19 September 2013

The Evolution of Soviet Chess Organization

In my previous post Soviet Chess Bureaucrats, I discussed the book 'Soviet Chess' by D.J. Richards, and noted, 'The evolution of Soviet chess organization is scattered throughout Richards' book, published in 1965'. To get a better handle on the subject, I extracted the most relevant passages, starting with the section 'Apolitical Chess, 1920-24, and Opposition to it'. [The italics are mine, to highlight the long titles of the various organizations.]

The Civil War came to an end in 1920 and life gradually began to return to normal. [...] Naturally enough, as in tsarist times, the lead in chess affairs was taken by Moscow and Petrograd [aka St.Petersburg, aka Leningrad]. Chess in Moscow had gone into a temporary decline in December 1920 when Ilyin-Zhenevsky left the city to become Soviet consul in Libau. In the spring of 1921, however, the situation improved, thanks largely to the efforts of Grigoriev [...]

N.D. Grigoriev (1895-1938) played an important role in the early years of Soviet chess. One of the organizers of the 1920 chess olympiad ['now regarded as the first Soviet championship'] and of Moscow chess in general, Grigoriev subsequently served on many key committees of the chess organization. [...] Much of the expansion of chess activity in the capital was achieved by the Moscow Trade Unions, who were firm followers of what might be termed the Ilyin-Zhenevsky political line. [...]

In Petrograd too the year 1921 marked the revival of chess activities on a noteworthy scale. [...] The first steps towards creating a central federation were taken by the Petrograd Chess Club, which elected a temporary committee in September 1933. The committee [...] assumed its task to be the revival of the pre-war All-Russian Chess Federation [...]

The constitution of the new federation was approved by the Ministry of Internal Affairs in January 1924 [...] However, opposition to the new body was already gathering strength and its days were numbered. During 1922-3 a large number of chess circles had sprung up in workers' clubs and at factories and mills. Among these the Ilyin-Zhenevsky line and opposition to the apolitical Federation flourished. The huge chess section organized by the Moscow Trade Union Council, for example, refused to take part in the Federation. [...]

Naturally, the existence of two organizations, striving for control of Russian chess, led to some confusion, but the struggle did not last long. [...] The Federation capitulated, recognizing that it no longer retained the support of more than a small minority of Russian chess players. [...]

The third All-Union Congress of 1924 approved the setting-up of a new body to head Soviet chess. An All-Union Chess Section was created, attached to the Supreme Council for Physical Culture of the Russian S.F.S.R. [...] The chairman of the Chess Section was N.V. Krylenko [1885-1938], whose voice during the next decade became the most authoritative in the Soviet chess movement. [...] The political role ascribed to chess by party activists from the earliest days was affirmed by a Central Committee decree, issued [in June 1925 ...]

The next step in the evolution is summarized from 'The Organization of Soviet Chess in the Thirties'.

In September 1929 the Central Committee of the party had passed a resolution stressing the need to strengthen state control over the physical culture movement and in the next two years steps were taken to reorganize the movement in closer harmony with the overriding political and economic needs of the day. The first step was taken in April 1930, when a decree of the Central Executive Committee set up a new All-Union Council for Physical Culture to control the work which up to then had been supervised by the two parallel organizations, the Supreme Council for Physical Culture of the R.S.F.S.R. and the separate Trade Union organization for physical culture. [...] A chess section, headed as before by Krylenko, was attached to this new All-Union Council for Physical Culture, which in effect amounted to a Ministry of Sport. [...]

In 1936, the year of the new Stalin constitution, a new higher authority was set up, the All-Union Committee for Physical Culture and Sport, attached to the Council of Ministers. This body, which included a Chess Section, remained in control until 1959. [...]

Stalin's purges of 1937 and 1938 decimated the Soviet sport hierarchy. [...] Several of the leaders of the chess movement, including Krylenko, were arrested and executed as enemies of the people who had done all they could to retard the development of the chess movement and to cut it off from the socio-political life of the nation.

That sad chapter was followed by the infinitely sadder 'Great Patriotic War', the defining event for the forties. The next step is from 'The Organization of Soviet Chess in the Fifties'.

From 1936 until 1959, when it was replaced by a new body, supreme authority over Soviet sport, including chess, was vested in the State Committee for Physical Culture and Sport of the Council of Ministers. Below this State Committee stretched a hierarchy of committees [...]

At the instigation of the Committee for Physical Culture and Sport a plenary meeting of the All-Union Chess Section, the first for many years, was arranged for early 1953 to discuss the work of the section's presidium and to elect new officers. The meeting actually took place in May of the following year. [...] A new presidium of the All-Union Chess Section was elected, under the chairmanship of Professor Vinogradov [Footnote: 'Among the members of the new presidium were Averbakh, Alatortsev, ...']. Eight special commissions to control various aspects of chess work were also set up. [...] In 1956 a Central Soviet Chess Club opened in Moscow. [...]

From March 1959 the Committee for Physical Culture and Sport of the Council of Ministers and all local physical culture and sport committees were disbanded, to be replaced by the Union of Soviet Sports Societies and its committees at various levels. In practice this meant little more than a change of name: the same individuals remained at the head of Soviet sport [...] This reorganization of physical culture and sport led to the institution in the summer of 1959 of the Soviet Chess Federation, to replace the old Chess Section of the Committee for Physical Culture and Sport.

At its first meeting, in Moscow in August 1959, the new Federation first of all acknowledged the supreme importance of its political responsibilities [...] A presidium of the new Chess Federation was elected under the chairmanship of Alatortsev. Among the members were [...]

Despite the impressive results of Soviet masters, 'The Organization of Soviet Chess in the Sixties' starts with a catalog of weaknesses in the centralized system.

Throughout the fifties, in spite of the outstanding achievements of the leading Soviet grandmasters, criticism had been regularly levelled at the organizational weaknesses of the Soviet chess movement. When the Soviet Chess Federation was instituted in 1959 it was hoped that many of these weaknesses would be resolutely tackled and overcome, but [...] in several fields little progress was being made.

For other milestones of Soviet chess, see my article on Rise of the Soviet Chess Hegemony. Where would modern chess be if there had been no such emphasis on chess in the Soviet Union?

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