Alexei Kosygin

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Alexei Kosygin
Алексей Косыгин
Kosygin in 1967
8th Premier of the Soviet Union
In office
15 October 1964 – 23 October 1980
PresidentAnastas Mikoyan

Nikolai Podgorny

Leonid Brezhnev
DeputyFirst Deputy Premiers -
Dmitriy Ustinov
Kirill Mazurov
Dmitry Polyansky
Nikolai Tikhonov
LeaderLeonid Brezhnev
Preceded byNikita Khrushchev
Succeeded byNikolai Tikhonov
First Deputy Premier of the Soviet Union
In office
4 May 1960 – 15 October 1964
PresidentKliment Voroshilov
PremierNikita Khrushchev
Preceded byFrol Kozlov
Succeeded byDmitriy Ustinov
Chairman of the State Planning Committee
In office
20 March 1959 – 4 May 1960
PresidentKliment Voroshilov
PremierNikita Khrushchev
Preceded byJoseph Kuzmin
Succeeded byVladimir Novikov
Prime Minister of the Russian SFSR
In office
23 June 1943 – 23 March 1946
PresidentMikhail Kalinin
Nikolai Shvernik
PremierJoseph Stalin
Preceded byIvan Khokhlov
Full member of the 18th, 22nd, 23rd, 24th, & 25th CPSU Politburo
In office
4 May 1960 – 21 October 1980
Succeeded byMikhail Rodionov
In office
4 September 1948 – 16 October 1952
Candidate member of the 18th, 19th, & 20th CPSU PolitburoIn office
In office
29 June 1957 – 4 May 1960
In office
16 October 1952 – 5 March 1953
In office
18 March 1946 – 4 September 1948
Personal details
Born21 February [O.S. 8 February] 1904 Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Died18 December 1980 (aged 76) Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Resting placeKremlin Wall Necropolis, Moscow
Political partyCommunist Party of the Soviet Union (1927–1980)
Spouse(s)Klavdia Andreyevna (died 1967)
ResidenceHouse on the Embankment
ProfessionTeacher, civil servant
AwardsSee List
Military service
Allegiance Russian SFSR
Branch/serviceRed Army
Years of service1919–1921
CommandsRed Army
Battles/warsRussian Civil War
Second World War

Alexei Nikolayevich Kosygin (Russian: Алексе́й Никола́евич Косы́гин, IPA: [ɐlʲɪkˈsʲej nʲɪkɐˈla(j)ɪvʲɪtɕ kɐˈsɨɡʲɪn]; 21 February [O.S. 8 February] 1904 – 18 December 1980)[1] was a Russian Political Leader who was Longest Serving Premier of the Soviet Union. He was a friend of the previous Prime Minister, Nikita Khrushchev. He and Leonid Brezhnev led the country together until he died.

Early Life[change | change source]

Kosygin was born into a Russian working-class family consisting of his father and mother (Nikolai Ilyich and Matrona Alexandrovna) and his siblings. The family lived in Saint Petersburg. Kosygin was baptized (7 March 1904) one month after his birth. He lost his mother in infancy and was brought up by his father.

He and his father sympathized with the Revolution and Alexei was conscripted into a labour army on the Bolshevik side at the age of 14 during the Russian Civil War of 1917–1922. After demobilization from the Red Army in 1921, Kosygin attended the Leningrad Co-operative Technical School and found work in the system of consumer co-operatives in Novosibirsk, Siberia. When asked[when?] why he worked in the co-operative sector of the economy, Kosygin replied, quoting a slogan of Vladimir Lenin: "Co-operation – the path to socialism!" Kosygin stayed there for six years until Robert Eikhe personally advised him to quit, shortly before the repressions hit the Soviet consumer co-operation movement.

