The Brezhnev era is coming to an end. In all probability the 26th Party Congress (February-March 1981) will prove to have been the last one at which Leonid Il'ich and his aged cronies successfully defended their positions of power. Of course, memories of similar predictions made after the 25th Party Congress alert us to the need for caution in anticipating the current leadership's departure. Yet we base our expectations of the approaching end of the Brezhnev era not only on the passing of the Brezhnev generation, which must ultimately occur. Equally significant is the rapid changing of the domestic and international conditions and circumstances which have shaped the character of the past decade and a half. Thus, even if Brezhnev and his contemporaries were to remain in power for another year or two, dramatic alterations of the international and internal environment of the Soviet Union from the time when Brezhnev was at the height of his rule will profoundly influence the perceptions, behavior and policies of the Soviet regime. While the 26th Party Congress showed some recognition of the changing international and domestic environment, its attempts to grapple with the resulting issues and problems have been minimal. The CPSU cannot enjoy this luxury much longer.

The Brezhnev era, particularly from 1965 to approximately 1976, will probably go down in history as the most successful period of Soviet international and domestic development. Internationally, it was a period when the Soviet Union fulfilled its major postwar dream: to achieve strategic parity with the United States and become a truly global power. Soviet rule over its empire was legitimized internationally and the so-called Brezhnev Doctrine-implying the right and obligation of the Soviet Union to intervene in any communist state to maintain the communist system intact-was developed to secure continuation of that empire by any means. Although the Soviet Union was unable to regulate its relations with the other communist giant, China was torn by cataclysmic internal strife, and Soviet leaders were able to deploy strategic tactical and conventional forces on their eastern border, thus changing the military geography of the area and ensuring against any surprises from the Chinese side.

It was a period when the Soviets increased their influence in the international arena and, at the same time, witnessed the economic and political decline of their chief adversary, the United States. The Soviet Union was able to translate its newly won power and recognition into a new relationship with the Western alliance (particularly the United States) which was called détente and which constituted a promising cornerstone of Soviet long-range strategy. Détente promised economic benefits and, most important, an expansion of Soviet global influence without the danger of confrontation with the United States and its allies. It also promised a further swing in the balance of global influence and power in favor of the Soviet Union.

Domestically, it was a period of great stability of leadership and politics in the Soviet Union, when a system based on elite accommodation, compromise and bargaining fostered a tranquil political climate. The Soviet leadership dealt successfully with unprecedented dissent movements among the intelligentsia and assured a relatively high degree of political and social stability in the country. On the economic front, for the first time in its history the Soviet leadership was able to pursue successfully and simultaneously a policy of guns and butter as well as growth. It was a period when the Soviet regime was able to avoid any significant degree of systemic crisis within its social and political system.

During the mid-1970s, however, these domestic and international trends were reversed. By the end of the decade, the previously favorable situation had begun to unravel. The 26th Party Congress convened in a new situation marked by the clear short- and medium-range potential for dangerous and unfavorable developments. The new situation illustrated the adage coined by a European statesman in the interwar period: "Russia is never as strong as she looks, Russia is never as weak as she looks." Today, Soviet developments are riddled with paradox. The Soviet Union exhibits both strengths and weaknesses, assets and liabilities:

-Today, more powerful than ever, the Soviet Union is nonetheless more insecure than it has been during the last ten to 15 years. It faces a more assertive United States, as well as a potential alliance between China and the West, and a change in the trend of the balance of military spending which places in jeopardy its attainment of parity. This curious mixture of power and insecurity places a special imprint on Soviet foreign policy and international behavior.

-The Soviet Union has become a global power, feared by friend and foe alike. Its model of rule and development, however, is increasingly considered irrelevant by both Marxists and non-Marxists, and the Soviet socioeconomic and political system is held in greater contempt than ever.

-If Soviet expansion has reached a temporary peak, Soviet leaders see in Poland, their own imperial backyard, the greatest challenge of their postwar history as a national Polish revolution threatens to undermine the centralist Leninist state. The Soviet Union retains control over an extensive internal and external empire in which its political and military dominance is still strongly pronounced. Yet it has ceased to draw economic benefits from that empire and must even support it economically. A curious situation has developed in which the East European standard of living is and will continue to be higher than that in the Soviet Union, and in which the Uzbek peasant lives far better than his Russian counterpart. The economic viability of the East European empire, moreover, depends to a large extent on economic help from and interchange with Western adversaries of the Soviet Union.

