Spartak Moscow,
Edelman, “A Small Way of Saying No,” 1455.
Edelman, Serious Fun, 61.
“Russia: Russian Premier League Champions,”, 04/09/06.
Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 13something.
Since 1939, no team has ever won the “golden double”, let alone two years in a row.
Keys, “Dictaroship of Sport,” 249.
Amy Knight, Beria, 87-92.
Bek Bulat, “Lavrenti Beria,” unpublished manuscript, Boris Nicolevsky Collection, Hoover Archives, quoted in Knight, Beria 92.
Knight, Beria, 96-98.
This was a claim presented by Nikolai Starostin in his memoirs, Keys, Dictatorship of Sport, 229.
“Dinamo History: 1930-40s,” Football Club Dinamo-Tbilisi official website,, 03/30/2006.
Keys, 231.
Simon Rushworth, “The Club Ordered to Lose for Stalin,” Kvali Online Magazine: Georgia in the Foreign Press, November 11, 2004,, 03/27/2006.
“Down and feathers,” is a metaphor ridiculing Spartak’s original sponsor, the Promkooperatsiia, which controlled the textile sector of the economy. Beria is making a comparison between strength and importance of policemen and therefore uses pejorative slang for textile workers.
Third internet source, Robert Edelman also makes a veiled reference to this story in Serious Fun, 65.
Edelman, Serious Fun, 94.
Stuart Hall, "Notes on Deconstructing the Popular" in Raphael Samuel ed., People's History and Socialist Theory, (London: Routledge, 1981), 227-232, 249. Hall’s theories deal mainly with social constructivism and hegemony.
Serious Fun, 43.
“A Small Way of Saying No,” 1460.
Keys, Dictatorship of Sport, 180.
H.G. Friese, “Student Life in a Soviet University,” in Soviet Education, ed. George Kline, (Columbia: New York 1957), quoted in Karen Petrone, Life Has Become More Joyous, 45.
Karen Petrone, Life Has Become More Joyous, 45.
“International Basque Players,” April 7, 2006.
Edelman, Serious Fun, 63.
Keys, Dictatorship of Sport, 246.
Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 69.
Edelman, Serious Fun, 64.
Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 115.
Edelman, Serious Fun, 64.
Keys, Dictatorship of Sport, 249. Keys notes that Starostin’s firing was low-key. On September 3rd, 1937, Pravda simply stated, “N. Starostin was removed from work as chair of the soccer section of the Committee due to complete inactivity.”
Ibid. 250.
Ibid. 251-252.
Edelman, Serious Fun, 65.
Amy Knight, Beria: Stalin’s First Lieutenant, (Princeton University Press: Princeton 1993), 88.
Anatoly Golovky, “Ne otrekais’ ot’ sebia,” Ogonek, no. 7 (February 1988), 28, quoted in Knight, 99.
Serious Fun, 65.
Edelman, Serious Fun, 65.
Sixth internet source.
Starostin, Futbol’ skoz’ gody, 54, quoted in Riordan, “The Strange Story,” 684.
The FSB is the modern incarnate of the NKVD and KGB.
Andrei Vliskov “The Champ Experience of Alexander Starostin,” Molodezh Severa, no. 45, 2003.
Edelman, Serious Fun, 65.
Ibid. 83.
Nikolai Starostin, Futbol’ skoz’ gody, 62-69, quoted in Anne Applebaum, Gulag: A History, (Random House: New York), 2003, 126.
Applebaum, Gulag, 147-151.
Riordan, “The Strange Story,” 684.
Applebaum, Gulag, 142-143.
Fubtol’ skoz’ gody, 78, quoted in Riordan, “The Strange Story,” 684.
Edelman, “A Small Way of Saying No,” 1470. In addition, the Starostin denied access to the police file possibly because it contained allegations against the brothers that contained some substance.
A myth that has long been circulated is that the Starostin brothers were charged in a plot to kill Stalin during the physical culture demonstration at the May Day Parade in 1937. However, Vliskov makes note that these accusations are not found anywhere within the proceedings for the trial. Two authors who have suggested such charges, Robert Edelman and Barbara Keys, may have confused accusations of the same crime against Zinoviev and Kamenev in 1936. For more on the May Day show trial see, Karen Petrone, Life Has Become More Joyous, 44.
For more on the award see, Riordan, Sport in Soviet Society, 124.
Fubtol’ skoz’ gody, 79, quoted in Riordan, “The Strange Story,” 685.
Futbol’ skoz’ gody, 78, quoted in Riordan, “The Strange Story,” 684.
Starostin, Futbol, 88, quoted in Applebaum, 269.
Edelman, Serious Fun, 84.
Starostin, Futbol, 80-81, quoted in Riordan, “The Strange Story,” 685.
Starostin, Fubtol, 89-92, quoted in Applebaum, 387.
Starostin, Fubtol, 89, quoted in Riordan, “The Strange Story,” 685
SS, 687.
Edelman, Serious Fun, 85. VVS stands for Voenno-Vozdushnye Sily, translated in English as “the military air forces.”
Starostin, Futbol, 113, quoted in Strange Story, 687,
Edelman, Serious Fun, 85.
Starostin, Futbol’ skoz’ gody, 83, Riordan, SS, 685.

Senior Project


In 1957, State Department advisor Bertram Wolfe asserted that the Soviet Union was positioned securely without challenge to its authority or by the prospect of change from society as a whole. He described the USSR as a "solid and durable political system dominating a society that has been totally fragmented or atomized," and that it would continue to do so "barring explosion from within or battering down from without." The description provided by Wolfe has come to constitute one of the primary typologies that have been used by historians to describe the Soviet experience: totalitarianism. During the Cold War, this paradigm was defined as governmental rule that seeks to regulate every aspect of its citizen’s behavior. Under a totalitarian government, political officials are able to exert absolute control over their populace by controlling the economy, the military, and the judicial system, thereby directing the behavior of all citizens in ways that support the goals of the state’s political ideology. Anti-communist commentators placed the term into popular usage at the height of the Cold War, and theorists such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as the National Security advisor to United State President Jimmy Carter, actively employed the term in political discourse. Unfortunately, using the totalitarian typology had lasting effects on scholarly study as well.
Scholarly literature on totalitarianism began in the 1950s and its ideas continue to influence the current writing of historians as well. The political theorist Hannah Arrendt popularized the concept of totalitarianism in her 1951 book, The Origins of Totalitarianism. In the 1960s, the historian John A. Armstrong expressed a similar interpretation to Wolfe, irresponsibly disregarding social analysis from his work. He wrote:
My theme is the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, not Soviet society as a whole. In my opinion, the history of the party comprises (though it is not confined to) all the topics, side from the purely legal, which we customarily treat under the rubric of political history. But because the Soviet system is totalitarian the examination of the ruling party tends to embrace the entire history of the USSR… The essence of totalitarianism is political power.

With the influence of Armstrong and others, histories of the Soviet Union became political studies and not actual social studies. As a consequence, Sovietology—the study of communism, politics and its figures—ignored the culture and people of Russia. But even as late as the 1980s one historian described the Soviet people as “a raw lump of clay that yields to any sort of pressure.”
Sovietology, which had become overly utilitarian and lacked self-criticism in terms of its topics and interpretation, needed a fresh approach. Revisionist historians, such as Stephen F. Cohen, presented compelling evidence urging Western scholars to reexamine the way that they have approached the history of the Soviet Union. As Cohen has stated, “Academic Sovietology has too often based its prevailing wisdom on gray stereotypes, concepts of an immutable Soviet system, consensual political answers, and simplistic historical interpretations.” Instead, pluralistic interpretations and complex explanations were needed in order to produce a new historical understanding to supplement the misguided direction of Soviet studies during the Cold War. Cohen criticized the totalitarian model, writing:
More was obscured than revealed. Historical analysis came down to the thesis of an inevitable, ‘unbroken continuity’ throughout Soviet history, thereby largely excluding the stuff of real history—conflicting traditions, alternatives, turning points and multiple causalities. Political analysis fixated on a regime imposing its ‘inner totalitarian logic’ on an impotent, victimized society, thereby largely excluding the stuff of real politics—the interaction of governmental, historical, social, cultural, and economic factors; the conflict of classes, institutions, groups, generations, and personalities.

After the official collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, historians were forced to rework their frozen model of Soviet society. Fortunately, the disintegration of the Soviet Union produced a wealth of information that had previously been unavailable to theorists outside of Russia. Historians have been able to use this new information to shed more light on the dynamic interaction that constituted “real history” and “real politics.”
The use of newly available information has contributed to a recent trend in historical scholarship that focuses on an area known as cultural studies. Authors such as Sheila Fitzpatrick and Vera S. Dunham have demonstrated the way in which dominant authorities were pressured and resisted during the Soviet era. In the past decade, studies of popular culture have also shed new light on the Soviet condition. Richard Taylor and Denise Youngblood have discussed the way in which film has contradicted our previous understanding of the state imposed doctrine of Socialist Realism. Frederick Starr has also demonstrated the influence of jazz in the USSR, and how political officials, despite repression and official disapproval, patronized popular music. David McFayden has also presented a study of Soviet celebrities, asserting that the popularity of these figures represented changing ideas of the self and its role in society. Additionally, Richard Stites has provided extensive anthologies on the subject of Soviet popular culture. However, what is noticeably missing from this list is one of the most popular activities supported by the state and performed by millions of Soviet citizens: sport.
The Soviet historian Robert Edelman is one scholar who has explored the way in which the study of popular culture can enhance our understanding of Soviet society. Edelman’s work, Serious Fun: The History of Spectator Sports in the USSR builds upon two seminal works written during the Cold War, Sport in Soviet Society by James Riordan and Soviet Sports: Mirror of Soviet Society written by Henry Morton in the 1960s. All three books provide an exhaustive account, but come short of providing the compelling narratives to break Soviet history completely away from totalitarian stereotypes. For example, all three books provide an entire history of Soviet sport ranging from the Bolshevik Revolution to the Soviet coup attempt in 1991. Unfortunately, this lends the authors to accept the idea of an unbroken continuity between politics and society in order to maintain the arguments presented in each of their works. In addition, in order to fit an exhaustive amount of information—eighty years of sports history—these authors have also neglected to discuss extensively important moments in sports history that may reveal multiple causalities created by the events that they do describe.
One such event, the 1939 Cup Championship, requires further examination. Both Riordan and Edelman provide cursory accounts the game, however when I read the description of this game, it became clear to me that what happened contained a greater implications about the study of Soviet history. A short description of the game proceeds like this: Four soccer playing brothers, who play for the most popular team in the USSR, Spartak Moscow, beat Lavrenti Beria’s favorite team, Dinamo-Tbilisi, in a semi-final game too decisively. Even after Spartak has already won the championship, Beria, who is the head of the secret police, orders the game to be replayed because of a controversial call. Despite the reputation of Dinamo’s patron, the brothers—who are implied by Beria to throw the game—lead Spartak to another victory over Dinamo-Tbilisi. Beria is infuriated by this act of insubordination and sends all four brothers to labor camps in the Far East.
Just this game alone seemed to call the totalitarian model of the Soviet Union into question. On one hand, Lavrenti Beria has significant influence over the sports system, a fact that supports the totalitarian model. On the other hand, there is an act of insubordination that suggests athletes and fans were able to use games such as the Cup Championship to rebel against dominate authorities, a fact that certainly contradicts the totalitarian model. Nonetheless, the brothers were punished for this act of rebellion, but what effect did this act of noncompliance and sacrifice have on the population at large? Was sport open to be used as a form of resistance? Certainly there was a connection between sport and politics, but does this relationship support or discredit the totalitarian model? I intend to answer these questions by examining the events leading up to the game between Spartak-Moscow and Dinamo-Tbilisi.
Despite being underdeveloped and marginalized by scholarly research, sport historians have developed the connection between sport and politics as a major topic of inquiry in the field. Like other topics in historical study, contemporary sports historians have heeded the call to contextualize their subjects. As a number of historians have demonstrated, sport and politics are ultimately two interrelated sides of the same coin. For the study of the topic at hand, sport in the Soviet Union, the pair appears even more indiscernible than in other places and in other periods of time. Sport historians, such as Allen Guttmann, have argued that the modern field of political sports history began in the 1960s with Hajo Bernett’s analysis of sport under the rule of Nazi Party. Using thousands of primary documents, Bernett argued that the Nazi instrumentalization of sport was not commanded from monolithic Party directives, but rather through the cooperation of a countless number of sports administrators. Victoria De Grazia offered a similar analysis in The Culture of Consent, arguing that fascist Italy’s attempt to influence apolitical spheres such as leisure resulted intermediary institutions created popular cultural activities. Likewise, Richard Gruneau and John Hargreaves have also presented work using the cultural studies approach popular in Soviet history; together, their research has emphasized the relationship between the leisure and the consumptive interests of millions of people worldwide. Taken together, the writings of these historians has revealed a deeper structure that explains moral values, attitudes toward the body, and a whole set of analogues; work and play, time and space, individual and society.
Unfortunately, the study of sport in the Soviet Union by the West has also suffered many of the generalizations prevalent in other totalitarian school works. Much of the literature on Soviet sport has impeded further inquiry into the field by focusing on Olympic involvement and the creation of the so-called “red machine,” promoted images of an Olympic system that produced automaton-like athletes with unquestioning discipline and inhuman success. While many of these histories are valuable in their own right, they have obscured the actual sports system in the USSR. Convenient as these generalizations may be, they are simply wrong. Thus, the task of this project becomes two fold: to examine, and possibly dispel, myths perpetuated by the totalitarian model and to explore a relatively nascent but rich field of study, sports history.
Despite my critical analysis of the work done by Riordan and Edelman, the two have advanced the study of Soviet sports tremendously. In fact, this project is deeply indebted to their exhaustive work, and with a lack of an alternative, relies heavily on their research done in Soviet archives. However, I have tried to buttress and extend their shortcomings by extending their lines of analysis to demonstrate an imbricate history. This project also makes use of the meticulous research done by Barbara Keys in the writing of her PhD thesis while at Harvard University. The general angle of these studies focuses one side of sport, either production (Riordan) with the exclusion of consumption (Edelman), or vice versa. Perhaps as a testament to the work of these two historians, Keys’ work focuses on the interaction between internationalism and nationalism and how it ultimately marginalized the Soviet Union’s attempt to create its own “proletarian” sports system. However, this project attempts to blend both consumption and production with the hope of recreating an expanded, and more complex social history. Because the study of sport in the Soviet Union is such a new field, I have had to rely on their work more than a typical project of this size. My readers will see that the time period I am analyzing, 1900-1942, also impedes the number of English based sources available. However, I have simply used these sources as my primary purveyors of archival materials.
The subject of this study, sport, provides a new lens in which to examine the Soviet Union. I propose the idea that the autonomous spheres of expression located within the sporting movement contradict the totalitarian model of Soviet society. I present examples of a society that interacted dynamically with the state, often imposing its views and opinions on government officials. Sport in the Soviet Union contained a form of resistance that challenges previous thinking about the Communist system.
This project examines the early development of the Soviet sports system, focusing on the interaction between the government and society that culminated in the creation of an autonomous mode of expression. It argues that in the 1930s changes in official Soviet ideology promoted a form of popular sport that contradicted state values and ultimately produced a system that openly displayed resistance toward the state. The first chapter describes the utopian and radical visions that contributed to the initial physical culture system pursued by the government. I also discusses contributions to the system by intelligentsia, political officials, and the conditions of the Soviet state itself. By promoting a vision of athletes as a vehicle for social change, the government was forced to reconcile competing visions of the function of physical culture within the Soviet Union. The second chapter examines the role of sport as a form of popular culture that the government used to demonstrate the successes of the Soviet system itself. Demands by the government to achieve greater international results reveals the complex maneuvering of political officials who used sport as surrogate to demonstrate political superiority. As a result, they created a system whose structure and function contradicted the pedantic aims of official Soviet ideology. The third chapter tells the story of how sport became insubordinate to the government and used as a way to rebel against dominant authorities. I use newly available sources on the sentencing and punishment of the Starostin brothers along with previous materials to reveal a complex story of hope, resistance, and courage.
Chapter One
Physical Culture, Sports and the Search for A Socialist Utopia