Rise to Power[change | change source]

Pre-war period[change | change source]

He applied for a membership in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1927 and returned to Leningrad in 1930 to study at the Leningrad Textile Institute [ru]; he graduated in 1935. After finishing his studies, Kosygin worked as a foreman and later a manager in a textile mill director. He rose rapidly during the Great Purge, overseen in Leningrad by the provincial communist party boss, Andrei Zhdanov. He was appointed director of the October Textile Factory in 1937, head of the Industry and Transport department of the Leningrad provincial communist party in July 1938, and in October 1938, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Leningrad City Soviets of Working People's Deputies, ie 'mayor' of Leningrad City. In 1939, he was appointed People's Commissar for Textile and Industry and earned a seat on the Central Committee (CC). In 1940 Kosygin became a Deputy Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars.

Wartime[change | change source]

Kosygin was appointed by the State Defence Committee to manage critically important missions during the Great Patriotic War (World War II).

As deputy chairman of the Council of Evacuation, he had the task of evacuating industry from territories about to be overrun by the Axis. Under his command 1523 factories were evacuated eastwards, as well as huge volumes of raw materials, ready-made goods and equipment. Kosygin managed clearing of congestions on the railroads in order to maintain their stable operation.

During the siege of Leningrad he was sent to his hometown to manage the construction of an ice road and a pipeline across Lake Ladoga.  This allowed evacuating some half-million people, and brought fuel to its factories and power plants.

In 1943 Alexey Kosygin was promoted to Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars (government) of the Russian SFSR. In 1944 he was appointed to head the Currency Board of the Soviet Union.

Afterwar period[change | change source]

Kosygin became a candidate member of the Politburo in 1946. During the Soviet famine of 1946–47 He headed the foodstuff relief missions to the most suffering regions. He was appointed USSR Minister for Finance in February 1948, and a full member of the Politburo on 4 September 1948, putting him among the dozen or so most ranking officials in the USSR.

Kosygin's administrative skills led Stalin to take the younger man under his wing. Stalin shared information with Kosygin, such as how much money the families of Vyacheslav Molotov, Anastas Mikoyan, and Lazar Kaganovich possessed, spent and paid their staff. (A Politburo member earned a modest salary by Soviet standards but enjoyed unlimited access to consumer goods.) Stalin sent Kosygin to each home[when?] to put their houses into "proper order".

Temporary fall[change | change source]

Kosygin's patron, Zhdanov, died suddenly in August 1948. Soon afterwards, Zhdanov's old rivals Lavrentiy Beria and Georgy Malenkov persuaded Stalin to let them remove members of the decapitated Zhdanov faction, of whom the three most prominent were Nikolai Voznesensky, then Chairman of the State Planning Committee and a First Deputy Premier, Alexey Kuznetsov, the party secretary with oversight over the security, and Kosygin. During the brutal purge that followed, known as the Leningrad affair, Voznesensky, Kuznetsov and many others were arrested and shot. Kosygin was relegated to the post of USSR Minister for Light Industry, while nominally retaining his membership of the Politburo until 1952. Nikita Khrushchev wrote in his memoirs:

"Beria and Malenkov were doing everything they could to wreck this troika of Kuznetsov, Voznesensky and Kosygin ... Many people perished in Leningrad. So did many people who had been transferred from Leningrad to work in other regions. As for Kosygin, his life was hanging by a thread ... Men who had been arrested and condemned in Leningrad made ridiculous accusations against him ... I simply can't explain how he was saved from being eliminated along with the others. Kosygin, as they say, must have drawn a lucky lottery ticket."

Kosygin told his son-in-law Mikhail Gvishiani, an NKVD officer, of the accusations leveled against Voznesensky because of his possession of firearms. Gvishiani and Kosygin threw all their weapons into a lake and searched both their own houses for any listening devices. They found one at Kosygin's house, but it might have been installed to spy on Marshal Georgy Zhukov, who had lived there before him. According to his memoirs, Kosygin never left his home without reminding his wife what to do if he did not return from work. After living two years in constant fear, the family reached the conclusion[when?] that Stalin would not harm them. 

