Lecture VIII: THE USSR IN THE 1960s - EARLY 1980s: BREZHNEV‘S STAGNATION AND ANDROPOV‘S REFORMS. In the framework of the course “ Crucial Issues of Russian Political History from the early XXth century up the present time ” Sergey Verigin, Ass. Prof. Petrozavodsk State University.
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In the framework of the course “Crucial Issues of Russian Political History from the early XXth century up the present time”
Sergey Verigin, Ass. Prof.
Petrozavodsk State University
I. Nikita Khrushchev 's discharge and L. Brezhnev's coming to power
II. The development of the USSR in the 1970s - the first half of 1980s. Stagnation in economy and policy
III. Dissidents' movement
IV. Andropov's reformation attempts
By the mid 1960s the economic situation in the country aggravated. The dissatisfaction with Khrushchev became extremely high. He was opposed both by the conservatives, who were worried by the democratic reforms and by the "de-Stalinization", and by those, who were concerned about the ill-considered actions of Khrushchev and his authoritarianism, which became obvious in early 1960s.
October 1964 - at the Plenary meeting of the CPSU Central Committee, Khrushchev was discharged from his posts. Leonid Brezhnev was elected the first secretary of the CPSU Central Committee.
Brezhnev belonged to the first generation of Soviet Communists
By the time of 1924 Brezhnev joined the Party, Joseph Stalin was its undisputed leader, and Brezhnev and many young Communists like him grew up as unquestioning Stalinists.
1931 - Brezhnev met Nikita Khrushchev. He became Khrushchev's protégée as he continued his rise through the ranks.
After Stalin’s death in March 1953, Brezhnev was appointed head of the Political Directorate of the Army and the Navy, with rank of Lieutenant-General, a very senior position. This was probably due to the new power of his patron Khrushchev, who had succeeded Stalin as Party General Secretary.
1955 - he was made Party First Secretary of Kazakhstan, also an important post.
February 1956 - Brezhnev was recalled to Moscow, promoted to candidate member of the Politburo and assigned control of the defense industry, the space program, heavy industry, and capital construction.
1959 - Brezhnev became Second Secretary of the Central Committee
May 1960 - he was promoted to the post of President of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet.
October 14, 1964 - while Khrushchev was on holiday, the conspirators struck and removed him from office. Brezhnev became Party First Secretary; Aleksei Kosygin became Prime Minister, and Mikoyan became head of state (President of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet). In 1965 Mikoyan retired and waschanged by Nikolai Podgorny.
From the very beginning Brezhnev as a political figure revealed his most characteristic feature: being very cautious, he immediately took the centrist position, disapproving of all extremities. (Both the reform programs inspired by the XXth Congress of the CPSU, and the neostalinists inspiring to return back to the old rule).
At the discussions, which arose at the meetings of the political bureau of the CPSU Central Committee, he preferred to listen to the opinions of other member before speaking himself, and if there was not a common opinion, he used to postpone taking a decision.
One thing Brezhnev learnt very well: how to keep the power in his hands. He gave promotion to the people who were loyal to him. The criterion in selecting the staff was not the level of competence or professionalism, but one's loyalty. Several figures left the leadership one after another: Podgorny, Voronov, Polyansky, Mikojan, Shelest, etc. (They were not loyal to Brezhnev).
Brezhnev era gave birth to many jokes about him.
Brezhnev is meeting Indira Gandhi at the airport. Everybody's surprised, he addresses her as "Mrs Thatcher". His secretary said: "This is Indira Gandhi". Brezhnev replies: "I can see it's Indira Gandhi. But in my speech it is written Margaret Thatcher."
At the 1980 olympics, Brezhnev begins his speech. "O!" -- applause. "O!" -- more applause. "O!" -- yet more applause. "O!" -- an ovation. "O!!!" -- the whole audience stands up and applauds. An assistant comes running to the podium and said, "Leonid Ilyich, that's the Olympic flag, you don't need to read it!"
(L) "Leonid Ilyich!..." / "Come on, no formalities among comrades. Just call me 'Ilyich' ". (Note: "Ilyich" by itself by default refers to Lenin.)
"Leonid Ilyich is in surgery." / "Heart again?" / "No, chest expansion surgery: to fit one more Gold Star medal."
To sum up the Russians' experience with political leaders thus far: Lenin showed how you can rule a country; Stalin showed how you should rule a country; Khrushchev showed that any idiot can rule a country; Brezhnev showed that not every idiot can rule a country.
(Brezhnev supposedly wrote a famous Autobiography, which many people suspected of having been written by others for him) Brezhnev is sitting in his office. A general enters the room. - "Have you read my Autobiography?" Brezhnev asks.- "Yes, sir. It was very good," answers the general.A few minutes later, another subordinate enters the office. - "Have you read my Autobiography?" asks Brezhnev.- "Yes, sir. An excellent work."- "Hmmm," thinks Brezhnev, "May be I should read it too."
