The Nina Andreeva Affair: Part Two

Donald Courter

The Ensuing Political Struggle

Immediately following the publication of the Andreeva letter, planning-oriented reform regained popularity with the Soviet citizenry and a number of significant media outlets. Although ominously labeled the "three weeks of stagnation" in liberal periodicals, this brief moment encompassed a revival of party dedication to Andropovian-style reform and a media campaign against the slandering of Soviet history. [1] Interviews with Andreeva were broadcast on television, and her criticism of contemporary Soviet historical discourse inspired a renewed defense of socialist principles.

As Andreeva’s popularity grew, Yegor Ligachev, who supported Andreeva’s letter and had himself consistently criticized the anarchic handling of information, was also invited for several interviews in prominent media outlets. These interviews mostly encompassed topics and policy Ligachev had discussed and agitated for since 1986 and little overt relevance to the specific content of the Andreeva letter. Ligachev often spoke of "the question [he] had raised in Elektrostal and in the report at the Central Committee plenum"—namely, the necessity of a balanced analysis of historical figures regardless of the taboos that had come to surround them. [2] Considering that Gorbachev and his supporters took little initiative to attack Ligachev’s politics prior to the publication of the Andreeva letter, the interviews should not have been seen as politically threatening.

Nevertheless, Yakovlev quickly accused Ligachev and Andreeva of causing "perplexity and confusion in the face of the complex and acute questions that life poses." [3] Compelled to defend the market reformers against allegations of ideological revisionism, Yakovlev anonymously published the Pravda article "Pravda Rebuts Antirestructuring Manifesto." In it, he argued against claims that the market reformers were "subjecting the principles of Marxism-Leninism to revision" and blamed such accusations on the ideological "confusion and perplexity" aroused in "some people" by Andreeva and her supporters. [4] It appears that the market reformers took direct action only after the opposition was platformed and legitimated in the wider media. Ligachev and Andreeva’s open criticism of the defamation of Soviet history emboldened those who had previously feared challenging the liberalization of the state media, and thus formed a capable threat to the hegemonic control the market reformers held over the highest levels of the Soviet government.

The Soviet people’s support for Ligachev’s politics and the Andreeva letter manifested itself in the hundreds of supportive letters written by average citizens but left unpublished during Yakovlev and Gorbachev’s swift purge of anti-market elements in the party. Although these letters are generally omitted from western narratives of the affair, Ligachev, who was in charge of allocating letters to ideological screeners, mentions the numerous letters responding to Andreeva’s polemic in his memoirs. According to an official investigation referenced by Ligachev, out of the "380 responses [that] were received," there were "only 80 condemning Andreeva while 300 supported her." [5] The fact that all of the responses were written by independent citizens demonstrates that the Andreeva letter did not cause a fracture within Soviet society as Yakovlev claimed, but was consistent with the supposed spirit of glasnost.

But for the market reformers, Andreeva’s insistence that the official attacks on the achievements of Soviet history were antithetical to glasnost itself posed a serious problem. The highly selective reporting by liberal elements in the official media undercut the kind of openness seemingly preached by the market reformers. Such practices did not promote fair and civil exchange between the proponents of different ideas; rather, they served to secure the ruling faction’s political objectives.

Although the market reformers accused Ligachev of conspiring to reprint the Andreeva letter during his meeting with media officials on March 14, outright support for the letter came only from a few media representatives and manifested itself without a unified directive. Valentin Chikin, Chief Editor of Sovetskaya Rossiya and original publisher of the Andreeva letter, was the first media representative to publicly challenge liberal tendencies in the larger media. Immediately after the March 14 meeting, Chikin defended Andreeva and the storm of sympathetic letters that followed "as a reaction to the turbid stream of anti-historical, anti-Soviet materials in [their] press." [6] Victor Afanasyev, Chief Editor of Pravda, supported Chikin’s appraisal of the Andreeva letter, publishing letters from ordinary Soviet citizens in the party’s main periodical. When Yakovlev attempted to publish his rebuttal in Pravda, Afanasyev opposed its publication until Gorbachev threatened him with removal from the editorial board, once more revealing Gorbachev’s opportunistic notion of a "free press." [7] Other periodicals such as Kommunist and Komsomolskaya Pravda published letters with similar themes as those advanced in the Andreeva letter, but were spared by Gorbachev and Yakovlev during the later Politburo purges. In the cases of Afanasyev, Chikin, and many others, support for the planning-oriented tendency resulted in purging during the final campaign to permanently solidify the liberal takeover of the Soviet state.

