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Leonid Brezhnev is elected Soviet president

Leonid Brezhnev is elected Soviet president


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Leonid Ilych Brezhnev, first secretary of the Soviet Communist Party since 1964, is elected president of the Supreme Soviet, thereby becoming both head of party and head of state.

A member of the Soviet Communist Party since 1931, Brezhnev was Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s protege and deputy in the early 1960s. In 1964, however, he joined in the party coup that removed Khrushchev from power, and he was named first secretary in Khrushchev’s place. As first secretary, he initially shared power with Alexei Kosygin, who succeeded Khrushchev as premier. However, Brezhnev proved a forceful leader, and he gradually emerged as the chief figure in Soviet politics.

In 1968, after ordering the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, First Secretary Brezhnev proclaimed the so-called “Brezhnev Doctrine,” which declared that the USSR could intervene in the affairs of any Eastern European nation if communist rule was threatened. Despite his suppression of democratic reform in Czechoslovakia and other Soviet Bloc nations, he promoted closer relations with the United States and the West.

In 1976, Brezhnev became the first party leader since Joseph Stalin to hold the title of marshal of the Soviet Union, the USSR’s highest military rank. In 1977, he assumed the presidency of the USSR, thus becoming the most powerful Soviet leader since Stalin. The last five years of his rule were marked by the USSR’s costly invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and a return of Cold War tensions. Leonid Brezhnev died in 1982 and was succeeded by Yuri Andropov as general (first) secretary.

READ MORE: Soviet Union


The Political History of Concealing Illness, from Brezhnev to Trump

In the late 1970s, after suffering a series of strokes and other medical crises that left him increasingly weak and incoherent, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev wrote a boastful diary entry about his recent doctor&rsquos visit: &ldquo[They] checked [my] brain cells, said everything was good, you should be envied and congratulated[,] you&rsquore strong and healthy.&rdquo

During his shortened hospital stay with covid-19, President Trump tweeted that he was feeling &ldquobetter than 20 years ago,&rdquo while his physician (who has praised the president&rsquos &ldquoincredible genes&rdquo) announced that he was &ldquodoing great&rdquo &mdash a rosy assessment called into question by his repeated bouts on oxygen and an intensive course of treatment.

Trump&rsquos obsession with projecting the appearance of good health echoes a similar fixation among the ailing leadership of the late Soviet Union, whose leaders died in rapid succession in the early 1980s while insisting on their own (and the country&rsquos) perfect condition. Like his Communist counterparts, Trump&rsquos predilection for pageantry offers a hollow illusion of vitality while letting potentially fatal problems fester.

Brezhnev had been general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party since 1964, and saw his health decline considerably following a 1976 stroke. According to some accounts, he also suffered from heart failure, as well as an addiction to sedatives and sleeping pills. Kremlin doctors struggled to rouse Brezhnev for official meetings and televised appearances, which broadcast his slurred speech and shaking hands to millions of viewers.

With information about his deteriorating condition restricted to the Politburo, Soviet citizens filled in the blanks with rumors and jokes that cast the general secretary as dying, dead or perpetually regenerated. According to one joke, Brezhnev&rsquos daily routine began with reanimation, followed by makeup, a banquet, an awards ceremony and concluding in clinical death.

As Brezhnev&rsquos mind and body failed, an adoring cult grew around him that stoked his ego. Paeans to Comrade Brezhnev&rsquos &ldquounflagging energy, principles and vision&rdquo appeared on the front pages of major newspapers, while official ceremonies hailed &ldquoDear Leonid Ilyich&rdquo with extended applause and kisses. Obsequious peers in the Politburo granted him medals including the glittering Order of Victory, a diamond-encrusted military decoration from World War II that was dubiously awarded in honor of his minor role as a political commissar on the southern front.


Contents

When Leonid Brezhnev died on 10 November 1982 Yuri Andropov was elected chairman of the committee in charge of managing his funeral. According to Time magazine Brezhnev's death was mourned by the majority of Soviet citizens. [1] First World commentators saw this as proof that Andropov would become Brezhnev's successor as general secretary. [2] The political corruption which had grown considerably during Brezhnev's tenure had become a major problem to the Soviet Union's economic development by the 1980s. In response Andropov initiated a nationwide anti-corruption campaign. Andropov believed that the Soviet economy would possibly recover if the Soviet Government was able to increase social discipline amongst workers. [3] Brezhnev's regime was also criticised for ideological laxness and self-indulgence. [4] The gerontocracy established by Brezhnev was slowly phased out by Andropov, and new recruits were appointed to the Party "centre", such as future Premier Nikolai Ryzhkov and Chief Ideologue Yegor Ligachev. [5] Soviet foreign policy had also gone awry during Brezhnev's last years, and by June 1982, just before his death, Ronald Reagan classified the Soviet Union as an "Evil Empire". This hardline diplomatic stance did not wither away before Mikhail Gorbachev initiated the "New Thinking". [6] Support for Marxism–Leninism continued to be evident amongst the Soviet people, however, its base of support slowly withered during the Brezhnev Era. The Soviet people still remained wary of such concepts as liberal democracy and multi-party systems, and because of it, Marxism–Leninism remained the leading belief in the country. [7] Due to the large military buildup of the 1960s the Soviet Union was able to consolidate itself as a superpower during Brezhnev's rule. [8]

Brezhnev's family, Yuri, Galina and Yuri Churbanov, were investigated and all, with the exception of Galina, were arrested on charges of political corruption during Mikhail Gorbachev's administration. [9] Churbanov, Brezhnev's son-in-law, was sentenced to twelve years in prison on charges of large-scale embezzlement and corruption. By December 1988 Churbanov had been stripped of all state honours, and sent to a labour camp. Galina, along with the rest of Brezhnev's family, lost all their state privileges. The city of Brezhnev reverted to its old name Naberezhnye Chelny, and a group within the Soviet leadership wanted to rename all towns, street, factories and institutions bearing Brezhnev's name. [10] This was actually carried through by the authorities in December 1988 when the Soviet Government issued a decree which stated all town, streets, factories, institutions and the like bearing Brezhnev's and Konstantin Chernenko's were to revert to their former name. [11] According to his grandson Andrei Brezhnev, the very name Brezhnev had become a curse for the family, and several family members had been forced out of their jobs and their friends had deserted them. [10] Brezhnev, who had inflated his role in World War II, was rescinded the Order of Victory on 21 September 1989 in a Supreme Soviet convocation. [12]

During the Gorbachev Era, Brezhnev's rule was considered less successful than that of Joseph Stalin in an opinion measurement poll only 7 percent chose the Brezhnev Era as good, while 10 percent picked the Stalin Era as good. [13] Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Boris Yeltsin's subsequent market reforms, many Russians viewed the Brezhnev era with nostalgia they missed the stability of that era which had subsequently been lost during the Gorbachev era. [14]

Historians have expressed criticism for Brezhnev and his rule. The scholarly literature dealing with him is scarce and, with the exception of the period immediately after his death, overwhelmingly negative. Very little has been written about Brezhnev in English, and even Russian. According to Mark Sandle and Edwin Bacon, the authors behind Brezhnev Reconsidered, Brezhnev attracted little attention from the media due to a consensus that came shortly after his death, namely that his rule was primarily one of stagnation. When Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, initiated perestroika he blamed the degradation of the Soviet economic and political system on Brezhnev, and called his rule the "Era of Stagnation". [15] Gorbachev claimed that Brezhnev followed "a fierce neo-Stalinist line", [16] although in a later statement Gorbachev made assurances that Brezhnev was not as bad as he was made out to be, saying, "Brezhnev was nothing like the cartoon figure that is made of him now". [17]

British historian Robert Service wrote in his book, Russia: From Tsarism to the Twenty-First Century, that "When he [Brezhnev] succeeded Khrushchev, he was still a vigorous politician who expected to make the Party and government work more effectively. He had not been inactive he had not been entirely inflexible. But his General Secretaryship had turned into a ceremonial reign that had brought communism into its deepest contempt since 1917." He added that it was "hard to feel very sorry for Brezhnev" his socio-economic policies had sent the country into an Era of Stagnation from which his successors were never able to fully recover. [18] Talal Nizameddin states in his book Russia and the Middle East: Towards A New Foreign Policy that "Brezhnev's legacy, generally unaffected by his weak successors (Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko), was entanglement in Afghanistan, tension with China and Japan, as well as the prospect of a new dimension to the arms race with the United States in the form of the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars)." [19] According to historian David Dyker in his book The Soviet Union under Gorbachev: Prospects for Reform "Brezhnev left his successors a Soviet Union suffering from a host of domestic and foreign problems". The biggest obstacle, according to Dyker, was the weakness of the economy which had undermined Soviet influence outside its borders considerably during the late Brezhnev due to its relative technological backwardness. [20]

The author of The Soviet Paradox: External Expansion, Internal Decline Seweryn Bialer has a more mixed assessment of Brezhnev's reign. Bialer notes that the era was a time of "lost opportunities", but admits that the economic growth during Brezhnev's first years weakened "the rationale for radical reform". However, as Bialer notes in his book, even the gerontocracy which Brezhnev himself had created were disillusioned with Brezhnev's leadership when he died in 1982. [21] In his book Russia's Transformation: Snapshots of a Crumbling System Robert Vincent Daniels argues that Brezhnev "gave the country stability, if nothing else, even though it was the stability of the police state", and that his domestic and external policies tried to ensure the "status quo". [22] Daniels believes that Brezhnev's reign can be separated into two parts, the first, starting in 1964 and ending in 1975 conforms to a "status quo leadership, building the economy, pursuing détente, and maintaining political equilibrium at home". The second phase, which began in 1975, was exactly the opposite the economy stopped growing, the collective leadership ended with Nikolai Podgorny's removal, Brezhnev developed a cult of personality and the Soviet Union itself started to stagnate. [23] Historians Jiří Valenta and Frank Cibulka noted in their book Gorbachev's New Thinking and Third World Conflicts that Brezhnev's legacy was a "mixture of achievements and failures in both domestic and foreign policy". However, they argue that by the time of his death his failures had become severe chronic systematic problems. Brezhnev's main achievements, according to Valenta and Cibulka, was his foreign and defense policies, however, with the economy in decline these achievements were not durable in the long-run. They also note that the Soviet Union was able to consolidate itself as a superpower, which in turn increased their influence in non-communist Third World countries. [24]

On a positive note, Ian Thatcher argues that "[r]ather than deserving a reputation as the most vilified of all Soviet leaders, Brezhnev should be praised as one of the most successful exponents of the art of Soviet politics." He argues that Brezhnev was a good politician within the framework of the Soviet political system. [25] Dmitry Peskov said "Brezhnev wasn’t a minus for the history of our country, he was a huge plus, he laid a foundation for the country’s economics and agriculture." [26] Archie Brown wrote in his book, The Rise & Fall of Communism, that "From the point of view of Communist rulers, the Brezhnev era was in many ways successful." Brown adds that the Soviet Union reached "rough parity with the United States" militarily by the early 1970s, and became a superpower in the military sense of the world. [27] According to Brown "The Brezhnev era was a time when tens of millions of Soviet citizens lived a peaceful and predictable life than hitherto" and where "Most people did not live in fear of the KGB." [28]

Donald J Raleigh draws a mixed message, depicting a regime that energy strong and left weak: [29]

Brezhnev came to power in a country eager for stability. Under Brezhnev, the Soviet people experienced a dramatic rise in their standard of living. They took pride in their country’s status as a global superpower and in Brezhnev’s role as the architect of détente, a relaxation in cold-war tensions with the United States. The Soviet economy did stagnate during his tenure, however, after he rejected attempts to decentralize it, giving rise not only to episodic shortages of consumer goods but also to deficits in the Soviet “myth economy,” which bred cynicism.