Khrushchev era[change | change source]

In September 1953, six months after Stalin's death, Kosygin was appointed USSR Minister for Industrial Goods, and in December he was reinstated as a Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers, under Malenkov, Stalin's immediate successor, but lost that position in December 1956, during Khrushchev's ascendancy, when he was appointed Deputy Chairman of the State Economic Commission. When the power struggle between Khrushchev and the so-called 'Anti-Party Group came to a head in 1957, Kosygin backed Khrushchev because, as he said later, if Malenkov and his allies had won "blood would have flowed again", but the French journalist Michel Tatu, a close observer who based in Moscow at the time, concluded that "Kosygin did not owe anything to Khrushchev" and that out of the post-1957 leadership "was visibly the least willing to praise the First Secretary", and that Khrushchev was "somewhat reluctant" to promote Kosygin.

However, despite Khrushchev's reluctance, Kosygin's career made a steady recovery. In June 1957, he was again appointed a Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers (for the third time), and a candidate member of the Presidium Central Committee (the renamed Politburo). In March 1959, he was made Chairman of Gosplan, and on 4 May 1960, he was promoted First deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers, and a full member of the Presidium.

As First Deputy Premier Kosygin travelled abroad, mostly on trade missions, to countries such as North Korea, India, Argentina and Italy. Since 1959 Kosygin headed Soviet mission to the ComEcon. Later, in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kosygin was the Soviet spokesman for improved relations between the Soviet Union and the United States. According to Michel Tatu, in 1960–62, Kosygin was one of the 'big four', with Khrushchev, Frol Kozlov and Leonid Brezhnev, who would be present in the Kremlin to greet visiting leaders of East European communist parties, implying, but in November 1962, after Khrushchev complained about the management of Gosplan, and opposed Kosygin's plans for economic reform, he was removed from the inner leadership.

Prime Minister of the Soviet Union (1964-1980)[change | change source]

Kosygin at the Glassboro Summit Conference, 23 June 1967

When Khrushchev was removed from power in October 1964, Kosygin replaced him as Premier in a collective leadership that included Leonid Brezhnev as general secretary and Nikolai Podgorny who ultimately became Chairman of the Presidium. Overall, the new Politburo adopted a more conservative outlook than that under Khrushchev's rule.

Kosygin, Podgorny and Andrei Kirilenko were the most reformist members, Brezhnev and Arvīds Pelše belonged to the moderate faction while Mikhail Suslov retained his leadership of the party's Stalinist wing.

In October 1964, at a ceremony in honour of Soviet cosmonauts, Brezhnev called for the strengthening of the Party apparatus. This speech was only the beginning of a large campaign directed against Kosygin. Several newspapers, such as Pravda and Kommunist, criticized the work of the Council of Ministers, and indirectly Kosygin, its chairman, for planning the economy in an unrealistic fashion, and used the highly aggressive rhetoric previously used to condemn Khrushchev against Kosygin.

Brezhnev was able to criticize Kosygin by contrasting him with Vladimir Lenin, who - Brezhnev claimed - had been more interested in improving the conditions of Soviet agriculture than improving the quality of light industrial goods. Kosygin's support for producing more consumer goods was also criticized by Brezhnev, and his supporters, most notably Konstantin Chernenko, for being a return to quasi First World policies. At the 23rd Party Congress, Kosygin's position was weakened when Brezhnev's supporters were able to increase expenditure on defense and agriculture. However, Brezhnev did not have a majority in the Politburo, and could count on only four votes. In the Politburo, Kosygin could count on Kiril Mazurov's vote, and when Kosygin and Podgorny were not bickering with each other, they actually had a majority in the Politburo over Brezhnev. Unfortunately for Kosygin this was not often the case, and Kosygin and Podgorny were constantly disagreeing on policy.

Early during Kosygin's tenure, the Brezhnev–Kosygin attempt to create stability was failing on various fronts. From 1969 to 1970, discontent within the Soviet leadership had grown to such an extent that some started to doubt both former and current Soviet policies. Examples include the handling of the Prague Spring and the later Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia[29] (which Kosygin initially resisted), the decline in agriculture production, the Sino–Soviet border conflict (he advocated restraint), the Vietnam War, and the Soviet–American talks on the limitation of strategic missiles. Two summit conferences between the US and the USSR were held: the Warsaw Pact Summit Conference and the Moscow Summit Conference; both failed to gain support for Soviet policies.

