The Politics of Chess

Jan 24, 2010, 1:03 AM |

Ever since chess was invented some 2000 years ago by the Indians, it has not lost it's legacy for being the most complex and intellectual game. That is why in the modern world, chess has been an important part of a country's political equation either internationally or domestically.

             History shows that some totalitarian states have resorted to chess to help them boost their international standing and to sustain their jingoistic sentiments which are essential for their leaders to maintain power. The Soviet Union was one of the countries that had a long history of using chess as political weapon. For example Mikhail Botvinnik who is known as one the greatest chess players in history had been used by the Soviet Union to help boost the legitimacy of Communist superiority. It has also been said that top Soviet officials did put enormous pressure on him to win, but anyway he was rewarded overtime with greater influence over chess politics in the USSR.

            Another example of chess being used as a political weapon, was during the 1972 World chess championship in which 29 year world Bobby Fischer became the undisputed champion. The American media caught in the trappings of the Cold War capitalized on Fischer's victory to help arouse American nationalistic fervor at a time of tremendous political uncertainty and division- due to the Vietnam war. Fischer also became an instant celebrity and a cold war hero because of the pride he had brought to the US as the first American to win the championship and breaking 20 plus years of soviet dominance in that field.

               Russia today still capitalizes on it's superiority in this field to help boost Russian nationalism though it has lost it's undisputed supremacy to an Indian named Anand Viswanathan. Russian nationalism still has been a key strategy for the ruling elites of that country to maintain power.

               However not all regimes emphasize on the importance of chess as a political weapon and some have suppressed them. For example when the Taliban, a highly nationalistic and rigid Pashtun based Islamic movement headed Mullah Omar came to power in Afghanistan in 1996, chess sets were banned. The reason for this according to their leader was that true and faithful Muslims should live in the conditions in which Muhammad, their prophet lived. After all, in that social experiment cinemas, satellite dishes, Western literature, music and others were banned. 

                  In my opinion the reasons why chess was banned and the other repressive social controls established were none other than to centralize control over the entire political, social and cultural architecture of Afghanistan and make it orbit around the new theocratic government put in place by the Taliban. Secondly was to destroy any conflicting ideas that could disrupt or even remove them as the rulers of that country. Thirdly, it was to aid the fight for the destruction of the intellectuals in Afghanistan. The Intellectual class of any country with a totalitarian theocratic government in place is inherently considered an enemy of the ruling elites and therefore have to be repressed or  made use of to the maximum. So the process of banning chess sets is nothing more than cleansing the country of intellectual class and roots.

                  In conclusion, chess as a game must either be used to the maximum as a propaganda tool to display a nation's greatness or should be banned if the government is a theocracy or an extremely right wing or anti educational regime that has an intention of purging all aspects of an intellectual class.