In the years after his overthrow, Nikita Khrushchev sat with a boxy reel-to-reel tape recorder and dictated his memoirs for hours at a time. To avoid the listening devices he knew had been planted in his house, he worked at first outside his dacha in Petrovo-Dalneye. One can hear on the tapes the buzz of planes flying overhead. But soon the old man grew disgusted with the discomfort and inconvenience of working in the cold. “To hell with the bugs!” he said and moved the project into the house.1
It was not long before the KGB and the Communist Party, under Khrushchev’s successor, Leonid Brezhnev, tried to quash the memoirs. Brezhnev’s deputy in the Central Committee, Andrei Kirilenko, summoned Khrushchev to the Kremlin for a dressing down.
“The Central Committee has received information that you have been writing your memoirs for quite some time, and that they include many events of Party and state history,” Kirilenko said. “Actually, you are rewriting Party history. But interpreting the history of our Party and state is the business of the Central Committee, and not of private individuals, let alone pensioners. The Politburo demands that you stop work on these memoirs and immediately turn over what you’ve already dictated to the Central Committee.”
In a scene shot through with black comedy, the former general secretary and arbiter of ideology insisted on his rights “as an individual” to write his book, and, like so many dissident authors before him, he had his manuscript smuggled abroad to ensure its survival. Little, Brown published the first of three volumes in 1970. Once the issue of authenticity was settled, historians mined the Khrushchev memoirs for their descriptions of Stalin and Stalinism, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the invasion of Hungary, and the author’s overthrow in 1964. Brezhnev and his liegemen could only look on with frustration and disgust. They had run out of punishments. Khrushchev died in 1971 an unlikely, but highly valuable, Kremlinologist.
Soon after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in March 1985, Khrushchev’s loyal son, Sergei, wrote the new leader and asked that the memoirs be published officially, at long last, in the Soviet Union. Gorbachev did not need much convincing. He was obsessed with the example of Nikita Sergeyevich. Gorbachev envisioned perestroika as a resumption of the anti-Stalinist campaign first waged by Khrushchev at the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956. He needed to legitimize Khrushchev, to rehabilitate both him and what he represented. Gorbachev was well aware that Khrushchev’s failure of intellect, courage, and political skill in the early 1960’s had led to the collapse of reform and the neo-Stalinist regime of Brezhnev. Gorbachev hoped that by gradually purging the Communist Party leadership of reactionaries and by nominating more reform-minded figures he could avoid that fate and survive in power. The publication of Khrushchev’s memoirs, therefore, was also a cautionary tale, a message to himself of what to resume, what to avoid.
By 1991, the last year of the Soviet regime, all had changed, including the taboo against political memoirs. Suddenly everyone was writing them. Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and Andrei Sakharov had already published books at home and abroad, and now dozens of secondary figures were spending time at their tape recorders and quizzing foreign contacts about literary agents and first serial rights. Everyone from the leader of Kazakhstan to Brezhnev’s doctor decided the world must know their secrets. We can only hope that Gorbachev, after publishing two thin and self-serving memoirs, will do better in the more comprehensive book that he and his aides are now assembling. So far his vanity and resentment have stood in the way of his writing a Russian Present at the Creation.
I’ve read more of these memoirs of secondary figures than is healthy and found them lacking not only in substance but also in the sort of lurid revelations and fibbing that makes the work of, say, Michael Deaver so enjoyable. Mostly these officials whine. Nikolai Ryzhkov, the former prime minister known as the “weeping Bolshevik” for his crying jags when he was attacked in public, spends an entire book calling Gorbachev a “betrayer,” but he is so steeped in the old Communist Party discipline that he shovels no filth worth sniffing at. He is a hopelessly boring gossip.
Of the spate of memoirs published in the past two years, the most valuable may be One Hundred Forty Talks With Molotov, a huge compilation of the “thoughts” of Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin’s loyal foreign minister. The poet Feliks Chuyev (try to imagine Rod McKuen gone Stalinist) regularly visited Molotov at his country estate in the town of Zhukovka and interviewed him, took strolls with him, and shared a bottle or two. The meetings began in 1968 and went on fairly regularly until Molotov’s death at the age of ninety-seven in 1986.