By 1970, these differences had not been resolved, and Brezhnev postponed the 24th Party Congress and the Ninth Five-Year Plan (1971–1975). The delay in resolving these issues led to rumors circulating in Soviet society that Kosygin, or even Brezhnev, would lose their posts to Podgorny. By March 1971, it became apparent that Brezhnev was the leader of the country, with Kosygin as the spokesman of the five-year plan and Podgorny's position within the collective leadership strengthened.

Foreign policy[change | change source]

Kosygin with US President Lyndon B. Johnson at the 1967 Glassboro Summit Conference

Early on in his tenure, Kosygin challenged Brezhnev's right as general secretary to represent the country abroad, a function Kosygin believed should fall into the hands of the head of government, as was common in non-communist countries. This was actually implemented for a short period,[16] which led Henry A. Kissinger to believe that Kosygin was the leader of the Soviet Union.[5] Kosygin, who had been the chief negotiator with the First World during the 1960s, was hardly to be seen outside the Second World[33] after Brezhnev consolidated his position within the Politburo,[16] but also due to Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko's dislike of Kosygin meddling into his own ministerial affairs.[34]

The Six-Day War in the Middle East had the effect of increasing Soviet–American cooperation; to improve relations even further, the United States Government invited Kosygin to a summit with Lyndon B. Johnson, the President of the United States, following his speech to the United Nations.[35] At the summit, which became known as the Glassboro Summit Conference, Johnson and Kosygin failed to reach agreement on limiting anti-ballistic missile systems, but the summit's friendly and even open atmosphere was referred to as the "Spirit of Glassboro".[36] Relations between the two countries improved further when the 1970 Moscow Treaty was signed on 12 August 1970 by Kosygin and Gromyko and Willy Brandt and Walter Scheel who represented West Germany.[37] In 1971, Kosygin gave an extensive interview to the American delegation that included David Rockefeller, presenting his views on US-Soviet relations, environmental protection, arms control and other issues.[38][39]

Alexei Kosygin (left) and Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr signing the Iraqi–Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Co-Operation in 1972

Kosygin developed a close friendly relationship with the President of Finland Urho Kekkonen, which helped the USSR to maintain active mutual trade with Finland and to keep it away from Cold War confrontation.[40]

In 1972, Kosygin signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the government of Iraq, building on strong Soviet ties to the Iraqi Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party and previous close relations with Iraqi leader Abd al-Karim Qasim.[41]

Kosygin protected János Kádár's economic reforms and his position as leader of the Hungarian People's Republic from intervention by the Soviet leadership.[42] Polish leader Władysław Gomułka, who was removed from all of his posts in 1970, was succeeded by Edward Gierek who tried to revitalize the economy of the People's Republic of Poland by borrowing money from the First World. The Soviet leadership approved both countries' respective economic experiments, since it was trying to reduce its large Eastern Bloc subsidy programme in the form of cheap oil and gas exports.[43] During the discussions within the Soviet leadership of a possible Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia Kosygin reminded leaders of the consequences of the Soviet suppression of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. Kosygin's stance became more aggressive later on when he understood that the reforms in Czechoslovakia could be turned against his 1965 Soviet economic reform.[44]

We should tell Taraki and Amin to change their tactics. They still continue to execute those people who disagree with them. They are killing nearly all of the Parcham leaders, not only the highest rank, but of the middle rank, too.

— Kosygin speaking at a Politburo session.[45]

Kosygin acted as a mediator between India and Pakistan in 1966, and got both nations to sign the Tashkent Declaration. Kosygin became the chief spokesman on the issue of arms control. In retrospect, many of Kosygin's colleagues felt he carried out his work "stoically", but lacked "enthusiasm", and therefore never developed a real taste for international politics.[46]

The Sino–Soviet split chagrined Kosygin a great deal, and for a while he refused to accept its irrevocability; he briefly visited Beijing in 1969 due to increased tension between the USSR and Maoist China. Kosygin said, in a close-knit circle, that "We are communists and they are communists. It is hard to believe we will not be able to reach an agreement if we met face to face".[46] His view on China changed however, and according to Harold Wilson, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Kosygin viewed China as an "organized military dictatorship" whose intended goal was to enslave "Vietnam and the whole of Asia".[47]

