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Yemelyan Mikhailovich Yaroslavsky (Russian: Емельян Михайлович Ярославский, born Minei Izrailevich Gubelman, Мине́й Изра́илевич Губельма́н; 3 March [O.S. 19 February] 1878 – 4 December 1943) was an ethnic Jewish Russian Bolshevik Revolutionary, Communist Party Member, Journalist, and Historian.

Yemelyan Yaroslavsky
Емельян Ярославский
Yaroslavkiy E.jpg
Yaroslavsky in 1917
Member of the 10th Secretariat
In office
16 March – 8 August 1921
Full member of the 10th, 18th Central Committee
In office
22 April 1939 – 4 December 1943
In office
16 March – 8 August 1921
Personal details
Yemelyan Mikhailovich Yaroslavsky

March 3 [O.S. February 19] 1878
Chita, Russian Empire
Died4 December 1943 (65 years)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union

An atheist and anti-religious polemicist, Yaroslavsky served as editor of the atheist satirical journal Bezbozhnik (The Godless) and led the League of the Militant Godless organization. Yaroslavsky also headed the Anti-Religious Committee of the Central Committee.



Early yearsEdit

Yemelyan Yaroslavsky[1] was born into a Jewish family as Minei Israilevich Gubelman in Chita, then the capital of Russia's Transbaikal Oblast, on March 3, 1878.

Yaroslavsky entered the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party in 1898 and organized party cells on the Trans-Baikal (Zabaikalsky) Railroad). In 1901, he was a correspondent for the revolutionary newspaper "Iskra," and the following year became a member of the Party's Chita Committee. In 1903 he became a member of the St. Petersburg Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party and became one of the leaders of the Military Wing of the party, siding with the Social Democrats' Bolshevik faction during the intraparty split.

Yaroslavsky took part in the 1905 Revolution and his wife, the revolutionary Olga Mikhailovna Genkina (1882–1905) was killed by a member of the Black Hundreds during the conflict. Yaroslavsky led communist activity in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinoslav, and Tampere (now in Finland) during the revolution and edited the paper "Kazarma." He was arrested in 1907 and sentenced to hard labor in the Gorny Zerentu Prison in the Nerchinsk region and later exiled to Eastern Siberia.

Party leaderEdit

In the months after the October Revolution of 1917, Yaroslavsky became associated with the Left Communist tendency, which opposed negotiated settlement of military hostilities with the invading army of the German empire.[2]

Yaroslavsky was named a member of the governing Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party in 1919 as a candidate member and was promoted to full membership in 1921.[3] He served on the Central Committee's secretariat from 1921 to 1923.[2] Yaroslavsky would remain a member of the Central Committee through 1939, surviving the secret police terror of 1937-38.[3]

He was moved to the parallel party body in charge of internal discipline, the Central Control Commission, in 1923 and served as that body's chair from that date.[2] He was also a member of the directing collegium of the Workers' and Peasants' Inspectorate (Rabkrin),[2] a closely related monitoring agency which extended its purview outside of the party into the economic sphere.[2]

Over the course of his career as a Communist Party functionary, Yaroslavsky sat on the boards of several leading Soviet publications, including the Communist Party daily Pravda and the party theoretical journal Bolshevik.[2]

State prosecutorEdit

On September 15, 1921, Yaroslavsky was the prosecutor at the trial in Novonikolaevsk, now Novosibirsk, of the counter-revolutionary Lieutenant General Roman von Ungern-Sternberg.


The Lenin Institute, archival repository and partisan historical research center, which Yaroslavsky helped supervise as a member of its directorate.

Yaroslavsky was an early biographer of Bolshevik leader V. I. Lenin with his first biography, Velikii vozhd' rabochei revoliutsii (The Great Leader of the Workers' Revolution) seeing print in 1918 in the aftermath of a failed assassination attempt.[4] Yaroslavsky was subsequently chosen as a member of the directorate of the Lenin Institute, an archive and research center established in 1923 to gather and publish the various letters, manuscripts, and writings of Lenin.[2] A second and more widely distributed Lenin biography by Yaroslavsky, Zhizn' i rabota V.I. Lenina (The Life and Work of V.I. Lenin), was rushed to the press in 1924, following Lenin's death.[5]

Yaroslavsky was also a frequent writer on the history of the Bolshevik Party and an editor of one of the main historical journals of the 1920s, Istorik-marksist (Marxist Historian).[2]

He was also the head of the Society of Former Political Prisoners and Penal Exiles, a fraternal benefit society which aided Old Bolsheviks and other political prisoners of the Tsarist era.[2]

Yaroslavsky was associated with a hardline Communist Party orientation which treated non-party intellectuals with scorn. In an 8 March 1931 speech before the Communist Academy held in the aftermath of the 1931 Menshevik Trial, Yaroslavsky attacked David Riazanov, scholarly head of the Marx-Engels Institute and a former member of the Menshevik Party, for the allegedly insufficient number of Communist Party members employed at that archive and research center.[6] Later that year the Academy would officially condemn Riazanov as "an agent of counter-revolutionary Menshevism," leading to his arrest and exile outside of the city of Moscow.[6] In November 1931 the politically suspect Marx-Engels Institute would be merged with Yaroslavsky's more orthodox Lenin Institute to form the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute, a central ideological clearinghouse.[6]