If only as an example of the mindlessness of the Soviet leadership in the Stalin era, Chuyev’s book should be published in every language. (So far I’ve only been able to find it in a few stores and at street corner book stands in Moscow.) If the accounts are accurate—and there is no reason to doubt them—Molotov’s conversations and monologues provide assurance that the banality of evil has never been a quality limited to the borders of Germany. Molotov, a pipsqueak in the Revolution, rose to his great position because he was efficient, loyal, and had the good sense to side with the prevailing butcher. Molotov, Lenin once said, “is the best filing clerk in the Soviet Union.” After Stalin fired as foreign commissar the one relatively intellectual, relatively free-thinking figure at his side—Maxim Litvinov—he looked to Molotov to do his bidding abroad. In recent times, Molotov has been best remembered for brokering the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, which resulted in the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states the next year. The regime’s admission a half-century later that the pact had been illegal encouraged the growth of independence movements in the region, and throughout the Soviet Union.
Although his loyal circle of Stalinists lost in the power struggle to Khrushchev, Molotov lived to see himself reinstated as a Party member in 1984 during the brief Chernenko era. He had served Stalin well. He played a crucial role not only in foreign affairs but also in the purges and the collectivization campaigns. That the Party rehabilitated a man up to his neck in blood gives some idea of its nature on the eve of Gorbachev’s ascension.
On their walks in the woods, Chuyev never challenges Molotov, never suggests that he might be guilty of some crime or ethical breach. He merely asks him in a “Some people say…” sort of tone about Stalin, the pact with the Nazis, collectivization, and the rest. Over and over again, Molotov makes no apologies. There were spies everywhere, he insists. There were enemies. There were capitalists, bourgeois farmers, bourgeois intellectuals in our midst. They had to be destroyed. Stalin was an “honest person” who “strengthened the Party and the international communist movement” through his vision and determination to do what was necessary:
[The purges of] 1937 were necessary. To be honest, after the revolution we wavered left and right, but there were all manner of enemies around and we were faced with the dangers of fascist aggression which united them. In 1937, we had to make sure there would be no fifth column in a war…I don’t think we should have rehabilitated many of the military people who were repressed in 1937. Perhaps these people were not spies, but they had links to spies, and, most important, at the decisive moment there were no hopes in them…
Part diplomat, part executioner, Molotov spoke the Soviet language flawlessly despite a nasty speech impediment. Everything is a formula, a word cluster masking one brutality or another. There are no excuses, no thoughts, only stock phrases. As Chuyev relates, Molotov considered the purges a mere extension of the revolution in a time of “complicated international circumstances.”
“But it was awful wasn’t it that good men were killed?” Chuyev asks.
“Such a bitter matter.” Molotov replies. “In such bitter struggles, in such difficulties, hands are not always raised against the correct people, and sometimes, maybe, good men are killed, and there were some such, without doubt. But this is difficult to prove. A dictatorship of the proletariat, any dictatorship, requires strict discipline.”
When the conservative majority in the Communist Party was waging its war against reform and revolution in the late 1980s. Molotov’s favorite word, “discipline,” became a sort of mantra. To this day, as Russia and the other former Soviet republics suffer their terrible growing pains of runaway inflation, ethnic clashes, and political intrigue, the reactionaries still see freedom and chaos as one and the same. Always the nostalgia for the “iron hand,” for discipline. For centuries, Russian autocrats have played upon this stereotype, insisting that the typical Russian craves only a crust of bread, a place to sleep, and a mean existence. He will not countenance the disorder of cultural or religious freedom, economic competition, uncertainties of any kind. The Russian craves only order. Such has been the rationale for Russian disciplinarians since Ivan the Terrible.