While supporters of a planning-oriented recalibration of perestroika gained support in the initial weeks following the publication of the Andreeva letter, these successes were cut short by the backlash following Gorbachev’s return to Moscow. The campaign began with two Politburo meetings chaired by Gorbachev and organized by Yakovlev in late March and early April. Gorbachev’s sudden change from situational moderate to market reformist manifested during a preparatory meeting with Yakovlev upon his return. Yakovlev framed the situation surrounding the Andreeva letter as if Ligachev was prepared to orchestrate a coup d’etat, claiming they should "strike back from the highest level." [8] Yakovlev’s calls for authoritative action indicate the market reformers lacked confidence that they could rely on citizens at "a lower level" to defend Gorbachev’s style of perestroika. [9]

Gorbachev and Yakovlev forced a Politburo meeting on March 25 that excluded Ligachev, who was unable to attend due to the pressing nature of his immediate party duties. Gorbachev immediately issued a test of loyalty, firmly stating, "I am asking all of you to declare yourselves" in regard to participation in a conspiracy against perestroika and support for the Andreeva letter. [10] Threatening the Politburo with his resignation and an investigation into each Politburo member’s activities, Gorbachev eventually turned everyone present at the meeting against Ligachev. The coercion of the Politburo at the March 30 meeting resulted in the authorization of an official response to the Andreeva letter to be written by Yakovlev and prepared the market reformers for the April 14 & 15 Politburo meeting in which they would eliminate all official party support for the political line advanced by Ligachev and Andreeva.

Yakovlev’s anonymously published letter to Pravda, "Pravda Rebuts Antirestructuring Manifesto," condemned the Andreeva letter and its supporters, reflecting the tactics utilized the market reformers against the planning-oriented faction at the April 15 & 16 Politburo meeting. After criticizing Andreeva’s polemic for impersonating the party line and confusing the masses, Yakovlev wrote the anonymous rebuttal without ever clearly establishing that the letter represented the concrete party line. Western historians who labeled the Andreeva polemic an "authoritarian document" fell silent on Yakovlev’s ambiguous pronouncement. [11] Moreover, Yakovlev and the market reformers followed the exact course of action which they wrongly claimed characterized the alleged conspiracy between Ligachev and Andreeva: attempting, as a minority faction, to hijack party mechanisms with the intent of manipulating mass opinion.

In order to achieve a political victory and carry out Yakovlev’s "strike from above," the market reformers had to intimidate or purge the majority of the Politburo and publish an authoritative denunciation of Andreeva in the mass media. Ironically, western historian Archie Brown notes "how little reliance could be placed at this time on democratic pressure from below to combat attempts by party conservatives to launch a counter-reformation." [12] Yakovlev stood against the mass support for the strengthening of socialism and the end of self-flagellation the market reformers had brought upon the country.

The political maneuvering of the market reformers came to a climax with the commencement of the Politburo’s final meeting regarding the Nina Andreeva affair. The April 14 & 15 Politburo meeting of 1988 was a landmark moment in the collapse of socialism in the USSR and throughout the Eastern Bloc—marking the triumph of the market reformers against the defenders of socialism within the CPSU. The meeting was preceded by a Central Committee commission under Yakovlev’s direction "raid[ing] the offices of Sovetskaya Rossiya looking for evidence of a conspiracy" which, unsurprisingly, yielded nothing aside from an abundance of unpublished letters supporting Andreeva. [13] Even without the evidence he hoped to procure in the raid, Gorbachev began the Politburo meeting by voicing his frustration with the unverifiable rumor that "several comrades called for the reprinting of the article in different periodical organs" and that the article itself contained "information about which [only] a tight circle of people" knew. [14] After hearing that many Politburo members supported the content of the Andreeva letter, Gorbachev and Yakovlev intimidated all dissenting members into submission by calling for the defense of unity. One by one, Politburo members who sympathized with Andreeva ceded their arguments under the threat of purging. For Yakovlev and Gorbachev, this meeting successfully silenced support for planning-oriented reform in the media, permanently marginalized Ligachev for his history of opposition to market reform, and did away with all politicians who continued to oppose the pro-market orientation of perestroika. Furthermore, the liquidation of the planning-oriented reformers from the CPSU consolidated the market reformers’ control over the Soviet media, ending the short period in which both planning and market-based perspectives circulated throughout Soviet publications.