The history of Soviet sport begins with ideas of experimentation and elements of utopianism. After the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, party leadership inherited the task of organizing and implementing these ideas in all areas of culture. Debates centered on the issue of which cultural forms should remain intact, and what should be abandoned. New cultural forms, such as physical culture, began to take shape after the Revolution. Two primary schools of though shaped these new cultural forms: futuristic idealism and functionary pragmatism. However, the aspirations of intellectuals and political figures that created Soviet sport after the Revolution were often curtailed by the reality of the Russian situation. Russia was still economically backward and its official uses of culture also excluded the predominately illiterate peasant population. The attempt to use an official culture to eliminate these problems explains the ambiguities within the debates regarding culture in the Soviet Union: those involved hoped to build a lot out of very little. The development of sport, and its basic function, was relegated to the sea-saw waves of this political and social debate.
Physical culture (fizkultura) is a concept that includes games, outdoor recreation, physical education and competitive sport. Health, hygiene, artistic expression and civil defense were all intended products of the physical culture movement. After the Bolshevik Revolution, physical culture was employed in an explicitly utilitarian manner to achieve these effects. The examination of the origin of sport in the Soviet Union reveals what was important ideologically at the time. Sport was a way to tangibly realize the idealized conditions of a socialist state. As one historian notes, “Soviet sport was supposed to be beneficial because it was well-rounded (vsestoronnii), producing—in ways never precisely spelled out—health, harmony, and happiness.”
The beginnings of Russian utopianism existed prior to the Revolution. For many Russian intellectuals the prospect of revolution held a realm of possibility in which nothing was impossible. Russian utopianism was not entirely based on Marxist romanticism; rather it was the culmination of new forms of non-doctrinal expression among the people, the state and radical intelligentsia. However, as the historian Richard Stites points out, the Russian Revolution occurred at a remarkably unique time, when the vision of an alternative life collided with the most dramatic stages of twentieth century technological revolution. The results were visions of life that consituted the end of old order, building a new world from the bottom up, and molding a new type of man to inhabit this utopian place. Much of this utopian thought focused on ways to compensate for fears regarding Russia’s backwardness. This insecurity culminated in practical thinking, which developed into the Bolsheviks’, “compulsion to organize, shape and train the population on the model of the army, to regiment life, systematize living space, militarize part of society, and surround it with graphic living symbols of solidarity, prosperity, obedience and order.” Physical culture and sports were integral parts of this project.
Soviet sports embodied utopian thought in action, iconoclasm in motion, and carnivalesque ritual in its most opulent form. Official groups promoted sport using the Bolshevik recipe to achieve their utopian visions. On the other hand, Russian utopianism was the free expression of sub-cultures without explicit knowledge that what they were doing was utopian. As Toby Clark has suggested, views of the Soviet athlete by the working class were reactions to their own fears and anxieties, rather than the fantastic distortions of propaganda. The New Soviet Man (Novyi Sovetskii Chelovek) was an idea developed by a complex network of government officials, radical intelligentsia and the population’s willingness to adopt mechanistic theories of human behavior. In short, it was the blend between dreams and dreamers that shaped the way new cultures such as sports would be adopted. The political atmosphere of the 1920s was still free enough to “explore new worlds and ask questions about the future--and even suggest answers…Fantasy was a mode of political discourse.”
Physical culture was a vision of the immediate future from which the New Soviet Man could be created. The New Soviet Man was the projection of man in a free state, and perfected after the “withering away” of an oppressive capitalist state. Marxism, which had stressed the emancipation of the mind, had now found had now found material conditions in Russia. As the prominent art publication Iskusstvo spelled out in 1935, “There is a reason why our party and the public pay so much attention to physical culture: the healthy instinct of the working class demanding the restoration of the original formula passed down to us from antiquity: ‘a healthy spirit in a healthy body.’ ” Perfecting oneself through physical exercise was symbolic of the perfection of humankind in socialist society.
Like all aspects of Soviet Society, the ideologies of Karl Marx and V.I. Lenin would make their mark on physical culture. While neither wrote directly on the subject of sport and physical culture, their all-encompassing philosophies influenced thinking towards sports. In his critique of capitalist production, Marx emphasized the interconnectedness of labor and physical recreation. He viewed this form of recreation as a way to promote self-realization among workers, thus making them more productive. Marx’s early writings rejected dualist metaphysics, and asserted that a direct relationship existed between material conditions and the mind, and that mental faculties largely determined this relationship. Marx abandoned the view that bodily activity led to the detriment of the mind, and in Capital, he offered a vision for education in the future that emphasized balanced development. Marx saw physical education as a way to create a harmonious relationship between body and mind. The three parts of such an education were:
First, mental education. Second, bodily education, such as is given in schools of gymnastics, and by military exercise. Third, technical training, which acquaints the pupil with the basic principles of all processes of production and, simultaneously, gives him the habit of handling elementary instruments of all trades.

Nonetheless, Marx never provided any further details how to achieve this ideal education. What is important to note is that he had a vision for the future that consisted of practical ways to achieve the development of a harmonious body and mind.
Lenin’s theory on physical culture was deeply influenced by the dualistic attitude proposed by Marx. Lenin was an avid sportsman himself during his younger years, and while he was in exile, wrote that he enjoyed gymnastic exercises. Like Marx, Lenin shared the view that socialism could realize the full potential of the individual. However, Lenin added character development to Marx’s theory on education. He believed that sports could be a way to develop social character valuable to society, good health, and mental acuteness. Lenin asserted: “Young people especially need to have a zest for living and be in good spirits. Healthy sport-- gymnastics, swimming, hiking, all manner of physical exercise-- should be combined as much as possible with a variety of intellectual interests…Healthy bodies, healthy minds!” Lenin, like Marx, believed that cultural forms reflected the social relations accorded by the mode of production. Therefore, Western sport, which had been viewed as overly individualistic and exploitative was only a reflection of these general conditions under capitalism. Communism, the realization of the socialist state, would replace the exploitative social institutions that had impeded harmonious development.
Another factor that influenced the Soviets’ views toward the body was the cult of the machine. Western industrialization, and its major figures Frederick Winslow Taylor and Henry Ford, represented for the Bolsheviks modernity and effective progress. Lenin had emphasized the value of Taylor-style production, which he believed could eliminate the backward lethargy of Russian workers. After Lenin’s death, government agencies continued to support this view. The Scientific Organization of Labor, the League of Time, and the Central Institute of Labor were all government departments that sought ways to make production more efficient, and scientifically organize all of society similar to the most productive factories. Alexei Gastev, one of the most vocal proponents of the machine cult, supported systematic physical exercise to perfect the motion of the human body. He wanted to use “social engineering,” as he unabashedly called it, to create a new workingman. Physical culture was part of Gastev’s design to achieve systematic efficiency in Soviet society.
Communism sought ways to replace these former institutions, such as the Russian Orthodox Church. The idea of human transcendence was still a popular belief maintained by the radical intelligentsia during the Revolution. The Bolsheviks in the 1920s advocated iconoclastic movements that sought new ways to express inspirational forms and replace secular religion. They promoted messianic forms, such as the New Soviet man in the form of the athlete, who was identified and developed in terms of human potential to attain harmonious development. The radical intelligentsia used the body to reshape Christianity in a direct opposite fashion to its traditional interpretation, which until now had associated the body with the fall of man. Science could now discipline the body, and sin and sickness, which had once been held off only by spiritual asceticism (podvig), was replaced by the symbolic body in action.
Bolshevik radicals known as the Godbuilders developed ideas of physical culture with this in mind. Lunacharsky along with Alexander Bogdanov and Maxim Gorky were three of the most influential utopian thinkers working within the Bolshevik party who subscribed to the belief of iconoclastic transcendence. Bogdanov, a scientist and philosopher, worked closely with Lenin, publishing the novel Red Star, an influential science fiction novel that presented a portrait of a Marxist Utopia. Anatoly Lunacharsky was highly influenced by Western intellectuals, most notably Maximilien Robespierre and his idea of the “Cult of the Supreme Being,” which provided the common man with enthusiasm, faith and the sacralization of power, but divorced from religion. Like Robespierre, Lunacharsky believed that a true revolution included both a spiritual and psychological break from the past, and that the new Communist society needed a moral symbol of power. For the Godbuilders, the New Man was to be this symbol Lunacharsky was appointed as the Commissariat of Education in 1917, and used his position to implement the views of his futurist colleagues. The three fell out of favor with Bolshevik leadership early on after the Revolution, but their views of utopianism during the first years of the Soviet Union, the Proletarian Culture movement and Godbuilding, played significant roles in creating models for new forms of culture.
Russian utopianism also expressed the idea that if the common people were given the opportunity to develop their mental and physical abilities, they could finally lift Russia out of its fledgling backwardness. Russian intellectuals such as Anton Chekhov, a personal friend of Gorky’s and an ardent supporter and founder of the Russian Gymnastics Society, believed that a new system of physical culture would empower the Russian masses with mental dexterity and physical tenacity. As early as 1904, Lunacharsky expressed similar sentiments:
We have to support the growth of trust of the people in its strength, in a better future, look for rational paths to that future… draw pictures of the future glowing with happiness…develop the feeling for tragedy and joy for struggle and victory for Promethean aspirations, stubborn pride, and unite hearts in a common striving towards a Superman.

Mass participation in physical culture and sport would be a theme championed tirelessly during the Soviet era.
Avante-garde art prominently featured representations of the New Soviet Man. In the years leading up to the Stalinist period, three major themes existed in the representation of the body: first, an emphasis on the depiction inner organs, most notably the mind; second, a concern with the beauty and erotic attraction of the outer body; and lastly, the body as a metaphorical machine with automaton-like control. Artists such as Kazamir Malevich, Varvara Stepanova, and Sergei Luchiskin depicted the culmination of the New Man in paintings of athletes whom they saw as symbols of remarkable strength and infinite endurance. The progression of their paintings shows an emphasis of all three features of a harmonious man, and it was this early avant-garde vision that would become the basis for Socialist Realism during Soviet times. The important distinction is that even in the most radical visions of the future, the ideal of the harmonious development of body and mind maintained an influence.
The 1920s, which had been filled with utopian experiments and social daydreaming, gave way to Stalinism and the desire to transform these dreams into reality. After the Revolution the power of the image became an important way to indoctrinate an illiterate population. Socialism was the “the destroyer of old-worlds, and the creator of new worlds.” However, abstract utopian dreaming had failed to convey the revolutionary message. Images of athletes were an accessible and concrete way to express these ideas. In 1928, the First Five-Year plan intended to draw specific responses--hard work and self-sacrifice—from the people. Popular political posters depicted masses of super humans “at work on their own new world.”
Stalinist culture still maintained the Bolshevik idea that there were limitless possibilities in transforming the world. At the beginning of the first Five-Year Plan artists who were officially commissioned by the state placed a greater emphasis on mechanically produced media, such as photography and photomontage. At this time, a definitive image of the New Soviet Man emerged even though the Soviet government had not implemented a particular iconographic canon. Towards the end of the Five-Year Plan the focus continued to shift from the collective towards images that expressed the power of one voice, the New Soviet Man. The potential of the New Soviet Man was glorified and made into a major force for socialist construction, similar to Nietzsche’s “will to power.” The ideas that one could exert his will to overcome anything was a trend reflecting deeper nuances in Soviet society. The allure of individuality could not be ignored despite its seemingly contradictory place in Soviet culture.
In photographs of sport parades Alexander Rodchenko, Georgy Zelma and Georgy Petrusov, depict processions of male and female athletes demonstrating their physical perfection. Despite the fact that the photographs contain groups of athletes, the viewer’s eye is drawn to the tanned, strong and healthy bodies of individual Soviet citizens. Conversely, propaganda posters depicted the bodies of western capitalists as sickly, idle, and immoral. Poltical leaders are seldom in these photos, and if present at all, their presence lends authority to the Soviet system that produced these athletes. One example of this is Rodchenko’s NKVD Sports Parade. The image pays homage to Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of Dinamo Sports Society, and more importantly, the first head of the secret police, suggesting that the NKVD still represents the true spirit of the revolution. Other photographs, such as Zelma’s Parade on Red Square, are set in Red Square and demonstrate the larger than life power of athletes in unison with their homeland.
In the 1930s, flying was a popular motif that represented the freedom of man and his transcendence over nature. Man suspended in mid-air was a vivid symbol that he surpassed limitations of his own body and the monumental forces of gravity. Divers were popular subjects in Soviet photography because they captured the very instance that man conquered the two. Rodchenko’s series of photographs, A Jump into Water, are a perfect example of man defying nature. In the photo he places clouds in the foreground under the diver, suggesting that the athlete is flying upwards, rather than falling to the earth. Manipulating time and space, Rodchenko “turned a concrete event into the picture of utopian aspiration.” It is at the point of flight, the will of the diver to exceed human limitation emerges from the struggle to create a perfect human being. As art historian Nina Sobol Levent asserts, “the athletic body was a metaphor for perfectibility and a symbol of the unfolding of the full potential that socialism promised.”
Another notable example of flying athletes in early popular Soviet discourse is the Mayakovskaia metro stop in Moscow. Moscow’s subway system, another testament to Soviet society’s ability to bend nature to its will, featured fanciful designs depicting the accomplishments of socialist society. The Mayakovskaia station was one of the inaugural stations when the subway system opened in 1935. The stop, decorated by the mosaics of Alexander Deineka, depict sportsman suspended in air next to airplanes with heavenly clouds in the background. It was only fitting that the “cathedral” for the workingman should contain images of his messianic transcendence.
According to the Bolsheviks, nothing was impossible. Science and technology could transform the world into the utopia that they had imagined. Engineers and scientists in the future would be capable of amazing feats, even immortality and the colonization of space. The view that the human mind could dominate nature was a concept that Stalin supported and took actual steps to achieve. The powerful forces of nature were no match for the New Soviet Man whose transcendence of time and space made him godlike. According to Katerina Clark, the deification of man was a popular subject in Stalinist literature. As she points out, “A well-known obsession of Stalin’s, which became much stronger in the thirties, was the notion that anything can be accomplished if one only tries hard enough: the laws of science are only ‘blinkers’ imposed on man to prevent him from reaching his full potential.” Nature, which had long imposed its will on humanity, was no longer a match for the persistent strength of Soviet people. Construction projects such as the hydroelectric station on the Dnepr, was a symbol of man taming the powerful forces nature, which proved that Soviet socialism and its inhabitants were superior to all who had come before them. The New Soviet Man was free, and nothing stood in his way.

Alexander Rodchenko. NKVD Sports Parade, Moscow 1936. The Portrait is of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the first head of the secret police (Cheka). Dzerzhinsky was the founder of the Dinamo Sports Society and was regarded by Lenin as ”a true revolutionary.”
Georgy Zelma, Sports Parade, Moscow, 1930. In the photo, female gymnasts are dancing on Red Square.

Alexander Deineka, A Day in the Land of Soviets, 2 of 36 tile cupolas in the Mayakovskaya Station, Moscow, 1938. Bee Flowers, 2002, took the two photographs featured. They are available at

Alexander Rodchenko, 2 of 3 photos from the series, A Jump into Water, Moscow, 1934.

