Yegor Kuz'mich Ligachev (born 1920) was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union beginning in 1966. During the 1980s he became a leading advocate of a more conservative approach to perestroika but was ousted from command in 1990.
At the stormy and controversial 28th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in July 1990, Yegor Ligachev, a member of Mikhail Gorbachev's Politburo since 1985 and secretary of the Central Committee with responsibilities in agriculture, stood up to denounce the general course of the U.S.S.R. since 1985. He no doubt expressed the frustrations of many long-time party loyalists when he stated: "Thoughtless radicalism, improvisation, and swinging from side to side have yielded us little good during the past five years of perestroika." At the Congress, Ligachev presented himself as the spokesperson for traditional Marxist-Leninist, socialist values developed since 1917, in distinction to the new centrist course led by Gorbachev or the more radical reforms demanded by party liberals. Although the party's conservative wing appeared to have the majority of delegates to the party congress and Ligachev was the hero of the moment, he paid a heavy price for fleeting glory. At the end of the congress, Ligachev, who was defeated in an attempt to become deputy general secretary, was not reelected to the Politburo.
Yegor Ligachev was a long-time party official who had the archetypal party career. Except for short periods, his entire adult life was spent as a party official, first at the local and regional levels and later in Moscow. During the 1980s, Ligachev worked in several areas, including party personnel, ideology, and agriculture, and he was especially known internationally for the anti-alcohol campaign and advocacy of a more conservative approach to perestroika (restructuring).
Until the 1990 party congress, Ligachev publicly professed support for perestroika, amidst rumors that he was Gorbachev's most consistent opponent on the Politburo and had blocked specific policies. However, at the 28th Party Congress, when he openly attacked those who supported perestroika, he was roundly rebuffed by the congress. The counter attack was led by Eduard Shevardnadze, the foreign minister, and Gorbachev.
Yegor Ligachev was born November 29, 1920. Little is known about his early life or his family. He was Russian by nationality. He studied from 1938 to 1943 at the Ordzhonikidze Institute for Aircraft Construction in Moscow, from which he held a technical engineering degree. (He later studied at the Higher Party School, in 1951.) Ligachev joined the Communist Party in 1944, at age 24. In 1957, he became Party Chief of Akademgorodok. After World War II, he worked in various positions in the Novosibirsk region, including first secretary of the Komsomol, chief of the party's Department of Culture, deputy chairman of the Executive Committee of the Novosibirsk Soviet (deputy mayor), eventually serving as secretary of the Novosibirsk Obkom (provincial committee) from 1959 to 1961.
In 1961, he began working for the Central Committee of the CPSU in the party's Russian Bureau, created by Khrushchev and terminated by Brezhnev. In 1965, Ligachev was made first secretary of the Tomsk Obkom, a position he held until 1983. In 1983, he became chief of the Department for Party Organizational Work of the CPSU and was appointed a secretary of the Central Committee with responsibilities for cadres. In 1985, under Gorbachev, he became secretary for ideology, cadres, and world communist affairs, and in this period, was considered one of Gorbachev's principal allies. In September 1988, after the reorganization of the Secretariat of the CPSU, Ligachev became the head of its commission on agriculture, an important but vulnerable position in the party hierarchy. Despite numerous proposals, relatively little substantive change occurred to improve agriculture. Even in 1990, a year with an outstanding grain crop, the inability to harvest the crop in a timely way meant the U.S.S.R. had to import grain.
Ligachev enjoyed the privileges of the central elite for a long time. In 1966, he was elected a candidate member of the Central Committee. He was promoted to full membership at the 1976 party congress. From 1985 to 1990, he served on the Politburo of the CPSU. In the late 1980s, Ligachev was perceived abroad as functioning as the de facto "second secretary" of the CPSU, pressuring Gorbachev from the right, as opposed to Boris Yeltsin, who was pressuring Gorbachev from the left. Ligachev's conception of perestroika was limited. It would keep the basic framework of the CPSU and the economy intact. His reforms would be closer to Khrushchev than Gorbachev in their goals. He was opposed to leasing land to the peasants or other forms of privatization in agriculture and opposed to the wide-scale introduction of a market economy. He supported democratization in principle, but opposed strikes by workers and the comprehensive de-Stalinization of the Gorbachev era. He was also critical of the course of Soviet foreign policy pursued by Gorbachev and Shevardnadze.
Ligachev's downfall began when Gorbachev as general secretary successfully promoted the election of Vladimir Ivashko of the Ukraine to the new post of deputy general secretary. In 1988, Ligachev was demoted to the position of Agricultural Secretary. Ivashko, a Gorbachev ally in the process of perestroika, easily defeated Ligachev. The deputy was to oversee day-to-day management of the CPSU, while Gorbachev, remaining as general secretary, concentrated on the presidency. Ligachev's political career came to an end in 1990 when he was removed from the Politburo.
Because of the pivotal, often controversial role Ligachev played in the Gorbachev administration, it is possible to read about him from several different perspectives. To observe Ligachev from the viewpoint of the opposition, Boris Yeltsin's Against the Grain (1990) is a good place to start. Essays in Seweryn Bialer's Inside Gorbachev's Russia (1989) also provide insights on the man and his views, as does Jonathan Harris' study Ligachev on Glasnost and Perestroika (No. 5 of the Carl Beck Papers, University of Pittsburgh). Harris carefully documents Ligachev's speeches and activities through 1988, and one can perceive the pattern of Ligachev's persistent opposition to Gorbachev, while publicly maintaining allegiance to the policies of perestroika. Ligachev's central role in the "Yeltsin Affair" is treated by Bialer also in U.S. News and World Report (March 28, 1988). New Perspectives Quarterly (Summer 1988) contains an interesting interview with Ligachev in which he affirms that he and Gorbachev "are on the same wave length." Yegor Ligachev's final attempts to oppose Gorbachev are published in his unabridged book The Memoirs of Yegor Ligachev: Inside Gorbachev's Kremlin (1993) Introduction by Stephen F. Cohen. In the book, Ligachev recaptures the history between himself and Gorbachev throughout their years in politics. □