Courtesy Reuters

The Soviet Union: The Next Decade

Crucial to any analysis of relations between the West and the Soviet Union is a realistic concept of what kind of country, what kind of society and above all what kind of leadership we are going to have to deal with in the next decade.

Shortly after Yuri Andropov became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), several points seemed clear. First, the old guard had opted for one of their own. Second, they had rejected the idea of a continuation of the immobilism of Leonid Brezhnev. Third, it had almost inevitably to be a transitional regime. The latter judgment was based on known facts about the health of 69-year-old Andropov (in 1978 he had disappeared from the Moscow scene for a prolonged period and knowledgeable Russians admitted he had a health problem), and the nature of his power base. He had been absent too long from the Secretariat to be able to build quickly the network of personal support in the Party which he required to supplement the backing he had from the police apparatus and that which he had been offered by the military.

Andropov was therefore missing the strong, Party-based political structure needed to establish personal predominance. It took Nikita Khrushchev and Brezhnev each at least five years to construct a solid power base and in each case they started with strength in the Party apparatus, good health and relative youth (relative by the standards of Soviet leaders). Andropov, even if his health had not collapsed, could scarcely have counted on more than a few years of probably limited power. The fact that he assumed the presidency was largely irrelevant. Neither Lenin, Stalin nor Khrushchev bothered about this largely ceremonial job. When Stalin and Khrushchev wanted more power they added the prime ministership to the key post of General Secretary of the Party. Brezhnev was not interested in that particular form of personal power since he had already created an elaborate system within the hierarchy

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