Russia Edit

Brezhnev has fared well in Russian opinion polls when compared to his successors and predecessors. However, in the West he is most commonly remembered for starting the economic stagnation which triggered the dissolution of the Soviet Union. [30] A 2000 poll by VTsIOM asked various Russians the question "Was a given period more positive or more negative for the country?". 36 percent of the people polled viewed Brezhnev's tenure as more positive than negative. His predecessor, Nikita Khrushchev trailed close behind him, earning 33 percent. [31] A poll by the Public Opinion Fund (VTsIOM) in September 1999 similarly chose the Brezhnev period as the time in the 20th century when "ordinary people lived best", having a clear majority of 51 to 10. In a similar poll done in 1994, Brezhnev garnered a majority of only 36 to 16. [32] According to a 2006 Public Opinion Fund poll, 61 percent of the Russian people viewed the Brezhnev era as good for the country. [33] A poll by the VTsIOM in 2007 showed that the majority of Russians would choose to live during the Brezhnev era over any other period of 20th-century Russian history. [34] Researchers have noted a surge in Brezhnev's popularity, along with other communist rulers, during and in the aftermath of the Russian financial crisis of 1998, which is well remembered by many Russians for plunging many into poverty. When comparing these two periods, Brezhnev's USSR is best remembered for stability in prices and income by the Russians and not the socio-economic stagnation for which he is remembered in the West. [30]

Brezhnev's top-ranked popularity has continued well into the 21st century. In 2013, 56 percent of respondents expressed positive feelings in a poll by Russia's Levada Center. He scored a bit ahead of Lenin, (55 percent). Stalin (50 percent), Tsar Nicholas II (48 percent), and Khrushchev (45 percent). Trailing far behind in "positive feelings" were Mikhail Gorbachev (20 percent) and Boris Yeltsin (22 percent). [35]

Ukraine Edit

In a 2018 Rating Sociological Group poll, 47% of respondents had a positive opinion of Brezhnev. [36] [37] Brezhnev narrowly beat the popularity of Peter the Great (43% had a positive attitude towards him). [37] Brezhnev popularity was lagging far behind Bohdan Khmelnytsky (73% of respondents expressed a positive attitude) and Mykhailo Hrushevsky (68% positive attitude). [37]


Brezhnev’s era came as a stark contrast to Khrushchev 's turbulent rule. The country entered a decade-long standstill, its rigid economy slowly weakening and its political climate growing increasingly pessimistic. Bureaucracy and corruption flourished, the KGB regained much of the power it had enjoyed under Stalin, albeit without the return to the purges of the 1930s and 1940s.

Years of neglect both on the farms and in the factories, led to shortages of food and consumer goods. Enormous spending on the armed forces and the prestige projects, like the space programme, put a further strain on the struggling economy. The living standard dropped and Soviet citizens had to queue even for basic necessities. The result was a huge shadow economy, providing limited goods and services.


Contents

Collectivity of leadership Edit

After a prolonged power struggle, [1] Khrushchev was finally ousted from his post as First Secretary in October 1964, charged with the failure of his reforms, his obsessive re-organizations of the Party and Government apparatus, his disregard for Party and Government institutions, and his one-man domineering leadership style. [2] The Presidium (Politburo), the Central Committee and other important Party–Government bodies had grown tired of Khrushchev's repeated violations of established Party principles. The Soviet leadership also believed that his individualistic leadership style ran contrary to the ideal collective leadership. [1] Leonid Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin succeeded Khrushchev in his posts as First Secretary and Premier respectively, and Mikhail Suslov, Andrei Kirilenko, and Anastas Mikoyan (replaced in 1965 by Nikolai Podgorny), were also given prominence in the new leadership. Together they formed a functional collective leadership. [3]

The collective leadership was, in its early stages, usually referred to as the "Brezhnev–Kosygin" leadership [4] and the pair began their respective periods in office on a relatively equal footing. After Kosygin initiated the economic reform of 1965, however, his prestige within the Soviet leadership withered and his subsequent loss of power strengthened Brezhnev's position within the Soviet hierarchy. [5] Kosygin's influence was further weakened when Podgorny took his post as the second-most powerful figure in the Soviet Union. [6]

Brezhnev conspired to oust Podgorny from the collective leadership as early as 1970. The reason was simple: Brezhnev was third, while Podgorny was first in the ranking of Soviet diplomatic protocol Podgorny's removal would have made Brezhnev head of state, and his political power would have increased significantly. For much of the period, however, Brezhnev was unable to have Podgorny removed, because he could not count on enough votes in the Politburo, since the removal of Podgorny would have meant weakening of the power and the prestige of the collective leadership itself. Indeed, Podgorny continued to acquire greater power as the head of state throughout the early 1970s, due to Brezhnev's liberal stance on Yugoslavia and his disarmament talks with some Western powers, policies which many Soviet officials saw as contrary to common communist principles. [7]

This did not remain the case, however. Brezhnev strengthened his position considerably during the early to mid-1970s within the Party leadership and by a further weakening of the "Kosygin faction" by 1977 he had enough support in the Politburo to oust Podgorny from office and active politics in general. [8] Podgorny's eventual removal in 1977 had the effect of reducing Kosygin's role in day-to-day management of government activities by strengthening the powers of the government apparatus led by Brezhnev. [9] After Podgorny's removal rumours started circulating Soviet society that Kosygin was about to retire due to his deteriorating health condition. [10] Nikolai Tikhonov, a First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers under Kosygin, succeeded the later as premier in 1980 (see Kosygin's resignation). [10]

Podgorny's fall was not seen as the end of the collective leadership, and Suslov continued to write several ideological documents about it. In 1978, one year after Podgorny's retirement, Suslov made several references to the collective leadership in his ideological works. It was around this time that Kirilenko's power and prestige within the Soviet leadership started to wane. [11] Indeed, towards the end of the period, Brezhnev was regarded as too old to simultaneously exercise all of the functions of head of state by his colleagues. With this in mind, the Supreme Soviet, on Brezhnev's orders, established the new post of First Deputy Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, a post akin to a "vice president". The Supreme Soviet unanimously approved Vasili Kuznetsov, at the age of 76, to be First Deputy Chairman of the Presidium in late 1977. [12] As Brezhnev's health worsened, the collective leadership took an even more important role in everyday decision-making. For this reason, Brezhnev's death did not alter the balance of power in any radical fashion, and Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko were obliged by protocol to rule the country in the same fashion as Brezhnev left it. [13]

Assassination attempt Edit

Viktor Ilyin, a disenfranchised Soviet soldier, attempted to assassinate Brezhnev on 22 January 1969 by firing shots at a motorcade carrying Brezhnev through Moscow. Though Brezhnev was unhurt, the shots killed a driver and lightly injured several celebrated cosmonauts of the Soviet space programme who were also travelling in the motorcade. Brezhnev's attacker was captured, and interrogated personally by Andropov, then KGB chairman and future Soviet leader. Ilyin was not given the death penalty because his desire to kill Brezhnev was considered so absurd that he was sent to the Kazan mental asylum instead for treatment. [14]

Defense policy Edit

The Soviet Union launched a large military build-up in 1965 by expanding both nuclear and conventional arsenals. The Soviet leadership believed a strong military would be useful leverage in negotiating with foreign powers, and increase the Eastern Bloc's security from attacks. In the 1970s, the Soviet leadership concluded that a war with the capitalist countries might not necessarily become nuclear, and therefore they initiated a rapid expansion of the Soviet conventional forces. Due to the Soviet Union's relatively weaker infrastructure compared to the United States, the Soviet leadership believed that the only way to surpass the First World was by a rapid military conquest of Western Europe, relying on sheer numbers alone. The Soviet Union achieved nuclear parity with the United States by the early 1970s, after which the country consolidated itself as a superpower. [16] The apparent success of the military build-up led the Soviet leadership to believe that the military, and the military alone, according to Willard Frank, "bought the Soviet Union security and influence". [17]

Brezhnev had, according to some of his closest advisors, been concerned for a very long time about the growing military expenditure in the 1960s. Advisers have recounted how Brezhnev came into conflict with several top-level military industrialists, the most notable being Marshal Andrei Grechko, the Minister of Defense. In the early 1970s, according to Anatoly Aleksandrov-Agentov, one of Brezhnev's closest advisers, Brezhnev attended a five-hour meeting to try to convince the Soviet military establishment to reduce military spending. [18] In the meeting an irritated Brezhnev asked why the Soviet Union should, in the words of Matthew Evangelista, "continue to exhaust" the economy if the country could not be promised a military parity with the West the question was left unanswered. [19] When Grechko died in 1976, Dmitriy Ustinov took his place as Defense Minister. Ustinov, although a close associate and friend of Brezhnev, hindered any attempt made by Brezhnev to reduce national military expenditure. In his later years, Brezhnev lacked the will to reduce defense expenditure, due to his declining health. [20] According to the Soviet diplomat Georgy Arbatov, the military–industrial complex functioned as Brezhnev's power base within the Soviet hierarchy even if he tried to scale-down investments. [21]

At the 23rd Party Congress in 1966, Brezhnev told the delegates that the Soviet military had reached a level fully sufficient to defend the country. The Soviet Union reached ICBM parity with the United States that year. [22] In early 1977, Brezhnev told the world that the Soviet Union did not seek to become superior to the United States in nuclear weapons, nor to be militarily superior in any sense of the word. [23] In the later years of Brezhnev's reign, it became official defense policy to only invest enough to maintain military deterrence, and by the 1980s, Soviet defense officials were told again that investment would not exceed the level to retain national security. [24] In his last meeting with Soviet military leaders in October 1982, Brezhnev stressed the importance of not over-investing in the Soviet military sector. This policy was retained during the rules of Andropov, Konstantin Chernenko and Mikhail Gorbachev. [25] He also said that the time was opportune to increase the readiness of the armed forces even further. At the anniversary of the 1917 Revolution a few weeks later (Brezhnev's final public appearance), Western observers noted that the annual military parade featured only two new weapons and most of the equipment displayed was obsolete. Two days before his death, Brezhnev stated that any aggression against the Soviet Union "would result in a crushing retaliatory blow".

Stabilization Edit

Though Brezhnev's time in office would later be characterized as one of stability, early on, Brezhnev oversaw the replacement of half of the regional leaders and Politburo members. This was a typical move for a Soviet leader trying to strengthen his power base. Examples of Politburo members who lost their membership during the Brezhnev Era are Gennady Voronov, Dmitry Polyansky, Alexander Shelepin, Petro Shelest and Podgorny. [26] Polyansky and Voronov lost their membership in the Politburo because they were considered to be members of the "Kosygin faction." In their place came Andrei Grechko, the Minister of Defense, Andrei Gromyko the Minister of Foreign Affairs and KGB Chairman Andropov. The removal and replacement of members of the Soviet leadership halted in late 1970s. [27]

Initially, in fact, Brezhnev portrayed himself as a moderate — not as radical as Kosygin but not as conservative as Shelepin. Brezhnev gave the Central Committee formal permission to initiate Kosygin's 1965 economic reform. According to historian Robert Service, Brezhnev did modify some of Kosygin's reform proposals, many of which were unhelpful at best. In his early days, Brezhnev asked for advice from provincial party secretaries, and spent hours each day on such conversations. [28] During the March 1965 Central Committee plenum, Brezhnev took control of Soviet agriculture, another hint that he opposed Kosygin's reform program. Brezhnev believed, in contrast to Khrushchev, that rather than wholesale re-organization, the key to increasing agricultural output was making the existing system work more efficiently. [28]

In the late 1960s, Brezhnev talked of the need to "renew" the party cadres, but according to Robert Service, his "self-interest discouraged him from putting an end to the immobilism he detected. He did not want to risk alienating lower-level officialdom." [29] The Politburo saw the policy of stabilization as the only way to avoid returning to Joseph Stalin's purges and Khrushchev's re-organization of Party-Government institutions. Members acted in optimism, and believed a policy of stabilization would prove to the world, according to Robert Service, the "superiority of communism". [29] The Soviet leadership was not entirely opposed to reform, even if the reform movement had been weakened in the aftermath of the Prague Spring in the Czechoslovakia. [29] The result was a period of overt stabilization at the heart of government, a policy which also had the effect of reducing cultural freedom: several dissident samizdats were shut down. [30]

Gerontocracy Edit

After the reshuffling process of the Politburo ended in the mid-to-late 1970, the Soviet leadership evolved into a gerontocracy, a form of rule in which the rulers are significantly older than most of the adult population. [27]

The Brezhnev generation — the people who lived and worked during the Brezhnev Era — owed their rise to prominence to Joseph Stalin's Great Purge in the late 1930s. In the purge, Stalin ordered the execution or exile of nearly all Soviet bureaucrats over the age of 35, thereby opening up posts and offices for a younger generation of Soviets. This generation would rule the country from the aftermath of Stalin's purge up to Mikhail Gorbachev's rise to power in 1985. The majority of these appointees were of either peasant or working class origin. Mikhail Suslov, Alexei Kosygin, and Brezhnev are prime examples of men appointed in the aftermath of Stalin's Great Purge. [32]

The average age of the Politburo's members was 58 years in 1961, and 71 in 1981. A similar greying also took place in the Central Committee, the median age rising from 53 in 1961 to 62 in 1981, with the proportion of members older than 65 increasing from 3 percent in 1961 to 39 percent in 1981. The difference in the median age between Politburo and Central Committee members can be explained by the fact that the Central Committee was consistently enlarged during Brezhnev's leadership this made it possible to appoint new and younger members to the Central Committee without retiring some of its oldest members. Of the 319-member Central Committee in 1981, 130 were younger than 30 when Stalin died in 1953. [33]