Administrative Utopia- The Militarization of Soviet Society
The militarization of society that occurred in the Soviet Union after the Civil War (1918-1922) was another extension of utopian thinking. It is also not a coincidence then that the military was the most influential institution in developing Soviet sports. The utopian view of the body found its practical application in the culture of militarism. Military utopianism was a phenomenon that Richard Stites adeptly called “administrative utopia.” It is very particular because it involves dreaming by a select few: those in power. This form of utopianism is not necessarily associated with bringing prosperity to the general masses. Instead, it involves the organization of populations for production or the threat of war. This form of utopianism was entrenched deeply in institutions, such as the factory or the army. The central characteristics therefore involved, hierarchy, discipline, regimentation, order, rational planning, and the reconstruction of the environment in geometrical symmetry. Stites is careful to lay out that the underlying theme of “a desired order, an extreme rationalism, an outlet for the constructive imagination of organizers who wish to build environments and move or control people like men on a chess board,” were all utopian dreams by nature. The allure of disciplining and militarizing the body embodied the plan towards the militarization of the entire population. The dominant metaphor was that of a parade, orderly marching and laboring under benevolent authority.
The militarization of the body, an idea theorized by Michel Foucault, finds actual discourse in the Soviet attempt to eliminate moribund peasant stagnancy and replace it with the rigid tenacity of a soldier. In his seminal work Discipline and Punish, Foucault asserts that the body is the central object and target of power; and that historically individuals were denied agency and relegated to obedient automatons. The introduction of military methods into production was used to control and discipline populations. The pairing of the military and physical culture is the direct extension of this relationship, with the former being seen as a way to indoctrinate a population unwilling to make the jump forward general utopia.
The general climate of the Soviet Union in the 1920s can be characterized by uncertainty, isolation, and hardships. A nation that in just a decade had witnessed revolution, civil war and famine made the Bolshevik Party particularly apprehensive about the threat of extended military conflict. Thus, the utopianism of the previous decade was met with real and pressing concerns that threatened this vision. Military planning during this period was shaped by new ways of mobilizing and training the population in order to prepare for this perceived threat. According to Lenin, the Soviet state existed in “a hostile capitalist encirclement.” In his view, the hostility of these capitalist states would ultimately lead to armed conflict. Revolutionary enthusiasm could only take the young nation so far, and soon Bolshevik leadership implemented a self-centric attitude focused on building and fortifying what many had fought so hard to attain. By signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Lenin showed the first instance of Soviet pragmatism, giving up the dream of European revolution for Soviet stability. As the historian Robert D. English points out, “the years of revolution and war left a deep impression. In many Party and intellectual quarters, Marxist internationalism was supplanted by an increasingly anti-Western Russian nationalism.”
The production of sports under socialist leadership was introduced as a way to improve the military preparedness to address the perceived threat of western nations. Historically, this was not unique to the Bolsheviks in the 1920s. The humiliation of the Crimean War in 1854 exposed the lack of physical training in the Russian military, which in turn propagated the organization of sports clubs throughout the country. Civilian sports clubs operated freely, but for the most part represented the leisure activities of the tsarist elite. Soccer, and other especially popular sports among workers resulted in the coordination of formal leagues before the revolution. However, by the time the dust of the Bolshevik revolution had settled, the centralized management and ideological impetus of the new government would make its mark on the haphazard sporting apparatus that still existed after the war.
The adoption of sport for military preparedness of populations was a trend that would spread over all of Europe. The most notable cases were in fascist states such as Italy and Germany. The connection to totalitarian style governments is a convenient but not necessarily accurate portrait of the way in which mass sport was manipulated by specific and utilitarian circumstances. For Hitler in Germany, and Mussolini in Italy, the mass displays were just that: outward projections of an innate superiority expressed through athletic vitality. In the Soviet Union, the organization of sports was bureaucratic and systematized around specific goals for production. For the Soviet Union the utilitarian function of sport was always at the forefront. While the parades may seem similar in terms of appearance, the Soviet mind was portrayed as the catalyst, while the Nazi body was at the forefront.
After the Civil War, the Communist Party wanted to make the military’s presence in society more transparent to ensure the objectives of socialist construction. By enacting policies that kept the society anxious of military action, this permitted the Party to create unreasonable standards and the sacrifices that would occur as a consequence. Considering the lack of sports facilities and the population’s unpopular attitude towards physical fitness, the military’s control over sport provided a way in which scarce resources could be distributed in a more orderly fashion compared a civilian organization. Leaving such measures to civil institutions would not be sufficient considering the ambitious nature of the role physical culture would play in society.
The conditions after the Revolution, and the health of the military caused the Bolsheviks to question the health and hygiene of the population. If the military was to be drawn from the entire population, then all of Russia must improve the low standards of health and hygiene that stood in the way of progress. Sport and physical culture thus became an agent of social change. The roots of utopian thinking were now supposed to blossom with promises of improved health, raised morale, and a productive workforce capable of ushering in socialism. Under the new socialist lifestyle, “sport stood for ‘clean living,’ progress, good health and rationality, and it was regarded by the party as one of the most suitable and effective instruments for implementing its social policies.”
The synthesis of sport with paramilitary training in the Soviet Union began with the order on the compulsory military service on April 22nd, 1918. Paramilitary training was organized under the Central Board of Universal Military Training, better known under the acronym Vsevobuch. Observably, the committee received a high profile and granted considerable importance because the Russian state was in the middle of the Civil War. Vsevobuch was handed control of all sporting clubs, in addition to the responsibility of training all persons of military age. This was not an easy task considering the underdevelopment of sports facilities, In order to accomplish its task, Vsevobuch requisitioned and redistributed equipment from the civilian sports clubs that already existed, which required extensive time and personnel. Komsomol, the youth branch of the Communist Party, was enlisted to help organize the formation of training centers and distribution of materials. This initial involvement of the Komsomol was a stepping-stone towards the Communist Party’s involvement in sport.
Komsomol’s authority was extended further because it was under their guidance that many of the paramilitary instructors were removed from their positions. The majority of these instructors were holdovers as specialists in the Tsar’s army. Their control and training received hostile attention from the Bolsheviks who feared that Tsar loyalists would disrupt their vision. Komsomol was viewed as the fresh face of Communism. The youth could create new values, and ultimately a new type of man. Vsevobuch was ordered by the Party to share its responsibilities with Commissariats of Physical Education as Bolshevik ideology continued to extend its influence. It was at this point that health and the idea of a harmonious mind and body was introduced as a way in which physical culture could help fortify the nascent country. Slogans such as “physical culture twenty-four hours a day” were paired with other propaganda of the time such as “help the country with a toothbrush.”
After the Civil War, the lack of clear guidance from the Party resulted in a number of organizations vying for the prominent voice regarding the organization of sport and physical culture. Three primary ideological directions would come to define the official system at the end of the 1920s. On one hand, there was Vsevobuch that asserted the role of athletics in paramilitary training. Conversely, the hygienist and Proletkult factions of the Commissariats of Education wanted to extend physical culture towards the education of a backwards society. Finally, Komsomol would come to define the organizational structure of sport in the Soviet Union, and the idea that it should be all-inclusive in order to be more effective.
In an attempt to balance the three organizing bodies, the First All-Union Congress of Physical Culture, Sport and Military Training was convened in Moscow on April 3rd, 1919. They would later adopt the Supreme Council of Physical Culture to attend to recreational matters in October of the following year. For the first time the benefit of competitive sports was introduced as a way to extend participation in physical culture. The party supported this new emphasis citing the advantages of identifying with a local club, and the power of the collective spirit to indoctrinate new urban workers to new ideologies associated with communism. Mass participation was now at the forefront, and physical culture parades were organized and mass competitions were inaugurated. New facilities were even constructed despite the war. Most striking of these new projects was the construction of International Red Stadium in Moscow by members of Komsomol. The morale building effect of such a project was not overlooked. Nikolai Podvoisky, head of Vsevobuch, declared at the opening reception: “The Civil War fronts are still ablaze, starvation and ruin hold the young Soviet Republic in a vice, yet we are today starting our campaign for mass physical culture.”
The military’s concentration on competitive sport was challenged by Bolshevik thinkers who opposed pre-Revolutionary tradition. Introduced earlier, the “hygienist” section of the Party was opposed to all forms of competitive sport. They believed first and foremost that the goal of the physical culture campaign should be mental and physical health. Boxing, gymnastics and soccer were dangerous, promoted individualistic tendencies and values, all of which ran counter to the ideal socialist state. The faction, which included Commissar of Education Lunacharsky and Nikolai Semashko, who held the dual government posts of Commissar of Health and chair of the Supreme Council of Physical Culture, carried significant influence. Semashko asserted: “without medical supervision there can be no Soviet physical culture!” The Hygienists’ influences shaped the curriculum of Soviet schools until the mid-1920s, and by controlling powerful positions in the press, were able to curtail the number of large-scale competitions.
The Proletarian Culture movement, (Proletkult) also rejected competitive sports. Class-consciousness was at the forefront of their theories of culture, which included physical culture. The Proletkultists preferred new activities created by the working class that were theatrical, which led to an emphasis on pageants and mass parades. However, Lenin criticized their rejection of Russia’s cultural heritage. He explained, “What is important is not the invention of a new proletarian culture, but the development of the best forms, traditions and results of existing culture from the viewpoint of a Marxist philosophy, and the living conditions and struggle of the proletariat in the epoch of its dictatorship.”
The influence of the military also partially explains why two sports clubs were the premier organizations for what would be the entire history of the Soviet Union (featured prominently in these parades). These two prominent teams were the Dinamo Sports Society and the Sports Club of the Central Red Army (TsSKA). Dinamo was established in 1923 for the staff of the internal security and border agents. The dominance of these two teams can be explained for two reasons. First and foremost, the military and security forces were provided with the largest budgets to ensure the greatest number of people participate and therefore acquire the desirable traits of a good soldier. Second, even under the restructuring of the sports system these two teams never came under the guidance of the trade unions, contrary to every other team. In fact, in the 1930s the security forces were given increased power, and were subordinate only to Stalin himself. This allowed for greater freedom to acquire players, and provide Dinamo and TsSKA with the best facilities and training.
The Communist Party officially consolidated power over the haphazard sporting apparatus at the Twelfth Party Congress in April of 1923. During this meeting, the Party suggested that local sports clubs should be placed under the guidance of organizers of production such as farms and factories. The Party wanted sports clubs to be set up like other workers clubs with the assumption that they were established for the benefit of the community. It was believed that Party objectives could be implemented most efficiently under the authority of trade unions or direct Party organizations such as Komsomol. However, the extent of Komsomol’s power regarding sport could not be resolved. Some Party members believed that the connection between the trade unions and the dictatorship of the proletariat should subordinate youth organizations to the trade unions. As a result, a number of sports societies, such as Muravei and Spartak, were placed under the control of trade unions. The establishment of the Supreme Council of Physical Culture in 1923 was a unique development to the Soviet Union. The USSR was the first country to have a ministry of sport and physical education as a designated government department.
The ambiguity as to who had the prominent voice regarding sport would be decided two years later. On July 13th, 1925 the first definitive resolution on sport and physical culture was passed. In an attempt to extend its control, the Central Committee wanted to clear up any ambiguities about the sporting movement and, in addition, ensure that its objectives were the principal interest of its Party organizations. The resolution firmly pronounced:
Physical culture must be considered not simply from the standpoint of public health and physical education, not only as an aspect of the cultural, economic and military training of young people. It should also be seen as a method of educating the masses. It must be regarded, moreover, as a means of rallying the bulk of the workers and peasants to the various Party, Soviet and trade union organizations, through which they can be drawn into social and political activity… Physical culture must be an inseparable part of overall political and cultural upbringing and education, and of public health.

Three primary ideological changes occurred. The first involved the politicization of sports organizations. The Party maintained that organizations would stay under the guidance of trade unions where political activity could be most easily disseminated and performed. Secondly, the leadership of the party reiterated that no independent physical culture organizations or pre-revolutionary clubs were to be in operation. Consequently, all remaining clubs were dissolved immediately. The resolution hoped that sports would be one way to increase participation in physical exercise by workers and solidarity among community members. Organizations were now supposed to make the sporting system more inclusive to all Soviets. Krasnyi sport in 1927 proclaimed, “At the present moment our broad and concrete task is to introduce a series of military elements into physical culture. Each physical culture circle and physical culturalist, even if not in the Red Army, must make broad use of sport for the defense of the country and for armed class struggle.”
A year later the Party passed follow up resolutions to at the Fifteenth Party Congress in November of 1926. In a shift from the compulsory sport based on the principles of military preparedness under Vsevobuch, which was disbanded in 1923, the Party made the first concessions regarding sports. This was an important moment because it was the first official ideological concession in sports that reflected popular taste, rather than the utilitarian function of sports. The famed soccer star Nikolai Starostin supported the decision stating, “The government considers it its duty to widen the popularity of sports and thereby to improve the health of the people and harden them physically for labor and defense.” The Party Congress decided that trade unions would be able to focus on specific sports. This meeting also initiated the discussion about elite sports- a topic that drew much criticism. The party no longer viewed sports participation for its own sake as necessary, which was a direct stand against the Proletkult and hygienist factions. Tendencies that had favored experimentation and utopianism subsided. Radical approaches to sport and physical culture were abandoned in favor of a sport program that could inspire the masses to accept proper values. The resolution was the first step towards accepting elitism a practice that anticipated a number of shifts in Stalinist mass culture. As Robert Edelman notes, “the anti-egalitarian shift in sports took place five to six years ahead of the abandonment of similar leveling policies in most other spheres of social, cultural and economic endeavor.”
Prior to this point the history of the worker’s club movement represented some of the most fundamental division between workers and the state. Despite its lofty goals, Party ideology never met the popular taste of workers. Budgetary constraints during the economic crisis that ushered in NEP granted worker’s clubs a level of autonomy because trade unions were now in charge of providing their own budgets. In 1923 charging admission to worker’s clubs was one way to procure funds, a phenomena that severed any responsibility of ideological and political goals and ushered in popular activities that reflected community desires. Popularization and localization were now central to the NEP club movement as ideological asceticism was ignored.
The shift in the direction of Soviet sport can be attributed to the conditions of the New Economic Policy. The Party made a number of concessions realizing that a departure from a command economy as radical as NEP was the price of staying in power. NEP was a program that allowed limited privatization in order to restore the economy to prewar production levels. Between 1923 and 1931, sport had the least association with the military than any point during the existence of the Soviet Union. Anti-military policies supported by Lunacharsky, Semashko, and Krupskaia were echoed by the average Soviet citizen. The corruption that was rampant during NEP resulted in profits that could be spent however people wanted. As the historian Moshe Lewin describes the period, “NEP thus had its share of venality, crooked business deals, and ways to spend the profits including nightclubs, cafes chantants, gambling dens and houses of prostitution.” Sports, especially popular ones such as soccer, were another way in which the profits of NEP were spent.
Despite criticism by Party officials, not all political figures condemned using NEP profits for cultural entertainment. Rykov complained at the Fifteenth Party Congress that culture under NEP had been stagnant but was the only way economic advancement could be achieved. Others such as Bukharin, who was a Proletkult supporter, were more reluctant to give in to popular sentiment. Nonetheless he acknowledged that something must be done to address the unrest of Soviet urban youth, describing their tendency to avoid work and propensity towards crime. He warned the Party about the partial education of the Russian youth, claiming that it would only lead selfish and weak-minded citizens. The Ukranian Party Central Committee published a joint resolution with Komsomol in February of 1926 emphasizing the importance of expanding the role of physical culture. They stated, “Physical culture would become a vehicle of the new life…a means of isolating young people from the bad influence of the street, home-made liquor and prostitution.”
The Party’s Central Committee passed a resolution on September 23rd, 1929 consolidating power into a new governing body, the All-Union Council of Physical Culture. This resolution officially ended the freedom that sports organizations had enjoyed under the relatively free market conditions of NEP. Until this point Party leadership allowed concessions and debate regarding sport because it was seen as a harmless area to do so. However, in the late 1920s the Communist Party initiated its first steps toward the absolute control that would characterize the period of Stalinization.
Physical education was introduced as a mandatory subject in secondary school and college curriculums in 1929 to curtail anti-Soviet movements among students. Athletics were presumed to be an alternative for students spending time in deleterious ways, especially radical politics. As James Riordan explains, “In one simplistic formulation of the sort rather popular at the time, physical culture stood for progress, good personal and social health and rationality; it was therefore a useful instrument for combating all anti-social and anti-Soviet phenomena.” Eventually education reform became stricter, and the same program was introduced at all levels of schooling. However, lack of equipment removed any emphasis on team sports, and instead health became the primary concern of athletics in school curriculums. This made mandatory physical education unpopular, and therefore ineffective.
In line with Lenin’s viewpoint that physical culture should promote “healthy spirits in healthy bodies;” the initial position on sports during Stalin’s rise to power had much to do with the moral implications of such activity. The “Ready for Labor and Defense”or GTO (Gotov k trudu i oborne) program was an awards program which combined all of the aims of physical culture in the 1920s. Established in 1931, the program was a return to an emphasis on military training in physical culture, becoming one of the major driving forces behind Soviet physical education. In addition to physical performance tests, the acquisition of GTO certification also consisted of passing a series of theoretical exams. The exam was broken into four major sections. They are summarized in the following list:
(I) To have a knowledge on the subject "Physical Culture and Sport in the USSR".
(II) To know and observe the rules of personal and public hygiene.
(III) To know and observe the basic rules of civic defense and be able to wear a gas mask for an hour.
(IV) To be able to explain the importance of and to perform a set of morning exercises.

In 1934, Komsomol introduced a similar program for young children, called “Be Ready For Labor and Defense” (BGTO). This, in effect, created a national ranking system, steeped in patriotism and collective discipline.
In the 1930s a number of noticeable shifts occurred in official Soviet ideology. Many of these changes have been placed under the umbrella of “the Great Retreat”- a reference to Nicholas Timasheff’s classic work from 1946 bearing the same title. Historians have debated the accuracy of this classification, but most agree that significant changes in Soviet ideology occurred around this time. Timasheff argued that Soviet leadership recognized that the population was not adopting socialist ideals. In the face of the Nazi threat in Germany in 1934, they abandoned the socialist experiment and returned to more traditional social structures to expand the support of the people. Ambitious goals of world revolution were now secondary to spreading patriotism and rebuilding the family with the hope that a return to normalcy would strengthen the nation.
However, other historians such and David L. Hoffman have adjusted Timasheff’s theory to explain Soviet leadership’s reversal from iconoclastic culture. According to Hoffman, to portray Stalinism as a retreat is incorrect because of the regime’s unwavering support for programs aimed at social transformation and the conception of the New Soviet Man. In all of its policies, the Soviet government tried to instill socialist values in order to change human nature. By recognizing new institutions that could develop the individual the Soviet Union could create a more harmonious state. Instead of a retreat to social conservatism, as Timasheff implies, the regime adapted its official culture to specifically modern phenomena.
The shift in official culture occurred in part because Soviet leadership truly believed that socialism had taken significant steps toward its realization. At the 17th Part Congress in 1934, party leaders resounded that socialism had been built in one nation. The First Five Year Plan had eliminated all elements of bourgeois exploitation. Krasnyi sport remarked that “only in our country… can a healthy body be formed and grow.” In line with the Marxist belief that the economic base of society defines all other social superstructures such as culture, traditional elements could now be put back into place because they were created by Soviet socialism. Elements of society that were once declared as bourgeois could now exist in the Soviet system because of the nature of Communist society. A Pravda editorial asserted:
Socialism, which freed the masses from the yoke of capital, delivered them from poverty and unemployment, and is unswervingly raising the living standards of toilers, created all the necessary conditions for training cultured, harmoniously developed, physically strong people, read to staunchly defend the achievements of the proletarian revolution.

Traditional institutions such as the family could now serve as autonomous institutions to fulfill state goals. The head of Komsomol, Alexander Kosarev, explained, “The stronger and more harmonious the family is, the better it serves the common cause... We are for serious, stable marriages and large families. In short, we need a new generation that is healthy both physically and morally.”
The nature of the Marxist socialist tradition created a number of competing views about the role of sports. Marxist and Leninist theories focused on labor and production above all else, making the irrational and popularity of sports problematic. However, those with a prominent voice regarding physical culture were able to differentiate between sports’ “healthy biological and psychological core” and the deleterious potential of its “social historical form.” Consequently, most Party leadership preferred that workers spend their free time being politically active rather than participating in sport activities. The imbalance between the positive and negative aspects of sport mirrored the ambiguities in the Bolshevik debates regarding all areas of popular culture.