The Communist party promoted Brezhnev, and he did his best to strengthen the Party's administration. In Brezhnev's time the policy of "growing ruling role of the Communist party in the soviet society" was continued. Party bodies got the right to control the activities of the administration.
According the Brezhnev's Constitution (it was adopted in 1977) the highest administrative bodies were proclaimed the Councils (Soviets) of people's deputies (that is Soviets). But actually the most important issues were not discussed in the Supreme Soviet.
The Political Bureau of the CPSU Central Committee, which decided the fate of the country, carried out practical leadership. The procedure of electing the Soviets allowed choosing obedient deputies. Although the elections in 1960s - 1970s were equal, direct elections by secret ballot, but the voters were given only one candidate, who was nominated by a party committee.
Communist party itself consisted of two parts. Ordinary communists (by mid 1980-s there were about 20 million party members) were practically debarred from making decisions. The party leadership made all decisions. Party and state administration was being formed, which played the leading role in the society.
Middle 1970s - the cult of Brezhnev started to spread around the country.
1977 - Brezhnev combined the post of the General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee and the post of the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, thus legally becoming the leader of the state.
There appeared several myths concerning him:
1. Myth Concerns his war-time biography. When the war was finished, Brezhnev was only a major-general, after the war he became the marshal, four times the Hero of the Soviet Union, received the highest order of Victory, and had the total of 200 orders and medals.
Myth concerns Brezhnev's literary work. He received the Lenin Literary Prize for the three novels, which as it became known now, not was written by him but by several writers.
3. Myth is about Brezhnev the scholar. He was recognized as an outstanding theoretician of Marxism after introducing a new theory: "Building in the USSR the developed socialism".
At that time protectionism and family basis spread in the highest state spheres. Brezhnev himself gave the highest posts to his relatives and friends. (The husband of his daughter Churbanov became the Vice-Minister of Mutual Affairs).
The situation in the state republics of the USSR (in Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Moldavia, etc) was exactly the same, and the leadership was formed on the family basis. Corruption and upward distortion of the results achieved flourished everywhere.
The ruling circles used the state property for their own profit. Later, in the perestroika period, many of the state figures, republican leaders, heads of the regional and city party committees, were proved guilty of misappropriation and bribes.
The prestige and the authority of the Communist party and the Soviet power were falling in the 1970s.
Brezhnev's inability to be the leader was evident in 1970s. He was simply the reader of speeches and reports prepared for him.
Beginning of 1970s - Brezhnev started to have health problems. In 1976 he was saved after "clinical death".
During the later years of the Brezhnev era the Soviet economy began to stagnate and the population increasingly began demanding greater quantities of consumer goods. In the postwar years, the Soviet economy had entered a period of intensive growth.
Another problem was that production quotas usually stipulated the quantity of goods to be produced by a given factory but not the quality.
This led to the frequent problems of badly made machinery breaking down, and disrupting the rest of the economy. Planning was also very rigid.
The arms race was another drain on the consumer economy.
As a politician, Brezhnev was very conservative, he was very much afraid of big changes and deep reforms. Having enounced Khruschov's ill-considered reform, he primarily put an end to all Khruschov's undertakings:
The members of the leadership sent by Khrushchev to the provinces returned to Moscow and took their former positions. Khruschov's custom of periodical staff rotation was gradually forgotten.
The idea of stability was introduced instead, which met the interests of the administration.
Though, in the first period of Brezhnev's rule the reforms initiated by Khrushchev were still carried out mechanically.
The last instance of the reformation was the economy reform of 1965, which granted enterprises with a greater degree of independence and limited the power of Ministries and departments.
By late 1960-s the reform was stopped. Old administrative methods were back again.
II. The development of the USSR in the 1970s - the first half of 1980s. Stagnation in economy and policyCommon economic problems of the USSR
The 1970s - are known as the period of stagnation in the history of the country. In that period the economical and social development of the country constantly slowed down.
Main indexes of the development of the economy
of the USSR in 1965-1980s (%)
In the beginning of 1970s the goal of intensification was proclaimed as the main priority of Soviet economy. A lot was said about the necessity to "combine the achievements of the scientific and technical revolution with the advantages of socialism". But still the economy kept developing in the extensive way.
The growth of the production was mainly achieved due to the increase of raw materials and fuel production. In 1971-1985 the export of oil gave 176 millions rbl, which mainly spent on importing food and consumer goods.
The country developed as a raw material supplier for the world market. At that time the Western countries had overcome the structural crisis in the economy.
Their economy developed on the basis of the new level of technology. Computers were widely used, biotechnology was developed. The Soviet economy appeared not very receptive for those achievements.
By mid-1980-s it became apparent that the system of economy managing designed in 1930-s had become a "brake mechanism". It was characterised by:
over-centralisation: economy was headed by the central ministries. The work of enterprises was regulated by dozens of indexes;
the size of the salary did not depend directly on the results of the work, it was regulated by a system of tariffs developed by the centre;
the prices were determined not by market laws, but assigned by the state bodies;
the scientific and technical revolution was very slow and its scale was limited;
the system did not develop people's initiative, it made people not interested in the results of their labour.
