Skip to main content

Yakovlev, Alexander Nikolayevich


(b. 1922), secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (March 1986 to mid-1990) and member of the Politburo (mid-1987 to mid-1990).

Alexander Yakovlev was General Secretary Gorbachev's closest advisor and most loyal supporter in the Soviet leadership during the first five years of perestroika. During the 1960s and early 1970s Yakovlev held a series of responsible positions in the propaganda department of the Central Committee. In 1972, while serving as the acting director of the department, he published a scathing attack on the growing Russophile tendency within the Communist Party; this alienated a segment of the party leadership and led to his exile as ambassador to Canada, where he remained until 1983. When Gorbachev visited Canada that year as the head of a delegation from the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, he was reportedly so impressed with Yakovlev that he named him the director of the USSR Academy of Sciences's major research institute on international affairs.

With Gorbachev's selection as General Secretary in 1985, Yakovlev emerged as Gorbachev's most influential advisor on both foreign and domestic policies. Yakovlev was often characterized as the architect of perestroika, but it is impossible to determine the accuracy of this assertion. He was

named the director of the propaganda department of the Central Committee in 1985 and was a member of the small Soviet delegation to the first summit conference with President Reagan in November of that same year. He attended all subsequent summit meetings.

In early 1986 Yakovlev was named a Secretary of the Central Committee and soon became locked in a battle with Secretary Yegor Ligachev for control of the party's ideological and cultural policies. Over the next two years he emerged as an articulate supporter of Gorbachev's new thinking in international relations, championed democratization and glasnost at home, defined the objectives of cultural life in humanist rather than socialist terms, and challenged orthodox definitions of Marxism-Leninism. He often proved more radical than Gorbachev in his definition of democratization, his enthusiasm for the establishment of cooperatives, and for private economic activity.

Yakovlev's orientation seemed to change after the reform of the Secretariat and apparat in the fall of 1988, which led to his appointment as the director of the Central Committee's new commission on international policy. Over the next two years he emerged as a social democrat and political liberal who insisted that the extension of individual freedom was the true objective of reform. After his selection as a deputy to the Congress of People's Deputies in 1989, he championed the extension of electoral politics, expressed doubts about the capacity of the Communist Party to lead reform, and endorsed a multiparty political system.

With Gorbachev's selection as President of the USSR in March 1990, Yakovlev was named to Gorbachev's advisory council and retired from his positions as Secretary of the Central Committee and member of the Politburo in mid-1990. Increasingly disillusioned with the Communist Party, in mid-1991 he helped to form an alternative, rival political movement, publicly repudiated Marxism, and resigned as Gorbachev's advisor. In August 1991 he quit the Communist Party and warned of an impending coup against the President.

See also: central committee; gorbachev, mikhail sergeyevich; ligachev, yegor kuzmich; perestroika


Harris, Jonathan. (1990). "The Public Politics of Aleksandr Nikolaevich Yakovlev, 19831989." The Carl Beck Papers in Russian and East European Studies. Pittsburgh, PA: Center for Russian and East European Studies.

Yakovlev, Alexander. (1993). The Fate of Marxism in Russia. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Jonathan Harris

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Yakovlev, Alexander Nikolayevich." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . 20 Feb. 2019 <>.

"Yakovlev, Alexander Nikolayevich." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . (February 20, 2019).

"Yakovlev, Alexander Nikolayevich." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Retrieved February 20, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.