Young politicians, such as Fyodor Kulakov and Grigory Romanov, were seen as potential successors to Brezhnev, but none of them came close. For example, Kulakov, one of the youngest members in the Politburo, was ranked seventh in the prestige order voted by the Supreme Soviet, far behind such notables as Kosygin, Podgorny, Suslov, and Kirilenko. [34] As Edwin Bacon and Mark Sandle note in their book, Brezhnev Reconsidered, the Soviet leadership at Brezhnev's deathbed had evolved into "a gerontocracy increasingly lacking of physical and intellectual vigour". [16]

New constitution Edit

During the era, Brezhnev was also the Chairman of the Constitutional Commission of the Supreme Soviet, which worked for the creation of a new constitution. The commission had 97 members, with Konstantin Chernenko among the more prominent. Brezhnev was not driven by a wish to leave a mark on history, but rather to even further weaken Premier Alexei Kosygin's prestige. [35] The formulation of the constitution kept with Brezhnev's political style and was neither anti-Stalinist nor neo-Stalinist, but stuck to a middle path, following most of the same principles and ideas as the previous constitutions. [36] The most notable difference was that it codified the developmental changes which the Soviet Union had passed through since the formulation of the 1936 Constitution. It described the Soviet Union, for example, as an "advanced industrial society". [37] In this sense, the resulting document can be seen as proof of the achievements, as well as the limits, of de-Stalinization. It enhanced the status of the individual in all matters of life, while at the same time solidifying the Party's hold on power. [38]

During the drafting process, a debate within the Soviet leadership took place between the two factions on whether to call Soviet law "State law" or "Constitutional law." Those who supported the thesis of state law believed that the Constitution was of low importance, and that it could be changed whenever the socio-economic system changed. Those who supported Constitutional law believed that the Constitution should "conceptualise" and incorporate some of the Party's future ideological goals. They also wanted to include information on the status of the Soviet citizen, which had changed drastically in the post-Stalin years. [39] Constitutional thought prevailed to an extent, and the 1977 Soviet Constitution had a greater effect on conceptualising the Soviet system. [40]

Later years Edit

In his later years, Brezhnev developed his own cult of personality, and awarded himself the highest military decorations of the Soviet Union. The media extolled Brezhnev "as a dynamic leader and intellectual colossus". [41] Brezhnev was awarded a Lenin Prize for Literature for Brezhnev's trilogy, three auto-biographical novels. [42] These awards were given to Brezhnev to bolster his position within the Party and the Politburo. [43] When Alexei Kosygin died on 18 December 1980, one day before Brezhnev's birthday, Pravda and other media outlets postponed the reporting of his death until after Brezhnev's birthday celebration. [41] In reality, however, Brezhnev's physical and intellectual capacities had started to decline in the 1970s from bad health. [44]

Brezhnev approved the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan (see also Soviet–Afghan relations) just as he had previously approved the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. In both cases, Brezhnev was not the one pushing hardest for a possible armed intervention. [44] Several leading members of the Soviet leadership decided to retain Brezhnev as General Secretary so that their careers would not suffer by a possible leadership reshuffling by his successor. Other members, who disliked Brezhnev, among them Dmitriy Ustinov (Minister of Defence), Andrei Gromyko (Minister of Foreign Affairs), and Mikhail Suslov (Central Committee Secretary), feared that Brezhnev's removal would spark a succession crisis, and so they helped to maintain the status quo. [45]

Brezhnev stayed in office under pressure from some of his Politburo associates, though in practice the country was not governed by Brezhnev, but instead by a collective leadership led by Suslov, Ustinov, Gromyko, and Yuri Andropov. Konstantin Chernenko, due to his close relationship with Brezhnev, had also acquired influence. While the Politburo was pondering who would take Brezhnev's place, his health continued to worsen. The choice of a successor would have been influenced by Suslov, but since he died in January 1982, before Brezhnev, Andropov took Suslov's place in the Central Committee Secretariat. With Brezhnev's health worsening, Andropov showed his Politburo colleagues that he was not afraid of Brezhnev's reprisals any more, and launched a major anti-corruption campaign. On 10 November 1982, Brezhnev died and was honored with major state funeral and buried 5 days later at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. [46]

1965 reform Edit

The 1965 Soviet economic reform, often referred to as the "Kosygin reform", of economic management and planning was carried out between 1965 and 1971. Announced in September 1965, it contained three main measures: the re-centralization of the Soviet economy by re-establishing several central ministries, a decentralizing overhaul of the enterprise incentive system (including wider usage of capitalist-style material incentives for good performance), and thirdly, a major price reform. [47] [48] The reform was initiated by Alexei Kosygin's First Government [49] and implemented during the Eighth Five-Year Plan, 1968–1970.

Though these measures were established to counter many of the irrationalities in the Soviet economic system, the reform did not try to change the existing system radically it instead tried to improve it gradually. [50] Success was ultimately mixed, and Soviet analyses on why the reform failed to reach its full potential have never given any definitive answers. The key factors are agreed upon, however, with blame being put on the combination of the recentralisation of the economy with the decentralisation of enterprise autonomy, creating several administrative obstacles. Additionally, instead of creating a market which in turn would establish a pricing system, administrators were given the responsibility for overhauling the pricing system themselves. Because of this, the market-like system failed to materialise. To make matters worse, the reform was contradictory at best. [51] In retrospect, however, the Eighth Five-Year Plan as a whole is considered to be one of the most successful periods for the Soviet economy, and the most successful for consumer production. [52]

The marketization of the economy, in which Kosygin supported, was considered too radical in the light of the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia. Nikolai Ryzhkov, the future Chairman of the Council of Ministers, referred in a 1987 speech to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union to the "sad experiences of the 1965 reform", and claimed that everything went from bad to worse following the reform's cancellation. [53]

Era of Stagnation Edit

Period GNP
(according to
the CIA)
NMP
(according to
Grigorii Khanin)
NMP
(according to
the USSR)
1960–1965 [54] 4.8 4.4 6.5
1965–1970 [54] 4.9 4.1 7.7
1970–1975 [54] 3.0 3.2 5.7
1975–1980 [54] 1.9 1.0 4.2
1980–1985 [54] 1.8 0.6 3.5
[note 1]

The value of all consumer goods manufactured in 1972 in retail prices was about 118 billion rubles ($530 billion). [63] The Era of Stagnation, a term coined by Mikhail Gorbachev, is considered by several economists to be the worst financial crisis in the Soviet Union. It was triggered by the Nixon Shock, over-centralisation and a conservative state bureaucracy. As the economy grew, the volume of decisions facing planners in Moscow became overwhelming. As a result, labour productivity decreased nationwide. The cumbersome procedures of bureaucratic administration did not allow for the free communication and flexible response required at the enterprise level to deal with worker alienation, innovation, customers and suppliers. [64] The late Brezhnev Era also saw an increase in political corruption. Data falsification became common practice among bureaucrats to report satisfied targets and quotas to the government, and this further aggravated the crisis in planning. [65]

With the mounting economic problems, skilled workers were usually paid more than had been intended in the first place, while unskilled labourers tended to turn up late, and were neither conscientious nor, in a number of cases, entirely sober. The state usually moved workers from one job to another which ultimately became an ineradicable feature in Soviet industry [66] the Government had no effective counter-measure because of the country's lack of unemployment. Government industries such as factories, mines and offices were staffed by undisciplined personnel who put a great effort into not doing their jobs. This ultimately led to, according to Robert Service, a "work-shy workforce" among Soviet workers and administrators. [67]

1973 and 1979 reform Edit

Kosygin initiated the 1973 Soviet economic reform to enhance the powers and functions of the regional planners by establishing associations. The reform was never fully implemented indeed, members of the Soviet leadership complained that the reform had not even begun by the time of the 1979 reform. [68] The 1979 Soviet economic reform was initiated to improve the then-stagnating Soviet economy. [69] The reform's goal was to increase the powers of the central ministries by centralising the Soviet economy to an even greater extent. [70] This reform was also never fully implemented, and when Kosygin died in 1980 it was practically abandoned by his successor, Nikolai Tikhonov. [71] Tikhonov told the Soviet people at the 26th Party Congress that the reform was to be implemented, or at least parts of it, during the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (1981–1985). Despite this, the reform never came to fruition. [72] The reform is seen by several Sovietologists as the last major pre-perestroika reform initiative put forward by the Soviet government. [69]

Kosygin's resignation Edit

Following Nikolai Podgorny's removal from office, rumours started circulating within the top circles, and on the streets, that Kosygin would retire due to bad health. [73] During one of Kosygin's spells on sick leave, Brezhnev appointed Nikolai Tikhonov, a like-minded conservative, to the post of First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers through this office Tikhonov was able to reduce Kosygin to a backup role. For example, at a Central Committee plenum in June 1980, the Soviet economic development plan was outlined by Tikhonov, not Kosygin. [10] Following Kosygin's resignation in 1980, Tikhonov, at the age of 75, was elected the new Chairman of the Council of Ministers. [74] At the end of his life, Kosygin feared the complete failure of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (1981–1985), believing that the sitting leadership was reluctant to reform the stagnant Soviet economy. [75]

First World Edit

Alexei Kosygin, the Soviet Premier, tried to challenge Brezhnev on the rights of the General Secretary to represent the country abroad, a function Kosygin believed should fall into the hands of the Premier, as was common in non-communist countries. This was actually implemented for a short period. [76] Later, however, Kosygin, who had been the chief negotiator with the First World during the 1960s, was hardly to be seen outside the Second World [77] after Brezhnev strengthened his position within the Politburo. [76] Kosygin did head the Soviet Glassboro Summit Conference delegation in 1967 with Lyndon B. Johnson, the then-current President of the United States. The summit was dominated by three issues: the Vietnam War, the Six-Day War and the Soviet–American arms race. Immediately following the summit at Glassboro, Kosygin headed the Soviet delegation to Cuba, where he met an angry Fidel Castro who accused the Soviet Union of "capitulationism". [78]

Détente, literally the easing of strained relations, or in Russian "unloading", was a Brezhnev initiative that characterized 1969 to 1974. [79] It meant "ideological co-existence" in the context of Soviet foreign policy, but it did not, however, entail an end to competition between capitalist and communist societies. [80] The Soviet leadership's policy did, however, help to ease the Soviet Union's strained relations with the United States. Several arms control and trade agreements were signed and ratified in this time period. [81]

One such success of diplomacy came with Willy Brandt's ascension to the West German chancellorship in 1969, as West German–Soviet tension started to ease. Brandt's Ostpolitik policy, along with Brezhnev's détente, contributed to the signing of the Moscow and Warsaw Treaties in which West Germany recognized the state borders established following World War II, which included West German recognition of East Germany as an independent state. The foreign relations of the two countries continued to improve during Brezhnev's rule, and in the Soviet Union, where the memory of German brutality during World War II was still remembered, these developments contributed to greatly reducing the animosity the Soviet people felt towards Germany, and Germans in general. [81]

Not all efforts were so successful, however. The 1975 Helsinki Accords, a Soviet-led initiative which was hailed as a success for Soviet diplomacy, "backfired", in the words of historian Archie Brown. [82] The U.S. Government retained little interest through the whole process, and Richard Nixon once told a senior British official that the United States "had never wanted the conference". [83] Other notables, such as Nixon's successor President Gerald Ford, and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger were also unenthusiastic. [83] It was Western European negotiators who played a crucial role in creating the treaty. [83]

The Soviet Union sought an official acceptance of the state borders drawn up in post-war Europe by the United States and Western Europe. The Soviets were largely successful some small differences were that state borders were "inviolable" rather than "immutable", meaning that borders could be changed only without military interference, or interference from another country. [83] Both Brezhnev, Gromyko and the rest of the Soviet leadership were strongly committed to the creation of such a treaty, even if it meant concessions on such topics as human rights and transparency. Mikhail Suslov and Gromyko, among others, were worried about some of the concessions. Yuri Andropov, the KGB Chairman, believed the greater transparency was weakening the prestige of the KGB, and strengthening the prestige of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. [84]

Another blow to Soviet communism in the First World came with the establishment of eurocommunism. Eurocommunists espoused and supported the ideals of Soviet communism while at the same time supporting rights of the individual. [85] The largest obstacle was that it was the largest communist parties, those with highest electoral turnout, which became eurocommunists. Originating with the Prague Spring, this new thinking made the First World more skeptical of Soviet communism in general. [86] The Italian Communist Party notably declared that should war break out in Europe, they would rally to the defense of Italy and resist any Soviet incursion on their nation's soil.