-Soviet foreign policy in the Brezhnev era has realized significant gains in international influence and major achievements in global expansion. At the same time, however, the Soviet Union has suffered major failures and significant reverses, most notably in the Middle East, where it lost its pivotal influence in Egypt. Such an ambiguous balance of gains and losses leaves the Soviets with undiminished appetites, but also with a sense of deep frustration.

-During the 1960s and 1970s, the Soviet Union built its foreign policy on the cornerstone of competitive accommodation with the West, particularly the United States. But as it enters the 1980s, this cornerstone has begun to erode. The Soviet Union faces a situation marked not by competitive accommodation, but rather by the greatest challenge to its global ambitions of the last 20 years. If the Soviet Union expanded in the 1970s through low-risk and low-cost adventures without a major danger of confrontation with the United States, the risks and costs of expansion in the 1980s will be much higher and the danger of confronting the United States significantly greater. In the 1980s there is likely to be no Soviet expansion without confrontation.

-During the past two decades, the Soviet Union experienced the finest economic, political and social period in its history. Growth rates remained high; accommodation and compromise defined relations among the elites; mass terror disappeared; the population enjoyed the most rapid growth ever in its standard of living. But in the 1980s the Soviet Union may well pass through the worst period it has seen since the death of Stalin. Growth rates will be the lowest ever; factionalism and tensions will probably disrupt relations among the elites; more coercive policies may return; and the population can expect a stagnating or even declining standard of living. The very stability of the social system may be in question.

The 26th Party Congress convened, then, in a context shaped by these paradoxes. The Soviet Union enters the 1980s at least partly conscious of such paradoxes and the resulting dilemmas. It lacks, however, any long-range vision regarding the means to resolve them.


On what major premises was Soviet foreign policy of the 1970s constructed? First, that détente with the United States would remain irreversible despite zigzags in American policy, and that America's pre-Vietnam assertiveness could not be restored. It was further assumed that Soviet competition with the United States would remain controlled and elements of cooperation retained, given the pressures of the changing military balance, the inward-directed mood of American public opinion, and the demands from America's European allies, particularly West Germany.

Second, that the tilt toward the Soviet Union in the military balance, established in the 1970s, would continue. The Soviets expected that while the West might attempt to make adjustments in the military balance, there would be no new effort by the United States to regain strategic superiority, and that attempts to redress significantly the European theater balance would be successfully resisted by America's allies.

Third, that the Soviet Union would be able to translate its newly won military status into power and influence in those areas of the world which are outside of the great powers' recognized spheres of influence, without risking confrontation with the United States or its allies.

Fourth, that the Soviet Union would continue to exploit targets of opportunity presented by the turmoil in the less developed countries. No area of the world was viewed as being outside the possible spread of its influence.

Fifth, that the basic balance in Europe would be frozen on both sides and that, while no major changes in Soviet influence in Western Europe could be expected, no major dangers to the stability of the East European empire would develop.

Sixth, that the Soviet Union would be able to carry indefinitely the burden of both its expanding role as a global power and its empire without inducing severe economic constraints at home, without violating the existing economic system of planning and management, and without endangering the social and political stability of its home base and empire.

Seventh, that Soviet expansionist policies and the quest for global influence would preclude neither the expansion of economic cooperation with the West nor the influx of advanced foreign technology and credits to the Soviet Eastern bloc and the Soviet homeland itself.

Today the Soviet Union faces a United States that has for the most part left behind its post-Vietnam and post-Watergate doubts and uncertainties. It faces a new Administration whose policies toward the Soviet Union and the world may constitute a major departure from those of its predecessors, in assertiveness in the international arena and willingness to steer a collision course with the Soviet Union where vital interests are concerned. Change in the direction of the balance of military power from that which prevailed in the 1970s is very probable, and the Soviet Union may even be compelled to undertake a new large-scale arms race with the West at a time when it can ill afford the necessary increased expenditures. Meanwhile, it confronts a China which is no longer pursuing a self-destructive course of permanent revolution but is concentrating on modernization and the pursuit of virtual alliance with the United States, Japan and NATO. These problems are complicated by a situation in Afghanistan that is more troublesome than the leadership expected. Even more dangerous is the situation in Poland, the pivotal country in the Soviet empire, a situation with incalculable implications for the future of both the Soviet empire and the Soviet Union itself, regardless of what course of action the leadership adopts.


