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Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev
Александр Яковлев
"Chief Ideologue" and Second Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

In office
25 January 1982 – 14 July 1990
Preceded by Mikhail Suslov
Succeeded by no successor
Head of the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

In office
5 July 1985 – March 1986
Succeeded by Yuri Sklyarov
Full member of the 27th Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

In office
26 June 1987 – 14 July 1990
Member of the 27th Secretariat of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

In office
6 March 1986 – 14 July 1990
Soviet Union Ambassador to Canada

In office
1 June 1973 – 29 October 1983
Premier Alexei Kosygin
Nikolai Tikhonov
Preceded by Boris Miroshnichenko
Succeeded by Alexey Rodionov
Personal details
Born (1923-12-02)2 December 1923
Krasnyye Tkachi, Korolyovo, Yaroslavl Oblast, Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, Soviet Union
Died 18 October 2005(2005-10-18) (aged 81)
Moscow, Russia
Nationality Soviet and Russian
Political party Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1944-1991)
Russian Party of Social Democracy (1995—2002)

Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev (Russian: Алекса́ндр Никола́евич Я́ковлев; 2 December 1923 – 18 October 2005) was a Soviet politician and historian. During the 1980s he was a member of the Politburo and Secretariat of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The chief of party ideology, the same position as that previously held by Mikhail Suslov, he was called the "godfather of glasnost"[1] as he is considered to be the intellectual force behind Mikhail Gorbachev's reform program of glasnost and perestroika.

Yakovlev was the first Soviet politician to acknowledge the existence of the secret protocols of the 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact with Nazi Germany.

Early career

Yakovlev was born to a peasant family in a tiny village (Красные Ткачи - Krasnyye Tkachi) on the Volga River near Yaroslavl. He served in the Red Army during World War II, being badly wounded in the Nazi siege of Leningrad,[2] and became a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1944. Beginning in 1958, he was an exchange student at Columbia University in the United States for one year.[3]

Yakovlev served as editor of several party publications and rose to the key position of head of the CPSU's Department of Ideology and Propaganda from 1969 to 1973. In 1972 he took a bold stand by publishing the article entitled "Against Antihistoricism"[4] critical of Russian nationalism and nationalism in the Soviet Union in general. As a result, he was removed from his position and appointed as ambassador to Canada as punishment, remaining at that post for a decade.[3]

During this time, he and Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau became close friends. Trudeau's second son, Alexandre Trudeau, was given the Russian nickname "Sacha" after Yakovlev's.[citation needed]

In 1983, Yakovlev accompanied Mikhail Gorbachev, who at the time was the Soviet official in charge of agriculture, on his tour of Canada. The purpose of the visit was to tour Canadian farms and agricultural institutions in the hopes of taking lessons that could be applied in the Soviet Union; however, the two renewed their earlier friendship and, tentatively at first, began to discuss the prospect of liberalisation in the Soviet Union.

In an interview years later, Yakovlev recalled:

At first we kind of sniffed around each other and our conversations didn't touch on serious issues. And then, verily, history plays tricks on one, we had a lot of time together as guests of then Liberal Minister of Agriculture Eugene Whelan in Canada who, himself, was too late for the reception because he was stuck with some striking farmers somewhere. So we took a long walk on that Minister's farm and, as it often happens, both of us suddenly were just kind of flooded and let go. I somehow, for some reason, threw caution to the wind and started telling him about what I considered to be utter stupidities in the area of foreign affairs, especially about those SS-20 missiles that were being stationed in Europe and a lot of other things. And he did the same thing. We were completely frank. He frankly talked about the problems in the internal situation in Russia. He was saying that under these conditions, the conditions of dictatorship and absence of freedom, the country would simply perish. So it was at that time, during our three-hour conversation, almost as if our heads were knocked together, that we poured it all out and during that three-hour conversation we actually came to agreement on all our main points.[5]

Two weeks after the visit, as a result of Gorbachev's interventions, Yakovlev was recalled from Canada by Yuri Andropov and became Director of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the USSR Academy of Sciences in Moscow. He was succeeded by his friend Yevgeny Primakov in 1985.

Perestroika and its aftermath

Mikhail Gorbachev and Yakovlev opposite George H. W. Bush on board the SS Maxim Gorkiy at the Malta Summit in 1989.

Yakovlev as the head of the Commission on the Rehabilitation of Soviet Repression Victims meets President Vladimir Putin

When Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985, Yakovlev became a senior advisor, helping to shape Soviet foreign policy by advocating Soviet non-intervention in Eastern Europe, and accompanying Gorbachev on his five summit meetings with President of the United States Ronald Reagan. Domestically, he argued in favour of the reform programs that became known as glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) and played a key role in executing those policies.

In 1987, the Russian nationalist organization Pamyat sent a letter entitled "Stop Yakovlev!" to the plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, labelling Yakovlev as the main instigator of a course of action that would lead to the 'capitulation before the imperialists'.[6]

For decades, it was the official policy of the Soviet Union to deny the existence of the secret protocol to the Nazi-Soviet Pact. At the behest of Mikhail Gorbachev, Yakovlev headed a commission investigating the existence of such a protocol. In December 1989 Yakovlev concluded that the protocol had existed and revealed his findings to the Soviet Parliament. As a result, the first multi-party elected Congress of Soviets "passed the declaration admitting the existence of the secret protocols, condemning and denouncing them".[7]