The man who came to embody discipline in the Gorbachev years was Yegor Kuzmich Ligachev, Gorbachev’s number two man in the Communist Party when the regime began in 1985. Ligachev’s memoirs are an anecdotal, self-justifying, and frequently untruthful account of his initial participation in perestroika and then his resistance to a fatal “radicalization” that he blames on Gorbachev. Kremlin advisers Aleksandr Yakovlev and Eduard Shevardnadze, and the various nationalist fronts that helped force the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Ligachev, it turns out, has the American knack for anecdote and self-pity. His literary style is that of a Communist Don Regan. The odd thing about him is that he is also charming, both in person and in his prose. Although everyone I have ever known who worked with him describes Ligachev as relentless and tough, he is, at least in the presence of those he wishes to woo, strangely modest, even (don’t laugh) gentle. Inside Gorbachev’s Kremlin represents Ligachev’s attempt to charm history, to portray himself as a hero of the “good” perestroika—the relatively deliberate period 1985 to 1988—and a martyr of the “bad,” or radicalized, perestroika, which led to the collapse of the Party and the Union.
Ligachev grew up in Siberia and served in Novosibirsk and Tomsk as a Party functionary and leader. Unlike the corrupt emirs who ran the southern republics as their personal kingdoms, he was an ascetic taskmaster who instructed his underlings in Tomsk that they could only smoke in the bathroom. In 1983, Yuri Andropov brought Ligachev to Moscow, and Ligachev, in turn, took Andropov as a model—a tough, even brutal, leader who saw the Soviet Union’s salvation in the elimination of corruption, tightly controlled liberalization in cultural life, and, above all, discipline. Discipline in the Party, discipline in the workplace, discipline everywhere.
Acquainted as provincial Party leaders for more than a decade, by the mid-1980s Gorbachev and Ligachev developed a close political relationship. In Moscow, Gorbachev rightly saw Ligachev as someone with extremely close ties to a vast number of Party apparatchiks and put him in charge of staffing many top jobs. Although he vastly overrates his role in the drama, Ligachev also helped Gorbachev maneuver behind the scenes in 1985 to ensure his victory in the sweepstakes for the general secretaryship. While Gorbachev traveled the country and the world, while he struggled to paint the big picture, Ligachev was a feared political master at the Party’s headquarters. Under the new regime, Ligachev was the veritable boss of the day-to-day activities at the Central Committee. He was, for a time, in charge of ideology, but even more important he filled the Central Committee and the Party apparatus with his people, men of the Andropov model. As Gorbachev would soon discover, this was a recipe for some shortterm gains and for disaster as perestroika grew more radical with every month.
By the time I arrived in Moscow as a reporter in January 1988, Ligachev was no longer a Gorbachev man. He had become the bogeyman of perestroika. Anyone who was anyone (meaning anyone who traded the conspiratorial whispers which are the currency of Moscow life) knew that Ligachev was the main force within the Politburo resisting a freer press and democratization of the political system. This was the rumor and, lo and behold, despite all the Kremlin denials at the time, this was the truth. Boris Yeltsin, before he was removed from power in October 1987, described Ligachev as a brake on reform and the sultan of the Party apparatus. Ligachev was a staunch opponent of a free press, of radical political reform and decentralization of the economy, and of any efforts to let historians, and not the Party, write the history of the Soviet state. Ligachev may have started in sync with Gorbachev, but he balked at most attempts to rethink the Soviet system.
Ligachev’s rear-guard actions against many of the major initiatives of the leadership were a serious threat to Gorbachev. The memoirs cover Ligachev’s various attempts to battle Gorbachev and his most radical adviser. Aleksandr Yakovlev. While the reformers fought for a foreign policy based on “common human values.” Ligachev wanted to restore the “class approach”—the old imperialism that had led Moscow into Eastern Europe and Kabul. In economics, he wanted only to blow the dust off the state machine. Any fundamental reform, anything that challenged the statist system, was anathema to Ligachev. He continued his fight until July 1990, when he failed to win election as the deputy general secretary of the Party and was forced to retire. His most fascinating and committed effort to de-radicalize perestroika came two years earlier in the notorious Nina Andreyeva affair, a serio-comic incident of old-fashioned Kremlin intrigue.
In March 1988, Ligachev helped to attempt a quiet counterrevolution that the public hardly noticed, a struggle at the highest level of the Communist Party over the most vital questions of ideology and history. The only visible evidence of this coup were scraps of paper: a very dull play about Lenin, a pair of conflicting newspaper articles. But if this “silent coup” had succeeded, the drive for reform could have been stifled once more, perhaps for years. The process was still, as it had been thirty years before during the Khrushchev thaw, reversible.