Chapter Two
The Development of Soviet Sport and The Emergence of Autonomous Space

A number of significant changes occurred in the Soviet sports system leading up to the Second World War. Transformations in the way sport was produced and how its heroes were presented affected the way the Soviet people responded to sporting events. A conflict existed between the goals of the government and the interests of Soviet sport’s coordinators and fans. According to official ideology, competitive sports were intended to motivate the people to be healthy and become more productive soldiers and workers. Successful athletes were used by the state as role models who represented discipline, patriotism, and respect for authority. As Robert Edelman has suggested, “In this sense, spectator sports’ organizers sought to gain public consent for the dominance of the state by advertising its norms as goals.” However, sport’s popularity grew because fans saw sport as entertainment rather than a utilitarian exercise, while athletes and government officials used sport for their own advantage.
James Riordan, the eminent Western scholar of Soviet sport, suggests that there was a fundamental divide between the carefully planned utilitarian goals of physical culture and the spontaneous entertainment seeking side of mass culture. Elements of entertainment and play were irreconcilable in a country that was so concerned with purposeful activity. Theories addressing mass leisure were few and far between. However, a number of Bolshevik thinkers did attempt to address the issue. In 1923 Leon Trotsky published “Vodka, the Church and the State,” contending that, “the longing for amusement, distraction, sight-seeing, and laughter is the most legitimate desire of human nature.” He went on to say, “In forming the character of a whole class, when this class is young and moves ahead, like the proletariat, amusements and play ought to occupy a prominent position.”
If the 1920s were the time of physical culture, then the 1930s were the birth of competitive sport. In Stalinist society, sport was supposed to develop in the highly political manner of its predecessor the Physical Culture movement—to glorify the state, enhance production, and improve the preparedness of the military. However, sport was not an efficient way to achieve these goals. In his study of soccer during the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, Matthias Marschik raises a number of important questions. He asks, “What are the consequences when established practices, rituals and passions meet other structures, which are imposed out of the blue but all the more radically?” In an analogous situation, to what degree could every day culture of sport resist the dominant culture of Stalinism?
The incongruity between the official goals of the state and the way sport was interpreted existed for a number of reasons. First, the organizational structure of sport was not unified due to the organizational diversity within the government itself. Second, sport was used as a vehicle for political power for competing government figures to assert their prominence. Third, athletes used the system to their advantage because of the level of autonomy granted by the government allowed them to manipulate government officials for their own goals. Last, the nature of a sporting event allows a degree of autonomy by creating venues for personal expression by the fans. Spectators used their power as consumers to decide whether or not to support sporting events that were associated with government initiatives. The organizational diversity and level of freedom granted to athletes and fans resulted in sport becoming a form of resistance in which attitudes toward the government could be expressed.

Organization of Sport-

The Soviet government’s attempt to create a proletarian sports system was unsuccessful. In the mid-1930s the official system created by the government actively imitated Western-sporting models. This period witnessed a series of nationalistic impulses, which led to the adoption of international sports standards and consequently marginalized the competing visions for sport left over from the Bolshevik era. Barbara Keys has suggested that modern sport was developed similarly to pan-national culture flows and that Soviet sport developed similarly to its European counterparts. As a number scholars have argued, the universalism of international sport was an attractive way of demonstrating national power on the world stage. The Soviet Union used sport to display the achievements of its national system – and to assert its power—with this international audience in mind.
Adopting Western sports practices had a significant impact on the domestic Soviet sports system. The inflexibility of international rules and standards contained a paradoxical set of ideas for the Soviet government. The objective rules and records were a quantifiable way to measure national strength. However, this prospect came at a considerable cost. International sport was based on strict ideas of achievement, individualism and universalism. Adopting a more Western style of sport organization involved accepting norms and practices that ran counter to the Soviet system.
Initially the Soviet Union attempted to challenge Western institutions for the preeminent voice in sports. International governing organizations like the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the Olympic movement were rejected because they inculcated capitalist values. Rival organizations, like Sportintern, were set up as an alternative to the exploitative excesses of bourgeois sport. However, Party assessments of Sportintern in 1937 concluded that its emphasis on political agitation over participation was making the organization ineffective. Membership to Sportintern was predicated on the simultaneous membership in workers organizations. But workers organizations did not consist entirely of sports fans. Since the two demographics did not cross, Comintern disbanded the Sportintern sub-branch because of a lack of interest by workers’ clubs.
Soccer was overwhelmingly the most popular sport in Russia, having both the greatest number of both participants and spectators. The sport first made its mark among the middle and working-class during the early 1890s in the port cities of Odessa and St. Petersburg. English industrial specialists in textile mills first introduced the sport; they played soccer in their free time in the factory lots. Russians soon became interested in the game, and in 1894 the Russian factory owner Morozov built the first field dedicated to soccer in St. Petersburg (Orekhovo-Zuevo). In 1897, the first team of all Russians was formed. Writing about the team’s first match, the newspaper Peterburgskii listok, remarked “[Soccer] appeared very recently but has already succeeded in getting a huge circulation.”
In 1901 the first soccer league was formed in St. Petersburg. Citywide championships were held for the first time, and drew considerable interest. In 1905 the first official soccer team was established in Moscow. The level of progression of Russian soccer was similar to the rest of Europe. By 1910, the sport had had taken root in Moscow, spawning numerous unsanctioned outlaw (dikie) worker teams. The journalist D. Blagoev observed, “Soccer has caught on in Moscow, no question. It has become the most interesting thing to watch.” The journal K sportu also reported about the popularity of soccer. “Only three or four years ago there were perhaps only a few dozen soccer players. Now the number of players likely exceeds one thousand, and the numbers of spectators watching these games has grown accordingly.”
The popularity of soccer continued to grow up until the Revolution. By 1911, thirteen teams competed for the Moscow city title, sponsored by the wealthy jeweler R.F. Ful’d. The cities of Kharkov and Kiev created their own championships just a year later. University students also began creating their own teams and in 1913 the All-Russian Football Union was formed. The league united an impressive four thousand athletes from 155 clubs in thirteen cities. However, with the outbreak of war in 1914 systematic meetings between teams were limited, and championships were held every other year.
After the Bolshevik Revolution, the organizational structure of sport mirrored the philosophical struggle of the physical culture movement. The Commissariat of Defense, the Komsomol, and the Central Trade Union Council, along with the Physical Culture Council of the Supreme Soviet all competed for organization control. In 1930, sport was centralized under the new All-Union Council on Physical Culture whose responsibilities were attached to the Central Executive Committee of the Council of People’s Commissariats. Again, in 1936, organizational power was consolidated as the All-Union Committee on Physical Culture and Sport, and was granted greater authority under the guidance of the Executive Committee. The shift in organizational power followed a new emphasis on competitive sport and the value of spectatorship.
The Soviet Union adopted competitive sport because they considered the difference between the bourgeois model and the Soviet one was emphasized by results, not in the form. Previously, the Soviet government had defined its own physical culture as the opposite of bourgeois sports culture. A Krasnyi sport article, published in 1933, made this clear: “There are two contradictory forms of physical culture: the bourgeois system and the new proletarian system.” In capitalist countries sport was a reflection of the economic system: exploitative to its athletes and stunted the political education of the masses. As one Physical Culture official stated, physical culture in capitalist countries only produced “cannon fodder for imperialist wars.” A government bulletin from the same year was equally bold: “The development of the physical culture movement in the USSR demonstrates that in the realm of sport the socialist system is defeating the capitalist system.” Now, not only was Communist sport better than the capitalist model, it became an example of how one system was defeating the other. However, there was one glaring problem: if the Soviet system was exceeding the capitalist system, how could it prove it was doing so if the two were not playing the same game? The ambiguities of this debate would soon become clear.
Neither fans nor players were satisfied with the level of Russian soccer. Both claimed that isolation from the best teams had stunted the development of the sport. In 1927, a Krasnyi sport article spelled out this frustration, stating, “We are stewing in our own juices. We have no one to study from, and no one teaches us the newest tactics and techniques. There are no games with the strongest of opponents to enliven our play.” Soccer chairman George Diuperron remarked in 1929, “All our players who have been abroad and have seen first-class teams know that to play well means to play completely differently than how we do.” He went to say that even though the Soviet Union had participated in international matches before, “our opponents were always of low class, and these victories did not bring us much honor.”
Communist sport was based on the ideas of mass participation and ignored individualism. However, in 1933 the government initiated a policy to “catch up and overtake bourgeois records.” This change in direction openly accepted competition and “record seeking mania.” The new government mandate to compete internationally ran counter to the collectivist ideals that had dominated the initial foundation of Soviet sport. Those in the Physical Culture Council opposed to sending teams abroad called the new turn a retreat from revolutionary principles (smena vekh). Nonetheless, the press took up the call, and in December of 1933 Krasnyi sport, encouraged athletes to “bring worldwide glory to Soviet sport,” and, “to win first place in the world for Soviet sport. We want victories, records, success.” Nikolai Starostin urged the Physical Culture Council and the Komsomol to arrange matches against stronger teams. If they did so, “there is a full guarantee that after several such games Soviet soccer players will actually be the strongest in the world.”
In the coming years, the movement to create unparalleled athletic success was accelerated by an increase in government support. Eventually the Physical Culture Council softened its stance against international competition, reiterating that “All world sport records should belong to the USSR.” In April of 1935, Pravda again stated the objectives of Soviet sport: “In the near future we must make the USSR the country of all world records.” That same year, the “distinguished master of sport” award was added to the GTO system to encourage athletes to achieve record setting performances. As another Pravda article spelled out, “There can be no doubt that this will play an exceptional part in lifting the sports movement to an even higher level.” Boris Bazhanov, a member of the Physical Culture Council and one of Stalin's secretaries, asked Stalin himself why there was so much resistance to sending teams abroad. According to Bazhanov, Stalin responded favorably to the prospect of international competition, stating, “We compete with the bourgeoisie economically, politically, and not without success. We compete everywhere possible. Why not compete in sport?”
In 1936 Stalin declared that, “life has become more joyous, comrades,” signaling that the scarcities incurred during the post-Revolutionary period were now behind the Soviet people. The government also introduced the promise of material rewards as a way to quantify the benefits of socialism. Cultural events, such as art exhibitions and theater, which had receded after the Revolution, now returned. Carnivals, parades, and, of course, sporting events became major celebrations glorifying the successes of communism. . Abundance became an active theme in Soviet propaganda, and sport was one way in which the idea of socialist wealth was presented. Communism was now in position to challenge capitalism in all facets of life, including sports. The record seeking mania that ensued at this time mirrored the ideological changes that occurred in consumer production. Overproduction was an idea championed during the First Five-Year Plan, but soon gave way to the image of za kachetsvo: the improvement of quality. The state, who had invested a heavy interest in sport, now began to position its athletes to rival and exceed Western standards competition.
The Soviet Union claimed that it had exceeded world records as early as 1934. In this year, six world records were broken—records in weightlifting, swimming and speed skating. By 1939, Soviet newspapers estimated that 35 unofficial world records were set in these sports. The government attributed these achievements to the country’s mass participation in physical culture. However, the masses had little interest the sports that records were being set in. Like the fans, government officials in the Komsomol and the Physical Culture Council wanted records where they thought it mattered: the soccer field.
The Soviets first official into the showdown with Western sport took place in 1934. A delegation of top Soviet athletes was sent to compete against Czech professionals in a gesture of political solidarity following Czechoslovakia’s official recognition of the Soviet Republic. The delegation included runners, swimmers, and boxers—with the highlight being a soccer match against the famed Zidenice Brno football club. The match was met with considerable anticipation because the Czechs were a respected power in European soccer and had just lost a close match to Italy in the World Cup final the year before. Alexander Starostin, who captained the Soviet mixed all-star team, remembered: “No foreign trip of Soviet sportsmen has generated as much interest in sporting circles as the trip to Czechoslovakia…Just the word ‘professionals’ inspired in some people a kind of admiration that had absolutely no basis.” Playing against professional was a significant departure from earlier discourse that had denounced bourgeois sport. Physical Culture Council chairman Nikolai Antipov remarked, “Never before has there been such a sharp turn in our international work.” To justify the change in course the President of the Physical Culture Council, Ivan Kharchendko, clarified that the contests against professional players was an important step, “to prove the results we had achieved in the area of sport after seventeen years of Soviet power.” Years later, football star Nikolai Starostin could not help reflecting on the magnitude of the match, writing that the players knew the real reason why they were in Prague: “to defend the honor of Soviet sport.”
On October 24, 1934 Soviet athletes finally had their chance to prove the level of Soviet soccer. The Soviet team was met warmly in the press and drew considerable interest from Czech fans. T en thousand Brno fans attended the game, and watched the Soviets lose 3-2. Despite the loss, Soviet officials were happy that its soccer team could play among the best in Europe. Alexander Starostin boldly remembered “we had firmly secured our right to be considered first-class football players in international estimation.”
The Soviet Union increased the amount of international matches abroad. They played against the Czechs a number of times, and toured places such as Scandinavia, Turkey, France and Belgium. The most decisive moment in the organization Soviet soccer, and all sports for that matter, resulted from the defeat of the Moscow All-Stars by Racing Club de France on New Year’s Day, 1936. Racing Club was a strong team, who just a year prior, won the French championship. The Soviet team played brilliantly, garnering praise in the French press, but still lost the match 2-1.
After the team had returned to Moscow, Alexander Kosarev convened the central committee of the Komsomol to analyze the reasons for the Soviet loss. Despite losing to one the best club teams in Europe, the Komsomol called for a radical restructuring of the current sports system. The lack of top competition was recognized as the reason why the level of Soviet soccer still lagged behind the rest of Europe. One criticism of the old system was that there was no way to develop young players. In Europe domestic league competition created a way for up and coming players to impress coaches, and make their way onto rosters. Nikolai Starostin seized upon the humbling experience of the trip to France. In a memo to Kosarev he wrote that the loss had “showed us that professional soccer has a number of advantages over amateur.” More importantly he claimed that a new league would only, “legalize the professionalism that already exists in our soccer.” Remarkably, Starostin was openly forthright about his admiration of Western professionalism—an attitude that contrasted sharply to the initial ideology of the Physical Culture movement.
Soviet teams did experience some benefits from their matches abroad. Most notably they adopted Western tactics that changed play in domestic leagues. Against Zidenice, the Czech professional team, and Racing Club of Paris the Soviets encountered the tactical system known as the W formation developed by the Arsenal Football Club in London. Soon Spartak and Dinamo adopted the system at home with considerable success. The secretary of the Komsomol criticized the adoption of Western bourgeois tactics, calling the system “excessive” and “inflexible.” However, a number of teams followed the lead of Spartak and Dinamo and implemented the system with effective results. The success on the field eventually muted the critics that still held on to their Marxist mindset.
The loss, however, still resonated within the Party. In 1936, the year of the new Constitution, the government allowed the most radical reorganization of sport to further support the claim that socialism had been achieved. On June 21st, 1936, the Party announced that “in the interests of better satisfying the ever-growing demands of workers for sport and physical culture,” a new system would be implemented to, “improve state control and supervision over activities in physical culture and sport.” The All-Union Physical Culture Council was renamed the All-Union Committee on Physical Culture and Sports Affairs and placed under the direct authority of the Council of People’s Commissars (Sovnarkom). The new council was directed under the leadership of I.I. Kharchenko, who was an active member of the Physical Culture Council. Consequently, this re-organizational step also brought sport under greater scrutiny by government officials. As the name suggests, the new Committee intended to extend the role of competitive sport—officially balancing sport with physical culture. In practice, Soviet soccer could now be organized more closely to Western professional leagues.
The most prominent feature of the All-Union committee was a new soccer league based on Western models. The All-Union Soccer League, as it was called, established a new championship available to club teams sponsored by sporting societies and the security forces. A regular schedule of inter-league matches was created—a move that would certainly enhance the availability of sporting events for spectators. Krasnyi sport predicted “a huge interest in the games on the part of the broadest masses of the workers.” In addition to the league championship, which was limited to the top club teams, a cup competition was also implemented. The cup tournament was a qualifying competition open to any team regardless of it skill. In Russia, like in Europe, these matches proved to be popular because of the high probability of an upset; in the first year of the league a first-division match averaged 19,000 fans.

