Garry Kasparov: Greatest Soviet Chess Champion on the Awful System That Created Him

ReasonThe following is a list of suggested resources. December Special Issue marks the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union. This is part of an ongoing investigation into the global legacy that this evil empire left behind. We want to make sure that there are no further tragedies. The terrible consequences of communism cannot be ignored

The Soviet Union wasn’t known for producing durable cars or blue jeans in the quantities its people wanted, but it did produce world-class chess grandmasters. From the end of World War II until the Evil Empire dissolved in 1991, all but one world champion—the American Bobby Fischer, who claimed the title in 1972 from one Soviet and surrendered it to another in 1975 when he refused to defend his crown—represented the USSR.

Garry Kasparov is the best, having become the 1985 world champion, at just 22. This record was set and he held it until 2000. He is widely considered to be the most important chess player of modern times. Between 1984 and 2005, his global ranking was held for 255 months.

Yet Kasparov was never a pliant supporter of the system that produced him—far from it. He was born in 1963 to Armenian and Jewish parents. His family lived in Baku in Azerbaijan. Growing up, Kasparov felt disconnected from Moscow and St. Petersburg’s political and cultural centers. Because of his chess prowess—which he emphasizes was greatly nurtured by the same government that immiserated and imprisoned so many of his countrymen—he was able to travel abroad for competitions, and he describes youthful trips to France and Germany as nothing short of revelatory. He describes the casual “abundance,” or “free world”, that he felt as if it was different. “I could immediately see the quality of life….It was different and it was more natural.” “It was different and it felt more natural.” He encountered George Orwell’s anti-communist books, as well as the exiled Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s indictments against totalitarianism.

Kasparov, who was an active member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during 1984, had a negative view of the Soviet government in that decade. Kasparov joined the Democratic Party of Russia (DPR) in 1990. He became more vocal for representative democracy, human rights and limited government. He was a prominent critic of Vladimir Putin’s regime in post-Soviet Russia and used his fame and influence to lead efforts to create civil society. After authorities prevented his supporters from meeting, he decided to abort a 2007 run for the presidency. In the early 2010s, his arrest for participation in illegal anti-government demonstrations led to him being widely suspected of having written a petition asking Putin to resign. He now resides in New York City with his wife, and the two children he has. They cannot go back to Russia because of fear of persecution.

Kasparov is still active in lobbying for freedom throughout the ex-Soviet Union and elsewhere. Kasparov has held the position of chairman at the Human Rights Foundation. This foundation focuses its efforts on reforming closed societies, such as North Korea and Venezuela.

In September Reason‘s Nick Gillespie spoke with the chess grandmaster in New York about what it was like to be the beneficiary of a catastrophically failed Soviet system and what lessons the world—especially American democratic socialists—should remember three decades after its collapse.