He was promoted to the Politburo in 1987, but by 1990 he had become the focus of attacks by hardliner communists in the party opposed to liberalisation. At the 28th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in July 1990, a cynical Alexander Lebed caused uproar when he asked Yakovlev: "Alexander Nikolaevich... How many faces have you got?" An embarrassed Yakovlev consulted his colleagues and continued on with the proceedings, but resigned from the Politburo the day after the congress concluded.[8][9] As the communists opposed to liberalization gained strength, his position became more tenuous; fiercely attacked by his former protégé Gennady Zyuganov in May 1991, he resigned from the Party two days before the August Coup in 1991. During the coup Yakovlev joined the democratic opposition against it. Following the failed coup attempt, Yakovlev blamed Gorbachev for having been naive in bringing the plotters into his inner circle saying Gorbachev was "guilty of forming a team of traitors. Why did he surround himself with people capable of treason?"[10]

In his book Inside the Stalin Archives (2008), Jonathan Brent tells that in 1991, when there were Lithuanian crowds demonstrating for independence from the Soviet Union, Gorbachev consulted Yakovlev about the wisdom of an armed repression against them. Gorbachev asked, "Should we shoot?" Yakovlev answered that, "if a single Soviet soldier fired a single bullet on the unarmed crowds, Soviet power would be over." There were bullets, however, and the USSR collapsed seven months later.[11]

In the years following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Yakovlev wrote and lectured extensively on history, politics and economics. He acted as the leader of the Russian Party of Social Democracy, which in the mid-1990s fused into United Democrats (a pro-reform alliance that was later reorganized into Union of Rightist Forces). In 2002, acting as head of the Presidential Committee for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression, he was present at the announcement of the release of a CD detailing names and short biographies of the victims of Soviet purges. In his later life, he founded and led the International Democracy Foundation. He advocated taking responsibility for the past crimes of communism and was critical of President Putin's restrictions on democracy.

In 2000, he publicly alleged that Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who became famous for his role in saving thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust, was shot and killed in Soviet secret police headquarters in 1947.[citation needed] He was called "God's commie" in a 2002 article for investigating crimes of the Soviet state.[12]

Honours and awards


  • Alexander N. Yakovlev and Abel G. Aganbegyan, Perestroika, 1989, Scribner (1989), trade paperback, ISBN 0-684-19117-2
  • Alexander Yakovlev, USSR the Decisive Years, First Glance Books (1991), hardcover, ISBN 1-55013-410-8
  • Alexander Yakovlev, translated by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, The Fate of Marxism in Russia, Yale University Press (1993), hardcover, ISBN 0-300-05365-7; trade paperback, Lightning Source, UK, Ltd. (17 November 2004) ISBN 0-300-10540-1
  • Alexander N. Yakovlev, foreword by Paul Hollander, translated by Anthony Austin, Century of Violence in Soviet Russia, Yale University Press (2002), hardcover, 254 pages, ISBN 0-300-08760-8; trade paperback, Yale University Press (2002), 272 pages, ISBN 0-300-10322-0
  • A. N. Yakovlev, Горькая чаша (Bitter Cup), Yaroslavl, 1994.
  • A. N. Yakovlev, Сумерки (Time of Darkness - lit. "Dusk"), Moscow, 2003, 688 pages, ISBN 5-85646-097-9
  • Alexander N. Yakovlev, Digging Out: How Russia Liberated Itself from the Soviet Union, Encounter Books (December 1, 2004), hardcover, 375 pages, ISBN 1-59403-055-3

See also

  • Joseph S. Nye, Jr., former dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, considers Yakovlev's story a prime example of the importance of soft power in resolving international conflicts, such as, in Yakovlev's case, the Cold War.[13]


  1. "Alexander Yakovlev, 81". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. Archived from the original on 2005-10-20. Retrieved 24 May 2013. 
  2. Walker, Martin (2009-01-25). "Paper Trail". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-03-27. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Keller, Bill. "Moscow's other Mastermind: Aleksandr Yakovlev", New York Times Magazine, February 19, 1989, pp.30-33, 40-43. ISSN 0362-4331.
  4. Александр Яковлев Против антиисторизма - Литературная газета», 15 ноября 1972 г
  5. "Shaping Russia's Transformation: A Leader of Perestroika Looks Back - Interview with Aleksandr Yakovlev". Institute of International Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. November 21, 1996. Retrieved February 21, 2013. 
  6. «Остановите Яковлева!» Листовка—обращение Координационного Совета Патриотического Движения «Память» к Пленуму Центрального Комитета Коммунистической Партии Советского Союза
  7. Jerzy W. Borejsza, Klaus Ziemer, Magdalena Hułas. Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes in Europe, p. 521. Berghahn Books, 2006.
  8. Times Wire Services. "Six Quitting the Politburo: Exits Laid to Lessening of Party's Role". 3 July 1990.
  9. "General in Exile". 
  10. by Vladimir Isachenkov. Retrieved 2005-10-18
  11. Jonathan Brent. Inside the Stalin Archives. Discovering the New Russia. Atlas & Co., 2008 (ISBN 0-9777433-3-0) reviewed by Martin Walker in Paper Trail The New York Times, January 23, 2009.
  12. Pryce-Jones, David (2002). "God's Commie: The ongoing achievement of Alexander Yakovlev". pp. 24–26. 
  13. "Joseph Nye Testifies Before Congress on U.S. Security Strategy Post-9/11". John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. 6 November 2007. Archived from the original on 5 July 2014. 

Further reading

  • Christopher Shulgan, The Soviet Ambassador: The Making of the Radical Behind Perestroika, McClelland and Stewart (June 10, 2008), Hardcover, ISBN 978-0-7710-7996-2 (0-7710-7996-6), 288 pages.

External links

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