In particular, Soviet–First World relations deteriorated when the US President Jimmy Carter, following the advice of his National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, denounced the 1979 Soviet intervention in Afghanistan (see Soviet–Afghan relations) and described it as the "most serious danger to peace since 1945". [87] The United States stopped all grain export to the Soviet Union and persuaded US athletes not to enter the 1980 Summer Olympics held in Moscow. The Soviet Union responded by boycotting the next Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles. [87] The détente policy collapsed. [81] When Ronald Reagan succeeded Carter as US president in 1981, he promised a sharp increase in US defense spending and a more aggressively anti-Soviet foreign policy. This caused alarm in Moscow, with the Soviet media accusing him of "warmongering" and "mistakenly believing that stepping up the arms race will bring peace to the world". General Nikolai Ogarkov also commented that too many Soviet citizens had begun believing that any war was bad and peace at any price was good, and that better political education was necessary to inculcate a "class" point of view in world affairs.

An event of grave embarrassment to the Soviet Union came in October 1981 when one of its submarines ran aground near the Swedish naval base at Karlskrona. As this was a militarily sensitive location, Sweden took an aggressive stance on the incident, detaining the Whiskey-class sub for two weeks as they awaited an official explanation from Moscow. Eventually it was released, but Stockholm refused to accept Soviet claims that this was merely an accident, especially since numerous unidentified submarines had been spotted near the Swedish coast. Sweden also announced that radiation had been detected emanating from the submarine and they believed it to be carrying nuclear missiles. Moscow would neither confirm nor deny this and instead merely accused the Swedes of espionage.

China Edit

In the aftermath of Khrushchev's removal and the Sino-Soviet split, Alexei Kosygin was the most optimistic member of the Soviet leadership for a future rapprochement with China, while Yuri Andropov remained skeptical and Brezhnev did not even voice his opinion. In many ways, Kosygin even had problems understanding why the two countries were quarreling with each other in the first place. [88] The collective leadership Anastas Mikoyan, Brezhnev and Kosygin were considered by the PRC to retain the revisionist attitudes of their predecessor, Nikita Khrushchev. [89] At first, the new Soviet leadership blamed the Sino-Soviet split not on the PRC, but on policy errors made by Khrushchev. Both Brezhnev and Kosygin were enthusiastic for rapprochement with the PRC. When Kosygin met his counterpart, the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, in 1964, Kosygin found him to be in an "excellent mood". [90] The early hints of rapprochement collapsed, however, when Zhou accused Kosygin of Khrushchev-like behavior after Rodion Malinovsky's anti-imperialistic speech against the First World. [91]

When Kosygin told Brezhnev that it was time to reconcile with China, Brezhnev replied: "If you think this is necessary, then you go by yourself". [92] Kosygin was afraid that China would turn down his proposal for a visit, so he decided to stop off in Beijing on his way to Vietnamese Communist leaders in Hanoi on 5 February 1965 there he met with Zhou. The two were able to solve smaller issues, agreeing to increase trade between the countries, as well as celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Sino-Soviet alliance. [93] Kosygin was told that a reconciliation between the two countries might take years, and that rapprochement could occur only gradually. [94] In his report to the Soviet leadership, Kosygin noted Zhou's moderate stance against the Soviet Union, and believed he was open for serious talks about Sino-Soviet relations. [92] After his visit to Hanoi, Kosygin returned to Beijing on 10 February, this time to meet Mao Zedong personally. At first Mao refused to meet Kosygin, but eventually agreed and the two met on 11 February. [95] His meeting with Mao was in an entirely different tone to the previous meeting with Zhou. Mao criticized Kosygin, and the Soviet leadership, of revisionist behavior. He also continued to criticize Khrushchev's earlier policies. [95] This meeting was to become Mao's last meeting with any Soviet leader. [96]

The Cultural Revolution caused a complete meltdown of Sino-Soviet relations, inasmuch as Moscow (along with every communist state save for Albania) considered that event to be simple-minded insanity. Red Guards denounced the Soviet Union and the entire Eastern Bloc as revisionists who pursued a false socialism and of being in collusion with the forces of imperialism. Brezhnev was referred to as "the new Hitler" and the Soviets as warmongers who neglected their people's living standards in favor of military spending. In 1968 Lin Biao, the Chinese Defence Minister, claimed that the Soviet Union was preparing itself for a war against China. Moscow shot back by accusing China of false socialism and plotting with the US as well as promoting a guns-over-butter economic policy. This tension escalated into small skirmishes alongside the Sino-Soviet border, [97] and both Khrushchev and Brezhnev were derided as "betrayers of [Vladimir] Lenin" by the Chinese. [98] To counter the accusations made by the Chinese Central Government, Brezhnev condemned the PRC's "frenzied anti-Sovietism", and asked Zhou Enlai to follow up on his word to normalize Sino-Soviet relations. In another speech, this time in Tashkent, Uzbek SSR in 1982, Brezhnev warned First World powers of using the Sino-Soviet split against the Soviet Union, saying it would spark "tension and mistrust". [99] Brezhnev had offered a non-aggression pact to China, but its terms included a renunciation of China's territorial claims, and would have left China defenseless against threats from the USSR. [99] In 1972, US president Richard Nixon visited Beijing to restore relations with the PRC, which only seemed to confirm Soviet fears of Sino-US collusion. Relations between Moscow and Beijing remained extremely hostile through the entire decade of the 1970s, the latter deciding that "social" imperialism presented a greater danger than capitalist imperialism, and even after Mao Zedong's death showed no sign of a chill. The Soviet Union had by this time championed an Asian collective security treaty in which they would defend any country against a possible attack from China, but when the latter engaged Vietnam in a border war during early 1979, Moscow contented itself with verbal protests. [100] The Soviet leadership after Brezhnev's death actively pursued a more friendly foreign policy to China, and the normalization of relations which had begun under Brezhnev, continued under his successors. [101]

Eastern Bloc Edit

The Soviet leadership's policy towards the Eastern Bloc did not change much with Khrushchev's replacement, as the states of Eastern Europe were seen as a buffer zone essential to placing distance between NATO and the Soviet Union's borders. The Brezhnev regime inherited a skeptical attitude towards reform policies which became more radical in tone following the Prague Spring in 1968. [102] János Kádár, the leader of Hungary, initiated a couple of reforms similar to Alexei Kosygin's 1965 economic reform. The reform measures, named the New Economic Mechanism, were introduced in Hungary during Khrushchev's rule, and were protected by Kosygin in the post-Khrushchev era. [103] Polish leader Władysław Gomułka, who was removed from all of his posts in 1970, was succeeded by Edward Gierek who tried to revitalize the economy of Poland by borrowing money from the First World. The Soviet leadership approved both countries' respective economic experiments, since it was trying to reduce its large Eastern Bloc subsidy program in the form of cheap oil and gas exports. [104]

Not all reforms were supported by the Soviet leadership, however. Alexander Dubček's political and economic liberalisation in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic led to a Soviet-led invasion of the country by Warsaw Pact countries in August 1968. [104] Not all in the Soviet leadership were as enthusiastic for a military intervention Brezhnev remained wary of any sort of intervention and Kosygin reminded leaders of the consequences of the Soviet suppression of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. In the aftermath of the invasion the Brezhnev Doctrine was introduced it stated that the Soviet Union had the right to intervene in any socialist country on the road to communism which was deviating from the communist norm of development. [105] The doctrine was condemned by Romania, Albania and Yugoslavia. As a result, the worldwide communist movement became poly-centric, meaning that the Soviet Union lost its role as 'leader' of the world communist movement. [106] In the aftermath of the invasion, Brezhnev reiterated this doctrine in a speech at the Fifth Congress of the Polish United Workers' Party (PUWP) on 13 November 1968: [107]

When forces that are hostile to socialism try to turn the development of some socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all socialist countries.

On 25 August 1980 the Soviet Politburo established a commission chaired by Mikhail Suslov to examine the political crisis in Poland that was beginning to gain speed. The importance of the commission was demonstrated by its composition: Dmitriy Ustinov (Minister of Defence), Andrei Gromyko (Minister of Foreign Affairs), Yuri Andropov (KGB Chairman) and Konstantin Chernenko, the Head of the General Department of the Central Committee and Brezhnev's closest associate. After just three days, the commission proposed the possibility of a Soviet military intervention, among other concrete measures. Troops and tank divisions were moved to the Soviet–Polish border. Later, however, the Soviet leadership came to the conclusion that they should not intervene in Poland. [108] Stanisław Kania, the First Secretary of the PUWP, mooted the Soviet proposal for introducing martial law in Poland. [108] Erich Honecker, the First Secretary of the East German Socialist Unity Party, supported the decision of the Soviet leadership, and sent a letter to Brezhnev and called for a meeting of the Eastern Bloc leaders to discuss the situation in Poland. [109] When the leaders met at the Kremlin later that year, Brezhnev had concluded that it would be better to leave the domestic matters of Poland alone for the time being, reassuring the Polish delegation, headed by Kania, that the USSR would intervene only if asked to. [109]

As Archie Brown notes in his book The Rise and Fall of Communism, "Poland was a special case". [110] The Soviet Union had intervened in the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan the previous year, and the increasingly hard-line policies of the Reagan administration along with the vast organisational network of the opposition, were among the major reasons why the Politburo Commission pushed for martial law instead of an intervention. [110] When Wojciech Jaruzelski became Prime Minister of Poland in February 1980, the Soviet leadership, but also Poles in general, supported his appointment. As time went by, however, Jaruzelski tried, and failed, according to Archie Brown, "to walk a tightrope" between the demands made by the USSR and the Poles. [111] Martial law was initiated on 13 December 1981 by the Jaruzelski Government. [112]

During the final years of Brezhnev's rule, and in the aftermath of his death, the Soviet leadership was forced by domestic difficulties to allow the Eastern Bloc governments to introduce more nationalistic communist policies to head off similar unrest to the turmoil in Poland and hence preventing it spreading to other communist countries. In a similar vein, Yuri Andropov, Brezhnev's successor, claimed in a report to the Politburo that maintaining good relations with the Eastern Bloc "took precedence in Soviet foreign policy". [113]

Third World Edit

You see, even in the jungles they want to live in Lenin's way!

All self-proclaimed African socialist states and the Middle Eastern country of South Yemen were labelled by Soviet ideologists as "States of Socialist Orientation". [115] Numerous African leaders were influenced by Marxism, and even Leninism. [114] Several Soviet think tanks were opposed to the Soviet leadership's policy towards Third World self-proclaimed socialist states, claiming that none of them had built a strong enough capitalist base of development as to be labelled as any kind of socialist. According to historian Archie Brown, these Soviet ideologists were correct, and, as a result no true socialist states were ever established in Africa, though Mozambique certainly came close. [115]

When the Ba'ath Party nationalised the Iraq Petroleum Company, the Iraqi Government sent Saddam Hussein, the Vice President of Iraq, to negotiate a trade agreement with the Soviet Union to soften the anticipated loss of revenue. When Hussein visited the Soviet Union, he managed to get a trade agreement and a treaty of friendship. When Kosygin visited Iraq in 1972, he and Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, the President of Iraq signed and ratified the Iraqi–Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Co-operation. The alliance also forced the Iraqi Ba'athist government to temporarily stop their prosecution of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP). The ICP was even given two ministerships following the establishment of an alliance between the Soviet Union and Iraq. [116] The following year, in 1973, al-Bakr went on a state visit to the Soviet Union, and met Brezhnev personally. [117] Relations between the two countries only soured in 1976 when the Iraq Ba'athist regime started a mass campaign against the ICP and other communists. Despite pleas from Brezhnev for clemency, several Iraqi communists were executed publicly. [118]

After the Angolan War of Independence of 1975, the Soviet Union's role in Third World politics increased dramatically. Some of the regions were important for national security, while other regions were important to the expansion of Soviet socialism to other countries. According to an anonymous Soviet writer, the national liberation struggle was the cornerstone of Soviet ideology, and therefore became a cornerstone for Soviet diplomatic activity in the Third World. [119]

Soviet influence in Latin America increased after Cuba became a communist state in 1961. The Cuban revolution was welcomed by Moscow since for once, they could point to a communist government established by indigenous forces instead of the Red Army. Cuba also became the Soviet Union's "front man" for promoting socialism in the Third World as the Havana regime was seen as more marketable and charismatic. By the late 1970s, Soviet influence in Latin America had reached crisis proportions according to several United States Congressmen. [120] Diplomatic and economic ties were established with several countries during the 1970s, and one of them, Peru bought external goods from the Soviet Union. Mexico, and several countries in the Caribbean, forged increasingly strong ties with Comecon, an Eastern Bloc trading organisation established in 1949. The Soviet Union also strengthened its ties with the communist parties of Latin America. [121] Soviet ideologists saw the increasing Soviet presence as a part of the "mounting anti-imperialist struggle for democracy and social justice". [122]

