[Marxism] Fwd: Alexander Cockburn on chess and geopolitics | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Oct 3 14:01:52 MDT 2015

Last week not long after Jeff St. Clair received my article in “Chess as 
Metaphor”, he wrote me back informing me that Alexander Cockburn had 
written a book about chess in the 1970s. Since chess and Cockburn were 
two of my passions, I immediately ordered the book from Amazon.com and 
began reading it. The book is not about “how to win with the Ruy Lopez 
Opening” but about the politics and psychology of chess players, 
including some of the most famous like Bobby Fischer and Mikhail 
Botvinnik, the Russian champion who gets discussed in a chapter titled 
“Proletarian, Socialist Chess”. You can imagine how that chapter piqued 
my interest. As it turns out, there is a section in it that deals with 
geopolitics and chess, a subject I referred to briefly in my 
CounterPunch article. Cockburn has a somewhat different take on their 
relationship but we come pretty close to converging around his idea that 
“No game model, such as chess, can in the end tolerate the notion of 
total contradiction, since all games accept the idea of rules.” Like so 
many articles in this vein, Pepe Escobar referred to chess in his Oct. 1 
article titled “Obama, Putin: Checkmate”. But if there is anything that 
Syria symbolizes, it is the contradictory nature of geopolitics—one in 
which Israel, the USA, Iran and Russia are working together to one 
degree or another to prop up the rotting cadaver of Baathism. Since the 
war in Syria was always supposed to be a proxy war with Israel and the 
USA playing black and Russia and Iran playing white, how do you explain 
this new axis of resistance with Netanyahu and Obama joining the axis of 
resistance? Maybe if chess was played with a much larger board and the 
pieces came in 50 shades of gray, the analogy would hold.

Alexander Cockburn:


“We play poker, they play chess” used to be the adage at one school for 
international relations in the United States. It was also, it seems, a 
favored phrase of President Kennedy. The thought behind the words was 
that the Communist enemy, in all his Oriental cunning, had a strategy 
thoroughly conceived and inherently rational: move would be countered by 
move; and uncertainty and chance eliminated. “We,” on the other hand, 
play poker “We” gamble and bluff.


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