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As the world chess championship opens in London, Eve Anderson talked to the man behind it, Raymond Keane--- grandmaster, chess fixer, Thatcherite and sometime Hegelian

Chess pirates

The genteel atmosphere of London's Savoy Theatre will be shaken up in September as Britain's Nigel Short meets Azerbaijani Gary Kasparov to decide the world chess title - and the small sum of £1.7m in prize money. Or at least the world chess title according to the Professional Chess Association - whose two members just happen to be Short and Kasparov. Meanwhile, over in the Netherlands, Jan Timman and Anatoly Karpov will be playing for the 'official' chess title as sanctioned by the International Chess Federation (Fide).

Even by the Byzantine standards of chess politics the current rumpus seems baffling in its complexity and sheer pig-headedness. Until a few months ago, both Kasparov and Short were leading members of Fide. Kasparov, the world champion, is acknowledged as one of the greatest players of all time. Short, the best player Britain has produced this century, had successfully negotiated the tortuous two-year route to the world championship final. Then Fide started to look for a venue for the championship. Manchester, seeking to boost its flagging Olympic bid, made a bid and Fide accepted. Short and Kasparov, outraged that they were not consulted and feeling that playing in Manchester was beneath their dignity, formed the breakaway PCA. Fide stripped them of their rankings, and organised an alternative final.

There is, of course, more to all this than simply pique and pride. 'Fide is a relic of the Cold War', says Raymond Keane. 'Its whole structure and its whole thinking is like the old USSR. It even has a central committee. The USSR has gone but Fide is still here. Campomanes [Fide's current president] is a dinosaur. He'd get a part in Jurassic Park. Camposaurus Rex!'

Keane is a chess grandmaster and close friend and confidant to Short. In the seventies he had a rating only slightly below that of Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. He is now chess correspondent for the Times and has written some 80 books on chess ('a world record', he says proudly). He has also become a central player in the arcane world of chess politics, a Mr Fix-it of the chessboard.

To his critics, Keane is a cross between Arthur Daley and Macchiavelli. They accuse him of manipulating Short and Kasparov and of engineering the split with Fide for self-aggrandisement. Keane vehemently denies this. 'It was Short and Kasparov who came to me', he says. 'It was their idea to have a fresh association. I was prepared to man the ship for them.'

Whatever the truth about Keane's role, his criticisms of Fide ring true. Fide has monopolised the chess world since 1924. Staid and conservative, it became a Cold War institution, a site for the intellectual struggle between East and West. Presidents were made or broken on the basis of intense diplomacy and complex alliances among chess bodies from the two superpowers and their allies.

After the Russian Revolution, Nikolai Krylenko, a former commissar for war, was appointed to promote chess as a weapon with which to demonstrate the intellectual superiority of the young Soviet state over the West. Chess became institutionalised as a part of the Soviet national culture under Stalin. Not only could chess demonstrate the prowess of the Soviet people, but it was cheap and labour intensive, even more so than other sports which came to play a similar political role in later years.

Meanwhile, in the USA, the search began from the fifties for a player who could put the Soviets in their place, and demonstrate that market forces ruled supreme even on the chessboard. Washington's Cold War prayers were answered by Bobby Fischer, a chess prodigy who beat the Soviet champion Boris Spassky to take the world title in 1972. It was the match that above all else transformed the image of chess in the public mind.

Fischer, an ardent publicist for capi-talism, became an overnight hero in the USA. Spassky lost favour with the Soviet authorities, and in particular with president Leonid Brezhnev. Anatoly Karpov, who took the championship after Fischer in one of his eccentric fits refused to defend his title, became the Stalinist golden boy. Then in the eighties Kasparov emerged, as a favourite of president Mikhail Gorbachev. The rivalry between Karpov and Kasparov was billed as that between the old and new Soviet Union, between Stalinism and glasnost. (Kasparov's anti-communist ranting did not prevent Short, an ardent fan of Margaret Thatcher, from denouncing him as a Stalinist apparatchik up to the moment when the two joined forces against Fide - such is chess politics).

Keane blasts Fide for being out of touch with post-Cold War realities. 'We've seen the thesis, Fide, and the anti-thesis, the PCA, and before we see the synthesis, we're going through the upheaval which is historically inevitable, as I'm sure you'll appreciate', he says, deadpan. Thatcherism meets Hegelian philosophy.

So why, I asked Keane, is Britain relatively good at chess? Could it be that, like the old Soviet Union, Britain needs a game that is labour intensive at which to excel? Keane puts it all down instead to Britain's natural entrepreneurial spirit. 'There's something in the British psyche. We're very good at being buccaneers and pirates, and we're very good at being merchant bankers. Chess is very much like that, a sort of piracy of the mind, a sort of opportunism.' At least on the comparison between merchant bankers and pirates, I could not disagree.

The British economy might be going down the pan, but at least we can still play chess. 'The decline of manufacturing industry is probably an historical stage you have to go through to reach a new stage of development', says Keane. 'The wealth of the future will be created by other means; technology, communications, ideas, banking, leisure - thinking rather than making. The rise of chess and other thinking sports is inevitable because there's more leisure, because people are using their minds more.' Perhaps Kenneth Clarke should stop worrying about interest rates and productivity and just issue everyone with chess sets.

Some 20 years ago I played Nigel Short in the London Evening Standard chess tournament - and lost. Would Kasparov, I wondered, go one better? Keane is sure he knows the score. 'Kasparov', he says, 'will win by 13 points to eight. There will be seven wins to Kasparov, two to Short and 12 draws. The title will be decided at game 21 out of 24'. If this prediction turns out to be historically inevitable, remember you read it first in Living Marxism.