The Soviet Union also played a key role in the secessionist struggle against the Portuguese Empire and the struggle for black majority rule in Southern Africa. [123] Control of Somalia was of great interest to both the Soviet Union and the United States, due to the country's strategic location at the mouth of the Red Sea. After the Soviets broke foreign relations with Siad Barre's regime in Somalia, the Soviets turned to the Derg Government in Ethiopia and supported them in their war against Somalia. Because the Soviets changed their allegiance, Barre expelled all Soviet advisers, tore up his friendship treaty with the Soviet Union, and switched allegiance to the West. The United States took the Soviet Union's place in the 1980s in the aftermath of Somalia's loss in the Ogaden War. [124]

In Southeast Asia, Nikita Khrushchev had initially supported North Vietnam out of "fraternal solidarity", but as the war escalated he urged the North Vietnamese leadership to give up the quest of liberating South Vietnam. He continued to reject offers to assist the North Vietnamese government, and instead told them to enter negotiations in the United Nations Security Council. [125] Brezhnev, after taking power, started once again to aid the communist resistance in Vietnam. In February 1965, Kosygin traveled to Hanoi with dozens of Soviet air force generals and economic experts. During the Soviet visit, President Lyndon B. Johnson had allowed US bombing raids on North Vietnamese soil in retaliation of the recent Pleiku airbase attack by the Viet Cong. [126] In post-war Vietnam, Soviet aid became the cornerstone of socio-economic activity. For example, in the early 1980s, 20–30% of the rice eaten by the Vietnamese people was supplied by the Soviet Union. Since Vietnam never developed an arms industry during the Cold War, it was the Soviet Union who assisted them with weapons and material during the Sino-Vietnamese War. [127]

The Soviet Union supported the Vietnamese in their 1978 invasion of Cambodia, an invasion considered by the First World, most notably the United States, and the People's Republic of China to be under the direct command of the Soviet Union. The USSR also became the largest backer of the new puppet state in Cambodia, the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK). In a 1979 summit Jimmy Carter complained to Brezhnev about the presence of Vietnamese troops in Cambodia, to which Brezhnev replied that the citizens of the PRK were delighted about the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge-led government in this, as historian Archie Brown notes, he was right. [128]

Afghanistan Edit

We should tell Taraki and Amin to change their tactics. They still continue to execute those people who disagree with them. They are killing nearly all of the Parcham leaders, not only the highest rank, but of the middle rank, too.

Although the government of Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, formed in the aftermath of the Saur Revolution of 1978, pursued several socialist policies, the country was "never considered socialist by the Soviet Union", according to historian Archie Brown. [130] Indeed, since the USSR had backed the previous regime under Mohammed Daoud Khan, the revolution, which had surprised the Soviet leadership, created many difficulties for the Soviet Union. [130] The People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, the Afghan communist party, consisted of two opposing factions, the khalqs and the parchams the Soviet leadership supported the latter, which had also joined Moscow in backing the previous Daoud regime. [131] After engineering the coup, however it was the Khalq faction that took over the reins of power. Nur Muhammad Taraki became both President and Prime Minister of Afghanistan, while Hafizullah Amin became the Deputy Prime Minister of Afghanistan, and, from May 1979, Prime Minister. The new Khalq government ordered the execution of several high-standing and low-standing members of the Parcham faction. To make matters even worse, Taraki's and Hafizullah's relationship with each other soon turned sour as opposition against their government increased. [132] On 20 March 1979 Taraki travelled to the Soviet Union and met with Premier Kosygin, Dmitriy Ustinov (Defence Minister), Andrei Gromyko (Foreign Minister) and Boris Ponomarev (head of the International Department of the Central Committee), to discuss the possibilities of a Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Kosygin opposed the idea, believing that the Afghan leadership had to prove it had the support of the people by combating opposition on its own, though he did agree to increase material aid to Afghanistan. When Taraki asked Kosygin about the possibilities of a military intervention led by the Eastern Bloc Kosygin rebuked him once more, again telling him that the Afghan leadership had to survive on its own. [133] However, in a closed meeting without Kosygin, the Politburo unanimously supported a Soviet intervention. [134]

In late 1979 Taraki failed to assassinate Amin, who, in a revenge attack, successfully engineered Taraki's own assassination on 9 October. Later, in December, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan at the behest of Khan. On 27 December a KGB unit killed Amin. Babrak Karmal, the leader of the Parcham faction, was chosen by the Soviet leadership as Amin's successor in the aftermath of the Soviet intervention. [135] Unfortunately for the Soviet leadership Karmal did not turn out to be the leader they expected, and he, just as his predecessors had arrested and killed several Parcham-members, arrested and killed several high-standing and low-standing Khalq members simply because they supported the wrong faction. With Soviet troops still in the country, however, he was forced to bow to Soviet pressure, and released all Khalq prisoners. To make matters even worse for Karmal several of the previously arrested Khalq-members were forced to join the new government. [135] At the time of Brezhnev's death, the Soviet Union was still bogged down in Afghanistan. [136]

Soviet dissidents and human rights groups were routinely repressed by the KGB. [16] Overall, political repression tightened during the Brezhnev era and Stalin experienced a partial rehabilitation. [137] The two leading figures in the Soviet dissident movement during the Brezhnev Era were Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov. Despite their individual fame and widespread sympathy in the West, they attracted little support from the mass of the population. Sakharov was forced into internal exile in 1979, and Solzhenitsyn was forced out of the country in 1974. [138]

As a result, many dissidents became members of the Communist Party instead of protesting actively against the Soviet system throughout the 1970s and 1980s. These dissidents were defined by Archie Brown as "gradualists" who wanted to change the way the system worked in a slow manner. [139] The International Department of the Central Committee and the Socialist Countries Department of the Central Committee – departments considered by the First World media to be filled with conservative communists – were in fact the departments where Mikhail Gorbachev, as Soviet leader, would draw most of his "new thinkers" from. These officials had been influenced by Western culture and ideals by their travelling and reading. [140] Reformers were also in much greater numbers in the country's research institutes. [141]

The Brezhnev-era Soviet regime became notorious for using psychiatry as a means of silencing dissent. Many intellectuals, religious figures, and sometimes commoners protesting their low standard of living were ruled to be clinically insane and confined to mental hospitals.

Dissident success was mixed. Jews wanting to emigrate from the Soviet Union in the 1970s formed the most successful, and most organised, dissident movement. Their success can be attributed to the movement's support abroad, most notably from the Jewish community in the United States. In addition, as a group they were not advocating a transformation of Soviet society the Jewish dissident movement was simply interested in leaving the Soviet Union for Israel. The Soviet Government subsequently sought to improve diplomatic ties with the First World by allowing the Jews to emigrate. The emigration flow was reduced dramatically as Soviet–American tension increased in the later half of the 1970s, though it was revived somewhat in 1979, peaking at 50,000. In the early 1980s, however, the Soviet leadership decided to block emigration completely. [142] Despite official claims that antisemitism was a bourgeois ideology incompatible with socialism, the truth was that Jews who openly practiced their religion or identified as Jewish from a cultural standpoint faced widespread discrimination from the Soviet system.

In 1978, a dissident movement of a different kind emerged when a group of unemployed miners led by Vladimir Klebanov attempted to form a labor union and demand collective bargaining. The main groups of Soviet dissidents, consisting mostly of intellectuals, remained aloof, and Klebanov was soon confined to a mental institution. Another attempt a month later to form a union of white collar professionals was also quickly broken up by authorities and its founder Vladimir Svirsky arrested.

Every time when we speak about Solzhenitsyn as the enemy of the Soviet regime, this just happens to coincide with some important [international] events and we postpone the decision.

In general, the dissident movement had spurts of activity, including during the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, when several people demonstrated at Red Square in Moscow. With safety in numbers, dissidents who were interested in democratic reform were able to show themselves, though the demonstration, and the short-lived organised dissident group, were eventually repressed by the Soviet Government. The movement was then renewed once again with the Soviet signing of the Helsinki Accords. Several Helsinki Watch Groups were established across the country, all of which were routinely repressed, and many closed down. [142] Due to the strong position of the Soviet Government, many dissidents had problems reaching a "wide audience", [144] and by the early 1980s, the Soviet dissident movement was in disarray: the country's most notable dissidents had been exiled, either internally or externally, sent to prison or deported to the Gulags. [144]

The anti-religious course pursued by Khrushchev was toned down by the Brezhnev/Kosygin leadership, with most Orthodox churches being staffed by docile clergy often tied to the KGB. State propaganda tended to focus more on promoting "scientific atheism" rather than active persecution of believers. Nonetheless, minority faiths continued to be harassed relentlessly by the authorities, and particularly troubling to them was the continued resilience of Islam in the Central Asian republics. This was worsened by their geographical proximity to Iran, which fell under control of a fanatical Islamic government in 1979 that professed hostility to both the United States and the Soviet Union. While official figures put the number of believers at 9–10% of the population, authorities were nonetheless baffled at the continued widespread presence of religious belief in society, especially since by the start of the 1980s, the vast majority of Soviet citizens alive had no memory of tsarist times.


U.S. presidents & Soviet leaders trusted this ‘man in the middle’ the fate of superpower talks

Richard Nixon's visit in the USSR. Sukhodrev is in the middle, between U.S. President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

When Nikita Khrushchev arrived in the U.S. in September 1959, he became the first Soviet leader to visit America and it caused quite a stir in the country that was the chief Cold War adversary of the USSR.

Among other places, the eccentric Soviet leader was taken for a drive around Los Angeles. From his car, he saw young American women wearing tight shorts, something unheard of in the Soviet Union at the time.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in the U.S. in September 1959.

He then turned to the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Henry Cabot Lodge who was accompanying Khrushchev in the car and said:

&ldquoInteresting things you have here&hellip Women [walk] in short pants. They wouldn&rsquot have allowed this at ours.&rdquo

He then observed tidy lawns and private houses and addressed Lodge again:

&ldquoYes, of course, everything is arranged neatly, it&rsquos clean, and people are dressed well. But never mind! We will show you Kuzma's mother&hellip&rdquo

Earlier that same year, on July 24, 1959, the American National Exhibition opened at Sokolniki Park in Moscow. There, in the heat of the argument, the impulsive Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev addressed the then U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon with a commoner&rsquos expression &ldquoWe will show you Kuzma&rsquos mother&rdquo &mdash an expression of an unspecified threat or punishment, which means &ldquoto teach someone a lesson&rdquo or &ldquoto punish someone in a brutal way&rdquo that was, at the time, literally translated as &ldquoKuzma&rsquos mother&rdquo.

Unlike at the famous Kitchen Debate between Khrushchev and Richard Nixon, the Soviet leader&rsquos common vernacular expression did not catch Sukhodrev, who accompanied the Soviet leader on his trip to the U.S., off guard. Viktor had done his homework.

&ldquoAfter the &lsquoKuzma&rsquos mother&rsquo incident, I skimmed all the dictionaries. This expletive is used when it is impossible to use a stronger one. I was looking for an equivalent of this expression. Something like &lsquoWe will kick you so much in the head&rsquo or &lsquoWe will show such hell!&rsquo&rdquo

Yet, when Nikita Khrushchev was driven around Los Angeles in September 1959 he mentioned &ldquoKuzma&rsquos mother&rdquo again, he suddenly turned to Sukhodrev and explained himself: &ldquoWhen I was at the exhibition with Nixon, it [the phrase] was translated incorrectly. It&rsquos very simple: &lsquoWe&rsquoll show you something you&rsquove never seen&rsquo.&rdquo

&ldquoI froze for a moment: I had never seen this interpretation of the expression in any dictionary,&rdquo said Sukhodrev. Khrushchev had simply invented a new meaning for the famous folk phrase.

With years, Viktor Sukhodrev&rsquos professionalism, quick-wittedness, and personal charisma would make him friends, not only among the Soviet leaders, but also in the United Nations, the State Department and even the White House.

A fortunate coincidence

In 1979, Viktor M. Sukhodrev, center, with Jimmy Carter, left, and Leonid I. Brezhnev, right.

This neat, dark-haired man standing in the middle &mdash between Jimmy Carter and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev &mdash appeared in many photographs of high profile Soviet-American negotiations that happened during the Cold War.

In a way, Viktor Sukhodrev was destined to build a career in foreign affairs, as he spent his childhood in London, where his mother was stationed as a member of the Soviet trade mission.

&ldquoSitting in the bomb shelter at the Soviet trade mission during the night bombings of London, I used to ask my mother: &lsquoWhat are the children talking about?&rsquo [Later] I played with English peers and communicated with them. So without much effort, I began to speak English and even forgot Russian,&rdquo said Sukhodrev in one of his interviews.

