Childhood & Early Life
Alexei Ivanovich Rykov was born on February 25, 1881, in Saratov, Saratov Governorate, Russian Empire, to farmer Ivan Illych Rykov. His father succumbed to cholera in Merv, in 1889, following which Rykov was looked after by his older sister, Klavdiya Ivanovna Rykova. Klavdiya was an office-worker for the Ryazanskaya-Ural railroad.
Rykov started attending middle school in Saratov in 1892. In high school, he was a brilliant student and excelled in physics, mathematics, and the natural sciences. He stopped going to church and renounced his faith at age 15. He graduated high school in 1900 and then studied law at the ‘University of Kazan.’ However, he did not complete the course.
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Early Political Endeavors
In 1898, he became a member of the ‘Russian Social Democratic Labour Party’ (RSDLP). In 1903, the ‘RSDLP’ split into the ‘Mensheviks’ and the ‘Bolsheviks,’ at its 2nd ‘Congress.’ Following this, Rykov became a ‘Bolshevik.’ He served as an agent of the ‘Bolsheviks’ in Moscow and Saint Petersburg and remained active during the Russian Revolution of 1905.
During the 3rd ‘Congress’ of the ‘RSDLP,’ held in London, U.K., in 1905, Rykov was elected a member of the ‘Central Committee’ of the ‘Communist Party’ of the Soviet Union. He was again elected as a member at the party’s 4th ‘Congress’ held in Copenhagen the following year. During the 5th ‘Congress,’ held in 1907, in London, Rykov was elected as the ‘Central Committee’s candidate (non-voting) member.
During the 1908–1909 struggle for leadership in the ‘Bolshevik’ faction, Rykov supported Lenin over Alexander Bogdanov. He voted to expel Bogdanov at the mini-conference in Paris, held in June 1909. He remained in exile in France during 1910–1911. In 1912, he censured Lenin’s proposal of making the ‘Bolshevik’ faction an independent party. Rykov eventually went into exile in Siberia for his revolutionary pursuits.
Role During the Revolution & the Civil War
He lived in Siberia till early 1917 and returned after the February Revolution that year. He then re-joined the ‘Bolsheviks’ and became a ‘Moscow Soviet’ and ‘Petrograd Soviet ‘member.
During the 6th ‘Congress’ of the ‘RSDLP’ (the ‘Bolsheviks’) held between July 26 and August 3 in 1917, Rykov was elected to the ‘Central Committee.’ He was a ‘Military Revolutionary Committee’ member in Moscow during the October Revolution that year. The revolution ended in a ‘Bolshevik’ victory and witnessed the end of the ‘Provisional Government,’ the ‘Russian Republic,’ and dual power, thus forming Soviet Russia. It also saw the rise of the ‘Second All-Russian Congress’ of the Soviets to power and it becoming the supreme governing body. It witnessed the commencement of the Civil War, too.
Following the October Revolution, Rykov was made the “People's Commissar of Internal Affairs.” When the governing body of an industrial union, ‘Vikzhel,’ threatened a national strike, demanding Lenin and Leon Trotsky’s ouster from the government and suggesting that the ‘Bolsheviks’ share their power with other socialist parties, a negotiating process began. Grigori Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, and Rykov were part of the negotiation process. Although they had gained support from the majority of the ‘Central Committee’ initially, the eventual fall of the anti-‘Bolshevik’ forces outside Petrograd led Lenin and Trotsky to successfully persuade the ‘Central Committee’ to stop the negotiations. This led Rykov, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Victor Nogin, and Vladimir Milyutin to resign from the government and the ‘Central Committee’ on November 17, 1917.
Rykov was made the chairman of the ‘Supreme Council of National Economy’ on April 3, 1918. He served in the position throughout the Russian Civil War. From July 5, 1919, to October that year, he remained a member of the reorganized ‘Revolutionary Military Council.’ Meanwhile, in July that year, he became a special representative of the ‘Council of Labor and Defense’ for food supplies for the ‘Red Army’ and the ‘Navy.’ He served in that capacity till August 1921.
On April 5, 1920, he was elected to the ‘Communist Party Central Committee.’ He also served as a member of the 10th, 11th, and 12th ‘Orgburo,’ from March 16, 1921 to June 2, 1924.
