FOR 21 years Viktor Afanasyev was the autocratic editor-in-chief of Pravda, the main political organ of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Afanasyev joined the Communist Party at the age of 20, while serving as a soldier during the Second World War. In 1945 he returned to the large industrial city of Chita, in the Soviet Far East, where he had been born. He graduated from the State Pedagogical Institute there in 1950. He was a teacher until 1954, then progressed to become professor of the faculty of Scientific Marxism at the institute from 1954 to 1960. He moved to Moscow in 1960 as a professor of Scientific Marxism at the Academy of Sociology attached to the Central Committee of the Communist Party. He was introduced to Nikita Khrushchev at one of the Politburo sessions and became friendly with him.
In 1960 Afanasyev joined Pravda, the newspaper founded by Lenin in 1912, as one of its political editors. During the next eight years he was promoted to be one of the editor-in-chief's deputies, and then first deputy. An ally of Khrushchev at the peak of his power, he moved to Brezhnev's side in October 1964 when Khrushchev's fate was being decided. The position of editor-in-chief of Pravda is decided by the Politburo, and when the vacancy became available in 1968, Brezhnev signed Afanasyev's candidature. He then became the chief of Communist propaganda in the Soviet Union.
Under Afanasyev Pravda's circulation reached its peak of 10.6 million copies. Afanasyev also controlled the printing and the contents of 32 magazines, from satirical through children's and medical to the propaganda sheet Sovetsky Soyuz designed for abroad. Pravda printing presses published 20 million political books and brochures, over 50 million postcards and 3 million artists' reproductions which were sold in 102 countries. Afanasyev decided the fate of every one of the paper's 105 staff correspondents, in the Soviet Union and abroad.
The newspaper's inner circle was showered with privileges. Pravda had its own elite houses, cars, special shops full of Western goods and foreign currency. In 1974 Afanasyev accepted the post of editor-in-chief of the chief theoretical Communist monthly magazine, Kommunist, another organ of the Central Commitee of the Communist Party. But the power of this position was limited and his kingdom restricted, and he returned in 1976 to Pravda and loyally served, after Brezhnev's death in November 1982, Konstantin Chernenko, Yuri Andropov and Gorbachev.
As a theoretician of Marxism and an academician, Afanasyev was forced to maintain a Marxist positions when in 1987 the Soviet press was fighting against censorship and for freedom of the press. For the first time in the history of Pravda, the editor-in-chief was attacked and ridiculed by other newspapers that published the news that Pravda refused to take part in Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika. At Pravda dissident journalists tried to go against the editor's line; others saw they did not fit and left to join other papers. Finance ceased to be available and Afanasyev lost his star correspondents. He was a close friend of Gorbachev and the only editor whom Gorbachev invited to his inner sessions of the Politburo.
In October 1989, reportedly after a conversation with Gorbachev, Afanasyev took the decision to reprint a highly critical article about Yeltsin from an Italian newspaper. Several days later Pravda published an apology to Yeltsin - a step without precedent in its history. But this was not enough to save Afanasyev. Under pressure from all sides, Gorbachev reluctantly pensioned him off on 19 October.
According to his staff, Afanasyev was an unusual Communist editor. Unlike his deputies, dressed in black and gray, he was an elegant man, and wore expensive suits; he had a fashionable haircut, his hobby was water skiing and he liked young women. One of his staff writers called him a 'semi-playboy communist'. Within himself he wanted change and even attempted it but was prevented from doing so by his deputies.
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