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Garry Kasparov on the collapse of the Soviet Union

On the 70th anniversary of Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech, and the 63rd anniversary of Stalin’s death, the 80th birthday of the Spitfire, I post Mr Bill Kristol’s long (c. 80 minutes) and informative interview with Garry Kasparov, the noted former World Chess Champion, focusing on the collapse of the Soviet Union, with some vignettes on his own life, starting off in Baku, the fifth city of the USSR. As Mr Kasparov likes to tell Americans, he grew up in the Deep South close to Georgia, but around 1,500 miles from Moscow. One should remember that Mr Kasparov makes Muhammed Ali at his prime seem rather diffident.

Mr Kasparov is half-Jewish, half-Armenian, but culturally Russian. He talks about his early life, his Jewish father died when he was 7, he grew up believing in the Soviet system right into the mid-1980s, he thought that socialism’s ills were not due to ‘the rotten nature of socialism‘, but were a problem of implementation. He had been introduced, by his paternal uncle, to non-Soviet Jewish literature from the local Jewish intelligentsia so he got some insight into ‘the other side of the story‘, but it took time before he realised that the problem was the system.

For the talented under socialism, there were very few options, you could not go into law (perhaps a good thing?), into business, into politics (as opposed to the Party) a whole range of careers that Westerners might regard as options were not available under the Soviet system, but sport, ballet and chess were options for ambitious parents eager for their children to do well (they hadn’t quite abolished that). He also points out that chess was never part of the Soviet education system, they had no interest improving education, but only in finding talent, ultimately for propaganda purposes.

He was privileged to go abroad (and to Paris) at the age of 13 for a chess tournament, he had to be approved and recommended by a Party Committee even at that age, and he was the only person in his circle who had gone to a capitalist country (yes, I know). He read Solzhenitsyn in 1981, (when outside the USSR) and said his name was like Voldemort, everyone knew of him, but he was he who must not be named. He talks about how he managed to grope his way away from support for socialism and the Party, and discussions with his die-hard Communist grandfather, baffled by the jamming of Radio Liberty, and how the regime became less ‘vibrant‘, and the panic induced by the election of Ronald Reagan after the ‘malleable’ (my word) Jimmy Carter. Funny how looking back, it’s almost as if the Left in the West did everything that Moscow asked 😉

At one point in 1985, Steve Jobs went to Moscow to talk to the Soviet Academy of Sciences, a rather unproductive use of both’s time.

He talks about the coming of Gorbachev, who was utterly indifferent to the anti-Armenian pogroms in Baku, Azerbaijan in what became the dying days of the USSR, and the SDI being what drove Gorbachev to negotiate a bad deal at Reykjavik.

He says that it is vital for Russia to have a Nuremburg Tribunal on the crimes of communism.

At 1 hour 9′ 9″ he talks about Soviet Nukes and the Ukraine’s nuclear arsenal, 2,000 warheads, bigger than France, China and UK combined, and the betrayal of the guarantees of Budapest in 1994.

If you take a look at his Facebook page, there are some choice quotes from him, e.g. this from 1st March 2016:

I’m enjoying the irony of American Sanders supporters lecturing me, a former Soviet citizen, on the glories of Socialism and what it really means! Socialism sounds great in speech soundbites and on Facebook, but please keep it there. In practice, it corrodes not only the economy but the human spirit itself, and the ambition and achievement that made modern capitalism possible and brought billions of people out of poverty. Talking about Socialism is a huge luxury, a luxury that was paid for by the successes of capitalism. Income inequality is a huge problem, absolutely. But the idea that the solution is more government, more regulation, more debt, and less risk is dangerously absurd.

And this over a cartoon of the Bern wearing a hat with the slogan “Make America Greece again

A Bernie Sanders hat to compete with Trump’s! Needed to prepare for another great Socialist triumph like Greece and Venezuela.

And there’s no chess theory in there, not a single opinion on the King’s Indian Defence, Sämisch variation.

15 comments to Garry Kasparov on the collapse of the Soviet Union

  • Julie near Chicago

    Thanks very much, Mr Ed. I’m off to watch it at once.