Career after the Civil War
Rykov was inducted, under Lenin, as the deputy chairman of the ‘Council of Labor and Defense’ of the ‘Russian SFSR’ on May 26, 1921, a couple of days before he resigned from his position from the ‘Supreme Council of National Economy.’ On December 29 that year, Lenin’s deteriorating health saw Rykov turn into Lenin’s deputy in the ‘Council of People's Commissars.’
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On April 3, 1922, he became a full member of the 11th ‘Politburo’ and the 11th ‘Secretariat of the Russian Communist Party’ (the ‘Bolsheviks’), following the 11th ‘Party Congress.’
The Soviet Union was formed in December 1922, and an eventual re-organization of the government saw Rykov take over as the deputy chairman of the ‘U.S.S.R. Council of People's Commissars’ and the chairman of the ‘U.S.S.R. Supreme Council of National Economy’ on July 6, 1923. He gave up the latter position following Lenin’s death on January 21, 1924, and succeeded Lenin as the chairman of the ‘Council of People's Commissars of the Soviet Union’ and the chairman of the ‘Council of People's Commissars of the Russian SFSR’ on February 2 the same year.
During the 1920s, Rykov, along with Nikolai Bukharin and Mikhail Tomsky, led the ‘Communist Party’s moderate wing. In 1923–1924, Rykov and the other moderates backed Joseph Stalin, Lev Kamenev, and Grigory Zinoviev, instead of Leon Trotsky and the left opposition. After Trotsky was defeated and Stalin severed ties with Zinoviev and Kamenev in 1925, Rykov continued supporting Stalin. The 14th ‘Party Congress,’ held in December 1925, saw Kamenev voicing his opposition to Stalin. This resulted in Kamenev losing the position of the chairman of the ‘Soviet Council of Labor and Defense’ on January 19, 1926, and Rykov taking up the post.
Vodka was heavily taxed during his leadership. This earned him the name "Rykovka". Although he was an abstainer, Rykov’s political opponents asserted that he was a heavy drinker.
Later Years, Trial, & Execution
The premiership of Rykov witnessed a severe change in the power structure of the Soviet Union. Stalin, the general secretary of the ‘Communist Party’ of the Soviet Union back then, informally led the Soviet Union. By December 1927, the ‘United Opposition,’ which included Trotsky, Kamenev, and Zinoviev, was defeated. This was followed by the expulsion of its followers from the party. Stalin then adopted more radical policies, which gradually led to his conflict with the party’s moderate wing.
In the fall of 1928, Stalin formulated the ‘Right Opposition’ against some measures that were included in the first 5-year plan by Rykov, Bukharin, Tomsky, and their Soviet supporters, which were not in accordance with the so called "general line of the party.” The conflict between the two factions saw the defeat of the ‘Right Opposition.’ In November 1929, they were forced to "admit their mistakes".
Meanwhile, on May 18, 1929, Rykov lost the post of the premier of the ‘Russian SFSR’ to Sergei Syrtsov. On December 19, 1930, he was replaced by Vyacheslav Molotov, as the chairman of the ‘Council of People's Commissars of the Soviet Union’ and the chairman of the ‘Council of Labor and Defense.’ He was expelled from the ‘Politburo’ on December 21 that year.
Rykov became the “People's Commissar of Posts and Telegraphs” on May 30, 1931. He continued to hold the post following the January 1932 reorganization of the ‘Commissariat’ as the ‘People's Commissariat for Communications of the U.S.S.R.’
He was demoted to the position of the ‘Central Committee’s candidate (non-voting) member on February 10, 1934. He lost the post of the “People's Commissar of Communications” on September 26, 1936. However, he remained the ‘Central Committee’s candidate (non-voting) member.
In early 1937, as the political repression campaign of Stalin, the Great Purge or the Great Terror, intensified in the Soviet Union, Rykov and Bukharin faced expulsion from the ‘Communist Party’. The two were arrested on February 27 that year, during the February–March meeting of the ‘Central Committee.’
The “Trial of the Twenty-One,” the third show trial, was conducted in Moscow on March 13, 1938. At the trial, Rykov, along with 20 other prominent ‘Bolsheviks’ were tried for espionage and treason. They were found guilty of plotting with Trotsky against Stalin. The ‘Soviet Military Board’ sentenced them to death. In an attempt to overturn the verdict, Rykov wrote a letter to the ‘Soviet Military Board,’ requesting clemency, but remained unsuccessful in his effort. On March 15, 1938, Rykov and most of the others were executed. Decades later, in 1988, the Soviet government annulled the verdict and reinstated Rykov.