The Political Patronage of Sport

Government officials used their patronage of sports teams as a way to politically maneuver within the government. Success of Soviet teams, both internationally and domestically, was intended to enhance the power of prominent officials. Each Moscow stadium had a luxury box reserved for its leading patron and his guests. Alexander Kosarev, a member of Politburo and First Secretary of the Komsomol, reserved one thousand tickets for Spartak games. Most of these tickets were distributed as gifts to the Central Committee, and influential members of the Moscow City Soviet. One of Kosarev’s most frequent guests was N.I. Yezhov—a central organizer of the Great Terror.
The Spartak Sports Society’s rise to prominence owed a great debt to its strong political patrons. The team gained its initial prominence during the permissive NEP era, when a limited capitalist system allowed sports societies to operate like free enterprises. From 1926 to 1934, Krasnaya Presnia, the forerunner of the Spartak Sports Society, changed sponsors a number of times. The team captain, Nikolai Starostin, had a strong connection with Ivan Pavlov of Promkooperatsiia—the organization under the Ministry of Trade that oversaw the cooperative retail sector of the economy. The desire for Spartak to become the preeminent team in Moscow was demonstrated by the large sum of money that Promkooperatsiia spent on the team. Nikolai Starostin estimated that 15 percent of the organization’s revenues were spent on Spartak. Starostin’s popularity and charming personality brought him into contact with other influential people. In 1934, Starostin met Alexander Kosarev who wanted to extend the Komsomol’s influence regarding sport. With the deep pockets of Ivan Pavlov and the political patronage of Komsomol, Spartak Society was formed, becoming a powerhouse with few rivals. Starostin commented in his memoirs that the Komsomol “did not just participate” in organizing Soviet sport, “but even dictated its will to the [All-Union Physical Culture] Committee.”
Lokomotiv Moscow, the sporting society representing railway workers, also enjoyed strong political patronage. Stalin’s right hand man, Lazar Kaganovich, was an ardent supporter of the team. Under his patronage Lokomotiv won the first USSR cup and played in the first All-Union league match. Kaganovich conveniently used his influence to arrange a match for the powerhouse Moscow Dinamo in Czechoslovakia, assuring the team that they would have a place reserved in the Super Final when they returned. However, when they returned they were told that the provision had not been authorized. Kaganovich used his authority to remove another strong competitor from the cup competition, Dinamo Tbilisi. A close associate of Kaganovich’s, Gen. Andre Vishinski was in charge of the lottery that determined the seeding for the playoffs. Tbilisi was positioned unfavorably, and was unable to make it past the second round. Kaganovich’s political control was also reflected in the lavish construction of Lokomotiv Stadium, built east of the Sokolniki Park. The Moscow Party boss asserted his political authority in a number of other large construction projects, such as the Moscow Metro, which bore his name until 1955.
Good seats were not enough for some prominent apparatchiki. They also hired and fired coaches, and even went as far as to influence the lineups on the field. Lavrenti Beria’s interest in soccer and his influence over the game was unmatched by any other political figure. As a young man, Beria played soccer at a competitive level in his native Georgia. He was a tenacious mid-fielder with a penchant for dirty play. Martyn Merezcv, a referee during the 1920s remembers throwing Beria out a game early in his career—a fact that made him uncomfortable when Beria became head of the secret police. An average player at best, Beria experienced little personal success on the field, a fact he sought to reconcile later in life.
Beria was promoted to Chief of Secret Police in 1936, and named honorary president of the Dynamo Sports Society the same year. It was noted in the press that he attended nearly every Dinamo Moscow game. Now he wanted to ensure that Dinamo experienced unmatched success—a reflection of his political power. In his rise to prominence, Beria had replaced N.I. Yezhov, an official who had granted a level of autonomy to sporting societies. In 1938 Alexander Kosarev was declared “an enemy of the people”, arrested and ultimately executed. Spartak was now left without its rich and powerful patrons. Sport and the Great Purges collided with great force as Beria and others attempted to assert their prominence in the Soviet political system.
Sport, like all areas of Soviet life, was not immune to the purges. Almost all political leaders, including those of the Physical Culture Council, became targets of attack during the purges. Nikolai Antipov, who was the Chairman of the All-Union Council of Physical Culture, was arrested in 1936 under the charges of being a ‘right-oppositionist’ and accomplice of Nikolai Bukharin. His successor, Vasily Mantsev—who was also one of the founders of the Dinamo Sports Society—testified in the trial against Antipov. However, his presence at the trial granted him little immunity and Mantsev was also executed in 1939, except as a ‘left-oppositionist.’ Ivan Kharchenko, Chairmen of the All-Union Committee on Physical Culture and Sport affairs, received considerable attention in the press for supposedly neglecting military and political training in sport. He was arrested in 1937 and died in a labor camp two years later. Before his arrest he had expressed his uneasiness with the way political patronage was affecting sport on a number of occasions. In one article Kharchenko stated, “In the race for records and best results, several departments use absolutely impermissible means.” In another he maintained the idea that officials were taking advantage of the system, and that,
[Abuses by political figures] have appeared from somewhere during the turbulent growth of Soviet sport. In order to enhance their club’s prestige, they have replaced hard work in increasing the proficiency and training of first class athletes with primitive and quite underhand methods. Why train when you can ‘buy’ the finished product? Why create when you can entice? So we have sports societies, which have hardly existed for more than a few weeks before they suddenly come up with record breakers, champions and Masters of Sport.

Kharchenko’s attacks in the press created a number of adversaries that eventually found other ways to silence their critic. Kharchenko—like the majority of prominent physical culture administrators—was sentenced for allegedly harboring ‘enemies of the people’, most notably Trotskyists, and for sabotaging the Soviet sports system which was so essential to the defense of the homeland.
Kharchenko's successor, E. Knopova continued the purges in sport. Kharchenko, who was considered to be one of Kosarev’sprotégés, had been closely associated with Komsomol. Predictably, his replacement was not as particular to the organization's objectives. Kosarev and the Komsomol attempted to present compromising information on the threatening Knopova, showing that in 1929 she failed to support Stalin's policy of collectivization and had defended the recently purged Nikolai Bukharin instead. However, Kosarev was purged for political reasons before the accusations against Knopova were able to gain any momentum. Kosarev’s legacy continued to resonate within the Soviet sports system and in January of 1939 V.V. Snegov, Knopova’s successor, declared that Kosarev and his associates had upset the physical culture movement. Snegov avowed, “we must mobilize the masses to find who stood near—the people who surrounded Kosarev, who worked with him.”
A number of prominent athletes were also purged. Nikolai Starostin wrote in his autobiography that, “hundreds of athletes and dozens of my friends were arrested…The strangest thing is that no one knew why!” Nikolai Kovtum, who at the time of his sentence held the European record for high jumping, was accused of ‘cosmipolitanism’ and sent to the gulag where he died. The Spartak soccer player, Viktor Prokof’ev, and fellow Spartak member skiers Nikolai Korolev, and his three brothers were also purged. The popular ice-hockey player, and Burevestnik Sports Society chairman, Viktor Strepikheev was also executed at the height of the Great Purges for circulating stories about foreign life. In addition, Viktor Riabokon, who was the head of Lokomitiv Society, was labeled with the familiar ‘enemy of the people’ and executed. A former medical adviser to the All-Union Physical Culture Council was reported to have offered the following critique while he himself was in a labor camp:
Sport in the Soviet Union has two objectives: propaganda for abroad, and the physical training of the Red Army and the NKVD…Professionals have privileges only as long as they win, especially abroad, like race horses. The victories abroad make excellent domestic propaganda. People have little to be proud of otherwise. …The average Russian thinks ‘If Dinamo can beat a French team, obviously the French have even less bread and meat than we do.’ This is exactly what the Soviets wish people to think, as a sort of justification for their hunger and a consolation for the evils of the system.

The Athletes

In the mid-1930s, professionalism in sports was not only an accepted practice, but indirectly promoted by the state. As stated earlier, anti-commercialism and the ideas of amateurism were highly influential to the development of Soviet sports. Soviet leaders boasted that, unlike capitalist nations, athletes in the USSR were not a source of profit. While the promoters of Soviet sport took this claim seriously, many athletes were not shy about using their sporting acumen for their own profits. Professionalism in sport had been a topic of discussion since the mid-1920s, most notably in the Party Resolution of 1925, which marked the creation of a visible sporting elite and a system of limited professionalism. Newspapers were aware of the professionalism and were some of the athletes’ sharpest critics. Even before the resolution, they subtly acknowledged professionalism by the organizational distinction they gave teams: “demonstration” teams (pokazatel’nye) and “amateur” teams (liubitel’ske). The idea that top athletes had to be supported materially and given the opportunity to practice their sport—a concept so fundamental to elite sport—was always recognized in the press. The real controversy hinged on whether privilege and absenteeism from the workplace were appropriate in Soviet society. Even the idea of athletes being used as role models, or political educators, held an uneasy connotation in Bolshevik ideology which had emphasized the value of constructive labor.
In 1926, players pushed the level of professionalism permitted and went before the Physical Culture Council to ask for more privileges. Their requests included better traveling conditions, doubling of allowances, and single rooms in hotels rather than accommodations in dormitories; the players also asked for beer and cigarettes in addition to these other privileges. Many teams were willing to accommodate these requests from players since profits from ticket sales were how early teams managed to survive. However, these privileges were scorned in the press. A Krasnyi sport article from the same year emphasized that accommodating players was for financial reasons, and not for the benefit of the Physical Culture movement:
These ‘well-known’ players move about according to their own taste. Little by little, with the approach of the transfer period, a small but substantial number of players appears, ready to sell themselves to whomever they want to, whenever they want. [They ask] only the highest price…It is especially shameful that organizations that are not what they seem to be take part—of course not openly—in the financing of these ‘commercial’ operations. These organizations are interested in setting up strong teams for their groups in the name of ‘hurrah patriotism’ and with the aim of collecting thousands in gate receipts.

This phenomenon became known as chempionstvo: the devotion to winning athletes. However, it was not elitism that was being attacked in the press, but the abuse of the honors that accompanied the success of athletes by sports clubs. The weekly newspaper Fizkultura i sport made this distinction clear: “The dispute is not simply about ‘champions’ but about those ‘champions’ who, having achieved something, bargain for themselves, seeking a comfortable place in the institution for whom they appear…It is necessary to struggle decisively against those organizations engaged in the ‘buying and selling’ of champions…”
The rise of Stalinism in the early 1930s created a new kind of elitism: the cult hero. Stalin attacked egalitarianism at the 17th Party Congress in 1931, stating that the idea was a “petty bourgeois” distortion. At the meeting, Stalin declared that the future of the republic depended on the diligence of each and every citizen, signaling an ideological departure that opened the way for a culture of open elitism to emerge. In the 1930s, Soviet political culture elevated heroic individuals as icons symbolizing the achievements of communism and the loyalty of the people to the state. The hero-traitor discourse that was prevalent in the Soviet political culture of the 1930s used athletes as one of the examples of being a loyal citizen. While Stalin was at the head of this cult of personality, entire groups of “ordinary celebrities” were thrust into the forefront. These individuals were used as propaganda to substitute an idealized world for the harsh realities of the time such as social dislocation, low living standards, and political repression. However, the success of campaigns that promoted individual accomplishments had less to do with the monolithic meanings constructed by Stalinist culture and more to do with social identity and popular discourse created from shared meanings within society. Athletes’ spontaneity on and off the field projected an image that they were not controlled entirely by the state. It was only through an official discourse of association that athletes became part of Soviet propaganda, such as when leading athletes were placed in the same realm as Stakhanovite shock workers. In 1931, Pravda initiated a campaign called “The county needs to know its heroes,” suggesting that the accomplishments of athletes and Stakhanovites were similar. A Physical Culture Committee report noted, “The wonderful masters of sport, the wonderful soccer players, who are leading Soviet sport, are valued by us and respected as much as the best Stakhanovites, kolkhozniks, and engineers... Our Soviet soccer player is an example of an indomitable will to victory, an example of tact, self-restraint, and culture.” Heroes of socialist labor were promoted everywhere as the Cult of Stalin extended its visibility. A popular poster in factories declared: “Every shock worker [is] a sportsmen, every sportsmen [is] a shock worker.”
The common Soviet citizen accepted professionalism in sport because they viewed it as an honest path towards social mobility. Being a successful athlete was very lucrative compared to factory work. The base salary for the Starostin brothers was 2,000 rubles per month, over ten times more than the 190 earned by the average industrial worker. It certainly was not a secret that top athletes wore the nicest clothes, ate at the best restaurants, and dated the most attractive women. A sports official who defected during WWII has written how the track star Nina Dumbadze received a generous bonus for breaking an All-Union record and a much larger 25,000 ruble award for breaking the European women’s discus record. As the official wrote years later, “My friends and the former USSR record breakers of the early 1930s, M. Shamanova, G. and S. Znamensky, Dyachkov and Malin lived well on bonuses and rewards from sport alone. Masha Shamanova once received a radiogram as a bonus—then a priceless commodity.” The privilege of athletes was also demonstrated in a more idiosyncratic way: muscle. Strong and robust bodies were rare during the years of famine but the permissive lifestyles afforded to athletes allowed them to maintain vigorous physiques. The healthy full-bodied athletes who marched in Physical Culture Day parades were a glaring reminder of the misbalance that existed in Soviet society.
In general, the majority of the population did not support privilege and elitism. The dialectic of us versus them was first introduced during the Cultural Revolution, a divide that became more pronounced when Stalin abandoned social equality. Stakhanovites and shock workers were resented firmly, and were often met with violence in the workplace because of the pressure their production placed on other workers. As the historian Sarah Davies has demonstrated, Stakhanovism and other reward programs were generally viewed as ways to further exploit workers for the benefit of the elite. Material symbols of the elite, such as cars, holidays, special shops, flats and clothes were more symbols of injustice rather than accomplishment. Sheila Fitzpatrick points out that the car was the ultimate symbol of privilege.
The public’s support for athletic privilege supports the idea that a pluralism of values existed in Stalinist Russia. Soccer was an abstract ideal and a concrete example of the rise of the working class. The pluralism of values existed in regard to social inequity is further demonstrated by the Soviet historian T.H. Rigby. He has described this phenomenon as shadow culture, whereby certain policies are supported, while others were not according to the relative complexity of the atmosphere surrounding these policies. The creation of a sporting elite can be placed in the general context of the cult of the individual; Stalin’s cult of personality was at its highest peak. In June of 1937 fifty athletes were featured in the “honors” list for the country’s top distinction, the Order of Lenin. James Riordan suggests that this was the most prominent example of athletes being, “accorded during the ‘cult period.’ ” The effectiveness of using specific people for the idolization of the larger masses is predicated on the idea that a connection exists between the people and the individual traits of the athletes. Many of the athletes were seen as coming from the working classes, whose hard work had rewarded them with success. The vicarious attachment of fans to athletes occurred more naturally than the monolithic propaganda of other personality cults. Athletic performances held a greater number of interpretive possibilities because of the relative freedom that players are able to express during a game or an event.
Athletes were not passive agents of the state and many pursued ways to maximize their position by seeking ways to profit from sport. A significant number of soccer players earned additional income by playing friendly matches (tovarishcheskie) on the side. Spartak was known to have played in up to thirty of these games each year. Dinamo and the Central Red Army teams were also known to travel extensively even though there were heavily funded by the state and their players being the most privileged members of society. According to official explanations state sponsored teams participated in these games to spread the popularity of sport, and with it the utilitarian aims supported by the state. However, the truth about these matches was discussed openly in the press. In August of 1929, the newspaper Vechernaia Moskva candidly stated, “The basic goal of the majority of these football journeys is to make money. They earn their money, divide it up and go home.”
Athlete’s celebrity status made their shortcomings as ideal Soviet citizens more visible. Popular athletes, such as the soccer and ice hockey star Vsevolod Bobrov represented a part of the star system that contradicted the official ideologies of sport. Bobrov played for TsSKA, which meant he was supposed to project an aura of discipline and respect for authority. He was a talented player, but often clashed with his teammates and coaches. Bobrov’s hockey coach, Anatoli Tarasov, was revered by the state as a loyal innovator who contributed greatly to the Physical Culture movement. However, the success of Tarasov, Bobrov and the Physical Culture movement all depended on each other, and Bobrov’s antics were tolerated despite the fact that he did not exemplify the ideals of the Red Army.
Even top European athletes were recognized and supported avidly. A great number of people were able to follow Western teams despite heavy censorship from the government. Interest in foreign soccer stars is demonstrated by a lengthy section of Iurii Olesha's famous novel, Envy, which recounts a tour by a professional German team. In the style of socialist realism, Olesha compares the play of a popular German star with the performance of the Soviet athletes. The German, “who valued only his own success... was not a permanent member of any sort of sports organization because he had compromised himself by moves from club to club for money.” Player transfers were criticized more than professionalism because this form of self-serving behavior threatened success on the field. Players were supposed to perform selflessly for the team and country—a famous lesson presented in Lev Kassil’s 1936 novel and film Vratar, (The Goalie). Again, using the lens of socialist realism, the protagonist of the film is successful only after he gives up his self-serving attitude, sacrificing himself for both team and village.
Referees were also given celebrity treatment. Spartak had long been accused of having friends on the Physical Culture Committee’s commission on disqualification that prevented sanctions and defended the team's notoriously dirty play. Home teams were given the privilege of naming their own referees for soccer matches. If this wasn't good enough, they were often bribed in hopes of a favorable result for the home team. The Komsomol Central Committee complained that, “It's a well-known that referees are driven in first-class cars to the train station, are given the best rooms in the hotel, and are given free meals and so forth.” The expectations were heavy, and if referees did not oblige to the expectations of their exceptional treatment, there were consequences. The committee continued, “there are also cases where, if the team loses, then the referee has to wait for two or three hours for registration of various documents, and only receives a return ticket with difficulty, and so forth.”
Professionalism in sport came under increased scrutiny from the government in the years leading up to World War II. In a 1939 report to the Central Committee, the Komsomol criticized the professionalism of athletes, stating:
Among soccer players, who comprise a significant part of the number of those embraced in sport, a large number of phenomena that are foreign to Soviet soccer take place: stealing (peremanivanie) players, self-serving behavior (rvachestvo), drunkenness, rudeness, and hooliganism. These are seen both among the soccer players of lower teams and among masters of soccer, despite the fact that among the latter there are full-time instructors.

