In part, the Soviet Union fell 30 years before it was founded because its government-run economic system couldn’t produce the blue jeans and cigarettes that citizens demanded.
It was great for producing champion chess players.
From the end of World War II until the Evil Empire dissolved in 1991, all but one world champion—the American Bobby Fischer—represented the USSR.
Garry Kasparov is the best, having become world champion at age 22. This title was held by him for 15 years, and is considered one of the best chess players in recent history.
He was a natural chess player and traveled to Europe for tournaments. He describes the casual “abundance”, or “the free world,” as something that “just felt different.” He was exposed to the anti-communist writings of George Orwell, and was then able read the suppressed charges of totalitarianism by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
In the 1980s, he began questioning the Soviet system. He joined the Democratic Party of Russia in 1990 and began to speak out for human rights, representative democracy and limited government.
He was a prominent figure in post-Soviet Russia and used his fame and influence to lead efforts to create civil society and hold fair elections. Later, he became a harsh critic of Vladimir Putin. He was arrested in the late 2010s for participating illegally in anti-government protests. It is widely believed that he was the author of the popular petition calling for Putin’s resignation.
Kasparov is still active as chair of the Human Rights Foundation and continues his advocacy for freedom throughout the ex-Soviet Union. In September Reason spoke with the chess grandmaster in New York about what it was like to be the beneficiary of a catastrophically failed system and what lessons the world—especially American democratic socialists—should remember three decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Interview by Nick Gillespie Jim Epstein and Kevin Alexander. Ian Keyser edited. Isaac Reese contributed the graphic design and intro. Regan Taylor provides production assistance.
Music credit: Stanley Gurvich, “Elevation”, via Artlist
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