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Abstract This essay is based on the research question “To what extent did socialism influence the development and widespread of chess in the USSR until its collapse in 1992?” While examining this particular question, firstly the context before the October Revolution will be analysed, when chess was a leisure activity of the wealthy upper class individuals as in Europe. Then, the period between the revolution and World War II will be investigated, in which chess was adopted by the Bolshevik government as a tool of increasing the culture of the public, and was introduced to large masses by state-sponsored campaigns. After that, the Cold War period will be investigated, in which chess was used as a socio-cultural weapon by the Soviet Government and turned into a symbol of the struggle for supremacy of the USSR and the Western Block.

After this investigations, the factors which led to the USSR hegemony in chess in the 20th century, which is still continuing in the 21th century by the former Soviet countries are clearly observed. Mainly, those are the state sponsored programmes and tournaments that aided the development and widespread of chess. Another reason is the chess becoming politicised in the USSR to be used as a tool of socialist propaganda and demonstrating the Soviet excellence to the world, which exceeded its limits in the Cold War period when it also became a matter of prestige and was taken more seriously than any other kind of sports. The last reason is the self motivation of the individuals for becoming professional chess players, which had numerous advantages, since chess was seen as a very prestigious profession in the USSR, and many opportunities were involved such as travelling abroad for international tournaments, which was not possible for regular citizens.

(294 words) Table of Contents


2 Contents 3 Introduction 4 Before The Revolution 5 After The Revolution 8 The Cold War Period 14 Conclusion 16 Bibliography 19 Introduction The purpose of this essay is to discuss the role of socialism in the Soviet chess hegemony in the twenteeth century, until Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’ (USSR) collapse in 1992. But before getting deeper into the subject, it is necessary to clarify what is meant by the word hegemony and why this subject should be considered as important.

Garry Kasparov, who is arguably the greatest chess player of all times and known by millions of people – many of whom have not even played one game of chess – is a Russian, who was born before USSR’s collapse and was taught chess there. His main rival, Anatoly Karpov, with whom he dominated the chess world in 1980s and 1990s is also a Russian whose talent and abilities were cultivated in USSR. If we go back a little further, starting from 1927, all world chess champions were Soviet citizens, except the Dutch Max Euwe in 1936 and American Bobby Fischer in 1972.

Starting from 1952 –their first participation- USSR team won all of the chess olympiads, except in 1978, in which they came second after Hungary, which was by the way another socialist country. Even after the collapse of USSR in 1992, all of the chess olympiads are won by former Soviet countries. (Russia, 6 times; Armenia, thrice; Ukraine, twice).

As it can be seen from the given examples, there was a noticeable Soviet dominance in the 20th century in the area of chess. But why USSR, what was different in the USSR that led to its success at chess unlike any other country in the world. The answer is definitely not USSR being way bigger than all countries in Europe by means of population, which may seem like a possible explanation since bigger population increases the chance that there will be numerous talented people in the country. Such arguments are rejected by the 1945 USSR vs USA radio match, in which the ten leading masters of the United States played the ten leading masters of the Soviet Union, two games each. USSR team crushed the opposition with an overwhelming score of 15½–4½. Fourty six years after this event, in 1991; the top ten positions in the world ranking list was occupied by ten grandmasters, who were all Soviet citizens, indicating that Soviet dominance never diminished in the field of chess.

Another aspect of the subject that makes it worth to be analysed is that it was not solely about the game, but it was also about politics. Among many other things, nuclear technology, arming race, space technology and economy; chess was intentionally politicized by the Soviets and transformed into a field of clash between socialism and capitalism, and also a tool of propoganda to demonstrate the Soviet excellence. It was especially used in the Cold War era as a socio-cultural weapon. Therefore, chess itself is an effective instrument to observe the socalism vs capitalism clash; also the weaknesses and strong points of socialism, both before and after World War II. While this subject is analysed; firstly a brief history of chess in Russia before the Revolution will be introduced, then the period after the Revolution to World War II will be investigated, finally the Cold War period which eventually led to the collapse of USSR will be analysed.

–  –  –

Many chess historians believe that chess was invented in North West India during the 6th century AD. 1 Then it moved from India into Persia in the late 500s, where it was learnt by the Arabs and renamed as “shatranj” when they conquered Persia. Shatranj reached Western Europe by three pathways; to Spain with the Moor invasion in the 8th century, to Sicily by the Islamic conquerors, and through Byzantine Empire to east.

Divinsky 85.

The spread of chess to Russia (earlier Kingdom of Rus) happened through the Caspian-Volga trade route in the 9th century. The game was carried by the Byzantine Christians and Vikings, through the Balcans and the Baltic sea respectively. 2 About 1000, all Europe was introduced to chess.

The modern rules of chess were invented in the Renessaince Italy, after which the movement of some pieces were changed. This new form of chess was carried from the West to Muscovy through the trade routes that were established in the reign of Grand Duke Ivan III in the 16th century. There were periodic attempts to supress chess in Russia, mainly because of the Orthodox Church associating – mistakening – the game with a form of gambling;

eventually heresy. However, these efforts never resulted in a long lasting abandoning of the game. 3 The term “game of the kings” which is widely used as a synonym for chess is not just a romantic figure of speech that was created by the devotees of the game, but rather a true statement about the history of the game. Considering the feudal Europe in the medieval era, people who played chess were aristocrats and nobles. This tradition which lasted for centuries was broken by the rise of bourgeoise in the late 18th century, but still; chess was an intellectual pastime for the members of the upper class.4 Until the 20th century, chess did not go further than the coffee-house culture, especially in France, where it was played in nearly every café, including the famous café de la Régence in Paris, which was used as a rendezHooper & Whyld 173.