During an official visit by an Afghan delegation, Kosygin and Andrei Kirilenko criticized Afghan leaders Nur Muhammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin for Stalinist-like repressionist behaviour. He promised to send more economic and military aid, but rejected any proposal regarding a possible Soviet intervention, as an intervention in Afghanistan would strain the USSR's foreign relations with the First World according to Kosygin, most notably West Germany.[48] However, in a closed meeting, without Kosygin, who strongly opposed any kind of military intervention, the Politburo unanimously supported a Soviet intervention.[49]

Economic policyEditFive-Year PlansEdit

Further information: Five-year plans of the Soviet Union

The Eighth Five-Year Plan (1966–1970) is considered to be one of the most successful periods for the Soviet economy and the most successful when it comes to consumer production (see The "Kosygin" reform).[14] It became known as the "golden era".[50] The 23rd Party Congress and the Ninth Five-Year Plan (1971–1975) had been postponed by Brezhnev due to a power struggle within the Soviet leadership.[29] At the 23rd Party Congress Kosygin promised that the Ninth Five-Year Plan would increase the supply of food, clothing and other household appliances up to 50 percent.[51] The plan envisaged a massive increase in the Soviet standard of living, with Kosygin proclaiming a growth of 40 percent for the population's cash income in his speech to the congress.[52]

The Tenth Five-Year Plan (1976–1981) was referred to by Kosygin as the "plan of quality".[53] Brezhnev rejected Kosygin's bid for producing more consumer goods during the Tenth Five-Year Plan. As a result, the total volume of consumer goods in industrial production only stood at 26 percent. Kosygin's son-in-law notes that Kosygin was furious with the decision, and proclaimed increased defence expenditure would become the Soviet Union's "complete ruin".[54] The plan was less ambitious than its predecessors, with targets of national industrial growth no higher than what the rest of the world had already achieved. Soviet agriculture would receive a share investment of 34 percent, a share much larger than its proportional contribution to the Soviet economy, as it accounted for only 3 percent of the Soviet GDP.[55]

The "Kosygin" reformEdit

Main article: 1965 Soviet economic reform

Like Khrushchev, Kosygin tried to reform the command economy within a socialist framework. In 1965 Kosygin initiated an economic reform widely referred to as the "Kosygin reform". Kosygin sought to make Soviet industry more efficient by including some market measures common in the First World such as profit making for instance; he also tried to increase quantity of production, increase incentives for managers and workers, and freeing managers from centralized state bureaucracy.[56] The reform had been proposed to Khrushchev in 1964, who evidently liked it and took some preliminary steps to implement it. Brezhnev allowed the reform to proceed because the Soviet economy was entering a period of low growth.[57] In its testing phase, the reform was applied to 336 enterprises in light industry.[58]

The reform was influenced by the works of Soviet economist Evsei Liberman. Kosygin overestimated the ability of the Soviet administrative machine to develop the economy, which led to "corrections" to some of Liberman's more controversial beliefs about decentralization. According to critics, Kosygin's changes to Liberman's original vision caused the reform to fail.[57]

A propaganda poster promoting the reform. The poster reads: We're forging the keys of happiness.

Kosygin believed that decentralization, semi-public companies, and cooperatives were keys to catching up to the First World's contemporary level of economic growth. His reform sought a gradual change from a "state-administered economy" to an economy in which "the state restricts itself to guiding enterprises".[59] The reform was implemented, but showed several malfunctions and inconsistencies early on.[56]


