Kosygin, Alexei Nikolayevich

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(19041980), Soviet prime minister.

Alexei Kosygin was born into a worker's family in St. Petersburg. After finishing schooling at the Leningrad Cooperative Technical School in 1924, he moved to Siberia and worked in a series of positions in the cooperative movement. It was while in Siberia, in 1927, that he joined the Communist Party. After returning to Leningrad he completed further studies at the Leningrad Textile Institute in 1935. Reflecting the opportunities opened up by the Stalinist terror and the patronage of Leningrad party boss Andrei Zhdanov, Kosygin moved rapidly from being a foreman and shop superintendent in the Zhelyabov factory through a series of industrial, city, and party posts, until in 1939 he became people's commissar for the textile industry. From April 1940 until March 1953 he was deputy chairman of the Council of People's Commissars (from 1946 Council of Ministers), or deputy prime minister; from June 1943 until March 1946 he was also prime minister of Russia. During this period, he likewise held a series of ministerial appointments, principally in the light industry and consumer goods industry areas. Kosygin had become a full member of the Party's Central Committee in 1939, a candidate member of the Politburo in March 1946, and a full member in February 1948.

Kosygin's upward trajectory was halted in connection with the fall of Zhdanov and the Leningrad Affair. Although one of the intended victims of this affair, Kosygin survived, but at the Nineteenth Party Congress in 1952 he was dropped to candidate status in the Presidium (as the Politburo was then called). Following Stalin's death and the consolidation of the position of one of Kosygin's enemies, Georgy Malenkov, Kosygin was dropped altogether from the enlarged Presidium in March 1953. At the same time, he was removed as deputy prime minister. He retained a ministerial position in the consumer goods/light industry sector and was restored as deputy prime minister in December 1953. He held this post until December 1956 when he became deputy chair (and from 1959 chair) of the state planning body. With Malenkov's fall as part of the Antiparty Group, in June 1957 Kosygin was restored to candidate membership of the Presidium and in the following month to the deputy prime ministership. He retained this post, from May 1960 as first deputy chairman, until October 1964, when he became chairman of the Council of Ministers, or prime minister. In May 1960 he also became a full member of the Central Committee Presidium.

The fluctuations in Kosygin's official positions in the early to mid-1950s reflect the vicissitudes of factional politics in the late-Stalin and early post-Stalin periods. In particular, Kosygin's fortunes seem to have been related inversely to those of Malenkov. Khrushchev's triumph over the Anti-party Group consolidated Kosygin's position near the apex of Soviet politics, but it was Kosygin's turning against Khrushchev that later allowed Kosygin to attain prime ministership. When the Soviet leadership tired of Khrushchev, they turned to Kosygin and Brezhnev. In the initial post-Khrushchev period, there seemed to be a general balance both between these two leaders and within the broader party leadership. Initially Kosygin was actively involved in foreign policy, including overseeing the Tashkent Agreement between India and Pakistan in 1965, negotiating with U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson at Glassboro in 1967, and conducting key talks with the Chinese in 1965 and 1969. He was the sponsor of the so-called Liberman economic reforms (also known as the Kosygin reforms) in September 1965, which sought to generate greater autonomy from party control for the economic managers, although he also tightened central direction of the economy by eliminating the regional economic councils. Kosygin basically sought the more efficient management of the economy, but with the hostile Soviet reaction to the Prague Spring, the likelihood of liberalizing moves in the economy was eliminated. The suppression of the Prague Spring marked the ascendancy of Brezhnev and the clear subordination of Kosygn, who remained prime minister until his retirement in October 1980, and therefore through most of the period that Gorbachev would later call the "era of stagnation". He was more a technocrat than a politician, but bears some of the responsibility for the Soviet Union's perilous economic situation during the 1980s.

See also: brezhnev, leonid ilich; kosygin reforms; leningrad affair; malenkov, georgy maximilyanovich; zhdanov, andrei alexandrovich


Breslauer, George W. (1982). Khrushchev and Brezhnev as Leaders: Building Authority in Soviet Politics. London: Allen & Unwin.

Gelman, Harry. (1984). The Brezhnev Politburo and the Decline of Détente. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Tatu, Michel. (1968). Power in the Kremlin: From Khrushchev to Kosygin. New York: Viking.

Graeme Gill

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Alexei Nikolayevich Kosygin

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