Sports societies continued to secretly pay players to switch teams even though the Moscow Committee on Physical Culture and Sports Affairs outlawed these payments in January of 1937. Krasnyi sport supported the Komsomol stating, “Half-trained sportsmen should not receive extra money for fictional ‘work’, and they should not receive subsidies and all manner of gifts for success in competition. That is a bourgeois practice that has crept into Soviet sport.” In another article the paper cautioned, “We are not against prize-giving as such, but we are against abuses and perversions…We have definitely established the importance of certificates and medals, and they should be the major, if not the only, proper sports honors and awards.”
Drunkenness and violence among athletes was also a visible problem. A Stalinets player appeared naked on the field before 10,000 fans. An article in Krasnyi sport detailed how another Stalinets player, Moskvin, was left to die in the hospital after a serious blow to his stomach. After dropping him off at the hospital the team left to play a match in another city. The team chose not to notify his family or wife because the matches were unauthorized friendlies—with considerable money to be lost if they stayed behind. Violence in Russian soccer became so widespread that in 1939 six players were fatally injured during separate games. Despite heavy criticism, little was done to remedy these problems. One Komsomol official commented, “for a good player, much is permitted; its not worth damaging his prestige, because he will leave for another team.” In addition, it would have been proof that the role models that the state invested such prominent attention to were not really people who should be actively emulated. Krasnyi sport contended, “Soviet soccer players must be the best in the world not only technically, but they should be models of discipline, culture, and high moral values. …However, many players are far from having an awareness of their duties and responsibilities.”
The Spectators

The Industrial Revolution created more free time for workers, which resulted in more time to play and watch sports. The social landscape of Russian cities was altered after the intense pace of industrialization introduced at 16th Party Congress was combined in 1928 with forced collectivization during the First Five-Year Plan. Millions of backward peasants were thrust into urban life, but were also introduced to new ways to adapt to the pressures of city life. Sports—and more specifically soccer—helped workers to become acclimated to their new surroundings. Surrounded by unfamiliar politics and harsh working conditions, workers sought experiences that were removed from overbearing government directives. Richard Holt, in his study of 19th century British soccer explains a similar situation, “As the scale of the industrial city outstripped the capacity of individuals to compass it, the fact of being a supporter offered a sense of place, of belonging and of meaning that could never come from the formal [institutions] of citizenship...”
In their search for apolitical leisure, Soviet sports fans created what Moshe Lewin has described as the Soviet Union’s civil society. He defines this as: “The aggregate of networks and institutions that either exist or act independently of the state or are unofficial organizations capable of developing their own, spontaneous views on national or local issues and then impressing those views on their members, on small groups, and finally the authorities.” Soviet historian Stephen F. Cohen has also demonstrated that the state and society in the USSR interacted dynamically, with each influencing and adapting to the other. Dynamic development is particularly evident in the development of the Soviet sports system. The important goals of social transformation through sports that the government supported were in direct conflict with how Soviet fans interpreted sporting events. Thus, a middle ground developed that reconciled spectator sports as pleasure and fun with the highly politicized version that the state made available.
The way sport was interpreted by spectators made sport an ineffective way to achieve the utilitarian goals ascribed to it. The fundamental difference between how the state viewed sport and how the people view it ultimately undermined state goals. Victoria de Grazia has demonstrated a similar conflict in her study of mass leisure in Italy. In her work she argues that, “The fascist intervention in leisure-time activities was most successful, as might be expected, when the social needs of the participants corresponded to the interests of the local elite, the aspirations of the organized to the aim of the organizers.” The result was elite spectator sport triumphing over initiatives towards mass sport. The picture that she draws can also be used to describe the competing views of those involved in Soviet sport. In the Soviet situation, just as in the Italian one, a direct relationship existed between popular culture and politics. Thus, a larger question emerges beyond what forms of leisure were practiced, but why particular groups made these forms as an entertainmnet. As Barbara Keys writes,
Sport's popularity is a function of the inherent unpredictability of every contest, which produces genuine drama, and of its capacity to create a uniquely powerful emotional bond between spectators and participants. In a world fraught with ambiguities and complexities, sport contests produce a simple, clear-cut outcome: there are winners and there are losers. In a competitive world, it offers an idealized space where rules are observed and effort and merit appear to be rewarded.

Sport was a popular form of entertainment in the USSR because it was a way in which spectators could express their attitudes in a relatively free environment. The simplest, and most effective, way that sports fans could asserts themselves was through their decision of whether or not to attend games. By analyzing attendance figures it is possible to make a number of distinctions. For one, soccer certainly was king among spectator sports in the USSR. Krasnyi sport reported in 1940 that ten million spectators had attended games in the previous year. The formation of the All-Union League systemized soccer, which contributed to the popularity of soccer by allowing fans to follow the games more regularly. In comparison, more didactic sports such as track and field were received unfavorably despite the fact that they were more fitting for the Soviet cannon. In fact, important track meets heavily supported by the state often offered the promise of free soccer tickets with paid admission to increase attendance. Thus, a give-and-take relationship existed between the state and society, one that allowed fans to manipulate the state to benefit their own interests.
Spectator sports, such as soccer, were supposed to motivate the masses to become loyal workers and active contributors to Soviet society. In reality, soccer fandom did little in terms of motivating spectators to become active participants. In fact, soccer’s popularity only made problems that the state used sport to remedy worse. As illustrated in Krasnyi sport: “We will see that sport, and football in particular plays a role of the first importance in the leisure time of the worker. At the last trade union congress it was noted that big games draw so many spectators that the mines in the Donbass are completely empty on the days of important matches.” A problematic turn in soccer’s popularity actually contributed to decreases in productivity and increased worker disobedience. Despite the prospect of fines and disciplinary action, workers chose to go the stadium instead. Certainly the factory managers couldn’t penalize the entire factory. Such behavior was one way that workers asserted their will over dominant authorities.
The decision to attend one team’s games rather than another also has a number of important implications. As a number of studies suggest, soccer fandom is deeply tied to ideas of self-identity. One such scholar, Anthony King summarizes this relationship: “Football fandom is centrally bound up with issues of identity formation. Because fans express their identities and self-understandings through the club, and therefore, simultaneously define themselves in terms of football, the attachment to the football club is particularly strong.” Richard Holt has made similar observations that are applicable to the Soviet situation:
On the one hand men lived in intimate neighborhoods where they played with their friends and relations, their neighbors and work mates. On the other they were also citizens, members of new economic, administrative and political units of hitherto unimagined provincial scale and complexity...By supporting a club and assembling with thousands of other like himself a man could assert a kind of membership of the city...As three o’clock approached and the trickle of spectators became a flood in the streets leading the to the ground, the workers briefly took possession of the city.

Team selection not only demonstrates how fans saw themselves, but how they saw others as well. The decision to root for less successful trade union teams rather than teams of the security forces indicates how they felt about these institutions. The Armenian anthropologist Levon Abramian was quoted as telling a British newspaper, “In a communist country…the football club you supported was a community to which you yourself chose to belong. The regime did not send you to support a club…It might be your only chance to choose a community, and, also, in that community you could express yourself as you wished…to be gathered among others and to be free.” Spartak had a considerable fan base and according to Krasnyi sport, it was the most popular—a claim supported by consistently posting the largest attendance records. Spartak attracted a substantial number of paying fans even in the more rural areas, and consistently outdrew Dinamo, the second most popular team, by 5,000-10,000 spectators. Alexander Vainshtein, who co-authored Nikolai Starostin’s memoirs, was quick to make the distinction as to why this happened. “[Spartak] was the most popular team…Spartak was the most popular team for many reasons—first that it was not part of the structures of force.”
The rivalry between Spartak and Dinamo is the clearest example of spectators’ opposition to the state. Iurii Oleshchuck, a Muscovite teenager during the 1930s remembers rooting for Spartak for this reason. As he recalled years later, “The relationship of Spartak’s fans to Dinamo was highly antagonistic. Dinamo represented the authorities: the police, the organs of the state security, the hated privileged elites. They ate better. They dressed better, and certainly didn’t live in communal apartments.” The difference in privilege between fans was even apparent in the seating during matches between the two teams. Spartak fans sat in the eastern section of the stadium where the seats were cheaper. Boris Nazarov, a life-long Spartak fan and legal council for FIFA, remembers the animosity that existed inside the stadium: “As I was growing up, when Spartak played Dinamo or TsDKA, you could hear from the stands ‘kill the cops’ (bei militsiia) or ‘kill the soldiers’ (bei koniushek).” During the Great Purges saying something of this nature in public would have led to harsh retribution from the government with crimes such as anti-Soviet sentiments and agitation often leading to time in the gulag. However, in the anonymity of the crowd and the safety of numbers, fans were able to openly express antagonistic opinions toward the regulative state apparatus.
Riots were also a way in which fans openly confronted the state and its perceived agents. Hooliganism and fights were characteristic for Soviet soccer, reflecting the rough and tumble style of the Russian play. One the most well-known riots occurred in 1926 when a Moscow all-star team was touring Odessa. Overmatched by the Muscovites, Odessa attempted to balance their lack of skill with a series of fouls. The game lost control when an Odessa defender seriously injured a Moscow player and was ejected from the game. The Moscow team felt that they were on the receiving end of a dangerous home field advantage and began to retaliate. One enraged Moscow player tripped up an Odessa attacker and repeatedly kicked the player while he lay on the ground. Fans were incensed by the act, and stormed the field to protect their home team. After it became apparent that the riot would not subside, mounted police were called in to disperse the fans. However, a number of police officers were thrown off their horses and beaten in the melee. Fans’ disobedient behavior was commonplace. A First-Division match in Leningrad on July 24th, 1937 between Leningrad Dinamo and Moscow Dinamo resulted in one of the most notorious—and violent—riots in Soviet soccer’s history. The pressure to win culminated in three Leningrad players becoming seriously injured. Livid fans stormed the field, fighting both players and officials. Bottles flew through the air, and again fans openly fought with the police. After the game, soccer official began the practice of surrounding the field with soldiers—a measure that often resulted in armed guards outnumbering fans for lesser matches.


By the mid-1930s, the Soviet government’s pursuit of sport strongly differed from the didactic version established when the Bolsheviks assumed power. The demands of Stalinism pressured sports organizers to open up the Soviet system to Western practices and models that contradicted the official Soviet discourse. Political figures used sport as an alternative method to maneuver within the political system and to assert their authority. Athletes manipulated the ambition of these political figures to their own advantage, creating a place for themselves among Stalin’s new elite. Spectators, who increased exponentially in the 1930s, used sporting events as an autonomous space to express their attitudes of self-identity and even openly confront state agents. The structural theorist John Fiske has argued that sporting events provide,
[P]eaks of intense experience when the body identifies with its external conditions, and thus shakes itself free from the repressive difference between their control and our sense of identity. This intensity is often experienced by fans as a sense of release, of loss of control. Fans often use metaphors such as madness to describe it, and madness, as Foucault has shown us, is what lies just outside the boundary of civilization and control.

Athletes and fans were able to consume sport in ways that differed from the states goals to promote loyalty to the state, respect for authority and improved health. As the social historian John Hargreaves has noted, “the attempt to subject sports to a pattern of rationalization and to program sport in ‘national interest’ exists in tension with the nature of sport as an autonomous sphere of expression.” Sport in the Soviet Union allowed a free space in which the Russian people could interact dynamically with the state and create their own meanings in opposition to the totalizing effect Stalinist culture. Whether escaping the pressures of the factory, or creating their own heroes, the Soviet people were free to do this how they wished. As the next chapter will show, sometimes these heroes were able to rise up against an oppressive state.

Chapter Three:
Spartak and the 1939 Cup Championship: Courage, Hope, and Resistance

The relationships between fans, athletes and political officials demonstrates how the Soviet state and society interacted dynamically—with society often being able to use sport as way to openly show sentiments of resistance and act insubordinately towards the government. Soccer was one way in which the general population could exert their opinion over the dominant Soviet authorities. Out of all the examples presented, none are as elaborate and powerful as one event: the 1939 All-Union Cup Championship. The following details the story of revenge, sacrifice, and salvation that emanated from what turned out to be much more than a game.

The History- Spartak and Dinamo

Even today, no competition is met with as great an interest as the rivalry between Spartak and Dinamo. Historically, both teams have experienced great success and overwhelming popularity as a result of their hostility for one another. The roots of this contentious relationship took shape in the 1930s as two teams attempted to gain unmatched prominence in Soviet society. Dinamo was very successful on the field, and despite being one of the non-clandestine tentacles of the police, had a considerable fan base. At the same time, Spartak became known as “the people's team,” because for many, the team was the true representation of the working classes who were losing their voice in the waves of the Great Purges. More importantly it was the only team that was able to rival the institutions of force. In this way, team choice constituted “two ways of being Soviet”: supporting Dinamo meant being passive with the hope that the helping state would one day benefit you, or supporting Spartak with the dream that the just still had a place.
Flex Dzerzhinsky established the Dinamo Sports Club on June 24th, 1923. Dzerzhinsky, who at the time was head of the internal security agency, organized the club for the training of the All-Russia Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage (the Cheka). He believed that sport was an essential way to prepare the security forces with “strength, dexterity, courage and endurance.” The name Dinamo was suggested by Maxim Gorky in that it gave the impression of “energy, motion and force.”
Eventually Dinamo increased its membership to include all members of the police forces and their families—functioning more like other sports societies at the time. By the end of its inaugural year, Dinamo had increased its membership drastically, with over 3,000 members in Moscow alone. It boasted clubs in a variety of sports including, gymnastics, boxing, wrestling, basketball and soccer. By 1925, the Dinamo Society had branches in Leningrad, Kiev and Tbilisi. Soccer became extremely popular in the Georgian city, and within a couple of years, Dinamo-Tbilisi beat its sister organizations Dinamo-Moscow and Dinamo-Leningrad (9:5 and 3:2 respectively), to win the All-Union Soccer Championship. In the 1920s Physical Culture officials criticized competitive sports, but Dinamo Sports Societies were granted the same level of freedom that was granted to its parent body—the security forces, and continued to pursue soccer. In addition, the early sports movement placed an emphasis only military preparededness, which allowed Dinamo to become one of the richest and therefore most extensive sports societies in the Soviet Union. The team's fans were mostly white-collar bureaucrats, who by the 1930s had positioned themselves within Stalin's new elite. One fact that lends itself to the composition of Dinamo's fans is the exorbitant amounts they were able to pay for seats Dinamo matches—a fact supported by photographs containing these well-dressed apparatchiki.
The Spartak Society's rise to prominence took a less direct root because unlike Dinamo, which was built from the top down, Spartak was built from the bottom up. In his autobiography, Andrei Starostin noted the tattered beginnings of his famed team, stating, “Spartak had many sources but just one birthplace—the Presnia.” The Presnia was an excessively industrial district in Moscow, and cesspool for crime and poverty, but also one of the hotbeds for “outlaw” soccer. A soccer team was officially organized in 1921 and originally called Krasnaia (Red) Presnia for the sacrifice its residents had made during the Civil War. Krasnaia Presnia's success on the soccer field caught the eye of a member of the Komsomol, Ivan Artemev. In 1922, he acquired an official charter for the team under the guidance of the Moscow Sporting Society and the team began playing its games in a ramshackle stadium built on an abandoned potato field.
The team, led by the four Starostin brothers—Nikolai, Andrei, Alexander and Petr—used the permissive NEP period to propel their team into the spotlight of Russian soccer. Alexander, a central defensive back, was the best player of the four. His play built an almost mythical status around him, and many soccer circles in Russia believe that his tenacity and size—he was six-foot five—would stand out even against today’s players. Andrei was loud and argumentative, running the team from the mid-field. In a game against Turkey, Andrei became incensed after one the Russian players were injured as the result of what he thought was a cheap shot. Andrei retaliated, and was thrown out of the game. However, he refused to leave the field, and the referee, afraid of his imposing brother Alexander, did nothing to enforce the decision, and the game carried on. Petr played right-halfback and was a very technically sound player who displayed the most finesse out of all his brothers. Andrei, of course, was the most famous of the Starostin’s, but he often came under the criticism of the eldest brother Nikolai, who was the organizer and most lasting personality of the group, for his exploits in the “bohemian world.”
In 1926, sports societies were reorganized under industries rather than by city. The team changed sponsors a number of times; using rich patrons who saw ticket sales as a means to profit. The team's industrial sponsors included Dukat Tobacco, the food workers' union (Pishchevik), and eventually the wealthy Promkooperatsiia, which controlled the profitable retail trade unions involved in garment making and textiles. The brothers ran the team like a business, actively seeking ways to make money in order to retain and acquire the most talented players. In 1934, the popular brothers were introduced to Alexander Kosarev, and received a charter to be placed under the guideship of the Komsomol. It was at this time that the team took on the shape of its modern predecessor. Kosarev told Nikolai that he and his brothers needed to come up with a new name for the sporting society. Nikolai recalled playing in 1927 against a German team called Spartacus that had been named after the leader of the slave uprising against the Roman Empire. The team name became a powerful symbol. The Spartak soccer team's roots to the trade unions and the Presnia had made Spartak “the people's team,” a connection that was only further emphasized by name of the leader against tyranny. Iurri Oleshchuk recalled this relationship between Spartak and its fans:
We all lived in a large communal apartment. We were all working class... Today I understand most clearly that Spartak was the home team (rodnaia komanda) of ordinary people (prostoluidi). Why? The team name had meaning for us. Then all the kids and even the adults knew the name of the slave revolt in ancient Rome...How could the names of the other teams—Dinamo, Lokomotiv, or Torpedo—compare?”

On April 19th, 1935 the Spartak Society was established, and the rivalry was officially born. Aksel’ Vartanian, remembers rooting for Spartak as young Muscovite, “This team somehow belong to society. Dinamo was the Interior Ministry. They were hated…Spartak was not a team that belonged to any single group. Maybe it was the Starostin brothers, maybe their friendships with the intelligentsia, but there was a kind of a mark of democracy on the team. Giving your heart to Spartak, you hung on to some hope that they were somehow apart from their surroundings.”
The difference between the two teams was evident in more subtle ways as well. For example, fans even saw opposition manifested in the two teams' logos: Spartak's logo was a horizontal rhombus, directly opposed to Dinamo's vertical rhombus. Spartak and Dinamo’s style of play also constituted a drastic way in which the two differed. Dinamo was famous for its precise and technically strong game, exemplified by continuous running and long cross-field passes. Conversely, Spartak played a more spontaneous style that stressed ball control and the unpredictability of creative play. In comparison, Spartak allowed its star players free reign, while Dinamo emphasized strong team play. As Robert Edelman has said, “these image—Dinamo's rationalism and Spartak's romanticism—heightened the rivalry.”
On the field, supremacy between Spartak and Dinamo went back and forth. The two teams split honors during the inaugural 1936 season: Dinamo won the league tournament, and Spartak won the All-Union cup. The next year provided even less insight as to which team was authoritatively the best; the two teams finished in reverse positions. In 1938, Spartak asserted itself as the prominent organization in Soviet soccer, finishing the season with the “golden double”—winning both the league tournament and the cup. That same year both teams were awarded the Order of Lenin for their contributions to the Physical Culture movement. Remarkably, Spartak repeated the accomplishment the following year as well. However, winning the second golden double would change the face of Soviet soccer.