At the time, the conservatives in the Communist Party did not rush to attack the high art of the season. Their targets were not Joseph Brodsky’s lyrics or Andrei Platonov’s prose. They worried more about the transmission of heresy through cartoons, tabloid journalism, television, and dramatization. They worried, in short, about what they still called so lovingly “the masses.”
In their January 1988 issue, the editors of the monthly journal Znamya published Mikhail Shatrov’s play about Lenin and Stalin, Onward, Onward, Onward. To a Western ear, Onward, Onward, Onward seemed yet another example of the classic “Lenin play,” a form of staged ideology and glorification that was described and endorsed by a meeting of the Party Central Committee as early as 1936. It was a Bolshevik version of the miracle play, a ritualized epic of a savior’s arrival, his life and after-life. In Shatrov’s work, as with all such plays, cardboard characters take center stage and give long speeches.
But it was clear to the ideologues of the Party, led by Ligachev, that millions of Russians would see subtle heresies within Shatrov’s version. They would read the play as a denunciation of Stalin as a destroyer of all that was fine and good in Lenin. They would understand contemporary Soviet life as a tragic failure and the men who ruled over them as inheritors of a tyrant’s system. They would see the play as an endorsement of the “liberal Lenin,” the gentler revolutionary figure who died “too soon.” The critical moment in Onward, Onward, Onward comes when Rosa Luxemburg steps center stage and reads a letter she wrote from a German prison cell in 1918. She celebrates the Bolshevik Revolution but then predicts disaster ahead:
Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of the press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life in every public institution dies out, becomes a mere appearance, and bureaucracy alone remains active. Public life gradually falls asleep; a few dozen extremely energetic and highly idealistic party leaders direct and govern; among them, in reality, a dozen outstanding leaders rule, and an elite of the working class is summoned to a meeting from time to time to applaud the speeches of the leaders and to adopt unanimously resolutions put to them. In essence this is the rule of the clique, and of course their dictatorship is not the dictatorship of the proletariat but the dictatorship of a handful of politicians…. Socialism without political freedom is not socialism…. Freedom only for active supporters of the government is not freedom.
When Luxemburg finishes. Shatrov’s Lenin cries out, “Bravo, Rosa!”
It is an astonishing moment, Shatrov had given theatrical shape to the new, approved, Gorbachev-version of things. If only Lenin had lived! A life of tolerance, the shining future! Historically, it was preposterous. While Luxemburg’s prophecy could not have been more accurate. Lenin’s approval of a Bolshevik Bill of Rights is, and was, pure fantasy. Lenin was a theoretician of state terror, who, in January 1918, after the Bolsheviks lost the multi-party elections, sent sailors from the Baltic fleet down to break up the elected Constitutional Assembly. And in 1921, Lenin eliminated official opposition, even within the Communist Party. But those were details. Interpretation of history had always been politics in the Soviet Union, and Shatrov and Gorbachev bent the facts so long as the narrative had a pleasing conclusion. There was a noble end: to discredit Stalin and Stalinism. Other questions would have to wait.
On January 8, at a meeting of Party leaders and newspaper editors, the editor of Pravda. Viktor Afanasyev, attacked Shatrov’s play, telling Gorbachev that the text was filled with “inaccuracies” that “blackened” Soviet history. Afanasyev, like the majority of the members of the Central Committee, was a relic of the Brezhnev era, a self-proclaimed Marxist philosopher with an aristocratic passion for water skiing. But Gorbachev clearly did not agree. Two days after the meeting, Pravda published an attack on Shatrov, excoriating the playwright for “mistakes” and unthinkable “liberties.”2
On February 1, the letters department of Sovetskaya Rossiya, a particularly conservative Party paper, received a letter from a reader named Nina Andreyeva, a chemistry teacher in Leningrad and a Party member of two decades’ standing. The letter approved of the paper’s own negative review of Shatrov’s play and said that an “internal process in this country and abroad” was out to “falsify” the “history of socialism.” Andreyeva wrote that the play proved that the author had “turned away from Marxist-Leninist theory” and ignored the “objective laws of history” and the “historic mission of the working class and its role in a party of the revolutionary type.”