The disappointed hopes for democratisation, the social and economical crisis of the system, resulted in the movement of dissidents (heterodoxy) in the USSR, who criticised the system and defended human rights.
Dissidents, identified as such by the Soviet government, which tightly controlled the Soviet media, first appeared in a demonstration on Constitution Day, December 5, 1965, in Pushkin Square, Moscow.
In the 1960s there was formed a group of dissidents including V.Bukovsky, P.Litvinov, L.Bogoraz, A.Marchenko, A.Amalrik, etc. They defended the human rights from the liberal position. In 1968 they started illegal publishing of the "Chronicle of the current events", where they stated all violations of human rights in the USSR. Its first editor was N.Gorbanevskaya.
The dissident movement developed.
Three main directions in it:
Marxist (R.Medvedev, P.Grigorenko) . They believed that all the social and political problems resulted from Stalinism, from the distortion of original Marxism-Leninism. Their goal was the "purification of socialism".
2. Liberal-democratic (A.Sakharov) . Believed in the idea of convergence -combining two systems: capitalism and socialism. They said it is necessary to take the best from both market economy and planned economy, as well as from the political and social systems of the West and the East.
National-patriotic (A.Solzhenitsyn, I.Shafarevich). They were standing on the slavo-phile basis. They believed that both Marxist and the revolution are foreign to the Russian. The ideal model for Russia was considered the system, which had existed till February 1917 (that is monarchy).
Dissidents of all orientations spoke against bringing Russian troops into Checkoslovakia, in 1968. After these events many dissidents were arrested and imprisoned.
After the events in Checkoslovakia, 1968, the dissidents got an ideological leader in the person of Andrey Sakharov. He was very famous academic and one of the creator of soviet nuclear weapon.
Sakharov sent an open letter to the leaders of the USSR, where he expressed his opinions concerning democracy, freedom of emigration, protested against KGB's using mental hospitals in fighting dissidents, and defended the human rights.
From 1975 a new period of the dissident movement started, it was called the "Helsinki period". The international meeting on security and cooperation was held in Helsinki in 1975. Its participants saw their task in controlling the observing of the Helsinki Agreement on Human Rights, which was signed by the USSR in 1975. Groups of assistance of this agreement were organised in Moscow, in Ukraine, in Lithuania and Armenia.
To fight the dissident movement, a special Fifth department of KGB was organised. About 1000 people were arrested. After protesting against the Afgan campaign, A. Sakharov was exiled to Gorky.
By 1984 the dissident movement was ruined.
1982 - Leonid Brezhnev died.
The new state and party leader was Jurij Andropov (1982-1984), who had headed KGB for a long time before that.
During the fifteen months which he spent as the leader of the state (the middle of November 1982, - the middle of February, 1984) eighteen Ministers and thirty seven First Secretaries of regional committees of the CPSU were replaced.
The population supported Andropov's slogan: "In order to live better, it is necessary to work more and work better".
Supported by the people, Andropov started the fight against the corruption in the leadership.
People needed "bread and entertainment", and consequently the price of vodka was lowered. The people immediately named that cheap vodka as "andropovka".
Andropov's rule was too short to estimate how his reforms could have affect Soviet Union. Still he is remembered as one of the reformers who at least tried to do anything with the deep crisis in the USSR.
1940-1951 – Andropov was in Karelia. During World War II he headed the partisans movement in Karelia.
1953-1957 - Andropov was Soviet Ambassador in Hungary and in 1956 played an important role in the suppression of opposition with the help of Soviet corps.
1962-1967 - he took the post of CPSU Central Committee Secretary.
1962-1982 - he headed KGB, the main tool for suppressing dissidents in the Soviet Union.
1982 - after Brezhnev's death, he became General Secretary of CPSU Central Committee,
1983 - he took the position of USSR Supreme Soviet chairman.
Andropov’s government tried to improve the situation in the country by commanding methods, and those measures gave some results.
Andropov raised the question of radical reforming the economy, of the necessity of making people interested in the results of their work.
He saw the main task in developing socialism, in the transition to the intensive methods of the development of Soviet economy. In reality, Andropov could not escape the administrative-commanding methods of managing, he just slowed down the crisis of the administrative-commanding system, not being able to put an end to it.
In foreign policy — the war continued in Afghanistan. Andropov's rule was also marked by the deterioration of relations with the United States.
After Andropov's death in February 1984 the country was headed by Konstantin Chernenko, one of the closest assistants of Brezhnev. The country was returning back to Brezhnev's times. But it could not last forever. The Soviet society was on the verge of great changes, which would be connected with the name of M.Gorbachov.
Joke of the time: Party Chairman Leonid Brezhnev died in 1982. His successor, Yuri Andropov, died in 1984. His successor in turn, Konstantin Chernenko, died in 1985. Russians took great interest in watching the new sport at the Kremlin: coffin carriage racing.
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