The Charade: Beria’s Authority Challenged

The rivalry between Spartak and Dinamo extended to events both on and off the field. Before 1936, Dinamo had been the undisputed powerhouse of Russian soccer; a fact further demonstrated by the Dinamo Sports Society maintaining six soccer clubs in the premier division of the All-Union league. However, two events collided in 1936: Kosarev and Nikolai Starostin (who had retired as a player in 1934) managed to persuade high ranking officials in the Communist Party to create a western-style league competition; and Levrenti Beria became the honorary president of the Dinamo Sports Society. The year prior Beria had suggested to the Physical Culture Council that the way to address the Soviets lack of international success would be to create what amounted to an all-star league limited to one team per Soviet Republic. The Council, along with Kosarev and others, rebuffed Beria concluding that such a system would be too exclusive and only further compound Soviet sport’s isolation from elite performance. Therefore, the rivalry between the two teams also represented the fight between the Komsomol and the security forces for the undisputed jurisdiction over sport.
Beria himself was almost a victim of the Purges. While Party Secretary for the Transcaucus region, Beria became part of a vacuum for power in the NKVD, where he also retained his role as head of the Georgian police. In early 1938, he was nearly arrested in a coup by Nikolai Yezhov that forced him to retreat to Moscow and appeal to Stalin for an investigation against claims that Beria had excessively abused prisoners. While in Moscow he received the support of Politburro member Lazar Kaganovich and was unexpectedly promoted to Deputy Chief of the Moscow NKVD. From there Beria began cleansing the NKVD of members who were not in his network of loyal patrons. By the end of 1939 Beria had replaced nearly all of the Moscow police with his associates from Georgia. With his deep network intact, Beria had greater autonomy than any police chief before him—a fact only exacerbated by his Georgian connection with Stalin.
Upon his appointment Beria brought a cold efficiency to the NKVD. Perhaps under the watchful eye of Stalin himself, torture and overzealous imprisonments stopped. One police official described the changes that occurred after Beria’s appointment, “Previously the investigators would say to us: ‘Come on, you gangster, write; or we’ll make mincemeat of you.’ Now they spoke differently: ‘Come on, Vasily Ivanovich, write, write,’ using the polite second person now; ‘sign it, buddy; you’ll get twenty years anyway.’” Arrests and executions continued but on a much smaller scale as widespread terror was no longer necessary to pacify the population. However, that didn’t stop Beria from exacting revenge on Yezhov and his associates, which included high profile members of the Komsomol and Spartak, who no longer had the protection of the NKVD.
Beria’s fanaticism and villainously cruel reputation has also been expressed in stories that have circulated among the Russian people. His outward appearance was repulsive—he was short, balding, and wore pince-nez glasses. Milovan Djilas, who met Beria after the war described him as “somewhat plump, greenish pale…with bulging eyes.” Khrushchev recalls that he spoke with poor grammar, and had a distinct Georgian accent. He was also known for his open sexual exploits, many of which included young girls and resulted in illegitimate children. Beria lived a life if luxury, coming hom at night to a lavish house that included a home theater where he often entertained guests with Western movies.
The most well known of Beria’s indulgences was of course soccer, a passion that he fulfilled by attending nearly every Moscow Dinamo home game. However, Beria was forced to battle with Kosarev and Starostin for political authority in soccer. When Spartak made Dinamo look bad, Beria saw this as a reflection of himself. His home team, Dinamo Tbilisi, was ridiculed for not winning big matches and Dinamo’s players were given the epithet “crownless champions,”—a term that most fans used with tongue in cheek. As Beria’s relationship with Stalin developed he even sent a memo to the leader urging him to seek ways to make soccer more Soviet. He began the note by stating, “in the last few years the game of soccer in the Soviet Union has become widespread and very popular among workers. Soccer matches in all cities of the Union attract huge number of spectators.” He went on to suggest a number of changes to the current system—which was created by the Komsomol—under the guise that the current format was not developing results in the Physical Culture movement. However, as Beria soon found out, he was forced to check his ambitions on the soccer field after Stalin urged Beria to limit Georgian success for political reasons. Dinamo Tbilisi’s start forward Boris Pachaidze recalls one such account in his memoirs, “Once I said to Beria that it would have been better if people could have said that Dinamo Tbilisi had been champions of the USSR several times. He went mad and screamed that the champions could only be from Moscow or Kiev. He said we should just accept coming in second.”
Nikolai Starostin also remembered a story, albeit more humorous, about Bera that he heard after he returned from exile: Beria, who took great pain when Dinamo lost, approached one of the Dinamo Moscow coaches after a particularly poor performance, Beria was claimed to have said, “I only have one question: why can’t we beat Spartak?” The coach, intimidated by the reputation of his team’s patron, paused not knowing how to answer this seemingly obvious question. Beria became annoyed by the coach’s hesitation,
“I am waiting, tell me why Spartak manages to have such consistent success while we don’t.”
“Spartak pays more.” The coach was said to have seen the anger flair up in his boss’s eyes.
“Are you telling me that the down and feathers pay more than our chekisty (security forces)?”
“In all respects comrade Beria, maybe we could change a few things. Spartak has an excellent attack, perhaps we could use help on defense.”
Even more irritated, “Well then, what if I gave you an entire platoon of machine gunners?” Beria responded referring to the team’s relationship with the police, “Surely that would help, but if I do this, you and your players must remember, the sights will be on your backs, too.”
Another story, notorious in the offices of Sovetskii sport, involves a newspaper editor who had come into contact with Beria’s intimidating character. One night in the 1940s, the editor was waiting alone in his office for the late scores to that night’s soccer games. Around midnight, the editor received a phone call; it was Beria on the other end, he anxiously wanted to know the score of a game between Spartak and his beloved Dinamo Tbilisi. The reporter nervously responded, “1-0, Spartak.” Annoyed with the result, he told the editor, “Print the score as 1-1.” Not knowing what to do, the reporter decided not to lie about the outcome of the game, and simply decided to exclude the final score from the article.
While these latter two stories are anecdotal, they are telling about larger issues present in Soviet society. The conversation between Beria and the Dinamo Moscow coach is obviously a joke, but it is also based on common knowledge in public discourse. The joke demonstrates that the Soviet people did know that Beria had significant influence on lineups and that his presence intimidated soccer officials. Of course it’s not possible to determine when the joke originated, but the story involving the night editor indicates that a multitude of complex phenomena contributed to the construction of these stories. Media censorship, a topic that has been written about extensively, further demonstrates that the results of such practices occurred as the result of dynamic interaction between apparatchiki and political officials. The story is also an example of Soviet citizens responding critically to messages provided by the government, akin to what the cultural theorist Stuart Hall has called a “negotiated response.” In this case, the message is that Dinamo should win at all costs. In a negotiated response the overall message may be disputed, but the overall system is still accepted. The story may be too literal an example of a negotiated response, but as it will become evident, public opinion that begins as negotiable can often manifest itself into greater “oppositional responses,” toward authority.
A number of specific challenges to Beria’s authority may have contributed to the strong retribution enacted after the 1939 Cup Championship. For the 1937 Physical Culture Parade Nikolai Starostin suggested that a soccer game should be staged on Red Square in front of Stalin and other party leadership who would be sitting on top of the Lenin Mausoleum. Alexander Kosarev suggested that his Spartak team should play Beria’s Moscow Dinamo in a condensed half-hour match. A green carpet was rolled out over red square to be used as a playing surface. However, the night before the match Starostin was confronted by a member of the NKVD who told Starostin that the surface was too dangerous to play on, and that the Dinamo team refused to play the next day. Kosarev and Starostin insisted that the performance must go on anyway. Consequently, Spartak arranged the game to be played between the premier club and its reserve team. Since the premier team was obviously more talented, seven goals were pre-arranged before the match in order to maintain Stalin’s interest. Kosarev sat beside Stalin and would wave a white handkerchief as a signal to stop the game in case “the best friend of Soviet sport” grew tired of the game. To the surprise of Kosarev and Starostin, Stalin was enthralled by the performance, which continued for forty-seven minutes.
Dinamo Sports Society members had decided to march in unison instead, pulling floats amassed with immobile bodies in sporting positions. The participants maintained a traditional regimented and orderly demonstration, giving the impression of the military discipline that its sponsors hoped to project to the rest of society. Physical Culture Day parades were attended by thousands of Soviet citizens, who certainly must have noticed the difference in approaches to this highly ritualistic event. As one spectator remarked years later, “[Physical Culture parades] amounted to little more than the haphazard swinging of arms and legs in unison.” Conversely, Spartak presented a spontaneous spectacle that ignored the propaganda of official sport and accepted that entertainment should be fun and exciting.
At parades such as the one in 1937, Communist leadership was forced to balance competing goals within the parade itself. On one hand, the Party wanted to encourage spontaneous emotion towards authority, but on the other, wanted to inculcate the population with discipline that subordinated the individual to the collective. However, H.G. Friese, a student in the USSR during the 1930s, described the contradictions that manifested during parades: “Most of the participants—including Komsomol members—felt some inner resistance, something akin to embarrassment and humiliation…sometimes one’s sense of humiliation would suddenly give way to an opposite feeling—a sense of extreme pride and feverish enthusiasm.” Karen Petrone describes the paradoxical goals of political parades:
The unofficial spontaneity that continued to permeate parades despite efforts to stamp it out, the many failures in discipline that marked the organization of the parade, and the official representations of indiscipline…multiplied the number of meanings constructed by Soviet parades…and were also sites of individual and non-conformist behavior that challenged Soviet discipline.

Despite the highly propagandized nature of an event like a Physical Culture parade, participants were also able to act out as individuals. The Spartak soccer demonstration not only contradicted Dinamo—and therefore Beria’s—authority, but was also met with delight by the supreme leader Stalin himself.
Another insult to Beria’s authority happened during a tour by the Spanish Basque soccer team. During the Spanish Civil War, an all-star team of Basque players toured Europe to raise money for the Republican Army. The Basque players also agreed to tour the Soviet Union as a gesture of solidarity for the Soviet’s support of the Republican cause. They were scheduled to play six games, two against Lokomotiv Moscow (most likely at the urging of Kaganovich) and Dinamo Moscow; and four additional games against Dinamo Leningrad, Kiev, and Tbilisi. The tour received considerable attention in the press because the Basque team had a number of top European players, most notably the forward Isidro Langarra. The newspaper Izvestia remarked that the games were “the most eagerly awaited matches ever to be seen in Moscow.” Over two million requests for tickets came in from across the country. The Basques were the symbol of resistance against Spanish fascism—a fact that only contributed to the anticipation of the match.
The Basques arrived in June of 1937, and easily stormed through the Soviet competition. Izvestia described one match, conceding that, “Never before have our fields seen a team of such high class.” The Soviets, however, wanted another chance to show their soccer might. The Moscow Dinamo game had drawn 90,000 spectators, and the games were being broadcast throughout the country—a Soviet victory would have been a mark of success for the entire Physical Culture movement. Despite having just played in six games, the Basques agreed to play two more matches: a rematch against Dinamo Moscow and another against a new opponent, Spartak. Curiously, Spartak had been left off the original schedule, but with this additional game the team hoped to make a mark for the newly formed sports society. Dinamo lost 7-4, and the burden of a Soviet victory was passed on to Spartak. However, Spartak received a little help; the star striker Grigory Fedotov, who played for the Central Army team, TsSKA, joined them. Even the referee of the game, Ivan Kosmachev was a member of the Spartak society. Once again, the Starostin brothers were put in charge of “defending the honor of Soviet sport.” After a physical match Spartak won, 6-2.
Instantly, the Spartak Society was given even more credibility as a soccer power. Longtime Spartak fans trace their love for the red and white to their momentous victory over the Basque team. The honors of beating a team of European professional went to Spartak, rather than the five Dinamo teams that had played the Basques before Spartak. Even Pravda made the distinction, “Spartak was the only one of our teams to achieve victory over the Basques, but other Soviet soccer players could have gained this victory if only the Committee on Physical Culture worked better.” The statement was a double-edged sword that praised Spartak’s victory, but only accredited to the fact that the Komsomol had interfered in sporting matters. Beria, of course, was also outraged by the result. The game’s referee, Kosmachev, was banned from refereeing ever again, a move that Nikolai Starostin accredited to Beria’s jealousy. However the game’s greatest impact came to Starostin himself, who was removed from his post as head of the soccer section, allegedly for his “complete inactivity.” A number of Komsomol officials were purged at this time, and Starostin and his brothers began to think that there was someone behind the scenes who had it out for Spartak and its patrons.
Nikolai Starostin protested his firing, appealing directly to Stalin. He and his brothers asked Stalin to come to their “defense against the open persecution” of Spartak by members of the Physical Culture Committee. In the memo to Stalin, the brothers acknowledged “mistakes and shortcomings” but asked for an objective investigation. Nikolai sent a similar letter to Molotov asking him to stop slanderous allegation that the Physical Culture Committee was printing in Krasnyi sport. The Committee had presented very serious accusations against the brothers: the buying and selling players, neglecting political-educational work, misusing state funds, ignoring an emphasis on military sports, smuggling foreign goods, using Spartak funds for apartments, and introducing bourgeois methods of work into sport.
Starostin appealed for other Spartak athletes to come to his defense; he claimed that it had been “Dinamo swine” that brought back goods from a trip to Paris. The Spartak athletes denounced Starostin instead. The track stars Georgy and Serafim Znamesnkii confirmed that allegations, and complained of drunken parties held by Starostin. Furthermore, they claimed that Nikolai Starostin’s brothers possessed illegal hard currency and illegal foreign goods. Despite the lack of evidence, Serafim added, “all the Starostin’s are not honest enough (ne dostatochno chestnye liudi)” Georgy went as far as to say that to say that he had heard Nikolai claim that Stalin even followed Spartak’s activities with interest.
At a public meeting in 1938, Alexander Starostin defended the accusations against his brother. He claimed that the real reason the sports movement had been hurt, and the consequent loss to the Basques, was a result of meddling by state and party officials. He went on to say that it should be the players and coaches that should decide the game, and not the designs of powerful patrons. However, the most powerful of those patrons was soon granted even greater authority: Beria was promoted from head of the Georgian party to the Minister of Internal Affairs in August of 1938.
Beria continued his vendettas against Party officials. Beria placed special emphasis on the arrest of Komsomol leader Kosarev, whom Beria had held a grudge against. Apparently Kosarev had made a toast in the presence of Beria’s underling Bagirov that was particularly confrontational: “Let’s drink to true Bolshevik leadership of Transcaucasia, which we don’t have now!” When the NKVD came to arrest Kosarev in November of 1938, Beria accompanied the arresting officers, an unusual choice by Beria. When Kosarev’s wife met Beria’s eyes he ordered her arrest as well.