    By the way — going by purely circumstantial evidence of course, but — you don’t hang out with Freepers, do you? Heavens! Aren’t you afraid you’ll start having straw growing out of your ears and clinging bitterly to your fond memories of guns, perhaps even religion ?!

  • Mr Ed

    Julie, I don’t go anywhere but here and Libertarian Home. I’ve no idea about Freepers. I have no guns, the last gun I fired was probably a Lee Enfield .303, and the last time I went to a church service (funerals etc. apart) was around 30 years ago, and that was Church of England so there was no religion in it.

    I played chess as a youngster (from 4th grade, I think you would say), and the cruelty of the Soviets towards Victor Korchnoi really opened my eyes to the viciousness of the regime.

  • veryretired

    It has always fascinated me that the advocates of collectivism were able to sell the idea that the collectivist society was kinder to the spiritual development of its members, especially artists, than a freer social order.

    I recall an emigre’ from the SU back in the 1970’s who was asked in an interview about the differences between the marxist society he had grown up in and the western society he had just moved to. The interviewer was clearly astonished by his answer, because he didn’t talk about consumer goods or media freedom or other common responses, but, instead, said something to the effect that the biggest difference in the west was that “people had human faces”.

    As he went on to explain, he meant that the various officials, sales people, even wait staff he had encountered so far seemed animated and relaxed, spoke with human feeling about things, laughed or were sympathetic depending on the context of the conversation, and were, in general, just normal people going about their jobs.

    In the SU, he said, everyone’s face was closed, and officials, especially, looked dead, as if their faces were made of stone, not human flesh.

    One of the best expressions of the fallacy of “socialist spiritualism” I have ever seen was in the movie “The Lives of Others”. At first, it seemed that the movie was about the secret policeman spying on the suspected subversive artists. But it soon became apparent that this was a plot device to allow the audience to watch the souls being crushed out of these various actors and writers as they were forced to spy, inform, and change their lives to please the demands of the political bosses who controlled their artistic lives, as well as their lives in general.

    The roots of this outrageous denial of reality on the part of the advocates for the alleged spiritual superiority of collectivism is complex and interwoven with several other strands of anti-individualism in western culture, and even more so in other cultures, but much of it leads back to the aristocratic notion that the peasants, farmers, and especially merchants, had no soulful appreciation for art, and only their “betters” should support and define it.

    In its own little way, the derivation of the collectivist delusion that art should be supported and defined by the state and its cadres from an outmoded aristocratic snobbery is one of the delicious ironies of the so-called revolutionary types’ ceaseless advocacy of publicly subsidized art, but that small pleasure doesn’t make up for the grotesque crap that is peddled as “public art”.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Mr Ed, I was teasing you because one of your links is to freerepublic.com — home of the infamous Freepers, i.e. a major site where conservatives come to post, discuss, and occasionally engage in fisticuffs, though flaming per se seems to be rather mild. To be a Freeper is thus a major, major mark against you, as I’m sure you can see. The sort of place where “people cling bitterly to their guns and religion,” as the Sith once said so lyrically in an address to an audience in, I believe, Pennsylvania. Or maybe it was Ohio.

    Actually, though I do visit occasionally it’s not a spot I frequent, because those who do tend have a little different approach to things than I do. But sometimes there is cross-posted a worthwhile article, and some of the comments are interesting (and agreeable to me).

    I am always tongue-tied in the presence of anyone who can actually play chess. I did get to be at least passable at checkers as a kid, but any kind of serious chess play would be beyond me. :>(

    I will go see about Mr. Korchnoi. I will never forget the one above all others that got to me about the Chinese regime (Mao’s) — there was a young Chinese woman, a concert pianist, who transgressed somehow, and as punishment they crushed her fingers.

  • Gareth

    I’m enjoying the irony of American Sanders supporters lecturing me, a former Soviet citizen, on the glories of Socialism and what it really means!

    The failure of socialism is often followed by calls for more socialism. You didn’t do enough. You didn’t do it right. You were undermined.

