Brezhnev and Beyond

Leonid Brezhnev at the VLKSM Central Committee plenary session, October 1968. RIA Novosti archive (Yuriy Ivanov) / Wikimedia Commons

The Brezhnev era is clearly ending. This October he will mark his fifteenth year as the head of the Party, a span at least four years longer than Nikita Khrushchev's official term. In December, he will be 73 and next spring he will, if he holds on, pass Stalin as the oldest Soviet leader ever to hold the top Party position. He has already established the precedent of being both chief of state and Party leader; he has matched Stalin in being promoted to Marshal of the Soviet Union. By almost any standard, the past 15 years have to be regarded as his "era." Now the advancing age and physical infirmities of the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party suggest that a presuccession period is under way and that the process of summing up the Brezhnev period can begin.

When Khrushchev was overthrown in October 1964, Leonid Brezhnev was the leading candidate to survive the hazards of Soviet politics and come to dominate the leadership. Although some observers grouped him with President Nikolai Podgorny and Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin in a new triumvirate, Brezhnev was in the advantageous position of Party leader. Other contenders along the way-Alexander Shelepin and Pyotr Shelest, the Ukrainian Party leader-were eventually removed; and even his supposed old comrade Podgorny was roughly pushed aside in 1977 so that Brezhnev could acquire the unique position of government and Party leader. But much earlier, perhaps by 1970, Brezhnev was clearly in a commanding position. And he seems to have succeeded on a program that might be called conservative or orthodox.

What Brezhnev has achieved has been a restoration of the status quo ante Khrushchev: he has strengthened the conservative elements in the power structure; the Party bureaucracy has been stabilized; and the military and the security organs have gained in authority. He has carefully avoided the experimentation of structural reforms in the economy despite pressure to adopt new approaches. Economic performance has not been impressive but nevertheless has been satisfactory in meeting the

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