Upon returning to the Soviet Union, Sukhodrev was speaking English as a native Briton. He was excused from attending English classes in a Soviet school and later enrolled in the Institute of foreign languages, where he also studied French.

A fortunate coincidence helped to launch the star carrier of the man who would soon become the English voice of the Soviet Union in its relations with its chief Cold War rival.

&ldquoIn 1955, a delegation of real estate developers, headed by the Minister of Construction, went to England. I was studying with a guy whose father worked in the Ministry of Construction. He told his father about me, and I, a fifth-year student, became a member of the delegation. This was my first experience as an official translator,&rdquo said Sukhodrev.

Soon enough, Sukhodrev popped up on the radar of top Soviet interpreter, Oleg Troyanovsky, who used to work with Stalin, Molotov and Gromyko. He was looking for a successor and approved the candidacy of the young pretender. Subsequently, Sukhodrev received a job at the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

&lsquoThe man in the middle&rsquo

Sukhodrev met Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev at one of the official receptions after only two weeks working in the ministry. &ldquoI remember that at some point, the lights came on, photo cameras began snapping, and living portraits entered the hall: Khrushchev, Bulganin, Molotov, Kaganovich, Mikoyan. I was afraid to imagine that I would translate for them. That very day, I spent forty-five minutes translating for Khrushchev,&rdquo said Sukhodrev years later.

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev listens to his Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko during a luncheon at the United Nations. On Khrushchev's right is Viktor Sukhodrev.

Little did he know, the young interpreter would soon rise to prominence on both sides of the iron curtain and would turn into an international celebrity in his own right.

As more and more high ranking officials learned of his professionalism and natural gift to seamlessly translate anything from Russian to American or British English, the virtuoso interpreter managed to surpass seven U.S. presidents and five Soviet leaders, becoming a more familiar figure to the State Department and the White House staff than the ever-changing heads of Soviet envoys.

For Sukhodrev, familiarity often translated to trust if not friendship. Richard Nixon would sometimes allow Sukhodrev to be the only interpreter in the room, without the participation of American interpreters.

Richard Nixon's visit in the USSR. Sukhodrev is in the middle, between U.S. President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

Famous White House interpreter Harry Obst, who worked for the U.S. government interpreting for seven consecutive presidents, recalled an extraordinary, but highly indicative case:

When U.S. President Gerald Ford arrived in Vladivostok to meet Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev for talks on arms control in November 1974, Gerald Ford saw Sukhodrev and greeted him like an old friend &mdash &ldquoHi, Viktor!&rdquo &mdash and then proceeded to introduce him to members of the American delegation.

Despite this friendly attitude towards many U.S. presidents, Viktor Sukhodrev did have his favorite:

&ldquoI&rsquove met many foreign presidents and prime ministers. But I was most impressed with Kennedy,&rdquo said Sukhodrev, who had an opportunity to interpret during the talks between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna in June 1961.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna on June 4, 1961.

This was a rather strange admission, as Kennedy himself remembered the talks as a disaster: &ldquoWorst thing in my life,&rdquo Kennedy later told a New York Times reporter. &ldquoHe [khrushchev] savaged me.&rdquo

Perhaps, Kennedy&rsquos desire to impress the older and more experienced Soviet leader simply backfired with Khrushchev&rsquos interpreter, who was smitten with the newly elected U.S. President.

Throughout his extensive career as a high profile interpreter, Sukhodrev personally met so many people of power who dominated the 20th century, that few other living men have surpassed his record. He met former Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi, Canada&rsquos former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, seven U.S. Presidents and a few British Prime Ministers.

Yet, his career was not completely eclipsed by the presence of men of power. Sukhodrev moved on to become an international diplomat in his own right, working as a special assistant to the UN Secretary-General since 1989 and then moving on to work as a Director of the Security Council Affairs Division, the secretariat branch of the powerful UN body, the Security Council.

Viktor Sukhodrev retired in 1994, returning from New York to a newly independent Russia, a much different country than what he had left behind.

The renowned interpreter, diplomat, and friend to many great men of the 20th century passed away in 2014 at the age of 81 at his home outside Moscow.

He was mourned both in Russia and in the U.S. in a rare moment when the two countries united in saying goodbye to their mutual comrade.

Click here to find out who were the USSR&rsquos main Cold War allies.

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.


Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev, Soviet president

For nearly two decades, Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev presided over the Soviet Union's empire and made it the military equal of the United States.

He ardently espoused the cause of detente with the West, but by using the awesome power at his disposal to preserve orthodox communist rule, he deepened the international mistrust he hoped to dispel.

He gave his nation prestige, some prosperity and stability during a rule that lasted longer than those of all his predecessors except Josef Stalin.

He signed two strategic arms limitation treaties with American presidents, then saw one of them repudiated as a result of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which he ordered.

In his last days Brezhnev issued tough statements against 'hot-headed' Western leaders, attacking the 'adventurism, rudeness and undisguised egoism' of the Reagan administration.

'We shall do the utmost to see to it that those who like military ventures should never take the land of the Soviets unawares, that the potential aggressor should know: A crushing retaliatory strike will inevitably be in for him,' Brezhnev said at a Krelim reception commemorating the 1917 Revolution.

The reception Sunday was Brezhnev's last public appearance before his death Thursday at age 75.

pickup8thgraf: under brezhnev'

Under Brezhnev's heavy-handed rule, the Soviet Union lost ground in terms of human freedoms, reversing the Khrushchev-era liberalization that had followed Stalin's repression. Political dissidents and Jews trying to emigrate were persecuted. Two American newsmen were put on trial for presenting uncomplimentary pictures of life in the country.

He pushed Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov into exile in January 1980 for raising his voice too loud in protest.

Brezhnev sent tanks into Czechoslovakia in August 1968 and ordered nearly 100,000 soldiers into Afghanistan 11 years later when those nations' governments veered too far off the path of socialism as seen by the Kremlin.

The 'Brezhnev doctrine' reserved for Moscow the right to crush such deviations for the overall good of the Marxist-Leninist cause. But in Western eyes, it undercut his oft-repeated pleas for peace, co-existence and voluntary restraint in building up nuclear arsenals.

Brezhnev also kept the world on tenterhooks for more than a year when Poland's Communist Party was challenged by the insurgent Solidarity trade union.

Under his canny guidance, the Soviets sought to catch up with the United States economically by importing Western technology and know-how.

Brezhnev also shepherded the Soviet space program through triumph and tragedy on the road to establishing a permanent manned colony in the cosmos.

Burly, beetle-browed, decisive, Brezhnev was the son of a steelworker and inherited a fair measure of peasant pragmatism.

He helped to depose the flamboyant Nikita S. Khrushchev in October 1964, then gradually emerged as 'first among equals' in the ruling Politburo. In 1966 he felt confident enough to take the title of general secretary of the Communist Party, not used since Josef Stalin held it.

Then in 1977, in the first major leadership shakeup since Khrushchev's ouster, he took on the additional title of president. His power resided in the party leadership while the largely ceremonial presidency put him on a par with other heads of state in terms of protocol.

He matched wits and nerve with five American presidents and saw superpower relations fluctuate from Kissinger-era detente to Ronald Reagan's public charge that Russian leaders were liars and cheats.

But while Khrushchev was forced to capitulate in his biggest showdown, the Cuban missile crisis, Brezhnev repeatedly warned the times had changed and that the Soviet Union would never again be humiliated by superior military power.

To back up that claim, Brezhnev launched the greatest military buildup in history, studding Eastern Europe with multi-headed nuclear missiles, revamping the navy and presiding over a huge standing army.

His priority carried a cost. The Soviet economy stuttered along, decades behind the capitalist nations. The Soviet peoples' standard of living remained one of the lowest in Europe, and its unreliable agricultural system forced Moscow to import scores of millions of tons of wheat to feed its people and fatten its livestock.

Brezhnev, however, continued throughout his life to keep alive the flame of detente.

'God will not forgive us if we fail,' the atheist Brezhnev told Jimmy Carter, a born-again Christian, when they signed the SALT-2 pact in Vienna on June 18, 1979.

In later years Carter recalled that meeting convinced him Brezhnev 'sincerely desired peace.'

Brezhnev saw SALT-2 as a cornerstone for the future of superpower disarmament talks.

The basic policy dated back to the mid-1950s when it was first embraced, then cast aside, by Khrushchev.

It was Brezhnev who made detente a reality with a nuclear-age blend of pragmatism and a recognition that without a superpower accord to control their mighty arsenals, world peace was unachievable.

But it was also Brezhnev who scuttled the chance for establishing a long-term agreement with the United States, when in December 1979 he sanctioned the invasion of Afghanistan by an estimated 90,000 Soviet troops and established a puppet government under President Babrak Karmal.

Two years later, the Russian occupation force still was being harassed by countless Moslem guerrillas who retained control of the Afghan countryside and rallied the country's population against the invaders.

Kremlinologists speculated Brezhnev faced serious challenges within the Politburo as a result of the decision to invade, and its huge cost to the Soviet Union, both economically and diplomatically.

Brezhnev also watched as Polish workers organized into the independent trade union, Solidarity, in 1980, threatening Communist Party control in that country, and by extension, in the entire socialist bloc.

Brezhnev lectured two Polish party leaders on the dangers of the union movement and demanded that action be taken to stifle the challenge and return the country to party control.

But he hesitated to take the ultimate step -- an invasion of Poland by the Soviet-led Warsaw pact forces that ringed the country and awaited his orders.

In his address to the 24th Communist Party Congress in 1971, Brezhnev outlined the peace program that disclosed the direction in which he intended to steer Kremlin foreign policy. It called for detente and collective security in Europe, a ban on nuclear weapons and convocation of a world disarmament conference as well as the expansion of relations 'with all states which seek to do so.'

American-Soviet relations began to thrive with the 1972 signing of the SALT-1 treaty, and Brezhnev put the powerful weight of his position into making detente a reality.

Political and economic ties also improved with West Germany, France and India, though controls remained tight through the 1970s on the East European satellites, still cowed by the lesson of Czechoslovakia.

Brezhnev took most of the resulting cheers and boos.

In 1974, he reportedly was threatened with the same fate as Khrushchev by hardliners in the Politburo unless he modified his full-throttle detente. He did.

While Cold War with the West started to thaw, China and the Soviet Union degenerated into bitter enemies over their disputed border, control of Southeast Asia and their ideological schism.

It was with Brezhnev's approval that Moscow sought and received the role of host city for the 1980 Olympics, the first time the games were held in a Communist nation.

The capital became a beehive of activity -- potholed streets filled, prominent buildings repainted, and even the famous onion-shaped domes of St. Basil's Cathedral on Red Square given a thorough refurbishing -- as it seemed the Soviet Union had finally been accepted by its world neighbors as an equal.

But the glow that seemed to enshrine the upcoming games was shattered in December 1979, when Soviet army troops crossed the border into Afghanistan.

President Hafizullah Amin, who two months before had overthrown and killed the loyal pro-Moscow Afghan leader, Nur Mohammed Taraki, was himself displaced and killed in a gunfight in the presidential palace.

In January 1980, Soviet newspapers announced Amin had been a CIA agent who was threatening the continuation of socialist government.

The world response was dramatic.

President Carter, declaring Brezhnev had lied to him in a telephone conversation concerning the intervention, cut off delivery of 17 million tons of U.S. wheat and corn to Russia. He also clamped an embargo on deliveries of high-technology equipment and ordered the U.S. consulate in Kiev closed.

Carter also led an effort to boycott the Moscow Olympics in protest of the invasion that eventually was joined by 28 other nations. Another 27 countries did not reply to the Soviet invitation.

The adamant Soviet response, which obviously carried Brezhnev's approval, was that Afghanistan had requested military assistance from the Soviet Union, and that a 'limited contingent' of troops had been sent in response.

Moscow offered to withdraw the troops when 'imperialistic' interference in Afghanistan's affairs ended.

Perhaps the most significant U.S. reaction to the invasion was Carter's decision to withdraw the SALT-2 treaty, which he and Brezhnev had signed seven months before, from Senate ratification.

The Soviet Union was roundly condemned by America's NATO allies, and by many of the Moslem nations in the Middle East with whom it had been currying influence.

But the Kremlin decided to dig in and weather the outrage its action had prompted.

There was speculation that Brezhnev was under attack by his Politburo colleagues and that the nation's ruling body was sharply divided over the issue of withdrawal.

But one thing was clear -- detente, for the moment, was dead.

When he addressed his last Communist Party Congress -- the 26th, which met in February 1981 -- Brezhnev offered to meet with Reagan and again reiterated the Soviet Union's desire for peace.

