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The USSR in the 1960s


Brezhnev
Brezhnev

One effect of de-Stalinization was to reduce the level of fear within the Soviet leadership. With time, Khrushchev became overconfident and neglected to pay prudent attention to the performance of his appointees and to relations among them. Some of them lost faith in his impulsive leadership style; others were disillusioned by specific policy failures, such as poor harvests, the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, and his division of the CPSU apparatus into parallel industrial and agricultural hierarchies. In October 1964 the party leadership, having conspired for some time behind his back, stripped him of both his party secretaryship and the premiership. The plot was led by three members of Khrushchev’s inner circle: Leonid Brezhnev, a veteran party administrator and as of July 1964 the second-ranking CPSU secretary; Nikolay Podgorny, a fellow CPSU secretary; and Aleksandr Shelepin, the head of the KGB. The announcement of the change of leadership indicted Khrushchev for “voluntarism” and “harebrained schemes.”

Brezhnev replaced Khrushchev as first secretary of the party (the position was changed back to general secretary in 1966). Aleksey Kosygin, a longtime industrial administrator, became chairman of the Council of Ministers, or premier, while Podgorny was appointed chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. Mikhail Suslov, the party’s chief of ideology, figured prominently in the leadership’s work. Its early announcements stressed collective deliberation and “businesslike” procedures.

Brezhnev asserted his primacy over his fellow leaders, but step by step and cautiously. Using his powers of appointment, he rewarded supporters with seats in the Politburo and other party organs at the CPSU congresses of 1971 and 1976.

It was not until 1977 that he eased Podgorny into retirement and had himself selected head of state. Kosygin remained as premier until shortly before his death in 1980, although he was by then overshadowed by the general secretary. A Brezhnev personality cult blossomed in the late 1970s, as his memoirs were printed in huge editions and his patchy war record was extolled.

The watchword of Brezhnev’s 18 years in office was stability—continuity of personnel, procedures, and policy. He repudiated Khrushchev’s frequent shuffles of officials and reorganizations of governmental and CPSU structures.

Unsatisfactory Khrushchev reforms, such as the bifurcation of the party apparatus and the shift of industrial planning to regional organs, were quietly reversed. Brezhnev praised professional and technical specialists for their contributions to administration and lauded 'scientific' methods that would take full advantage of expertise. Such changes of policy as did occur were slow to materialize and had leisurely schedules for implementation. While such a style of rule may have been, for the officials below him, preferable to either Stalin’s inhumanity or Khrushchev’s bluster, and was enough to keep Brezhnev safe in office until his death, it proved to be very costly to the Soviet system. Timid changes in government operations were combined with severe and mounting intolerance toward expressions of preference for more fundamental changes in the regime. The Prague Spring of 1968, in which liberal Communists in Czechoslovakia attempted to craft “socialism with a human face,” showed that a reform-minded communism was a viable possibility in the Soviet bloc in at least the first half of Brezhnev’s reign. When a Soviet-led invasion force, with Brezhnev’s authorization, crushed the experiment, pessimism and cynicism about improvement of the system spread through Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union. The second half of Brezhnev’s time in power was characterized mostly by the growing feebleness of the top leader and his colleagues and by an ever more apparent stagnation in institutions, policies, and ideas. "USSR" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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