Sometime in the first week of March, the editor of the paper, Valentin Chikin, came to Vladimir Denisov’s office with a small stack of papers. Denisov was the science editor, but lately he had been handling ideology. He had good connections, too. Denisov spent years working in Tomsk when Ligachev was the Party secretary there.
“Read this,” Chikin said, giving Denisov a photocopy of the original Andreyeva letter. “Let me know your opinion.”
Denisov knew Chikin had undoubtedly made up his mind. Chikin was not the sort to care about an underling’s opinion.
The letter began with a scathing critique of Shatrov. Nothing unusual on the face of it. Sovetskaya Rossiya, which clearly spoke for the most conservative wing of the Communist Party, had been getting many such letters since the publication of Onward, Onward, Onward in Znamya. But Chikin came clean, according to Denisov’s account in the journal Rodina. He told Denisov that he had been forwarding the letters to Ligachev at the Central Committee’s ideology office. One morning, Chikin said, Ligachev called him on the Kremlin’s secure phone line system and said. “Valentin, what are you planning to do with this letter. It must be used in the paper!”
Ligachev, for his part, denies this, both in his memoir and in an interview I had with him in 1990. In fact, he told me that his family suffered personally under Stalin. But, still, Ligachev had gone on a veritable campaign against what he saw as the “blackening” of Soviet history in the press and in popular culture. Speaking imperiously in the third person. Ligachev lied like a thief. “OK, I’m ready to answer everything,” he told me. “The first thing is, as for the publication of this material, Ligachev had nothing to do with it…. Ligachev learned about Nina Andreyeva’s article like all readers—from reading Sovetskaya Rossiya.” At greater length, Ligachev says much the same thing in his memoirs.
But it is clear that not only did Ligachev “advise” Chikin to print the letter, he also sent him an annotated copy with certain passages underlined. Still, the piece needed improvement, sharpening, expansion. Chikin ordered Denisov to go to Leningrad and meet Andreyeva to work further on the letter. On March 8, Denisov called Andreyeva and arranged to meet her the next day. She told him to meet her on a square outside the institute where she taught.
“How will I know you?” he said.
“I’ll find you,” she said.
On the ninth, Denisov’s train pulled into Leningrad station ahead of schedule early in the morning. He was exhausted. Not to worry. Someone had reserved a room for him at the plush Smolenskaya Hotel, the hotel of the Party bosses. It would not have been in the power of an obscure chemistry teacher to make such a reservation. The Central Committee apparatus was on the case and leaving nothing to chance.
Rested now, Denisov came to the square at the appointed hour. Then he heard a voice behind him.
“Are you Denisov?”
“Then let’s go,” said Nina Andreyeva, a middle-aged woman with the imperious look of a head nurse.
For the rest of the day, they worked on expanding the ideas in the original letter. Denisov was no great liberal but he was shocked to discover the depths of Andreyeva’s conservatism.
“I’m a Stalinist,” she told him in the matter-of-fact way an American might say she was a Republican.
“Well, what about the Stalinist economic system,” he said, “Hasn’t it shown its lack of viability?”
“Just the opposite. The system hasn’t had a chance to show its real capabilities.”
Denisov decided not to argue. It was going to be Andreyeva’s name on the piece, not his.
The next day, on the tenth. Andreyeva gave Denisov additional material in typescript. He was surprised at how quickly she had come through. He should not have been. Nina Andreyeva was, after a fashion, a woman of letters. Years before she had been thrown out of her institute’s Party cell for writing a stream of anonymous letters condemning her colleagues for various ideological shortcomings. More recently, she’d written letters to Pravda, Sovetskaya Kultura, and other papers condemning the drift of the Gorbachev line. Just before he left for Moscow, Andreyeva told Denisov, “I trust you and the editors to make whatever changes you think are necessary. Sovetskaya Rossiya is not the sort of paper that would meddle with my thoughts.” Then she asked whether the piece really would be published.
“I am sure of it.” Denisov said. He did not reveal the source of his confidence.