But this time, his message to the world had a harder edge:

'The imperialists and their accomplices are systematically conducting hostile campaigns against the socialist countries,' he said.

'The history of world socialism has seen all sorts of trials. There were difficult times, and critical situations, but communists have always courageously faced the attacks of the adversary, and we have invariably won.

'That's how it was, and that's how it will be. And let no one doubt our common determination to secure our interests and to defend the socialist gains of the peoples.'

For Brezhnev, those words were a sharp departure from the aspirations he had carried when he became the nation's most powerful leader.

The hulking barrel-chested Brezhnev was written off by most Western analysts as a roughneck and hack when he took control of the party in 1964, and was seen as a transitional leader between Khrushchev and some long-term successor. But the steelworker's son grew into the highest office and in the second half of the 1970s disclosed a wider-faceted personality.

He proved to be businesslike, intelligent and occasionally boisterous and charming. Tough, too. His conservative communist beliefs and the key principle of Soviet power -- security -- were never in question.

Along with Afghanistan, the roughest patch in Brezhnev's career was the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 to crush Communist Party leader Alexander Dubcek's program of 'socialism with a human face.'

The Soviet leader later justified the invasion with what came to be called the 'Brezhnev doctrine.' He said:

'When a threat to the cause of socialism appears in a particular socialist country. this becomes no longer a problem of the people of that country but is also a common problem for all the socialist countries.'

The implication -- and the threat -- were clear, and Brezhnev was never again challenged in his policy by the nations aligned with the Kremlin.

The first socialist leader not to have fought in the Bolshevik Revolution, Brezhnev was born Dec. 19, 1906, in the Ukrainian village of Kamenskoye, later named Dneprodzerzhinsk. Royalty ruled Russia then and unrest gripped the nation.

His father, an ethnic Russian, was a poor steelworker. Brezhnev was 12 when the revolution swept Russia and installed bolshevism as the harsh new law of the land.

At 17 he joined the Young Communist League, thus becoming a senior member of the post-revolutionary generation of Communists in Russia. While climbing to full party membership, he studied engineering and worked for the state as a surveyor.

He later became a civil servant in government land offices in the Ukraine -- work that served him well years later when he distinguished himself by successfully taking a role in Khrushchev's 'virgin lands' program of agricultural development in Kazakhstan.

Like many other Communists who observed both party loyalty and political caution during the 1930s, Brezhnev moved quickly upward through party ranks thinned by Josef Stalin's purges.

Another such party worker was Khrushchev, who noticed Brezhnev's ability and dedication and took him under his wing. Khrushchev guided Brezhnev's career almost until the very October day when Brezhnev and other dissatisfied Kremlin figures deposed him.

Brezhnev took his political talents to the front lines of World War II. He served as a political officer in a variety of units, including the navy's Black Sea fleet. He rose to the rank of major general and secured the required war record for a political climb to the very pinnacle -- the Kremlin.

He quickly became the top man in regional party groups, including the party in Moldavia. In 1952 he graduated to the top echelon of the national party when he was elected a secretary to the Central Committee and an alternate member of the inner circle leadership, the Presidium (now the Politburo).

When Stalin died the following year, Brezhnev, then 47, was one of many in the leadership who suddenly found things moving quickly around them.

In what at first appeared to be banishment from the center of power, he was sent to Kazakhstan with orders to reclaim millions of acres of virgin land for growing wheat and other food products.

The project was Khrushchev's brainchild and Brezhnev rode the crest of its success. He returned to Moscow in triumph and in 1957 became a full member of the Presidium, where he remained and where he joined in the political intrigues that overthew his benefactor.

In the Khrushchev years, Brezhnev quickly rose to become the president of the Supreme Soviet (parliament), constitutionally the chief of state. He turned what had been a powerless ceremonial post into one of the three most important jobs in the nation.

He traveled widely, spoke frequently and dealt with scores of high-ranking foreigners who came away impressed with his pleasant manner and his organizational sense -- traits they found wanting in some of the old-style leaders.

The energy he poured into his work appeared undiminished by two heart attacks he reportedly suffered during a 10-year period following his 50th birthday.

By this time, Brezhnev was clearly marked as Khrushchev's man, the chosen successor to party rule, but it is doubtful Khrushchev was aware Brezhnev himself would participate in the successful conspiracy to make the crown prince the king.

On July 15, 1964, Brezhnev relinquished chairmanship of the presidium to Anastas Mikoyan, saying he wanted to devote himself more fully to party matters. In truth he was making final arrangements to topple Khrushchev, his mentor.

On October 14, Khrushchev was unceremoniously relieved of his leadership posts.

The Central Committee chose Brezhnev to succeed him as First Party Secretary, but his selection did not automatically make him supreme ruler. Alexei N. Kosygin was named premier -- Khrushchev's other post - and Nikolai V. Podgorny became president.

They became known as the Kremlin 'troika' -- three men with nearly equal power and equal exposure, none of whom became the object of special adulation or singular attention.

The men of the new leadership were technicians, specialists, team players who disliked the wildly flamboyant manner of Khrushchev, and feared the consequences of the autocracy that Stalin had exercised.

Theirs was a collectively led Kremlin, where decisions were made boardroom-style, around a long table where all had a chance to speak out and all had to go along with the majority rule.

But the meetings were chaired by Leonid Brezhnev.

The 23rd Communist Party Congress changed Brezhnev's title from First Secretary to General Secretary of the Party, a title Stalin had last used.

Although the leadership sought to avoid the 'cult of personality' that enveloped their predecessors, Brezhnev in the early 1970s emerged for all to see as the 'first among equals' in the hierarchy.

Kosygin retained power in economic and technical spheres but Podgorny was little more than a figurehead president, important because of his seat in the Politburo.

In 1977 Brezhnev made a surprise move to enhance his position still further. A plenum of the party's Central Committee dropped Podgorny from the Politburo and the Supreme Soviet was told that Podgorny had asked to be allowed to retire from the presidency for health reasons.

Brezhnev was immediately and unanimously elected president.

Although the oldest member of the troika, Brezhnev's senior by three years and Kosygin's by two, the 74-year-old Nikolai Podgorny seemed to be in more vigorous health than either of the others. He had only weeks before returned from an arduous swing through black Africa, which had put him very much in the limelight.

There was speculation that Podgorny had differed with Brezhnev over the new constitution that was approved at the same plenum.

But Kremlinologists discounted the possibility of a major power struggle inside the Politburo. If Podgorny differed with Brezhnev, he was odd man out, and Brezhnev was no longer forced to tolerate dissent.

Brezhnev's other troika partner, Kosygin, resigned in October 1980 due to poor health, and died two months later.

The unquestioned supremacy of the president and general secretary of the party was perhaps best borne out in 1978, when he received the Order of Victory, the Soviet Union's highest military award.

The medal is expressly intended for Red Army officers who have carried out 'combat operations on one or more fronts.' Under no circumstances could Brezhnev qualify literally for the award, and so in granting it to him, the presidium of the Supreme Soviet (which he chairs), mentioned his 'outstanding services in strengthening the country's defense capabilities, for working out and consistently implementing the Soviet states foreign policy of peace.'

He also acquired every top honor awarded by the other Socialist states, held an unprecedented seven Orders of Lenin (Stalin gave himself only three), three Hero of Soviet Union medals and saw to it that hereceived the Lenin Prize for Literature (the Soviet equivalent of a Nobel Prize) for his three published books.

In an interview on his private life with a French Communist journalist, Brezhnev disclosed personal details about his daily habits and his family.

He said he had a smoking problem -- as a result of which he suffered from emphysema -- and used a cigarette case with a time-released lock to help him cut down. He occasionally took sleeping pills because 'you know, the problems of the day don't stop spinning in my head at night.'

Brezhnev worked an 18-hour day, mostly in his office at Communist Party headquarters a half-mile from the Kremlin, often taking meals at his desk. For relaxation he hunted wild boar, watched soccer matches with fervor and drove luxury British and French cars.

'When I am behind the wheel, I relax completely,' he said. 'I feel that nothing can go wrong.'

He lived in an unpretentious five-room apartment on Kutuzovsky Prospekt with his wife Victoria, his mother (until her death in 1975), and a granddaughter, also named Victoria, the child of Galina, his only daughter. A son, Yuri, is first deputy minister of foreign trade.

Brezhnev said he rarely saw his children in recent years 'because of work -- theirs and mine.'

Staunch communist believer though he was, Brezhnev cut a dashing social figure. He chain-smoked his Russian cigarettes in an amber holder, wore tailored silk suits, colored shirts and wide, splashy neckties.

He enjoyed scotch as well as vodka and cognac and seldom turned down a drink.

He was a jovial backslapper with men and a charming hand-kisser with ladies. He told jokes easily and well.

Brezhnev's blue eyes were often bloodshot and his florid complexion, bushy eyebrows and barrel chest all combined to create a political cartoonist's dream image of a Kremlin bully boy with a hero medal on his lapel.

That was the image much of the world held of Brezhnev after the invasion of Czechoslovakia. It changed for the better in 1971 when he went to France, his first trip to the West, and improved even more during the 1972 summit talks with Nixon.

Subsequently, Brezhnev exposed himself increasingly to foreign scrutiny, making further trips abroad, including two more visits to France and meeting with President Gerald Ford in a 'get acquainted' summit at Vladivostok.

By 1979 when he went to Vienna to meet Carter, the world knew Brezhnev as a globe-trotting statesman, although he often appeared tired from his journeys and once, in Bonn, had to be helped out of a sofa by West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.

Brezhnev's personal ascendance was also enhanced by the world Communist Party summit of June 1969 where he presided over a meeting that Khrushchev conceived years before but could not bring off because of opposition from China.

Brezhnev ran into the same trouble but still managed to bring together 75 of the world's 86 Communist parties despite a Chinese boycott.

At the summit he led the way in a widespread denunciation of Peking's leaders and attacked China for splitting the movement and for provoking incidents along Soviet borders.

Though he did not obtain the formal excommunication of China that he, Khrushchev and others had once hoped for, he managed at least a token show of force in the increasingly important ideological war between the world's greatest communist powers.

But as America forged new links with Peking, and eventually established diplomatic relations in 1979, the Kremlin tried once again to heal the rift. Brezhnev's major policy speeches lambasted China's anti-Soviet stance but also made clear Moscow was willing to make peace whenever Peking gave the word -- as long as the word guaranteed no loss of Soviet security.

Following the death of Mao Tse-tung the Soviets made repeated overtures to the new Chinese leadership. Each was rebuffed and the official Soviet press gradually resumed its criticism of Peking, though sparing the invective it had aimed at Mao and Maoism.

A new rift came in 1978 when China mounted thousands of troops along its border with Vietnam and cracked wide apart in February 1979 when China invaded Vietnam. The Soviet Union, which took over China's role as Vietnam's protector, armed the Hanoi troops and seemed ready to plunge into the war. But the potential super-conflict was avoided as Vietnam more than held its own against Peking.

In the mid-1970s another division began forming in the ranks of the communists with the growing independence of a number of national parties. Because the leaders were the parties of France, Italy and Spain, the movement became known as Eurocommunism.

At a conference of European Communist parties held in East Berlin in June 1976, Brezhnev said the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had no intention of trying to establish a 'leading center' but upheld proletarian internationalism, a slogan standing for Moscow's supremacy in world communism.

The conference, however, omitted any reference to proletarian internationalism in its final document, an obvious concession by Brezhnev.

Brezhnev had to face the threat of China in the south, the possibility of liberalization of the communist states to the West and a rising clamor for more consumer goods at home.

The economy remained his greatest domestic woe -- hamstrung by party dogma and dominated by heavy industry, it suffered consistently from underproduction and poor quality.

The Soviet Union's standard of living continued to be one of the lowest of any industrial nation in the world, including other communist countries.

Brezhnev had an unerring instinct for political survival. No revolutionary, he was the ultimate 'apparatchik' or Soviet organization man. He represented an emerging postwar class of technocrats and professionals. Better educated, more outward looking than their revolutionary forebears, they coveted secure borders, domestic solitude and a better standard of living.

They were willing to moderate the revolutionary fervor of Lenin for the middle-class comforts they heard existed elsewhere in the world. But their concern with Soviet security and leadership in the Communist world was just as acute as ever.

Brezhnev recognized both these trends and tried to steer a course that could achieve both ends.

To the extent that he was successful, he charted new waters in Communist history.


Biden’s Brezhnev vibes

Is the presumptive President-elect the candidate of American stagnation?

Katya Sedgwick

Biden’s Brezhnev vibes

Like many other Americans who had the misfortune to live under socialism, I&rsquove been having lots of flashbacks lately. In particular, I find that the presumptive President-elect Joe Biden gives out serious Brezhnev vibes.