  • Paul Marks

    Antoine will be annoyed that there is nothing on chess tactics in the talk!

    But the post does make valuable points.

    It was clearly possible for an intelligent and honest man to believe in the Soviet system will into the 1980s, as the comments point out – any failure could be explained by the “wrong people” being in charge and so on.

    Someone could sit in Detroit (right now) and see nothing wrong with the PRINCIPLE of statism that has been pushed there from the early 1960s.

    The failure all due to “Japanese competition” (I am sure Mr Trump would come in here) or “the wrong people being in charge” or “corruption”, or “not enough help from the Federal government” – and so on.

    As Garry Kasparov points out – one must both have access to some alternative principles (trying to invent everything one’s self is a rather tall order), and make a major mental effort, to get out of this mental trap.

  • Mr Ed

    The Soviets always had to explain away the West, and the higher standard of living that a visitor to the West would see immediately, indeed visiting West Germany for the first time in the 1980s, I was struck by how much more prosperous it seemed than Britain, but the Soviets had orders of magnitude to deal with, and the propaganda and disinformation.

    For the man in Detroit, there is the nearby Canadian border, and the distant tales of prosperous cities elsewhere in the USA, but yes, he is constantly told that he is in the Land of the Free and the world HQ of capitalism, and he sees ruin around him. Only some would deduce the problem from the evidence.

  • (Not endorsed by Scott Adams, who favors a Trump/Sanders/Bloomberg triumvirate, the sort of authoritarians he made a fortune mocking. Surreal.)

  • Paul Marks

    Mr Ed.

    A few days ago I listened (via the wonders of technology) to some people from Michigan reacting to Ted Cruz telling them that the government had given the area (especially Detroit) too much “help” (government spending, regulations, government backed unions and so on) not too little such “help”, they seemed too shocked to be angry.

    Clearly no one had ever told them this before.

    Which is rather depressing.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Gary Kasparov is a great guy.

  • Darin

    The Soviets always had to explain away the West, and the higher standard of living that a visitor to the West would see immediately

    The official explanation was imperialism, the bourgeoisie exploiting the third world and sharing the loot with the western workers. This was not problem for the theory.
    The problem was that this made the western workers fellow exploiters, not class brothers. While the Soviet propaganda always claimed that western workers are oppressed by the bourgeoisie and wait for liberation.

  • Darin

    Gary Kasparov is a great guy.

    Unfortunately not, at least intelectually. Gary Kasparov is follower of “New Chronology” of Anatoly Fomenko. This “theory” says that all history of mankind before year 1700 is fake and was made up in a big anti-Russian conspiracy.

    What is literal flat earthism in physics, Fomenko’s theory is in history.

    This does matter, because someone who can believe this, can believe anything at all.

    New Chronology

    Kasparov’s Mathematics of the Past

    Garry Kasparov and New Chronology

  • Sadly Darin has it right. New Chronology is like the bastard child of Lysenko and Von Daniken. It is a flashing red moonbat indicator and whilst Kasparov may be right about some things, this is someone who needs to be viewed as great caution.

  • Darin

    New Chronology is like the bastard child of Lysenko and Von Daniken.

    If only. Lysenko wanted to improve the harvest, and Von Daniken wanted to make some money.

    The New Chronology says this:

    In the beginning, all humanity lived in stone age, till the year 1000 CE. Then emerged Great Russian Ataman Horde, and discovered , conquered and settled the whole world.

    The Great Ataman Russians just in few centuries invented everything and built all ancient monuments of Egypt, Persia, China, India , Rome and everywhere else.

    Unfortunately, in 17th century the Great Horde was overthrown, and the successors rewrote all history, invented “ancient Egypt” “ancient Rome” “ancient India” “ancient China” etc.. to show that Great Horde never existed. They even changed all languages to hide they were descended from Russian lauguage.
    Fortunately, genius called Fomenko saw the fraud and uncovered the true history.

    So far it is fun.

    Now, books of Fomenko and other historians of his “school” fill all Russian bookstores and have millions of devoted fans. And this joke does not seems so funny any more.