As a result of the campaign against planning-oriented party members, Soviet media outlets were pressured to cease publishing letters in support of the Andreeva letter and instead publish letters of dubious origins opposing the so-called "three weeks of stagnation." Hardline Marxist-Leninist publications, such as Sovetskaya Rossiya, Pravda, and Kommunist, were "categorically forbidden to publish letters in support of Andreeva and ordered to print only condemnatory letters." [15] Out of 380 letters received from citizens concerning the Andreeva letter, all 300 supportive letters were confiscated from Ligachev’s office. In fact, all supportive letters received by other periodicals "were taken from the editorial offices" in order to impose artificial "unanimous condemnation of the article." [16] Government agents seized the letters as evidence for a supposed political conspiracy against Gorbachev’s perestroika, although none of the letters or any other "suspicious materials'' provided the liberals with sufficient evidence to suggest an anti-perestroika conspiracy existed in the first place. While perestroika and glasnost had stemmed, in part, from public demand for the curbing of the arbitrary use of state power, reforms instead depended upon and reinforced the intensification of official attacks on the historical legacy of the Soviet project as a whole, the very practice that Andreeva and many other citizens spoke out against in the spirit of glasnost itself.

In the end, the USSR would come to appear vastly different from the promised changes that perestroika would supposedly bring. First and foremost, Yakovlev’s unsigned article, published on the front page of Pravda, artificially redirected public opinion towards an undemocratically-established party line, in the exact manner that Ligachev and Andreeva stood accused. Gorbachev and Yakovlev had to force a resistant Victor Afanasev, editor in chief of Pravda, to publish Yakovlev’s article, which Afanasev saw as an affront to Marxist-Leninist principles. Ligachev recalls Afanasev claiming:


"They twisted my arm and forced me to put the article into the paper. I will never in my life forgive myself for that." [17]

Sovetskaya Rossiya was also forced to print "a retraction of the original [Andreeva] letter and self-criticism" on April 15 against the will of the editorial board and chief editor Chikin. [18] The Politburo publicly condemned Chikin for publishing the Andreeva letter and nearly forced his resignation from Sovetskaya Rossiya. As if the intimidation of major publications did not suffice in the crusade against the political opposition, Gorbachev and Yakovlev carried out a purge of the Politburo despite its members having bowed to their authority. By the 19th Party Conference, "Gorbachev [had] removed all the Politburo leaders who supported the Andreeva letter, except Anatoly Lukyanov, Gorbachev’s friend from student days." [19] And of course, Gorbachev demoted Ligachev to Secretary of Agriculture, while promoting Medvedev, one of Yakovlev’s closest allies, to Secretary of Ideology. This exertion of power startled even the most supportive western historians, prompting one, Joseph Gibbs, to observe that "the only acceptable use of glasnost was in promoting perestroika as Gorbachev directed it." [20] Finally, with the arrival of the 19th Party Conference, Gorbachev, Yakovlev, and the market reformers could celebrate their consolidation of party unity, achieved through the ruthless suppression of the general political tendency that had dominated since 1917.

The 19th Party Conference of 1988 marked the final political defeat of the opposition forces and a turning point in the path towards the complete overthrow of socialism in the USSR. Gorbachev recalls in his memoirs that "the forthcoming conference" was "a test of strength between the reform and conservative wings of the party" following the planning reformers’ near destruction in mid-June. [21] Notwithstanding the idealistic righteousness Gorbachev conceived around his struggle, the 19th Party Conference more closely resembled a victory rally than a political battleground. In his opening speech, Gorbachev, assisted by Yakovlev beforehand, announced the current necessity for "implementation of radical economic reform, activation of the spiritual potential of society, reform of the political system, [and] democratization of international relations," which all amounted to the restoration of market forces, dismemberment of Soviet democracy, and unconditional surrender to the West’s demands. [22] While circumstance forced the only remaining supporters of the Andreeva letter, Ligachev and Lukyanov, to be virtually silent, Gorbachev humorously recalls:


"The party had not known such an open and lively debate since its first post-revolutionary congresses." [23]

Many of the issues at the conference consisted of topics such as purging "anyone who in former times actively carried out the policy of stagnation." [24] For the market reformers, any discussion outside of opposition to planning and the liberalization of the economy represented a desire to revive so-called Stalinist tendencies within the party. The victors concluded that "direct sabotage by a significant number of the party secretaries of the party apparatus," although realistically quite imaginary, had been overcome and wished to use the 19th Party Conference as "the springboard for all our reforms." [25] The 19th Party Conference brought peaceful dissent against market reform to a close, leading to the unfettered liberalization of Soviet society and the restoration of capitalism, interrupted only momentarily by a later KGB attempt to overthrow Gorbachev.