The shape of Soviet politics and policies changes very slowly. One must always count on the built-in tendency of the Soviet political system to retain the characteristics and directions typical of the 1970s. Yet in the 1980s the Soviet Union will be facing issues and events which may make for incremental changes-conceivably even fundamental changes, though this seems less likely-in the nature of politics and the direction of policies. We have discussed some of the foreign policy issues that face Soviet policymakers in the 1980s. We will now discuss some of the key domestic issues.

Perhaps no more portentous problems will exist for Soviet leaders in this decade than those that concern the economy. The impact of these problems on the political system and on the relationship of that system with the society will be extremely significant, probably greater than was the case in the 1970s.

1) In the 1980s the Soviet Union will face a secular decline in the growth rates of its economy in almost all sectors. It can no longer sustain the high growth rates of the past that were based on the established practice of injecting ever-larger quantities of investment capital and labor resources into the economy (i.e., a policy of extensive growth). Even without other negative factors, and assuming no decline in the quality of the traditional Soviet leadership of the economy, the growth of the Soviet gross national product (GNP) in the 1980s will only be approximately 2.5 percent per year.

2) The Soviet economic-political system of management, pricing and incentives is ill prepared to maximize the possibilities for growth from increased productivity of both capital and labor (i.e., intensive growth). The conditions for a relatively rapid change to such intensive growth would require fundamental changes in the economic-political system, changes which are unlikely to be accomplished in the foreseeable future. Among the steps already undertaken by the Soviet government to counteract the trend of declining growth, none will have any major impact on the Soviet economy.

3) The Soviet Union in the 1980s will also face unfavorable demographic trends, such as the very rapid projected decline in the availability of new labor resources. The situation will be further complicated by changes in the composition of the new labor force, which will be overwhelmingly non-Russian.

4) The Soviet Union will face an energy balance that will affect its economic growth unfavorably, particularly with regard to oil. Although the CIA no longer estimates that the U.S.S.R. will be a net oil importer by the mid-1980s and other economists dispute the extent of the projected decline, they agree that Soviet oil production will decline. Even if one rejects the worst-case scenarios, which predict oil production capacity at eight million barrels a day, the decrease will be sufficient, it seems, to impose major constraints on the Soviet economy and to limit the Soviets' ability to utilize fully their existing economic capacities.

5) The enormous agricultural investments of the Brezhnev era have produced limited and at best uncertain results. Soviet agriculture in the 1980s will remain a highly volatile sector of the Soviet economy. Moreover, because of the decline in long-term growth in other sectors, the unavoidable agricultural fluctuations will have increasing influence on the size of the Soviet GNP.

There can be little doubt that the Soviet Union will face a difficult economic situation in the 1980s. How difficult it will be is a matter of conjecture. According to the worst-case scenarios, it will be a period of low growth combined with economic stagnation. But even according to the more optimistic scenarios, the Soviet Union will face an economic crunch far more severe than anything it encountered in the 1960s and 1970s.

I must reiterate that the differences between the optimistic and pessimistic scenarios are a matter of great importance; they signify the difference between a difficult situation and a deep crisis. Moreover, choosing the most likely scenario does not depend on a belief in more or less precise and complex computations (or, for a political scientist, on his faith in the skills of one or another group of economic forecasters). It must take into account unpredictable elements, such as vagaries of nature or, equally important, the severity and the effectiveness of the policies adopted by the Soviet leadership to counteract adverse trends. Even assuming that the more optimistic scenario better reflects the reality of the 1980s, what will be the effects of the growing economic difficulties on the Soviet political scene? (Needless to say, those effects will be magnified many times if one of the worst-case scenarios becomes a reality.) The two most important consequences will be a sharply intensified competition for scarce resources among sectors, and an equally intense competition among regions.


