International workers’ sports movement spearheading attempt by "Proletarsky Sport" journal

PhD, Associate Professor K.A. Alekseev1
1St. Petersburg State University, St. Petersburg

Keywords: international sports, sports periodicals, advocacy, Red Sports International.

Background. In the 1920s the international workers’ sports became a battlefield for conflicting interests. In 1921 the Red Sports International was launched in Moscow to oppose the Lucerne Sports International established in 1920 by a Congress of Workers' Sports Organizations of social democratic spectrum. Key missions of the Red Sports International were the following: (1) mobilize the growing sports movements for a social revolution; (2) ‘establish a powerful proletarian revolutionary sports union in every country <...> and use it to train, in the legal sporting environments, determined and consolidated human combat resource indoctrinated by the communist world outlook’ [4, p. 21].

The Red Sports International efforts to establish a consolidated global proletarian sports army heavily contributed to its confrontation with the Lucerne Sports International, since both organizations claimed being the sole leaders of the workers’ sports movement. The Red Sports International gave a special priority in this confrontation to its own journal, “published as far as possible in three languages ​​(Russian, German, French)” [4, p. 21] and sponsored in the early 1922 by a RUB 320 million ‘credit’ from the Communist Lucerne Sports International. [4, p. 91]. The fist German version called “Proletarsky Sport Journal” was out of print only in August 1923 in Berlin and since then was published till 1927 [6, p. 225], whilst the Russian version called ‘Proletarsky Sport Journal’, a formal Red Sports International Executive Committee’s edition, was published in 1925 and stayed afloat for only one year.

Objective of the study was to analyze the available 1920s archives and sports periodicals to find out the reasons for establishment and closure of the ‘Proletarsky Sport Journal’.

Results and discussion. Analysis of the Proletarsky Sport Journal lifetime provides an insight into the 1920s history of the European sports movement of that time on the whole and the physical education and sports movement in the USSR in particular. It was N.I. Podvoisky, General Military Education (Vsevobuch) General Directorate Head and Supreme Council for Physical Culture (SCPC reporting to Vsevobuch) Chairman, who was nominated the first Chairman of the Red Sports International Executive Committee in 1921. In 1924 the Vsevobuch was dismissed, whilst the SCPC in 1923 was upgraded to an independent interdepartmental agency reporting to the Russian Central Executive Committee and headed by the People's Health Commissar N.A. Semashko who was in conflict with Podvoisky on many ideological and personal grounds.

Podvoisky at that time was still the Red Sports International Head, and the above conflict could have had an inhibiting effect on the SCPC foreign sport control and management policies. In 1924, however, the SCPC took special efforts as the Red Sports International Russian Office to respond to the following catalyzing events: 3rd Red Sports International Congress scheduled for October 1924 in Moscow; and, even more important, the upcoming World Workers’ Olympic Games under auspices of the Lucerne Sports International scheduled for July 1925 in Frankfurt am Main. The Red Sports International Executive Committee on its meeting in May 1924 decided to oppose the “reformist bureaucratic’ Lucerne Sports International intentions to degrade the Olympic Games to a purely sporting (rather than political) event. The Red Sports International EC decision reads: “The first international workers' Olympics should <...> openly demonstrate the connection between the proletariat’s physical culture and its class struggle” [5, p. 62]. The Olympics, therefore, was viewed as the key battlefield for the propagandist activity, and the win or loss in the confrontation depended on who and how leaded this activity. Back in August, the SCPC Plenum decided that “the SCPC, Central Committee of the Party and the Young Communist League must pay a special attention to support the Sports International; and (2) Support publications of the Russian version of “Proletarsky Sport” Journal [2, p. 23].

Proletarsky Sport Journal was published since 1925 as an appendix to “Izvestia Fizicheskoy Kultury’ [‘Physical Culture Bulletin’], an official edition of the SCPC. The Proletarsky Sport Journal was edited at that time by N. Semashko and F. Reisner, German "Spartak" supporter, Red Sports International Executive Committee Secretary and the most active author of the Proletarsky Sport. The new edition was intended for the Soviet physical education enthusiasts and working athletes from the Baltic nations, Poland and Balkans who enjoyed special subscription benefits [3, p. 42].