The Game: The 1939 Cup Championship

Despite the loss of its most powerful patrons, Yezhov and Kosarev, Spartak was able to win both the All-Union Cup and tournament in 1938. The team entered the following season with high expectations after winning the “golden double,” and the players were even more determined to win it again in 1939. However, the 1939 season did not arrive without additional adversity—coach Constantine Kvashin was removed from his post after a number of high-profile clashes with Spartak’s players. Peter Popov, who was known as a players’ coach was named as Kvashin’s replacement. Popov made the popular decision to hold the team’s spring training in the warm coastal city of Odessa with one goal in mind: repeating the “golden double.”
On the field, the 1939 Spartak team was the most balanced ever. In the off-season the team acquired goalkeeper Anatoli Akhimov, who had previously played for the rival Moscow Dinamo. Spartak already had one of the best goalies in Russia, the veteran Andrei Zhmelkov. The acquisition of Akhimov provided insurance in case Zhmelkov was injured, or at the very least, was addition through subtraction, taking a very good young player away from Dinamo. Together, the two created an almost unbeatable tandem. During the 1939 season Zhemlkov and Akhimov had a stunning combined goals per game average of .80. Of course, this statistic was due in part to the fact that Spartak also had one of the best defensive duos in Viktor Sekhilov and Andrei Starostin. Nonetheless, even today they are considered two of the best goalkeepers in Russian history, mainly because of their ability to provide stellar performances when their team was in need. For example, Zhmelkov stopped an astounding eleven of twelve penalty kicks that season. In the same year, a poll conducted by Krasnyi sport crowned Andrei Zhemlkov the best athlete in the USSR. .
Spartak was able to escape a tenacious semi-final match against Dinamo Tbilisi, 1-0. The team advanced to the finals, and on September 12th, 1939 Spartak achieved their goal, winning the All-Union Cup in front of 70,000 fans by beating the Leningrad Stalinets in an exciting match. The score opened at the five-minute mark after a Stalinets’ defender Barisev misjudged an arran pass by Spartak, and undercut the weak volley into his own goal. However, the Stalinets marched back and scored on a well-placed shot by their star forward Lasin. Just before the half, Dmitri Semenov scored after team captain Vladimir Stepanov intercepted a pass just inside the Leningrad offensive half. Viktor Sekhilov scored the game’s final goal just two-minutes into the second half, picking up the rebound from a blistering shot by Stepanov. Spartak had won the Cup final 3-1, but as they soon found out, the season wasn’t over yet.
Dinamo Tbilisi appealed the result of their semi-final match, asserting that the game’s only goal never crossed the goal line. Initially, the All-Union League and the Committee for Physical Culture and Sport declined to review the appeal. However, the insistence of Beria paid off, and the game was ordered to be replayed three weeks after the Cup had been awarded. The ruling incensed Spartak officials who were told that Stalin’s close associate, Andre Zhdanov, had ordered the replay. To make matters worse, Spartak would have to play the game without two of its key players. Andrei Starostin, who was considered the true leader of the Spartak team, injured his ankle in the final minutes of the Stalinets game, and despite his best efforts, was unable to play in the Tbilisi rematch. Star goalie Zmelkhov was quoted in the press as saying that he refused to play in such a game because the Cup had already been awarded. As a result, he was suspended for one game—just the Dinamo game—for his confrontational statements. Evgeni Malinin replaced Starostin in the lineup, and the acquisition of Akhimov proved to be one the most astute decisions by Spartak’s management.
The rematch was a strong test for Spartak’s almost impenetrable defense. Tbilisi was one of the strongest offensive teams in the league, and Spartak was fortunate to have contained Dinamo’s star forward, Boris Paichadze. When the two teams finally took the field, Paichadze came out roaring, taking shots from all over the field. Despite Dinamo’s best efforts, Anatoli Akhimov was just too strong. Spartak opened the scoring after Georgi Glaskhov was able to capitalize a one-on-one situation against the Dinamo keeper, Dorihov. Nikolai Starostin described the goal in his memoir, Football Through the Years: “Georgy remained in the center of the field, and was finally able to sneak through a hole in the defense because he was an excellent ball-handler.” Soon after, Paichadze was finally able to beat the Spartak defense after he and another forward made crossing runs that had confused Spartak. Early in the second half, at the 48-minute mark, Spartak was able to force another breakaway in Dinamo’s defensive half. Spartak forward Kharmilev cut past the rushing keeper; face with no other choice, Dorihov grabbed the forward’s leg and pulled him to the ground. Spartak was awarded a penalty kick, and Popov wasted little time sending Glaskhov to take the shot.
Glaskhov was a pure goal scorer. He hit the back of the net 47 times during a career that lasted 102 games. Much of his success was due to the fact the he was one of the first Russian players to master curving the ball while shooting. During the first year of the All-Union league Glaskhov was the leading goal scorer, tallying the majority of his goals from corner-kicks. However, none of his goals were as important as the ones he scored in the 1939 Cup Championship.
Glaskhov’s penalty shot was one of the most heralded moments in the history Russian soccer. In his memoir, Nikolai Starostin recalled what ensued: “I heard Betusov yell to Dorihov, ‘he will shoot low, to the left.’ Dorihov, anticipating the shot, jumped to his right and a clump of dirt flew the other way, to the left; but to the shock of everyone in the stadium, Glaskhov had kicked the ground—the ball just rolled directly through the center of the penalty box, and into the goal.” Spartak was winning 2-1.
With the clock winding down, Dinamo kept pushing to tie the game. However, their aggressive play left Dinamo open to attack. Nikolai Starostin remembers that Spartak had planned on Tbilisi playing an overly aggressive game. “We knew that the left defensive back for Tbilisi, Shavgulidze, frequently rushed forward to join the attack, but we didn’t follow him. We chose to keep our players up high because we knew our forwards were better, and the trade-off [of bringing the forwards back to play defense] was not even…we knew that if were patient this would be our lucky ticket.” On yet another breakaway, Glaskhov scored his third goal of the game. Starostin remembered that Dinamo’s unwillingness to change their game plan was expected: “Even after we were able to take advantage of their aggressive play, they kept pushing forward because Beria threatened to send the whole team to jail.” Dinamo scored another goal in the closing minutes making the score 3-2, but it was too late; Starostin remembered “When I glanced up at the dignitaries’ box, I saw Beria get up, furiously kick his chair and storm out of the stadium.” The crowd swelled as the outcome of the game became obvious: Spartak had defied Beria beating Dinamo Tbilisi for the second time.

The Repercussions

Recent work by Andrei Vliskov has shed light on the trial of the four Starostin brothers, and their fates within the Soviet forced labor camps. After being classified information since the Soviet period, Vliskov obtained Nikolai Starostin’s criminal record from the Federal Service Bureau (FSB). The author notes that even though this long awaited information has finally been made available, some information still appears to be missing, and may have possibly been destroyed during the Soviet era.
The Starostin brothers’ arrests did not come immediately after the game. However, this doesn’t mean that Beria didn’t try. In 1939 the police chief presented Prime Minister Viacheslav Molotov with an arrest order for Nikolai Starostin. However, Molotov refused to sign the order because, unknown to Beria, Molotov and Starostin’s daughters had attended the same school and were close friends. Ultimately, Beria was able to circumvent Molotov, and on March 20th, 1942, Nikolai Starostin was arrested. As it turns out, Beria coerced another member of the Central Committee, Georgy Malenkov, to sign the arrest order that Molotov had refused to sign. Starostin recalls being trailed by NKVD agents for weeks prior to his arrest, and in his memoirs, described the arrest itself as being a relief. Nikolai became so annoyed by his pursuers that he finally confronted one agent: “If you want something from me, call me into your office.” When he was finally arrested, he remembers not feeling “shock and fear” but rather, “curiosity.”
Nearly half a year later, on October 28th, 1942, Alexander was also arrested—six months after his three brothers. NKVD Lieutenant Shilovsky sanctioned the arrest of Starostin at 8pm and served as Alexander’s interrogator when he was arrested in his sleep just two hours later. Three NKVD guards holding pistols to his head woke Starostin with a flashlight. The release of Alexander’s arrest warrant has shed new light on what took place before he was sent to the gulag. In addition to Shilovsky, Alexander’s arrest warrant was also signed by the Moscow District Attorney, police captain Kuznetsov, and his second in command, Vinagradev. This was an unusual occurrence, or was supposed to make a point, because an arrest warrant wasn’t usually signed by anyone. Among other things, the warrant lists that Alexander was a member of the Communist Party and that he had a secondary education. However, a small peculiarity was present among the mundane listings on the document; Alexander’s occupation was listed as “professional athlete,” which was an open jab referencing accusations that he had abused his status as a star athlete. By comparison, Nikolai’s warrant listed his occupation as “master of sport,” and “trade union manager.” The following day, October 29th, Alexander was issued order 4147 and formally arrested.
The brothers were held in the NKVD headquarters, the dreaded Lubyanka. The Lubyanka, located in central Moscow, was carnivalesque detention center that had been converted from an insurance company. Inside, parquet floors led the way to overcrowded cells where the glow of electric lights echoed off damp walls painted brownish-red. The bizarre feeling of being inside Lubyanka was only intensified by the enforced silence that swallowed the damp labyrinth of hallways. Nikolai spent nearly two years in the prison, oscillating between isolation and interrogation. After prolonged questioning, Nikolai finally admitted to criticizing Soviet sport, and recalled other anti-Soviet statements he had heard while in the presence of his brothers.
Harsh interrogations, which had been curtailed after Beria assumed his role as head of the NKVD, were still reserved for the most hated guests of Lubyanka. The eldest Starostin was treated ruthlessly, but left without any lasting injuries. His brothers were not so fortunate, Petr developed tubercular lungs from the beatings he received, and Andrei was unable to walk for several months after being kept awake for days on end. Prisoners in the mid-1930s recalled similar torture: beatings with hoses, sandbags to the stomach, and of course the cold fist of prison guards. One prisoner, the writer Tchernavin recalled seeing the same sleep deprivation that Andrei received: “One, Engraver P., over fifty years of age and heavily built, had stood for six and a half days. He was not given food or drink and was not allowed to sleep; he was taken to the toilet only once a day. But he did not ‘confess.’ After this ordeal he could not walk back to the cell and the guard had to drag him up the stairs.”
The trial of the four Starostin brothers and five co-defendants began on October 18th, 1943 and lasted just nineteen days. The Starostin’s co-defendants—Anatoli Dnisov, Isak Rattner, Stanislav Leuta, Evgeni Arkhanigelsky, and Alexander Susyov—were also either current or former Spartak players. All nine men were tried separately in camera—a closed trial, without a gallery or the press present. The four judges at the players’ tribunal were: Major General Arlov, Lieutenants Siuldin and Klemin, and Secretary Lieutenant Belusov. The tribunal accused the men of “anti-Soviet statements made after the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, and statements of a defeatist character.” Also, “in conversation among themselves they frequently praised the conditions in the Capitalist nations of Western Europe that they had visited while abroad.” Petr received an additional charge for having once said “the collective farms were not justifying themselves, as well as that Soviet engineers were not paid enough.”
The defendants also had additional allegations against that included stealing goods from Promkooperatsiia, and splitting the profits, estimated at 160,000 rubles, among the conspirators. Nikolai was accused of taking the greatest share, 28 thousand rubles, Alexander 12 thousand, and the other 6 thousand each. Nikolai was the most scrutinized target of the trial; he was also accused of giving bribes to a Military Commissar in Moscow who had been convicted of accepting bribes prior to the Starostin trial. Nikolai was said to have given food and drink to defer military service for him and his friends. A number of story managers were also implicated in the trial that were believed to have provided Starostin with products that he illegally sold. However, the list of illegal good obtained included a paltry 60 kg of butter and 50 kg of sausage. These specific allegations, while they may seem ridiculous and arbitrary, may have some validity when considered with the vague political crimes that the brothers were also accused of. If the authorities had attempting to tarnish the brothers’ reputations, they would have made these allegations public, which they did not. As J. Arch Getty has suggested, the political accusations may have been attached to actual crimes committed by the Starostins. The charges of bribery and theft would have been tried in a lesser criminal court where the popularity of the brothers might have led to the case being dismissed.
Accusations of espionage, and the betrayal of the homeland could not be substantiated at the trial. A motion to repeal the Order of Lenin, which the brothers were awarded for their service to the Komsomol and the Spartak Society, was denied. On November 6th, 1943, all nine men were convicted under article 58-10 of the criminal code and were branded with the treacherous epithet, “enemy of the people.” As a result, the men were told that their material possessions would be confiscated from their families and their civil privileges would be curtailed upon their rehabilitation. Finally, the verdict was read: Dnisov was sentenced to eight years of forced labor, and his co-defendants, who were members of the Communist Party, received ten. The Starostin brothers received the harshest sentences: ten years of rehabilitation as political prisoners. As Nikolai later commented, “Ten years in a labor camp was, for those times, a virtual ‘not-guilty’ verdict. The future seemed not so gloomy after all!” He later admitted that the brothers were fortunate to have been accorded such light sentences compared to the fate of others who had fallen into Beria’s wrath:
Beria was pitiless with party and state leaders and their relatives. Of course the Starostin name could not stop him; yet the Starostins were more than mere human beings. In the minds of the public they personified Spartak. That altered a great deal. Beria was dealing not just with a few prisoners, but also with the support and aspirations of millions of fans, ordinary Soviet people. I’m sure that it was the authority of Spartak that lightened our destiny.

Life in the Gulag
The amazing Gulag journey of the four soccer-playing brothers began in different corners of the Far East. Nikolai began his sentence at the Ukhta oil-field camp just outside the Arctic Circle. A year later he was transferred to camps the camps of Khabarovsk and Komsomol’ska-na-Amure near the border of China. Alexander was sent to Kotlas on the Northern Dvina while Petr and Andrei were sent to Bogoslovag and Noril’sk respectively. The brothers met a variety of figures: Andrei’s brother in law, Kosarev’s wife, the sports minister E.L. Knopova, and hundreds, if not thousands, of soccer fans eager to hear their stories.
Among these soccer fans were the camp administrators themselves, who, because of the brothers’ reputations, afforded them an easier life while in the gulag. Petr worked at an iron and steel plant, moving on to become an engineer at a hydroelectric plant, and then finally, the manager of a cement factory. While not particularly glorious, these appointments were blessings compared to the harsh sentences of other political prisoners. Alexander was sent to the Arctic timber forests, but instead was given the comparatively luxurious job of camp accountant. He was later transferred in 1945 where he became the soccer coach in Zerlovsk. Nikolai also found out that his soccer acumen could be put to use in the camps. Upon arriving to Ukhta Nikolai’s transport was met directly at the train station. He was taken immediately to the local soccer manager, who to Straostin’s surprise, greeted him warmly and told him that the camp director had requested his assignment to the camp. The manager continued, “The General’s soul is in soccer. He was the one who got you here.” The next day Starostin met the camp commander Lt. Gen. Burdakov who met him enthusiastically, offering Nikolai a job as the coach of the Ukhta Dinamo team. He was amazed that:
Camp bosses, arbiters of the life and death of thousands upon thousands of human beings, personifications of the gulag brutalities and horrors, were so benevolent to anything concerning soccer. Their unbridled power over human lives was nothing compared to the power of soccer over them.

Thousands of miles from Moscow, in a twist of fate, the brothers would be saved a treaterous life in the gulag by coaching their nemesis Dinamo. Nikolai recalls that many of the players were former members of the larger more prestigious Dinamo teams in major Soviet cities. Regardless of how you arrived, soccer in the gulag was one chance to hang on to the hope a normal life.
Just like in Moscow, the brothers were able to live privileged lives in the camps, albeit relative to the circumstances. Instead of living in the cold, and almost uninhabitable barracks, Alexander and Nikolai were allowed to sleep in their team’s heated locker rooms instead. Andrei recalls being invited into the camp commanders office each day for a cup of hot water, which at that time, could have been the difference between life and death. Nikolai moved from camp to camp as gulag administrators fought for his services. When Nikolai arrived at new camp he was invariably given a clean bed in the camp hospital. “It was the first thing that was proposed to me, whenever I arrived, if, among the doctors or the bosses, there was a fan.”
The brothers also used their soccer experience to position themselves within the inmate hierarchy by telling stories—a practice that extended to hearts of the criminals as well as camp bosses. Prisoners who could entertain both prisoners and guards during the long and cold Siberian nights were particularly valued, and therefore given special treatment while in the camps. Nikolai remembered that both guards and convicts treated him like a hero wherever he went. At night, when he would recount his soccer stories, the “card games ceased” as prisoners crowded close to hear one of Nikolai’s tales. “Even inveterate recidivists would sit quiet as mice to listen to my football stories.”
Nikolai’s journey through the gulag would become even more bizarre and unexpected. One night, in 1948, a camp guard who had an urgent message woke Starostin up: “Stalin is on the phone. Come quickly.” When Starostin made his way to the camp commanders office to answer the phone he was surprised to find out that it wasn’t Joseph Stalin, but his Vasily instead. He wanted Starostin to fly back to Moscow.
Nikolai had met Vasily when the younger Stalin was still a small boy. Vasily and Starostin’s daughter, Evgeniya, had both been members of the Spartak horseriding club, but only because of his position in Spartak did Nikolai know that the boy called ‘Volkov’ was in fact Stalin’s son. During WWII Vasily became the Soviet Union’s youngest general at eighteen, and commanded the Soviet Air-Force. He was also an avid soccer fan, and wanted Nikolai to rebuild his beloved bust dismal military air-force team, VVS. However, as a political convict, Nikolai was not allowed to be in Moscow as an exile. Thus began the charade of avoiding Beria and his henchmen.
Nikolai knew that Beria and Vasily were bitter rivals. Upon hearing of his arrival, Beria began a search for Starostin. Nikolai heard of the search, and told Vasily, who then placed him under his own private security. Starostin knew he was a pawn in a potentially dangerous game, but Nikolai had become accustomed to defying his nemesis Beria. He wrote:
I realized the tragic-comic situation I was in—under the personal protection of the tyrant’s offspring. We were destined to become inseperable. We went everywhere together: to the Air Force headquarters for training, to his dacha. We even slept in the same wide bed. And when we went to bed, Vasily Iosifovich invariably placed his revolver under his pillow.

The situation infuriated Beria, who soon caught up to the overconfident Starostin. One day while Vasily was in one of his alcoholic fits, Beria snuck out the window to see his family. By the next morning the NKVD caught up with Starostin and he placed on a train back to Maikop in the Northern Caucuses. However, Vasily heard about the arrest, and had Nikolai’s transport stopped along its route. Perhaps tired of the pressure, Nikolai begged Vasily to let him go back, suggesting that he coach Dinamo Ulyanovsk, which other than being Lenin’s birthplace, is a picturesque town along the Volga River. Eventually he was forced finish his term in Alma-Ata in Central Asia, but with a familiar twist: he was sent to coach Kairat, a second division soccer team.


The bizarre decision to replay the 1939 Cup Championship presented the Spartak soccer team and the Starostin brothers a powerful opportunity: they could lose the game and surrender as being subservient to the cruel and perverse Lavrenti Beria and the structures of force; or they could win the game as the truly better team and suffer the consequences with a greater message in mind. Spartak chose the latter, proving to thousands, if not millions, of fans that the oppressive Soviet state could be resisted, even if it was for just a day. Sport provided an autonomous space where even the most wicked and reprehensible figures in the Soviet Union could be confronted. Perhaps Nikolai Starostin best summarizes the relationship between fans and that fateful victory in 1939:
I think that the prewar social role and significance of soccer grew out of the special relationship the public had with it. People seemed to separate it from all that was going on around them. It was like the totally unreasoned worship by sinners desperate to seek oblivion in their blind appeal to divinity. For most people soccer was the only, and sometimes the last, chance and hope of retaining in their souls a tiny island of sincere feelings and human relations.