The general secretary of the Soviet Union from 1964 to 1982, Leonid Brezhnev was not a healthy man. He was a chain-smoking workaholic who&rsquod been appointed to a series of very stressful positions &mdash you try to rise in ranks under Joseph Stalin. He served in World War Two, when he was wounded, and suffered a concussion. Brezhnev&rsquos mind and body took a toll his first, minor stroke happened in 1951, when he was still in his forties.

Despite that, he was able to feign decent health up until December 1975 when he suffered another cardiac arrest. By then a nurse appointed by the KGB began administering sedatives to the communist functionary to counter his insomnia. He became dependent on drugs, and continued using them through the end of his life. In 1968, the heavy-set Soviet head of state overdosed in the plain view of the Czechoslovak delegation, and had to lie down on the negotiating table.

Ordinary Soviet people had no knowledge of this, but, watching news segments on TV, it was hard to avoid conclusion that the general secretary was unfit to rule. His speech was slurred, and his movements unsteady. His mispronunciations were notorious: &lsquosocialist countries&rsquo came out his mouth as &lsquosh-ty sausages&rsquo, and &lsquosystematically&rsquo &mdash as &lsquobooby boobs&rsquo. Towards the end of his life he required the help of an apparatchik to lift his arm to salut the troops at a parade.

Because the official Soviet sources released no medical information, rumors about Brezhnev&rsquos health abounded. So did the jokes. For instance:

&lsquoBrezhnev&rsquos voice on the radio: &ldquoComrades! Imperialist enemies are spreading false rumors that my speeches are played on a record…a record…a record…&rdquo&rsquo

&lsquoBrezhnev asked his speech writer to write a 15-minute address to the Party Congress. The writer gave him the address, and Brezhnev went up on a podium to present it. It&rsquos taking him 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 40, 45. When he&rsquos finally done, he asked the writer &ldquoWhat did you do? I asked for a 15-minute speech!&rdquo The writer says: &ldquoI wrote you a 15 minute speech, and I gave you three copies of it.&rdquo&rsquo

This one can be easily retold about Biden who once read a chyron on live television.

That there is something wrong with Biden is dangerously close to becoming a subject of open discussion. A topic rarely brought up outside conservative media after the Democratic primary was touched upon by satirical site the Onion when it ran a piece titled: &lsquoDoctors Concerned As Hairline Fracture In Biden&rsquos Foot Spreads Through Entire Skeleton&rsquo.

The story riffed on the real-life news item about Biden fracturing his foot while playing with one of his dogs. The Biden family pets had received so much media attention a few days earlier that it only makes sense the critters had a second act.

Shortly after the fracture made the news cycle, I heard a rumor that Biden broke his foot because he had a stroke. It&rsquos just a rumor of course, but is there any wonder that it would circulate after a bizarre presidential campaign during which so few people showed up to his socially distanced rallies and his media appearances were sparse and tightly controlled?

Even under those circumstances Biden&rsquos speech was slurred, he often appears lost, and he made too many &lsquogaffes&rsquo, including forgetting the name of his former boss Barack Obama. Curiously, during one of his interviews the former vice president admitted that his cognitive ability is tested &lsquoconstantly&rsquo.

It shouldn&rsquot be surprising that according to a Zogby poll, 55 percent of likely voters believed Biden is in the early stages of dementia. What&rsquos surprising is that the November 3 election revealed how 80 million Americans apparently hate Trump so much that they think Biden&rsquos anonymous handlers will do a better job of running the country &mdash and so they voted for the Democratic nominee.

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At least nobody in the Soviet Union voted for Brezhnev &mdash the elections were a sham with Communist party candidates running unopposed. Everything was a sham, actually. In his mumbling, robotic tones, the general secretary delivered long-winded, heavy on Marxist cliches and utterly incomprehensible televised speeches. The economy flattered, dissidents were subjected to psychiatric torture, corruption proliferated, and the rate of substance abuse skyrocketed. That period of Soviet history is known as zastoi, or stagnation. It only made sense that the man on top was some sort of sclerotic.

Like Brezhnev, Biden&rsquos rhetoric is ridden with clichés, but of a different, folksy kind. At the time when political slogans are catchy and provocative &mdash Make America Great Again, Black Lives Matter &mdash Biden&rsquos yard signs read &lsquoOur best days are still ahead&rsquo, and &lsquoBuild back better&rsquo. His Twitter account is full of platitudes like &lsquoThis is our moment &mdash ours together &mdash to write a newer, bolder, more compassionate chapter in the life of our nation.&rsquo He&rsquos just a boring ordinary guy &mdash until he lashes out at a voter, or bites on his wife&rsquos finger.

Is Biden the candidate of American stagnation? His cognitive and physical decline is increasingly difficult to hide and it&rsquos highly disturbing to witness it become a subject of speculation. I&rsquove lived through it before and it gives me the creeps. Free citizens of a free republic shouldn&rsquot need a Kremlinologist to decipher what&rsquos wrong with their president.


Leonid Brezhnev becomes president of the USSR 1960

Leonid Brezhnev, one of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s most trusted proteges, is selected as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet—the Soviet equivalent to the presidency. This was another important step in Brezhnev’s rise to power in Russia, a rise that he later capped by taking control of the Soviet Union in 1964.

Brezhnev had been a trusted associate of Khrushchev since the 1940s. As Khrushchev rose through the ranks, so did his protege. After Stalin’s death in 1953, Khrushchev rapidly consolidated his power and succeeded in becoming First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. This position had always been the real seat of power in the Soviet Union—the first secretary was able to control the vast Communist Party apparatus throughout the Soviet Union. The position of president (or, more formally, the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet) was largely symbolic. The president often greeted foreign visitors and handled more mundane government matters, but policymaking always rested with the first secretary. In May 1960, Khrushchev named Brezhnev to the position of president. While the post meant little in the way of real power, it did allow Brezhnev to come into contact with numerous foreign dignitaries and visitors and to travel the world as a representative of the Soviet government. He made the most of these opportunities and was soon viewed as an efficient and effective official in his own right, not simply a puppet of Khrushchev.

In 1964, Khrushchev was removed from power and Brezhnev was named new first secretary. Brezhnev held that post for 18 years until his death in 1982. His era was marked by a certain blandness of rule, a much-needed stability in Soviet ruling circles, a sometimes harsh repression of the Soviet people, and a hard-line attitude toward relations with the United States.


Leonid Brezhnev is elected Soviet president - HISTORY

At the Moscow Olympics in 1980, the ailing Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev has to deliver some opening remarks. He begins his speech, “Ooh…Ooh…Ooh…Ooh…Ooh.” Then his aide, bewildered and embarrassed by this peculiar introduction, dares to walk up quietly to Brezhnev, and whispers in his ear: “That’s the Olympic logo, General Secretary”.

This is but one of many Soviet witticisms, which exemplified the Soviet citizens’ cynical humor that characterized their attitude towards the Communist Party and had Ronald Reagan fall in love with them. Owing to his extensive contacts with Gorbachev, the Republican had deftly amassed an impressive collection of these uplifting riddles. Reflective of the Communist system’s deficiencies, and yet simultaneously carefree and optimistic, they vindicated George Orwell’s renowned assertion that “every joke is a tiny revolution”. If you happen to share Reagan’s penchant for Eastern European jokes, I suggest you saunter through this article by the National Post. It contains some genuine treasures that are, at least in my view, worthy of incorporation into the pantheon of our beloved president’s most iconic sayings alongside my all-time favorite “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem” and the Cold War classic, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”.

However, this disquisition on Reagan’s comic predilections is beside the point nor do his charm and electoral prowess require regurgitation. After all, Americans rarely eschew scrutinizing his biography, especially considering his contribution to ending the Cold War in his country’s favour and his astounding re-election landslide against Walter Mondale in 1984, which saw the incumbent garner 58.8% of national suffrage and carry all but his rival’s native Minnesota. He might be alive in our memories, his phrases congealing with our quotidian vocabulary and attracting considerable public interest today, but the upcoming 2020 election has nothing to do with the Cold War, let alone the USSR. The world has changed drastically since his departure from office, and many of his lessons, prima facie, seem admirable, but not entirely amenable to productive imitation.

But that grotesque depiction of Brezhnev’s senility is not as bereft of context as the rest of the Cold War background, in which it originated. The American voters risk electing their own Brezhnev at the ballot box as the Democratic Party stands determined to counterpoise Donald Trump with someone whose go-to insult is a “ lying dog-faced pony soldier ”. Biden resembles Brezhnev to the extent that their simulacra are no longer coincidental: he is already displaying comparable signs of mental and physical impropriety for governance and committing speech errors with the regularity, previously only observed with Trump’s tweeting. For this reason, the Brezhnev comment might well have been made about the man proudly proclaiming that “ poor kids are just as bright as white kids ”. Arguably, there are plentiful uncanny similarities between Sleepy Joe and Brezhnev. Worse still, these far-reaching parallels are overwhelmingly pernicious to the American experience’s future.

Herein, I am not talking about the gaffes you could witness him make about foreign leaders after he referred to Theresa May as Margaret Thatcher, this would come across as neither surprising nor particularly troublesome to his reputation. Rather, what pricks my conscience is Biden’s potential not to last for the duration of his term, insofar as he might turn incapable of running the country, and his authority will either naturally devolve to, or be usurped by, his inferiors. Therefore, Biden’s Vice-President pick constitutes an important moot point, since his preferred candidate will inform us of the trajectory, in which America will head under the Biden administration, more than his own positions and policy preferences. Some analysts have voiced precisely these concerns that any potential moderateness will be rendered null and void by members of the increasingly radical Democrat party nomenclature surrounding Biden. In other words, we risk ending up in a situation, where the de-jure head of state is Joe, but the person pulling the strings is his right-hand man (or woman ). Moreover, we might even see a takeover of the presidential office by the party’s powerful congressional factions, arguably at a significant cost to the Constitution and the ordinary voters’ wellbeing, though this takeover will almost certainly be strictly dismissed by the media as good synergy between the White House and the US Congress.

This is precisely the fate that befell the Soviet Union, equally a powerful, ambitious nation at the time of Brezhnev’s accession. During his tenure, considerable power was delegated to his subordinates, and whilst this gave the local politics breathing space after Khrushchev’s attempts at constructing a personality cult, it decisively failed to deliver in the long run. Internal infighting resulted in the ousting of his political opponents, including the visionary reformer Alexei Kosygin – the architect of the 1965 economic reform that introduced profitability and sales as the indicators of enterprise success and promoted decentralization over stringent economic planning. Furthermore, his associates, such as his successor as the leader, Yuri Andropov, and Mikhail Suslov, who is perceived by historians and the people alike as the party’s chief ideologue and policy author eliminated whatever miniscule checks and balances the USSR had possessed and paved the path for an era, known as the Brezhnevian Stagnation .

More specifically, Brezhnev and his coterie presided over a period of slowdown in economic growth. Although Philip Hanson rightly points out in his book, The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Economy: An Economic History of the USSR from 1945 , that the country’s economy continued expanding under the contemporary leadership, perpetuating the status-quo meant discarding any efforts to modernize it or maximize industrial profits. Thus, the Soviet authorities chose to maintain high military spending at the estimated level of 10-15% of the GNP and repurposed considerable investment from the developing electronics industry towards laying the foundations of what would later explain Russia’s kleptocratic tendencies – harvesting oil and gas in Siberia. Furthermore, this period saw the government divagate from supporting regional manufacturing establishments, which hitherto had been helping cities spring up across the country and their populations enjoy a relatively decent standard of living. Lastly, little was done to tackle the dynamically growing shadow economy alimented by the socioeconomic stasis in the country.

Obviously, I am not suggesting that Joe Biden would scrupulously mirror this conduct you may hardly anticipate the Democrat establishment’s overtures towards Texan oil producers, and high government expenditure on the armed forces likewise appears out of place. That said, the overall spirit of stagnation could easily find refuge in America under his administration: intolerable government spending on some unrealistic infrastructural projects is certainly on the table, especially if Biden’s kowtowing to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez materializes in her appointment to a corresponding government post. We could also expect a further rejection of the nation’s manufacturing past and the concomitant outsourcing of factories to Third World countries away from communities in Pennsylvania or Ohio. In many towns across the United States, Democratic mayors have already been pushing for the preservation of the status-quo, frequently striving to retain their electoral bases rather than to augment the opportunities for self-improvement available to their constituents – with Baltimore being a prime example of how the supposedly reformist Democrats deform the streets and neighborhoods they once vowed to change. Perhaps, this miserable fate will turn nationwide, if Joe Biden is elected.