Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky

Shelby Lyman on Chess: It Was Time for Chess
Sunday, January 31, 2016
(Published in print: Sunday, January 31, 2016)

In general, art, music, sports, or literature reflect the culture that spawns them. Looking back, we can see this was no less true of chess as the 19th century came to an end.

Russian chess, as exemplified in the games of Mikhail Chigorin, who notably rejected dogma and celebrated bold experimentation, reflected the spirit of the times.

It is easy to understand why writers such as Leo Tolstoy and Alexander Pushkin, who fervently embraced new possibilities, were intrigued, if not consumed, by the chess dynamic as expressed in the interplay of the White and Black pieces on an iconic 64-square board. Or that disciplined revolutionaries such as Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, who depended on precise decision-making and flexibility, were often passionately attracted to the game.

Amidst the political chaos, physical survival itself often was at stake.

The years after the Russian Revolution saw a massive investment in chess. The cognitive skills and steely character that the game could foster were seen as much desired assets for creating the “new Soviet man and woman.”

Nikolai Krylenko, a chess player of considerable ability and a revolutionary comrade-in-arms of Trotsky and Lenin who was later purged by Joseph Stalin, played a leading role in launching the decades-long effort that followed.

It is likely that Lenin, a fervent and skillful player, himself, gave full-hearted if not decisive support from behind the scenes.

Full article here.

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