Monday, 20 August 2012

Averbakh 6: The Zϋrich Package.

On page 81 of the English edition, Averbakh, who was playing in the Zϋrich 1953 Candidates Tournament, the winner of which would play a match against Botvinnik for the world title, relates how he and Beilin his second were given a package:

When we got back to our room, we opened the packet. It did indeed contain sweets, but that was not all. Underneath was a printed proclamation from the NWU, the National Workers Union, an organisation which was opposed to the Soviet regime. 'Chess players', it read, 'are you aware of Stalin's crimes and of the millions of people in labour camps?' Much of what was written in the proclamation was unknown to us. The 20th Party Congress, at which Khrushchev exposed the crimes of Stalin, was still two years away.

There is a translator's note, it rightly points out that the Congress was three years later. I wish to expand upon Averbakh's paragraph. The use of Workers Union could lead a reader to wrongly infer that this was a left-wing organisation.

The Russian original is:

В номере мы вскрыли коробку, там действительно оказались конфеты. Но не только. Под ними лежали прокламации НТС («Национально-трудового союза» — организации, боровшейся с Советской властью). «С кем вы, мастера шахмат? — обращались к нам авторы прокламации. — Знаете ли вы о сталинских злодеяниях, о миллионах людей, находящихся в лагерях»? Многое из того, что содержалось в прокламации, было нам неизвестно. XX съезд, на котором Хрущев разоблачил преступления Сталина, состоялся лишь два года спустя.

Instead of:

... the NWU, the National Workers Union, an organisation which was opposed to the Soviet regime.

More conventional would have been:

... the NTS, the National Labour Alliance, an organisation that fought against the Soviet regime.

In English the Russian initials НТС are usually transliterated as given above. I also prefer chess masters to chess players, but that is a venial sin.

Before discussing further the NTS, it is worth relating that Sergey Voronkov, a friend and former colleague of Averbakh's, revealed more about this contact. Specifically here:

Но даже в сталинские времена, я знаю, находились люди, готовые рисковать! Юрий Львович Авербах, которого злые языки не раз упрекали в конформизме, дважды общался с Евгением Романовым – главой Народно-трудового союза, основателем журнала «Грани» и издательства «Посев». НТС был самым непримиримым борцом с советской властью, недаром КГБ считал эту организацию своим врагом номер один. Но Авербах дружил с Романовым еще с довоенных лет, когда тот увлекался шахматами, жил в Днепропетровске, участвовал в турнирах и как журналист побывал на многих соревнованиях. Правда, тогда его звали… Евгением Романовичем Островским! Первая встреча произошла на межзональном в Стокгольме (1952): «Помню, во время партии поднимаю глаза и… вижу Островского, который стоит у столика! Когда рассказал маме о нашей встрече, она сожгла все письма от Жени, которые были у меня… На следующий год он приехал в Цюрих на турнир претендентов, мы опять пару раз поговорили, хотя это было небезопасно: шутка ли, общение с руководителем НТС!»

But even in Stalin's time, I know of people willing to take risks! Yuri Lvovich Averbakh, whom malicious gossips have sometimes reproached with conformism, twice spoke to Yevgeny Romanov – the head of the "National Labour Alliance", the founder of the magazine "The Facets" and the publishing house "Posev". The NTS was a most irreconcilable fighter against the Soviet power, not without reason did the KGB consider this organisation to be enemy number one. But Averbakh had been a friend of Romanov's from the pre-war years, when the latter took a great interest in playing chess; he lived in Dnepropetrovsk, participated in tournaments and, as a journalist, had visited many tournaments. However, then he was called … Yevgeny Romanovich Ostrovsky! The first meeting occurred at the Interzonal in Stockholm (1952): "I remember, during the game, I lifted my eyes and … saw Ostrovsky who was standing at the table! When I told my mother about our meeting, she burnt all the letters from Zhenya which I had at home … next year he came to the Zϋrich Candidates Tournament, we again talked a few times, though it was unsafe: it was no laughing matter, social contact with the head of the NTS!"

This reveals that the fears of Moshintsev, the unnamed Chekhist deputy head of the delegation, of the risk from eating these sweets, as recorded in the memoirs, were perhaps a little exaggerated.

Dr Catherine Andreyev (an Anglicisation of Ekaterina Andreyeva), an expert on Vlasov, who is the daughter of Nikolay Yefremovich Andreyev (1908-1982, an émigré who was a historian at Cambridge University) wrote in her best known book :

No detailed and reliable account of the history of the NTS organisation exists.

See page 183 of Vlasov and the Russian Liberation Movement, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-38960-7.

On page 189 of her book, Dr Andreyeva states of the differences between the NTS and fascism:

… one basic difference is striking. Fascism is largely anti-clerical and irreligious. The programme of the NTS was imbued with religious morality.