The good, the bad and the western

With a new series of spaghetti western videos on the market, Graham Barnfield reviews how the man with no name shot down the man in the white hat

For years they were in the same league as Kung Fu films. Now they are treasured as cinema classics. The video release of a series of sixties' spaghetti westerns has been greeted with critical acclaim. The resurgence of the spaghetti western is testament to the decline of the traditional form.

The spaghetti western was born out of the clash between American and European cultures in the postwar years. In the forties and fifties Hollywood's output gained in appeal in Europe, especially in a country like Italy - anything seemed preferable to the decadent order that had brought Mussolini to power.

But the Hollywood connection proved ambiguous. While Marshall Aid dollars offered Rome's newest writers and directors a shot at film-making, many were repelled by American imperialism. Distaste for US harassment of Cuba and Vietnam gelled with an obsessive appreciation of the western, its aesthetics, its grim inner logic. Taking its cue from The Magnificent Seven (itself an Americanisation of Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai), and a fistful of other vaguely revisionist movies, the political western was born.

In contrast to the dream factory's output, directors like Sergio Leone presented the frontier as essentially amoral. Sure, the bad guys were really bad: the bandit chief in For a Few Dollars More pulls the legs off an insect to emphasise his wickedness. But the heroes were equally prepared to cut through swathes of men to get to their goal. In Leone's landscape there was no clear division between good and bad, just violence. His masterstroke was to cast Clint Eastwood, the cleancut character from the TV series, Rawhide, as the quintessential man with no name.

Leone's deconstruction of the traditional western won many admirers. But in the late sixties, a new generation of European directors sensed the shortcomings of Leone's critique of the frontier myth. It had been refreshing to see steely-eyed mercenaries replace white-hatted sheriffs, but there was a danger of replacing one myth with another. Initially it seemed subversive to equate cowboys and bandits. But as national liberation struggles swept three continents such relativism seemed condescending and tokenistic. The new generation of directors wanted to take sides - to portray America's war in Vietnam and elsewhere as the continuation of genocide against native Indians and the slaughter that followed the declaration of war against Mexico in 1846. To directors like Sergio Corbucci, who made the notorious Django, the West was won by men, not as bad as, but far worse than the outlaws.

As the gunfights became political allegories, so the films became westerns in name only. To the Mexican peon there was no West, only an oppressive North. Counterposed to the suffering peasant is the wicked gringo capitalist. Spaghettis made it customary for the latter to meet his doom in front of an aggrieved mob.

The growing commercial success of spaghetti westerns, especially of Leone's dollar trilogy, ensured that Hollywood imported the cream of Italian directors to work in California. It also touched the growing disillusionment with the frontier myth within America itself. The traditional western had spawned the spaghetti version. Now the spaghetti western began to influence Hollywood's output. Spaghetti aesthetics became the norm, slowly unpicking the legend.

Through the seventies and eighties films like High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider borrowed repeatedly from Europe's 'opera of violence' until the main victim was the orthodox western itself. Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, one of last year's Hollywood highlights, confirmed that the western could no longer be seen as synonymous with American greatness. The irony of Eastwood's dedication of Unforgiven to Sergio Leone would not have been lost on either man. It was an acknowledgement that the man who rejuvenated the western also helped to bury it in its traditional form.

Aktiv's Spaghetti Western Collection is now available. Price £12.99 each

The true picture?

Kayode Olafimihan on a book that reveals the truth behind the images of war that we are allowed to see

The Censored War is a timely book. George Roeder's well-researched and finely illustrated book is a detailed account of how the US authorities manipulated and censored images of both friend and foe during the Second World War, to help win public backing for the war effort. But the book is not simply history. As the Gulf War, the conflict in Yugoslavia and Operation Restore Hope in Somalia show, the manipulation of images remains a key aspect of militarism today.

There is another reason, too, why the book is important. As Roeder observes, the Second World War remains an event of key importance to the political elite today because it is widely regarded as a time when 'America was on the right side. Hence politicians and historians, advertisers and teachers, film-makers and novelists, will continue to call on...the message of World War Two to bolster their authority, support their causes, and offer moral guidance'. The British establishment relies even more on Second World War images to 'bolster their authority' today.

Roeder shows that the idea of the war as a crusade of the good against evil was manufactured by the public relations machine. Because of public scepticism about overt propaganda the US government promoted a 'strategy of truth'. Instead of prettified images of comic strip heroism they simply suppressed infor-mation or presented it in a partial way. The American people were allowed to see no images of racial conflict among US soldiers or fights between GIs and their allies, and none of the results of US chemical experiments or civilian victims of Allied bombing.

The US authorities had few scruples, however, when it came to the demoni-sation of the enemy, particularly the Japanese. In the 1945 film Action at Anguar, produced by the War Department, footage of Japanese soldiers being burned alive was accompanied by the following voiceover: 'By this time we had shot, blasted, or cooked 600 of the little apes.' Even the supposedly more sophisticated Office of War Information had this to say in 1944: 'The Japanese should be described as brutal, but not as slimy; cruel rather than bestial; tough and wanton instead of toothy; scheming, fanatical and ruthless rather than rat-like, yellow, and slant-eyed.'

Fifty years on, instead of scheming, fanatical, ruthless Japs, we have vicious Serb rapists and degenerate Somali warlords. The enemy might be different today, but demons they remain.

George H Roeder Jnr, The Censored War: The American Visual Experience during World War Two, Yale University Press, £19.95 hbk

Censored in the USA: (above, left-right) Severed head of a Japanese soldier in Burma; American corpses being piled on to a truck, 1945; captured Japanese troops; (below) American serviceman killed on board ship in the Philippines, 1944

Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 59, September 1993

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