Aleksandra Pavlovna Biryukova Facts

Aleksandra Pavlovna Biryukova (born 1929) was the highest ranking political woman in the U.S.S.R. from 1986 to 1990, she was secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and deputy prime minister for two years.

In the summer of 1989, Aleksandra Biryukova, Vice Premier of the Soviet Council of Ministers, went to Western Europe where in one week she bought 165 million dollars worth of consumer goods. Some might say that it was the dream of all 8212: the possibility to go abroad and buy everything you want. But Biryukova had an important government job — buying much needed consumer goods for the former U.S.S.R., items such as tights, toothpaste and other simple necessities taken for granted in Western society. His shopping trip was symptomatic of the serious problems of the Soviet economy. In the traditional Soviet style, the minister himself was sent on the shopping trip. This assignment was too important to be delegated to low-level civil servants.

Party activist and trade union official, Biryukova was appointed Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1986 by Mikhail Gorbachev and candidate member of the Politburo in 1988. Following a government reorganisation in 1988, she became Deputy Prime Minister with responsibility for social services and consumer affairs. In July 1990, after the stormy 28th Party Congress, Biryukova withdrew from the Central Committee and the Politburo. With the exception of Gorbachev and the new deputy secretary general of the CPSU, the Politburo had a full turnover, whose representation and function have been changed somewhat.

Become an important member of the Party

Biryukova was born in the Moscow region on February 25, 1929. Her family was of peasant origin, and was Russian by nationality. In 1952 she graduated as an engineer.

of the Moscow Textile Institute and later worked as team leader and shop supervisor at First Printed Fabric Cotton Works in Moscow. In 1956, at the age of 29, he joined the CPSU. In 1959 he started working for the Administration of the Textile and Knitwear Industry of Sovnarkhoz in Moscow (the Moscow Economic Council). In 1963 she became chief engineer of a Moscow cotton combine harvester (Trekhgornaia manufaktura), a position she held for five years. It was her last position directly involved in production. In 1968 she was elected a member of the Central Council of Trade Unions and of its Presidium (1968-1986). In 1985-1986 she held the office of Vice-Chairman of the Central Council of Trade Unions for a short period.

With her position in the trade unions, her political involvement multiplied. In 1971 she was elected to the Russian Republic (RSFSR) Supreme Soviet Republic, where she was a member of the Commission for Industry until 1975, before becoming President of the Commission for Living and Working Conditions of Women, Mothers and Childcare. In 1979 she received a certificate of honor for her work with the SS RSFSR. She was elected to the United States Supreme Soviet in 1986, but not to the renewed Supreme Soviet in 1989. In 1971 she was also elected a candidate member of the Central Committee of the CPSU, becoming a full member from 1976 to 1990. In 1988 she was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and reconfirmed by the new Supreme Soviet in June 1989.

In the course of her years of union administration, Biryukova has travelled to the United States and several countries in Western and Eastern Europe, including Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Portugal. Her movements and activities began to make a name for herself abroad after her appointment in 1986 as secretary of the Central Committee with responsibility for light industry. As the first woman in the secretariat since the early 1960s, she naturally received more attention. When she was appointed member of the Politburo in 1988, and shortly afterwards Deputy Prime Minister, her visibility increased even further. In the period after 1986 she travelled extensively in countries such as Japan, Vietnam, Bulgaria and India— receiving much more coverage for her activities in the Soviet and Western press.

Just Women in the Council of Ministers


The USSR didn’t seem to capitalize on the fact that there was a woman at the Politburo after a 27-year hiatus. Perhaps it was indicative of Gorbachev’s general intention to promote and recognize women who did not want to make Biryukova a symbolic showcase. Biryukova had a remarkable career for a Soviet woman. Although almost all Soviet women work, few go up to the highest levels of the party and government or even trade unions. Her appointment as secretary of the Trade Union Council at the age of 39 was remarkable, even though the Trade Union Council was not a center of great political power.

Before perestroika, the role of trade unions in the U.S.S.R. was relatively harmless. Everyone who worked belonged to a trade union. Unions existed mainly to administer workers’ benefits, such as maternity leave, sick leave, health care, holidays and so on. Expulsion from a trade union meant exclusion from the normal benefits workers receive and also, in most cases, denial of the right to exercise their trade or profession. Trade unions were not a workers’ movement in the U.S.R. Biryukova, although a supporter on behalf of workers adhered to the traditional Soviet vision of the role of trade unions and is believed to have opposed the rise of trade union movements such as Solidarność in Poland in the early 1980s. In the late 1980s, in the era of perestroika, Soviet trade unions became more militant and powerful, as workers demanded the right to strike, improved wages and the guarantee of basic necessities. The miners, for example, became a strident and powerful political force in the U.S.R.S. Strikes became commonplace, as did spontaneous demonstrations by the workers.

The departure from the unions in the era of perestroika and glasnost was probably a symbolic gesture as well as a promotion. He was a trade union official in the Brezhnev era. Would Biryukova have been able to cope with the new trade union movements? Hard to say, but she seems to have been a traditionalist in her orientation. Her post as a member of the Secretariat after 1986 was in light industry, the area of her first training as an engineer. In 1988 she was appointed Deputy Prime Minister of the Council of Ministers and President of the Office for Social Development. Apparently she had responsibilities in the area of consumer goods and social services. As Deputy Prime Minister and the only woman in the Council of Ministers, she also spoke on behalf of women.

Given the drastic state of the Soviet economy in 1989 and 1990, when everything was missing, it is not surprising that some officials resigned or were dismissed. Biryukova was released by the Politburo and the Central Committee at the 28th Party Congress in July 1990, at the relatively young age of 61. It was presented as his pension, although the real cause was more due to political change than age or illness. At the 28th Party Congress, membership of the Politburo was abolished, which freed Biryukova and many others from their duties. Biryukova also resigned from his position in the Council of Ministers. Biryukova faced a frustrating situation in the rapid disintegration of the Soviet economy. As the only woman in the Politburo, Gorbachev sought a replacement and 8212; in itself a significant change from past practice. Galina Semenova, the editor of Krestyanka (Peasant Woman), was appointed Secretary of the Central Committee for Women’s Affairs and was elected a full member of the Politburo by Congress.

Her passage from the Soviet political scene was not as significant as, for example, Yegor Ligachev’s resignation at the same party’s congress. However, there had been so few women at the top of the Soviet power that the withdrawal of even one official created a significant void.

More readings on Aleksandra Pavlovna Biryukova


There were no biographies of Biryukova on a book. It is unusual for a Soviet political figure to receive personal attention in the Soviet press. Biryukova, unlike Raisa Gorbachev,

did not arouse public interest in the West, where it was known only to specialists. Gorbachev and Yeltsin, who captured the public imagination outside the United States, were among the few Soviet politicians who received publicity in the international media. Several articles recounted her activities and speeches, particularly her shopping trip to the West, widely reported in the American press (July 1989). Christian Science Monitor reviewed his work (13 March 1986), as well as New York Times (24 January 1989) and the Washington Post (24 January 1989). Biryukova’s retirement is briefly described in Dawn Mann’s “Leading Bodies of the CPSU Transformed” in Report on the USSR (Radio Liberty, 20 July 1990). See also Constitution of Atlanta (24 January 1989), Boston Globe (24 January 1989), Tempo (10 October 1988), Who is who in Russia and the new states (1993), and Who was who in the Soviet Union (1992). It is also listed in the New York Times Biographical Service (October 1988) and Who’s Who in the World (1991).