The next morning at the newspaper’s offices in Moscow, Chikin said, “Have you brought it?” Chikin seemed as excited as a schoolboy on his birthday.
“I’ve got it,” Denisov said.
“Good. We’ll put it in Sunday’s paper.” That was just two days away. March 13, while Gorbachev would be preparing to leave for an important trip to Yugoslavia. Aleksandr Yakovlev. Ligachev’s ideological opponent, would be leaving for Mongolia. In Gorbachev’s absence. Ligachev was the first among equals in the Politburo.
Chikin himself came up with the headline for the piece: “I Cannot Forsake Principles.” With unguarded irony. Andreyeva had used the quote in her piece. It came from Gorbachev’s speech to a Central Committee plenum in 1987: “We must act, led by our Marxist-Leninist principles, Comrades, we can never forsake our principles under any pretext.”
At the Saturday afternoon editorial meeting. Chikin told the staff he’d be putting the Andreyeva piece on page three in the Sunday edition. No one gave it much thought. It was a relatively lazy day at the office, a day to chat, drink tea, and keep the paper moving along. Some of the editors did not bother even to read the proofs. They should have. The text, a full page in the paper, was a complete contradiction of everything Mikhail Gorbachev, Aleksandr Yakovlev, and the liberal intelligentsia had been saying for more than a year. The Andreyeva article, Yakovlev would say later, was “nothing less than a call to arms, a counterrevolution.”
“The subject of repressions.” Andreyeva wrote, “has been blown out of all proportion in some young people’s imagination and overshadows any objective interpretation of the past.” Stalin may have made some “mistakes,” but who else could have built the country so quickly, prepared it for the great victory against the Nazis? The country, she said, was suffering from “ideological confusion, loss of political bearings, even ideological omnivorousness.” Shatrov, of course, came in for scathing criticism for daring to deviate “substantially from the accepted principles of socialist realism.” “They try to make us believe that the country’s past was nothing but mistakes and crimes,” Andreyeva wrote, “keeping silent about the greatest achievements of the past and the present.”
There were also some less-than-subtle anti-Semitic remarks, especially those carving up Trotsky, émigrés, and the intelligentsia. “There is no question that the [Stalin era] was extremely harsh. But we prepared people for labor and defense without destroying their spiritual worlds with masterpieces imported from abroad or with home-grown imitations of mass culture. Imaginary relatives were in no hurry to invite their fellow-tribesmen to the ‘promised land’ turning them into ‘refuseniks’ of socialism.”
The article ran on Sunday. March 13, and within hours, telegrams of support started pouring into the Sovetskaya Rossiya offices from war veterans and local Party offices. Chikin boasted to Denisov that Gorbachev’s own military adviser. Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, phoned to say that he “fully supported” the piece.
On the morning of the fourteenth, with Gorbachev on his way to Belgrade. Ligachev used his position as ideologist to call a meeting of the leading editors and broadcast agencies. He did not invite the two best-known liberal editors. Yegor Yakovlev of Moscow News and Vitaly Korotich of Ogonyok magazine. Chikin came back from the meeting at the Kremlin beaming. He told Denisov and other editors that Ligachev told everyone to read the article by Nina Andreyeva which “in all respects.” Ligachev had said, “is a wonderful document.” Ligachev also told the head of the Tass news agency to put out the word to all provincial papers across the country that the leadership “recommended” they reprint the Andreyeva letter. By the by, Ligachev said, he was hoping that the Central Committee would soon pass a resolution “not allowing destabilization in the country.”
“I was in Mongolia and Mikhail Sergeyevich was in Yugoslavia.” Yakovlev recalled years later on Russian TV.
They phoned me from Moscow that the article had appeared. It was quickly sent to me: my aide telephoned Irkutsk, and they sent it and I read it. Well, my reaction was understandable…. I know the ways of the apparatus—and I knew it had been clearly sanctioned. Such an article could not appear without being sanctioned by the leadership because this was indeed an anti-perestroika manifesto. It was meant to overturn everything that had been conceived in 1985. What especially surprised me was the form in which it was done… It had a firm, sort of Stalinist accusatory form as in the style on the front pages of our old newspapers. In other words, there was a shout of command. You know, if this had been an average article based on this theme. I would not have paid any attention. But this was a harsh bellow of a command: “Stop! Everything is over!” I returned to Moscow the same day…
For the next three weeks, as the infighting within the Politburo developed, the liberal intelligentsia fell into despair. Ogonyok’s editor. Korotich, half in jest, but only half, told friends he was keeping a packed bag handy in case there was a knock at the door. A few editors went to Yakovlev saying they wanted to respond. Cryptically, Yakovlev told them to wait.
