Early life and career (1904–1964)
Kosygin was born into a Russian working-class family consisting of his father and mother (Nikolai Ilyich and Matrona Alexandrovna) and his siblings. The family lived in Saint Petersburg. Kosygin was baptised (7 March 1904) one month after his birth.
He was conscripted into a labour army on the Bolshevik side during the Russian Civil War of 1917-1922. After demobilisation from the Red Army in 1921, Kosygin attended the Leningrad Co-operative Technical School and found work in the system of consumer co-operatives in Novosibirsk, Siberia. When asked why he worked in the co-operative sector of the economy, Kosygin replied, quoting a slogan of Vladimir Lenin: "Co-operation – the path to socialism!" Kosygin stayed there for six years.
He applied for a membership in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1927 and returned to Leningrad in 1930 to study at the
Leningrad Textile Institute ; he graduated in 1935.
After finishing his studies, Kosygin worked as a textile-mill director. Three years later, he was elected Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Leningrad City Soviets of Working People's Deputies by the Leningrad Communist Party, and the following year he was appointed People's Commissar for Textile and Industry and earned a seat on the Central Committee (CC). In 1940 Kosygin became a Deputy chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, and was appointed in 1943 as Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the Russian SFSR.
Kosygin worked for the State Defence Committee during the Great Patriotic War (World War II). As Deputy Chairman of the Council of Evacuation, he had the task of evacuating industry from territories about to be overrun by the Axis. During the Leningrad Blockade he participated in organising the construction of a supply route and a pipeline on the bottom of Lake Ladoga. Kosygin became a candidate member of the Politburo in 1946, and a full member on 4 September 1948 (toward the end of Joseph Stalin's rule); he lost his seat in 1952. He served as Minister of Finance in 1948, and as Minister of Light Industry from 1949 to 1953.
His administrative skills led Stalin to take Kosygin under his wing. Stalin shared information with Kosygin, such as how much money the families of Vyacheslav Molotov, Anastas Mikoyan, and Lazar Kaganovich possessed, spent and paid their staff. A Politburo member earned a modest salary by Soviet standards but enjoyed unlimited access to consumer goods.
Stalin sent Kosygin to each home to put their houses into "proper order". Assignments such as these made Kosygin unpopular with certain members of the Soviet leadership. Kosygin told his son-in-law Mikhail Gvishiani, an NKVD officer, of the accusations leveled against his co-worker Nikolai Voznesensky, then Chairman of the State Planning Committee and a First Deputy Premier, because of his possession of firearms. Gvishiani and Kosygin threw all their weapons into a lake and searched both their houses for any listening devices. They found one at Kosygin's house, but it might have been installed to spy on Marshal Georgy Zhukov, who had lived there before him. According to his memoirs, Kosygin never left his home without reminding his wife what to do if he did not return from work. After living two years in constant fear, the family reached the conclusion that Stalin would not harm them.
Kosygin, along with Alexey Kuznetsov and Voznesensky, formed a Troika in the aftermath of the war, with all three being promoted up the Soviet hierarchy by high-standing officials such as Stalin. Kosygin's life, which was connected to Kuznetsov through marriage, was hanging by a thread. How or why Kosygin survived the show trials remains unknown, but he, as some jokes say, "must have drawn a lucky lottery ticket".
Nikita Khrushchev blamed Beria and Malenkov for the innocent deaths of Kuznetsov and Voznesensky, and accused Malenkov in 1957 of having concocted a plot so that either Malenkov or Beria would succeed Stalin upon the latter's death.
Following Stalin's death in March 1953, Kosygin was demoted, but as a staunch ally of Khrushchev, his career soon turned around. While never one of Khrushchev's protégés, Kosygin quickly moved up the party ladder. Kosygin became an official of the State Planning Committee in 1957, and was made a candidate member of the Politburo. He was promoted to the State Planning Committee chairmanship, and became Khrushchev's First Deputy Premier in 1960. As First Deputy Premier Kosygin travelled abroad, mostly on trade missions, to countries such as North Korea, India, Argentina and Italy. Later, in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kosygin was the Soviet spokesman for improved relations between the Soviet Union and the United States. Kosygin regained his old seat in the Politburo at the 22nd Party Congress in 1961.