I presume Dr Andreyeva wished to avoid the emotionally charged term clerico-fascism when discussing the NTS. Perhaps she wished to associate fascism strictly with its Italian origins. Note, as well, Dr Andreyeva's words on the same page:

... the programme of the NTS expressed a concern for personal freedom, the furtherance of which was not a feature of fascist ideology.

The NTS was founded during a conference held in Belgrade from the 1st to the 5th July 1930. It represented younger émigrés and was the result of much jockeying between the various youth groups in the preceding decade. The pre-war body provided an umbrella for conflicting perspectives, monarchists co-existing with republicans, all united in their opposition to the Soviet Union. The inherent conflicts were swept under the carpet.

The modern reader must bear in mind that fascism in the 1930s carried broad appeal internationally. The NTS's philosophy was termed Национально-трудовой Солидаризм (National Labour solidarity). It had three main components: idealism, nationalism and activism. The nation was considered to be the combination of culture with ideas, supposedly only within its bounds was true creativity possible. Dr Andreyeva relates that the NTS was particularly influenced by Portuguese fascism (i.e. the Salazar dictatorship). The pre-war NTS was not interested in establishing a liberal democracy. The NTS should not be confused with the Paris-based ROVS, an extreme right-wing White Russian émigré organisation. The NTS influenced Andrey Andreyevich Vlasov after his defection from Stalin, as given by Dr Andreyeva; whereas the ROVS had a greater impact upon the attitudes in Spain of the extreme right wing (see, for instance, pages 39-40 of Professor Paul Preston's book The Spanish Holocaust, ISBN 978-0-00-255634-7).

To me fascism is a philosophy of government that glorifies the state, insists upon one supreme leader to whom everyone is always subordinate and lauds violence as a means of subjection. The presence of a supreme leader who can never be removed, except through death or violence, is a rejection of Western style democracy. The prevailing class systems and economic interests are left undisturbed so long as there is no threat to the polity. There are trappings, too, of pseudo-Darwinism; a nation is a living being that requires strong leadership in order to prosper.

As Mussolini put it in March 1921:

Fascism is not a Church. It is more like a training ground. It is not a party. It is a movement …


… the fasci are an organisation without ready made doctrines. Problems are faced by them not in a series but according to whether the moment is ripe.

- Michele Bianchi (Italian Fascist Party Secretary, 1921-22).

There is a strong element of opportunism in these characterisations.

According to Italian fascism, the state was split into:

... producers and parasites, creators and destroyers, poets and materialists.

These easy to redefine terms allowed ample scope for abuse. A journalist could be a producer or parasite, according to whether, or not, he toed the line.

Pre-war fascism was violently opposed to Bolshevism, which made it highly attractive to industrial interests and the wealthy in general.

There is no mention of religion in the above. The explanation lies in the history of fascism. The fascism of Italy was anti-religious: a product of Mussolini's personality and the Italian past. For instance, Mussolini attacked the Vatican for its stab in the back when Pope Benedict XV issued a peace note on 1st August 1917 in which the useless slaughter of the Great War was condemned. The Risorgimento (the movement leading to the unification of Italy), which greatly influenced many Italian political movements, necessarily had to fight the Vatican so that the Papal States could be subsumed into a unitary state. Likewise, despite the concordat signed with the Vatican (Mussolini's Italy also signed one), Hitler's Germany was essentially hostile to religion.

The 1944 programme of the NTS stated that all peoples to be found within the boundaries of the Russian state were part of the nation, with the exception of foreigners and Jews. At that time the NTS was an illegal organisation within the Nazi empire, so this exception, as noted by Dr Andreyeva (pages 190-191), could not have been due to pressure from the Nazis. It is intriguing that, a decade later, the NTS slipped a propaganda note to Averbakh. It was widely known that many of the Soviets who played in the Zϋrich Candidates tournament were at least partly Jewish. Their names were a giveaway, even if Ostrovsky hadn't known Averbakh in person.

The NTS splintered after the war. It is imprudent to assume that pre-war, wartime and post-war assessments of this organisation and its members should be identical.

1 comment:

Bernard Cafferty said...

One point to bear in mind, though Westerners may not need to know it, is that "NTS" is pronounced "En-Teh-Ess" in Russian.

Interestingly, I heard Dr Andreyev lecture on Russian history at a University of Cambridge short summer school that I attended in the early 1960s. I recall him as a stout jovial fellow. In those days it was quite difficult to get to hear Russian spoken by a native speaker. In any event, I have happy memories of that course, even though I was staying in a cheap Bed & Breakfast in a room below street level. It was quite close to the river and rather damp.

Still, one has to rough it for the sake of scholarship! There were about five lecturers. One émigré, an old man, said something that sticks in the memory. He had been in the USSR as late as the 1930s and told us that one of the Stalinist slogans of those days was "Забота о человеке" ("Concern for one's fellow man") , but he had to comment that, when he came to the West, he found far more concern for one’s fellow-man than he had experienced at home.