The salary for Soviet citizens increased abruptly by almost 2.5 times during the plan. Real wages in 1980 amounted to 232.7 rubles, compared to 166.3 rubles before the 1965 Soviet economic reform and the Eighth Five-Year Plan. The first period, 1960–1964, was characterized by low growth, while the second period, 1965–1981, had a stronger growth rate. The second period vividly demonstrated the success of the Kosygin reform, with the average annual growth in retail turnover being 11.2 billion rubles, 1.8 times higher than in the first period and 1.2 times higher than the third period (1981–1985). Consumption of goods and daily demand also increased. The consumption of home appliances greatly increased. Refrigerators increased from a low of 109,000 in 1964 to 440,000 units by 1973; consumption declined during the reversal of the reform. Car production increased, and would continue to do so until the late 1980s. The Soviet leadership, under pressure, sought to provide more attractive goods for Soviet consumers.[60]

The removal of Khrushchev in 1964 signalled the end of his "housing revolution". Housing construction declined between 1960 and 1964 to an average of 1.63 million square metres. Following this sudden decrease, housing construction increased sharply between 1965 and 1966, but dropped again, and then steadily grew (the average annual growth rate was 4.26 million square metres). This came largely at the expense of businesses. While the housing shortage was never fully resolved, and still remains a problem in present-day Russia, the reform overcame the negative trend and renewed the growth of housing construction.[14]

Cancellation and aftermathEdit

Growing hostility towards reform, the initial poor results, and Kosygin's reformist stance, led to a popular backlash against him. Kosygin lost most of the privileges he had enjoyed before the reform, but Brezhnev was never able to remove him from the office of Chairman of the Council of Ministers, despite his weakened position.[5] In the aftermath of his failed reform, Kosygin spent the rest of his life improving the economic administration through the modification of targets; he implemented various programmes to improve food security and ensure the future intensification of production.[61] There is no proof to back up the claim that the reform itself contributed to the high growth seen in the late-1960s, or that its cancellation had anything to do with the stagnating growth of the economy which began in the 1970s.[62]

1973 and 1979 reformsEdit

Main articles: 1973 Soviet economic reform and 1979 Soviet economic reform

Kosygin initiated another economic reform in 1973 with the intentions of weakening the central Ministries and giving more powers to the regional authorities in republican and local-levels. The reform's failure to meet Kosygin's goal led to its cancellation. However, the reform succeeded in creating associations, an organization representing various enterprises.[63] The last significant reform undertaken by the pre-perestroika leadership was initiated by Kosygin's fifth government in a joint decision of the Central Committee and the Council of Ministers. The "Improving planning and reinforcing the effects of the economic mechanism on raising the effectiveness in production and improving the quality of work", more commonly known as the 1979 reform. The reform, in contrast to the 1965 reform, was intended to increase the central government's economic involvement by enhancing the duties and responsibilities of the ministries. Due to Kosygin's resignation in 1980, and because of Nikolai Tikhonov's conservative approach to economics, very little of the reform was actually implemented.

Awards and Honors[change | change source]

  • Order of Lenin(6 times - 1939,1944,1954,1964,1974,1974)
  • Order of the October Revolution (1979)
  • Order of the Red Banner (1943)
  • Gold Star Order
  • Grand Cross of the Order of the Sun of Peru‎ (1970)
  • José Marti Order
  • "Hero of the Socialist Labour(2 times - 1964,1974)
  • Order of Klement Gottwald (1979)
  • Order of the White Lion (1970)
  • Medal "Veteran of Labour"
  • Medal "For Valiant Labour in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945" (1945)
  • Jubilee Medal "In Commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin" (1970)
  • Medal "For the Defence of Leningrad" (1945)
  • Medal "For the Defence of Moscow" (1945)
  • Medal "For the Victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945" (1945)
  • Jubilee Medal "Twenty Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945" (1965)
  • Jubilee Medal "Thirty Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945" (1975)
  • Jubilee Medal "50 Years of the Armed Forces of the USSR" (1968)
  • Jubilee Medal "60 Years of the Armed Forces of the USSR" (1978)
  • Medal "In Commemoration of the 800th Anniversary of Moscow" (1947)
  • Medal "In Commemoration of the 250th Anniversary of Leningrad" (1954)

References[change | change source]

  1. Tucker, Spencer C.; Roberts, Priscilla (2008). "Kosygin, Alexei". The Encyclopedia of the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A Political, Social, and Military History [4 volumes]: A Political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1851098422.