Therefore, the new Russian sports publication sponsored by the Red Sports International Executive Committee was intended to strengthen the Red Sports International in its struggle with Lucerne Sports International for the international workers’ sports movement control and with the internal opposition led by N. Podvoisky. The growing internal tensions were manifested in the delays of the bimonthly publications due to the resistance and obstacles from the Red Sports International Executive Committee Secretariat. The second Secretary F. Reisner responsible for agitprop and supported by Semashko was in conflict with the first secretary G. Lemberg who supported Podvoisky and was in charge of the organizational and political matters. The available correspondence bears evidence of the major (and long discussed) objections to the articles offered for publications in the Proletarsky Sport Journals [3, p. 44], difficult agreements and long delays in clearing the articles for print [3, p. 279]. Thus the third issue was out of print only when the Frankfurt Olympiad was launched and the topics of the international workers’ sports were no more relevant since the Red Sports International athletes were barred from the competitions.

The Lucerne Sports International leadership insisted on the Red Sports International offices being incorporated in its system as a prime condition for qualification of the Red Sports International athletes, and rejected proposals from the Red Sports International Executive Committee and a special letter from SCPC seeking qualification for at least the USSR team. Thus the Red Sports International failed in its attempts to turn the workers’ sports event into a battlefield in the struggle of classes, and the time came for the Red Sports International to review and change its policies in contracts with the International.

As provided by the French researcher A. Gounod, the Red Sports International system and policies were contradictory due to the conflict between its leadership that pursued political goals and most of the working athletes who were interested in sports rather than politics [7, p. 35]. Most of the Proletarsky Sport Journal subscribers were attracted by editorials with promises to keep them informed on the foreign workers’ sports by well illustrated detailed materials; although upon the Red Sports International athletes being barred from the Frankfurt Olympics, the Proletarsky Sport Journal coverage was instead dominated by the ideologically biased articles stigmatizing the "Lucerne bureaucrats."

Upon completion of the Olympics, the Proletarsky Sport Journal lost interest both for the mass readers and for the founders due the failure of its core mission. The Journal was filled up with random materials for some times, although its publications were more and more irregular (with the last doubled issue No. 5-6 released only in early 1926), and the circulation was catastrophically sagging (No. 3 - 15,000, No. 4 - 10,000, No. 5-6 – 4500 copies). Further publications became impractical in both political and economic terms, and the SCPC publishing house announced: “We are forced to close the Proletarsky Sport Journal due to its economic inefficiency and high overhead costs telling on the other publications” [1, p. 1].

Conclusion. As soon as the Red Sports International was established, its core policy was to advance the political agenda by propagandistic publications including the Proletarsky Sport Journal, with their coverage, focuses and interests determined by the time-specific political goals. This appears to be the main reason for the early closure of the Proletarsky Sport Journal when the Red Sports International management acknowledged the need for new policies after the failure with the Frankfurt Olympics. The situation was further aggravated by many other factors including conflicts in the Soviet physical education and sports sector management agency, economic hardships etc. and, as a result, the Red Sports International Russia’s agitation and propagandist publications were relevant any more neither for the leaders nor for the mass physical education and sports movements. Later on no further attempts were made to launch once again a journal of that kind.      


  1. Closer to the masses. Krasny sport. 1925. No. 49.
  2. GARF. F. 7576. Op. 1. D. 8.
  3. GARF. F. 7576. Op. 1. D. 14.
  4. GARF. F. 7576. Op. 2. D. 1.
  5. RGASPI. F. 537. Op. 1. D. 230.
  6. Sunik A.B. Essays on Russian historiography of physical education and sports history. М., 2010.
  7. Gounot A. Sport or Political Organization? Structures and Characteristics of the Red Sport International, 1921-1937. Journal of Sport History. 2001. Vol. 28, No. 1. P. 23-39.

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Objective and structure of the study. Proceeding from the analysis of archive materials and sports periodicals, the article presents the circumstances of launching and closing of the Proletarsky Sport Journal, the official body of the Executive Committee of the Red Sport International. The Journal began to be published by the Supreme Council of Physical Culture at the All-Russian Central Executive Committee in 1925 for two main purposes: to strengthen the position of the Supreme Council of Physical Culture as the Russian section of Red Sport International; to promote the ideas of proletarian sports movement on the eve of the Workers' Olympiad in Frankfurt.

Results and conclusions. The authors note that propaganda, which became the main prerequisite for launching the Proletarsky Sport Journal, was one of the priority activities of Red Sport International. However, the nature, scope and content of propaganda were transformed depending on the tactics dictated by the situation of a particular period. This predetermined the main reason for the imminent termination of the Journal: the need to make a pause to reconsider tactics after the failure in the Workers' Olympiad in Frankfurt. Coupled with a number of additional factors (the conflict at the top of the Soviet physical education system, economic reasons), it made a special agitation-and-propaganda body of the Russian section of Red Sport International unwanted by both the leaders and the audience. No further attempts were made in the future to publish a similar journal.