Readers of normblog who have good memories and a sound set of teeth will not have forgotten that about a month ago the question was posed to me what Marx and Trotsky would have had to say about the bowling action of Muttiah Muralitharan. The question came from a group of friends in the Gym Sportsbar in Phnom Penh, and the essence of it, if I may so put this, was: Is Murali (in the Marxist view of things) a chucker? For those of you unfamiliar with the technical language of cricket, let me explain that what Greg, Daniel and the guys are asking for here is Marx and Trotsky's view about whether or not Murali throws the ball when he should be bowling it. Does he straighten his arm appreciably in the delivery, as would be illegal according to the laws of the game?
It has taken me this long to get to answering their question, not because I found it uninteresting; on the contrary, I was at once intrigued by it. But to be perfectly candid, I was also at a loss. Thinking about Marx on Murali, or Trotsky on Murali, I turned up nothing at first apart from images like this one. It is not that, as is sometimes alleged, Marx and Trotsky had no interest in cricket. Earlier scholarship has demonstrated beyond all possibility of dispute the depth and sophistication of Marx's interest. As for Trotsky, although the Australian writer Richard Flanagan thinks it unlikely Trotsky ever played beach cricket, and wonders whether 'if he'd hit a six over the fence he might have had a more generous sense of the possibilities of the human spirit', we have it on the authority of Trotsky's friend Max Eastman that, as a young man in prison in Moscow, Trotsky 'played lapta, a kind of Russian cricket' - which is just the sort of evidence we need that he must have had a view about Murali's bowling action.
No, the problem has been that I was unable to find any direct evidence of what Trotsky's or Marx's view actually was. But after pondering the question for nearly a month, I was finally put on the path towards an answer by thinking about the 'doosra', a type of ball which Murali bowls to some effect. What is the 'doosra'?
Put simply, the doosra is the off-spinner's version of the googly.That's it: looking like an off-break but behaving like a leg-break. I have intimated elsewhere (see 8 here) that the googly is a Hegelian kind of ball. So also, as its exact inverse, is the doosra. It has the appearance of being one thing, but in essence it's another and opposite thing.
Over the past five years, the world's top off spinners have developed the doosra to baffle batsmen.
It looks very similar to a normal off-break, but rather than spin towards the bat, it goes the other way like a leg break.
It's bowled from the back of the hand with a lot of top spin, but the wrist still moves in a clockwise direction.
This gave me the clue I needed. For at the very origin of Marxist thought - I mean in the ideas of Marx himself - the relationship to Hegel is important. The precise nature of the relationship is a matter about which scholars disagree, though I do not have the space to go into that here. It will suffice merely to observe that, while in several respects Marx was a critic of Hegel's work, he also made crucial use of the insight that 'in their appearance things often represent themselves in inverted form'. Or, as he also wrote:
[A]ll science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided. [Capital, volume 3, chapter 48.]The distinction between appearance and essence is central to the whole architecture of Marx's greatest work, Capital: for he there argued that whereas on the surface of things it appears as if capitalist and worker exchange equal values (labour-power for the wage), in reality the exchange is an unequal one because labour-power itself creates value - more value than the capitalist pays for its use. The appearance is of an equal and therefore fair exchange. But in essence the relationship is one of exploitation.
I hope it will be obvious that this conception is on all fours with the explanation of the doosra: in appearance an off-break but in effect a leg-break. But there's a larger and more important point hidden behind the obvious one. This is that, as well as being open to the specific idea of the doosra, Marx would have had no difficulty conceptualizing the case of a bowler who appears to throw the ball in bowling it, but on closer analysis turns out not to be doing so. Just as a detailed analysis of the capitalist-worker relation reveals exploitation behind the outward form of an equal exchange, so there is 'an optical illusion of throwing', but which is itself an appearance explained and contradicted by the underlying reality: namely, 'a congenital defect in Muralitharan's arm which makes him incapable of straightening it, but giving the appearance of the arm straightening in the bowling action'.
As suggestive as all this is, we cannot take it as settling the matter, however. It shows only that Marx's thought would comfortably have accommodated the case of a bowler seeming to be a chucker when he isn't one. But what Marx - and Trotsky - would actually have said about Murali's action still wasn't clear to me once I'd got this far. Still, I was on the trail, and in research that is often more than half way there, one step taking you towards the next, and the next towards the one after that.
It suddenly dawned on me that both Marx and Trotsky spent much of their time thinking and writing about revolutions, and a revolution, as well as being (in the classical Marxist sense) the transformation of a social order, is what the bowler's arm goes through in effecting a delivery of the ball. How could I have taken so long to spot that? Readers, I cannot say. You may put it down to my advancing years, or possibly to the deterioration in my intelligence which some allege, as due to my political apostasy. In any event, once I did spot it, the rest wasn't long in coming.
It was Trotsky's thought that gave me the signal, if at first the wrong signal. One of his better-known works is The Revolution Betrayed. Purporting to be a treatise about what went wrong in the Soviet Union under Stalin's rule, it could just as easily be taken as a comment on Murali's bowling action: the comment, to be blunt, that his action is illegitimate and a betrayal of the spirit of the game. But in the interpretation of a thinker's ideas, it is often a mistake to jump to conclusions. Trotsky wrote much and, though The Revolution Betrayed ranks as important within his oeuvre, there is no doubt which idea is most closely associated with his name. It was first sketched, after the 1905 revolution in Russia, in the essay Results and Prospects; and Trotsky later defended it in a work that he this time called after the idea itself, The Permanent Revolution. The core of the idea was not, as you might think, a plea for revolutions everywhere or all the time; it was, rather, the running together in one continuous process of two different types of revolution - the bourgeois-democratic and the proletarian-socialist. Moreover, this idea is also to be found, much earlier, in Marx's work. Heterodox as Trotsky's conception seemed to many to be at the time, the Address by Marx and Engels to the Central Committee of the Communist League in 1850 anticipates it, speaking of permanent revolution as a necessary battle cry for the German workers.
It could not be clearer, now, could it? Once you apply this on the terrain we are here concerned with, once you bring it to the cricket pitch and, more particularly, to the question of Murali's bowling action, both Marx and Trotsky will be understood to have been saying that the revolution Murali's arm goes through is one continuous process, uninterrupted by the jerking of the arm that would be involved if he were throwing. Lest there be any remaining doubt on this score, supporting Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution there is a thesis that will banish that doubt altogether: I mean 'the law of combined and uneven development'. Referring in its non-cricketing version to the combination within a single historical formation of different economic and social 'types' - for example, feudal relations or institutions and bourgeois ones - this so-called law encapsulates Trotsky's thinking about Murali's action as succinctly as you could want. His action is uneven, yes, because his arm is bent, whether he likes it or not; yet that congenital state of affairs contributes, with the way he actually uses his arm, to a combination, one producing a permanent - i.e. unbroken or continuous - revolution of the arm.
I think I have shown conclusively that Marx and Trotsky's view was that Murali's action is legitimate. But a word of warning to the blokes in the bar (especially Daniel). One must allow for the possibility of Marx and Trotsky both having been wrong. I'm not saying they were wrong. I'm not saying one way or the other. Whether or not Murali is a chucker is beyond the scope of my present enquiry, the aim of which has only been to disinter some long-lost Marxist thinking on the issue.