There was really only one instance of outright protest. On March 23, a friend of Shatrov’s, the playwright Aleksandr Gelman, stood up at a Party cell meeting at the Union of Cinematographers and said the neo-Stalinist attack in Sovetskaya Rossiya was designed to prolong the current system and its millions of Party bureaucrats. The Party apparatchiks, Gelman said, wanted only a slight tinkering with the system, a moderate, technocratic liberalization instead of a genuine democratization which would redistribute power. Such a liberalization, he said, was merely an “open fist,” a kinder, gentler version of business as usual. The film makers union, by far the most liberal in Moscow, endorsed Gelman’s statement and sent it on to the Central Committee.
Provincial editors, though, understood the Andreyeva letter to be an official change of course and very few dared ignore it. As Ligachev had hoped, the article ran in papers across the Soviet Union. One signal that the old Communist guard was on Ligachev’s side came from as far away as East Berlin. East Germany’s version of Pravda, Neues Deutschland, published “I Cannot Forsake Principles” in its April 2 edition. The Party apparatus in Moscow also gave signs of waging an underground agitprop campaign. Moscow News reported that conservatives were passing out unsigned leaflets, including one called “Information for Reflection” which said that perestroika will lead to “economic disaster and social upheaval and then to the country’s enslavement by imperialist states.”
By the beginning of April, Gorbachev and Yakovlev were beginning to win their battle over Ligachev. Perhaps for the last time, they were able to rely on the key authoritarian principle of the Party—Party discipline—to bring the conservatives, including Ligachev, to heel. Even though the reformers were in a minority in both Politburo and the Central Committee. Gorbachev was able to manipulate the situation so that defiance of the general secretary would be impermissible. The reformers still had control over the main Party newspaper. Pravda, and they began to prepare an article that would make it clear that the “Andreyeva coup” and its sponsors had lost.
“The Politburo spent two days going over this article.” Yakovlev told me, “All the members of the Politburo had their say and expressed their views. Mikhail Sergeyevich’s opening remarks were very harsh—he gave a severe assessment of the article—and as a result, as it always happens with us, with our very high sense of principle and probity, everyone agreed with his view!”
In his memoir, Ligachev recalls that two-day-long session of the Politburo as a “witch hunt…in the spirit of the cult years.” He admits that before the meetings began, several members of the Politburo expressed support for the Andreyeva article, but folded under pressure and agreed to a response designed to denounce Andreyeva and support radical reform. But in all other respects. Ligachev denies there was anything conspiratorial going on. Instead, he distances himself from the Andreyeva letter and then, amazingly, claims that Yakovlev was acting against the principles of a free press. Ligachev’s audacity is astonishing: “In the best tradition of Suslov’s Agitprop, which Yakovlev had headed at one time, a large-scale unsubstantiated campaign was launched to discredit people who were inconvenient to him.”
The Politburo article, as drafted by Yakovlev, ran in Pravda on April 5 and denounced those who would “put the brakes” on perestroika or indulge in “nostalgia” for the old order. As they read the text that morning, the liberals in Moscow all breathed a little easier for the first time in three weeks.
“It has proved harder than we had presumed to rid ourselves of old thoughts and actions, but there is no turning back.” Yakovlev wrote in Pravda. “The [Sovetskaya Rossiya] article is dominated by an essentially fatalistic perception of history which is totally removed from a genuinely scientific perception of it, by a tendency to justify everything that has happened in terms of historical necessity. But the cult [of Stalin] was not inevitable. It is alien to the nature of socialism and only became possible because of deviations from fundamental socialist principles.”