Atheist activistEdit

In the fall of 1922 the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party established a new standing committee granted "full authority in general leadership and policy in regard to religion and the church and development of party directives on issues of anti-religious propaganda."[7] Officially titled the "Committee on the Execution of the Decree Separating Church and State" (unofficially known as the "Anti-Religious Commission"), this committee saw Yaroslavsky appointed as its chair early in 1923.[8] Although a body of limited power, the Anti-Religious Commission marked a first step towards an official Bolshevik policy of systematic religious extermination and anti-religious propaganda — an effort to which Yaroslavsky would dedicate a substantial part of his time and effort over the ensuing years.[8]

One of Yaroslavsky's highest profile party tasks was his chair held of the League of the Militant Godless, an anti-religious mass organization of the Communist Party.[2] Yaroslavsky also served as editor of the League's periodical, Bezbozhnik.[2]

Later yearsEdit

With the outbreak of the German-Soviet War, in the summer of 1941, the Soviet state reduced its anti-religious activities in an effort to make use of the Russian Orthodox Church as an institution to rally the population to defend the nation. The journals Bezbozhnik and Antireligioznik ceased publication and the League of the Militant Godless fell into obscurity.[9]

The aging Yaroslavsky, still an esteemed senior historian of the Bolshevik Party, dutifully promoted the government's new nationalistic political line, writing an article for Pravda entitled "The Bolsheviks — Continuers of the Best Patriotic Tradition of the Russian People" which declared the Bolsheviks the "lawful heirs to the Russian people's great and honorable past" and acknowledged the place of the Great Russian nationality "at the head of the other peoples of the USSR."[10] Yaroslavsky's high-profile Pravda piece, along with a similar patriotic and nationalist article by Agitprop chief G. F. Alexandrov, was taken as an official signal to the historical profession to mine the imperial Russian past for examples of heroic unity and national defense which might be transformed into illustrative propaganda to aid the USSR in its attempt to rebuff the Nazi German invaders.[11]

Death and legacyEdit

Yaroslavsky died on 4 December 1943 in Moscow of Stomach cancer. His remains were cremated and the urn with his ashes was interred to the left side of the Senate Tower in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis behind Lenin's Mausoleum.

Honours and awardsEdit

  • Order of Lenin (1938)
  • Stalin Prize, 1st class (1943) — For the collective research work entitled "History of the Civil War," Volume 2. (1942)


  1. ^ Rendering of Yaroslavsky's pseudonym into the Latin alphabet is somewhat problematic owing to different systems of transliteration relating to the Cyrillic letter Я, the handling of the initial Cyrillic letter E, and the handling of the terminal combination —ий. "Yemelyan Yaroslavsky" is the standard rendering according to the British system and "Emel'ian Iaroslavskii" the rendering according to the American/Library of Congress system, ignoring diacritical marks.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k John Barber, Soviet Historians in Crisis, 1928-1932. London: Macmillan, 1981; pg. 29.
  3. ^ a b R.W. Davies et al. (eds.), Soviet Government Officials, 1922-41: A Handlist. Birmingham, England: Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Birminghamm 1989; pg. 404.
  4. ^ Nina Tumarkin, Lenin Lives! The Lenin Cult in Soviet Russia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983; pg. 88.
  5. ^ Tumarkin, Lenin Lives! pp. 166, 291 fn. 10.
  6. ^ a b c Barber, Soviet Historians in Crisis, pg. 122.
  7. ^ Quoted in Daniel Peris, Storming the Heavens: The Soviet League of the Militant Godless. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998; pp. 41-42.
  8. ^ a b Perris, Storming the Heavens, pg. 42.
  9. ^ Edmund Simmons, Russia is No Riddle. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2005; pg. 75; Thomas Fitzsimmons, RSFSR: Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, vols. 1 and 2. New Haven, CT: Human Relations Area Files, 1957; pg. 579.
  10. ^ E. Iaroslavskii, "Bol'sheviki — Prodolzhateli lushchikh patrioticheskikh traditsii russkogo naroda" (The Bolsheviks — Continuers of the Best Patriotic Tradition of the Russian People), Pravda, December 27, 1941, pg. 3; quoted in David Brandenberger, National Bolshevism: Stalinist Mass Culture and he Formation of Modern Russian National Identity, 1931-1950. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002; pg. 119.
  11. ^ Brandenberger, National Bolshevism, pp. 119-120.

Works in EnglishEdit

  • Lenin: His Life and Work. Chicago: Daily Worker Publishing Co., n.d. [c. 1926].
  • A Short History of the Russian Communist Party. In Two Volumes. Moscow: n.p., n.d. [1930s].
  • Bolshevik Verification and Purging of the Party Ranks. Moscow: Cooperative Publishing Society of Foreign Workers in the USSR, 1933.
  • Religion in the USSR. New York: International Publishers, 1934.
  • History of Anarchism in Russia. New York: International Publishers, 1937.
  • The Meaning of the Soviet Trials. Contributor. New York: Workers Library Publishers, 1938.
  • The Great Patriotic War of the Soviet People. Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1941.
  • Landmarks in the Life of Stalin. London : Lawrence & Wishart, n.d. [1942].
  • Twenty-five Years of Soviet Power. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1943.

Further readingEdit

  • George M. Enteen, "Writing Party History in the USSR: The Case of E. M. Iaroslavskii," Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 21, no. 2 (April 1986), pp. 321–339. In JSTOR.