Two Faces of Soviet Liberalism

Throughout the implementation of perestroika in the late 1980s, Gorbachev consistently reiterated the necessity for an indiscriminate democratic political framework when publicly confronted by demands for the liquidation of dissenting politicians. Chernyayev, who viewed most of Gorbachev’s policies as too moderate, often voiced support for arbitrary political measures in dealing with the political enemies of market reform. During the Politburo purge of June 1988, Gorbachev responded to Chernyayev’s demand to dismiss the entire editorial board ofSovetskaya Rossiya for publishing Andreeva’s polemic, stating that reformers must operate "within the framework of a democratic process." [26] Although Gorbachev granted amnesty to Chikin for implementing glasnost in a disagreeable manner, his arbitrary demotion and/or purging of political opponents who could actually divert perestroika down a planning-oriented path, i.e., Ligachev and sympathetic Politburo members, illustrates how Gorbachev relied on democratic processes as a tool to improve the reputation of his reforms. Many examples of Gorbachev touting democratic language to improve the image of market reform took place at his mass meetings with workers of different regions across the USSR. In Norilsk, near the Arctic Circle, Gorbachev publicly asserted that "everything must be done democratically" when charged by a market-oriented local party member to purge comrades who "were holding back reform." [27] Gorbachev’s democratic terminology deeply resonated both with the West and Soviet citizens who genuinely wished to improve Soviet socialism, but this language served only to disguise the imposition of capitalist reform.

Despite Gorbachev’s promise to work within a democratic framework for all affairs carried out by the liberalized Soviet state, many genuine socialists, who initially supported Gorbachev’s ascension to power, fell prey to a contradictory campaign against neo-Stalinism which used so-called Stalinist political tactics. Ironically, it was the market reformers who first described their authoritarian tactics as part of an "Iron Hand" strategy in dealing with the perceived threat of "neo-Stalinism." [28] Fantasies about a social crusade against the final remnants of the Stalinist system, therefore, took a form not unlike the Great Purges of the 1930s. Throughout the Great Purges, the state sought to liquidate kulaks, supporters of Leon Trotsky and Nikolai Bukharin, and others labeled "enemies of the people" from the party and positions of state power. Likewise, market reformers of the late 1980s directed their own campaign against "enemies of perestroika" who allegedly wanted to go back to the times of Josef Stalin; the difference here was that no enemy of perestroika supported the vague concept of "Stalinism" or even opposed perestroika. [29] Perestroika simply means restructuring—its so-called "enemies" opposed Gorbachev’s market deviations and instead sought to modernize economic planning, as well as further democratize party rule. In reality, Gorbachev and his market reformist allies opposed the original framework of perestroika as presented by Andropov and used the concept as a means to marginalize their opposition when it was convenient. Yet another example of such political opportunism emerged when "the same radicals who later left the party and proceeded to attack communists," i.e., market reformers who trumpeted perestroika and socialism throughout the late 20th century, began to attack "those who continued to defend the ideas of the 27th Congress" into the 1990s. [30] The authoritarian measures of the market reformers in response to reformists of a different tendency directly contradicted their stated democratic principles, which were nothing more than an opportunistic political tool.

Nina Andreeva understood that the policies of the market reformers and media slander had "to do not so much with [Stalin’s] historical personality itself" as it did with political opportunism. [31] In 1949, Ligachev, one of the most infamous "Stalinists" of the Nina Andreeva affair, was persecuted under "suspicion of being a Trotskyist ‘enemy of the people’ and fired as chief of the Novosibirsk Komsomol organization." [32] Moreover, Ligachev has always echoed Gorbachev in defending one of Stalin’s primary political enemies, Nikolai Bukharin, as "a wrongfully persecuted, honest person" who deserved to be posthumously acquitted of the crimes of which he was accused. [33] Nina Andreeva’s relatives, too, were repressed, and both her father and sister died in World War II. Nevertheless, despite the repression Andreeva’s family and Ligachev himself faced during the 1930s and 40s, the market reformers labeled planning-oriented reformers as the notorious leaders of a Stalinist conspiracy and attempted to form a false historical narrative to support their political objectives.