Art for Art's Sake - not!

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Nikolai Krylenko helped engineer the October Revolution of 1917, after which he became commander-in-chief of the Russian Army until the position was abolished in 1918.  His next career move was to become a chief prosecutor for the state, a job for which he was eminently suited.  One of his most quoted exclamations, "We must execute not only the guilty. Execution of the innocent will impress the masses even more," as well as his propensity for executing prisoners without due process, help us understant just how suited he was. When Stalin came into power in the late 1920's, early 1930's, Krylenko took on the added duties of heading the Chess, Checkers and Mountain-Climbing  associations.  To give the devil his due, Krylenko did help forge Russian chess into a formidable organization.  Unfortunately for Krylenko, however, when Stalin gained absolute power in the mid-1930's and started his Great Purge of the Communist Party, the great prosecutor was himself prosecuted and summarily executed. Justice was served.


Russians are a soulful people with a great capacity for beauty. They have  wonderful achievements in music, dance, poetry, literature and chess. The Communist government even encouraged these things - as long as the results served the state. 

Chess had indeed served the Soviet state and under Krylenko's guidance, it flourished. But there is one aspect of chess that has no practical applications. It's only purpose is the beauty it's practitioners experience - the art of the Problemists.

Ars Gratis Artis, Art for Art's sake, is an affront to the Communist ideals.  Krylenko himself had said:

"We must finish once and for all with the neutrality of chess. We must condemn once and for all the formula 'chess for the sake of chess', like the formula 'art for art's sake'. We must organize shock-brigades of chess-players, and begin immediate realization of a Five-Year Plan for chess."


And the chess problemists suffered. Here is a list of chess problemists (and a few other chess players) who suffered under Krylenko or under Stalin or during WWII.

-- Petr Moussoury (1911-1937), an expert problemist, along with his mother, was executed in 1937.

-- Lazard Borisovich Salkind ( 1886-1945 ), a great Russian problemist, accused of being a Menshevik was convicted and sent to the Gulag for 8 years.

-- Mikhail Barulin ( 1897-1943 ) was arrested and died in the Gulag.
He had written as a defense of compositions that they should be an art in themselves and not dependant upon practical play.

Botvinnik wrote a response from the official stance, complete with the requisite veiled threat:

"If comrade Barulin thinks that his problem activity is absolutely autonomous and self-sufficing that's bad not for the mass chess movement and not for composition which will develop jointly with actual play; so much the worse for comrade Barulin and for similar composers, who are good for nothing. Theory of art for art's sake is resolutely condemned in the USSR, and our composers are well aware of it."

-- Sergey Mikhailovich Kaminer ( 1908-1938 ) was a chess study composer. His compositions won many first place awards. A few months before he disappeared, he gave his notebook to Botvinnik for safe-keeping. He was apparently executed for reasons unknown.

-- Mikhail Platov (1883-1938)  jointly composed problems with his slightly more famous brother, Vasily Nikolayevich Platov (1881-1952) . These two pioneers of chess composition were originally from Latvia but moved to Russia. Mikhail was and engineer by trade.

In 1937, during a meeting at work, he made a somewhat derogatory remark about Stalin. This remark was reported and he was arrested and shipped off to a Gulag in the North where he died within a year.

-- There were three brothers named Kubbel and each was a chess composer. Avrid Kubbel (1889-1938)  was the oldest. An excellent player as well as composer. He once sent some of his composition to a foreign press for publication and for that he was executed by the secret police.
Karl Artur Leonid Kubbel (1892-1942) was the middle and most renowned of the brothers. Along with Troizky and Platov, he was considered one of the pioneers of Russian composition.
Yevgeny Kubbel was the youngest of the three. Karl and Yevgeny died, like Troizky, during the siege of Leningrad.

-- Alexei Alexeyevich Troizky ( 1866-1942 ) as one of the most famous of Russian composition pioneers. In Lenningrad, he met Chigorin who encouraged his desire to compose and published some of his work. His detailed study of the N+N v. P endgame, years afterwards, formed the basis of changes in the 50 move rule. He became a leading proponent of retrograde analysis. In 1928 the Russian government bestowed on Troizky the title of Honored Art Worker which, by extension, raised chess composition officially to the level of an art form. Troizky died of starvation during the German siege of Leningrad.

-- Another problemist, Lazar Borisovich Zalkind (1886-1945) was an economist.
In 1927, he became chairman of the All-Union Association of Chess Problem and Study Lovers.
He was arrested 1930 for his part in a supposed plot to infiltrate the Bolshevik government positions with pro-Mensheviks. Krylemko personally prosecuted him. His sentence was 8 years in prison.
Afterwards, Krylenko replaced the All-Union Association with a government controlled Composition Committee headed by a non-chess playing bureaucrat.
Zalkind was released in 1938 but new accusations were added to the original ones to increase his term an additional 5 years at an even more severe labor camp. When he was fianlly released in 1943, he learned that his son, Boris had just died on the Belorussian front.
He himself died of heart failure 6-25-1945.

-- Konstantin Shukevich-Tretyakov was an important chess organizer and an ardent Bolshevik.
He arrested 8-18-1938 for unspecified counterrevolutionary activities. His sentence was 5 years in a labor camp. He died four years into his sentence in Sevastopol on 1-10-1942.   His had named his daughter "Revolution."

-- Vladimir Petrov (1907-1945) from Riga, Latvia was one of the strongest players of his day. He tied for first with Solo Flohr and Sammy Reshevsky at Kemeri 1937 ahead of both Keres and Alekhine.
Arrested 8-31-1942 for violating article 58 (a vague anti-counterrevolutionary article in the criminal code under which many people

were unjustly convicted), he was sentenced to 10 years in the labor camp at Kotlas. He died there the following year, 8-26-1943, of inflammation of the lungs.

-- Mikhail Shebarshin was one of the few accomplished Russian blindfold player. He played against 10 boards in 1926. His opponents consisted of  consulting teams made up of club members. He won 8 and drew 2 games.  In the 1926 Leningrad Championship semi-finals he scored 12-1,  1/2 pt. behind Botvinnik.
He was arrested in 1930 for unspecified counterrevolutionary activities,  went to prison where it's known he was the prison chess champion but beyond that, his fate remains unknown.

-- Pyotr Izmailov (1907-1937), winner of the 1st Russian Federation championship in 1928 at age 21, was an engineer-geophysicist.
He was convicted in 1936, after a 20 min. trial, of plotting to kill Stalin and was executed in April, 1937.
His wife was also sentenced to 8 years at the labor camp in Kolyma because she was "a member of the family of a traitor."

-- The great Russian player, Ilya Rabinovich (1891-1942)  died of starvation when choosing to remain in Leningrad during it's evacuation saying "I was champion of Leningrad 11 times and can't leave my city at this difficult time." He remained instead to give propaganda speeches over the radio. He died on 4-23-1942.