Immediately after the incident. Gorbachev said the Politburo had been unanimously behind him. All was calm. Don’t listen to the Western press. There are no splits in the Politburo, he insisted. To have stated otherwise was impossible. Ligachev commanded too much support among the men he had given employment. He could not be publicly criticized, much less fired, without the risk of an open revolt of the conservatives.
But long after, Yakovlev was more candid about Ligachev’s culpability. “Did you notice that the article against Nina Andreyeva in Pravda didn’t even mention her name? That’s not by chance,” he said. “It was all part of a process that snowballed. Besides, we knew how the whole thing had been organized, who was behind it, who revised the article, who went to see her in Leningrad. Had it been just some lady named Nina Andreyeva writing an article that somebody published, it would have been different. The article in response did not mention her because it was not addressed to her.”
In private, Yakovlev urged Gorbachev once more to reconsider his attitude toward the Communist Party. In December 1985, Yakovlev had written a confidential memo to Gorbachev asking him to consider splitting the Communist Party and then siding with the more liberal faction. After all, the Andreyeva affair had already proved just how deep the splits actually were. There could be no acceleration of change while the dead weight of the Party apparatchiks hung on the shoulders of the reformers. Eventually, Yakovlev insisted, they would have to consider the idea not only of two or three Communist parties, but of a true multi-party system. Sooner or later, the Party would have to break with its own history, or it would collapse entirely. The Party was filled with ministers and apparatchiks who swore their fealty to the general secretary, but they were always prepared to betray him in the name of the system.
Gradually, Ligachev’s opposition to the “radicalization” of perestroika became more open. At the Nineteenth Party Conference in the spring of 1988, he clashed openly with Yeltsin and defended the Party nomenklatura. From then on, he made little secret of his disdain for truly radical change. He was especially fierce in his determination that the Party avoid the fate of Eastern Europe. He would not countenance the creation of a multi-party system, the rise of competing ideologies. He was especially opposed to the independence movements in the Baltic states, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. More and more at meetings of the Central Committee, Ligachev was joined by a chorus of even more strident voices blaming Gorbachev, Yakovlev, and Shevardnadze for “losing” the “buffer zone” of Eastern Europe, “betraying” socialism, and “selling out” to George Bush and the Pope of Rome.
Ligachev lost his final battle in the summer of 1990, when he failed to win the post of deputy general secretary at the twenty-eighth, and final, congress of the Communist Party. Once out of office, he began writing his memoirs and giving interviews to the Western and Soviet press. There were rumors at the time of the August 1991 coup that Ligachev was slated to replace Gorbachev as general secretary, but Ligachev denies it and there is no evidence contradicting him. It was Ligachev’s heirs who pretended loyalty and then, in August 1991, sent tanks into the streets of Moscow. Gorbachev would later admit that he himself never really understood the Party—the “monster” he was trying to transform. “At least Ligachev was out in the open,” he would say.
March 25, 1993
Sergei Khrushchev’s Khrushchev on Khrushchev (Little, Brown, 1991) is the best background source on Nikita Sergeyevich’s years in retirement and eclipse. ↩
I’ve tried to piece together the Nina Andreyeva intrigue through interviews with the main players in the drama, including Nina Andreyeva, the playwright Mikhail Shatrov, former Moscow News editor Yegor Yakovlev, former Politburo member Aleksandr Yakovlev, former Pravda editor Viktor Afanasyev, former Ogonyok editor Vitaly Korotich, playwright Aleksandr Gelman, journalist Len Karpinsky, and Yegor Ligachev, Andreyeva’s article originally appeared in Sovetskaya Rossiya, March 13, 1988. Among the more useful articles on the affair are: Robert Kaiser’s “Red Intrigue: How Gorbachev Outfoxed His Kremlin Rivals” in the Washington Post, June 12, 1988; Dev Muraka’s “The Foes of Perestroika Sound Off” in The Nation, May 21, 1988; Vladimir Denisov’s ” ‘Krestni Otets‘ Nini Andreyevoi” (“The Godfather of Nina Andreyeva”) in Rodina, 1991, No. 1. The BBC documentary series “The Second Russian Revolution” was an excellent source of information on the Andreyeva affair, as well as on other secret deliberations of the Communist Party, including the Politburo’s control over information surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. ↩