Johnson 4 Schulte, Brigid. "For Chess Guys, Lake Forest Is Their Castle; Seasoned Players Teach Skills of Game and Life." The Washington Post. Washington Post Newsweek Interactive Co. 2003. HighBeam Research. 11 Dec.

2010 http://www.highbeam.com.

vous point by many famous people including Voltaire, Rousseous and also Napoleon.5 It is also where Marx and Engels first met.6 It was the 19th century that became the turning point of chess in Europe. The popularity of the game was increased by the increase in chess clubs, publication of chess books, chess columns in newpapers and international tournaments –first in 1851, London-7. 8 But the popularity only increased among the upper class and intellectuals, therefore it was still seen as a sophisticated leisure activity, but by no means a serious pursuit or a profession. 9 Many leading chess masters were involved with other professions to earn their livings, Adolf Anderssen was a schoolmaster, Siegbert Tarrasch a doctor, Emanuel Lasker was both a mathematician and a phiolosopher and so on.

The same situation also applied to Russia. There were only a few chess masters, and as in Europe, chess was the courtly pastime of the leisured upper class and intelligentsia. 10 The chess revolved around St Petersburg, which hosted three important international tournaments, in 1895, 1909 and 1914. 11 Looking at the chess in the 19th century Russia, which was not any better –if not worse- than any country in the world and regarding the fact that the fellow countries with which they formed the USSR were even worse and unseen in the international scene, the dominance of Soviets in chess that became very clear and obvious fourty years later seems rather unprecedented. However, the course of chess significantly changed in a very short period of time after the October Revolution, which is what this essay is based on.

The French School of Chess (18th/19th cent.) http://www.mark-weeks.com/aboutcom/aa05h27.htm Christiansen, Rupert. "After Bonaparte, the barricades Rupert Christiansen praises a history that brings order to the bewildering political scene of post-Napoleonic France." The Sunday Telegraph London. Telegraph Group Limited. 2001. HighBeam Research. 11 Dec. 2010 http://www.highbeam.com.

Wall, Bill. “19th Century Chess” – 11Dec 2010 http://www.chess.com/article/view/19th-century-chess Chess in the Early 19th Century: Chess Becomes Organized. http://www.markweeks.com/aboutcom/aa06b11.htm Johnson, 8 Johnson, 10 Wall, Bill. “19th Century Chess” After The Revolution It was October 1917 when Tsar Nicholas II was overthrown and replaced by the socialist government headed by Vladimir Ulyanov –better known as Lenin -. As a socialist state that was managed by central planning conducted by the government, the first things that were promoted when they came to power was the education and literacy campaigns, which were perhaps the most significant achievements of the USSR, considering that 55% illiteracy was fully annihilated in less then 40 years by the state-planned campaigns; such as the one between 1923-1927 called “Down with Illetarcy of Society” with the motto “Literacy is the path to communism”. 12 The literacy and education campaigns were seen as the basis of achieving the modernization and industrilization that were the main targets, and also improving the society’s living standards.

Although chess was in perfect harmony with such campaigns, at first it was denounced in Russia, for it being a bourgeois pastime.13 The famous chess cafés Dominik and Reiter in Petersburg, Pechkin in Moscow and the Warsaw in Kiev were closed, chess equipment were destroyed and even some chess players that were subscribed to those cafés were killed.14 It was Alexander Ilyin-Genevsky, with whose personal effort was chess reinstated in that environment surrounded by fanatics that were firmly against the game, because of its association with bourgeois culture. Born in 1894, Genevsky was himself a chess player, who was expelled from school at the age of 17 and was sent to Geneva, the name of which he Literacy and Education in the Early Soviet Union http://library.by/portalus/modules/english_russia/readme.php?subaction=showfull&id=1190296667&archive= &start_from=&ucat=22& 13 December 2010 Wall, Bill. Russian Chess History. http://www.chess.com/article/view/russian-chess-history 13 December Johnson, 24 added to his own.15 He determined that chess could be perfectly integrated to the education and literacy campaigns to aid the social development. He was recruited by Nikolai Podvoisky, the head of the General Reservists’ Organization which serverd as a military training organization, but also ran sports and other activities. While working there, Genevsky persuaded Podvoisky to be allowed to use state resources to support chess, putting forward the argument that “chess develops in a man boldness, presence of mind, composure, a strong will and something which sport cannot, a sense of strategy”16 He was able to persuade his chief, and was assigned 100.000 roubles for organizing the first USSR Championship in August 192410, namely the All-Union Chess Olympiad. 17 This was the first time that the state financed –or more appropriately, sponsored- such an organization. He also pioneered the first chess column in USSR, in the General Reservists’ Organization’s newspaper “To the New Army”. Additionally, he was the one who decided the destiny of chess in the future by saying “Chess cannot be apolitical as in capitalist countries”. He was the initiater of the movement that forbade the view “chess for chess’ sake” as art for art’s sake, which was perhaps one of the biggest reasons why chess had become such an important matter, especially in the cold war period.

Saying that what Genevsky had in mind was to dominate the chess world and turn a game that has been the focus of interest of intellectuals into a tool of socialist propoganda and a matter of prestige would be nothing less then an exagguration. His main idea was definitely using chess as a cheap way of providing masses of people with culture, education and character training.18 However, for his successor in the chess movement and everyone else that Hooper & Whyld, 181 "The Soviet chess machine: another empire crumbles." The Economist (US). Economist Newspaper Ltd. 1991.

HighBeam Research. 13 Dec. 2010 http://www.highbeam.com.

Johnson, 26 Soviet Chess Machine.

came after him, chess was intentionally politicised even further to demonstrate the Soviet excellence and mental superiority to the whole world.

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