Historically, the Soviet political system, in both its micro- and its macroeconomic decision-making levels, has been used to scarcities, shortages and stringencies; dealing with such problems has been its normal modus operandi. Yet it must be remembered that these scarcities, shortages and stringencies have gone hand in hand with a process of highly uneven development, a concomitant of rapid overall economic growth. Moreover, during the time of extreme stringencies and particularly sharp one-sided development, the system was guarded by a mass terror apparatus, introduced by Stalin and dismantled by his successors. In the post-Stalin period, the Soviet economy grew at about six percent a year. Relatively high rates of growth, while still sustaining an uneven development, assured the flow of new resources to all sectors of the economy, including those totally neglected during the Stalin era. While accustomed to scarcities, shortages and stringencies, the Soviet political system is not accustomed to dealing with prolonged periods of low overall economic growth.

With regard to the question of how to stimulate higher growth rates and how to overcome critical bottlenecks, the Soviet system is ill prepared to deal with these problems for exactly the same reason that growth has decreased: the decline in the effectiveness-or the exhaustion-of the extensive factors of growth. Its past experience in responding to economic difficulties was based on a mass mobilization of capital and labor-a policy of the hammerblow, not the scalpel.

On the distributive side of the equation, the Soviet political system, on both the mass and the elite levels, will have difficulty in dealing with prolonged low overall rates of growth. This difficulty arises from three sources: (1) the absence of a paralyzing mass terror which would make all sacrifices and demands palatable; (2) the existence of powerful organizational and pressure groups in the decision-making apparatus, complicating the implementation of cutbacks and restraints; and (3) the emergence of new social constraints against such cutbacks.

The sharply increased sectoral competition for resources and the dilemmas which it will create are not difficult to envisage. The policy of guns, butter and growth that was the political cornerstone of the Brezhnev era is no longer possible. To maintain the rate of growth in military spending at the level of the last decade (around four percent) would necessitate a redirection of resources from other sectors. Yet a number of factors-past Soviet behavior; growing insecurity in the presence of what is perceived as the formation of an alliance of the United States, NATO and China, creating a new specter of encirclement; the growing determination of the United States to change the existing balance of military power; and finally the breakdown of SALT talks-make it highly unlikely that any configuration of Soviet leaders will decide to slow down the growth in military expenditures, let alone cut actual arms spending, without either a major breakthrough in arms talks or a major disavowal of Soviet global ambitions. If arms spending continues at the same pace as in the past decade, the burden of keeping the Soviet military juggernaut in shape will be felt to a much greater extent than at any time in the Brezhnev era. It will constitute one of the key contentious issues of internal politics.

Another contentious issue, with an even greater potential for divisiveness, concerns the entire complex of questions connected with the rate of growth and the direction of Soviet non-military investment resources. Throughout their history, the Soviets have persisted in holding the share of investment in the national economy and the levels of investment growth very high. How difficult it is to maintain such high rates of investment under the present circumstances is demonstrated by their recent decline. Yet if ever there was a period when the Soviet Union needed substantial large-scale investment in the national economy, it is now. It is difficult to envisage how the Soviet leadership can reduce the difficulties brought about by the limitations of the existing pattern of extensive growth without keeping the percentage of investment in the economy, and even the growth rate of investments, at high levels.

Intensive growth, given Soviet conditions, requires a thorough modernization of the industrial plant and major investments in new technology. Without a very substantial, persistent, and creditable effort in this direction, there is little chance that any increased productivity of Soviet labor will overcome the downward pull of the exhaustion of the extensive factors of growth.

The energy problem facing the Soviets in the 1980s will demand mammoth and prolonged investments, beyond those which have already begun to be made. The development of the Siberian oil and gas reserves will constitute a new, major-and increasing-burden on Soviet investment resources. Yet it is a burden that the Soviets cannot avoid and can neglect only at their own peril.

The achievements of Soviet agriculture under Brezhnev-the growth in grain production and especially the stress on meat production-were accomplished by an extraordinarily large expenditure of capital. Yet even with these large-scale expenditures, Soviet agricultural productivity has varied from year to year, and the agricultural sector continues to be highly volatile. The Soviets have not yet devised a way to assure even the present inadequate levels of agricultural production without infusions of long-range massive investments. In the coming decade, when the Soviet economy slows down, the divisive pull of conflicting claims concerning investment resources will increase to a level unknown during the Brezhnev era.


One of the most significant accomplishments of the Brezhnev era was the prolonged and substantial growth of Soviet mass consumption. The last 15 years have seen a growth in the standard of living of the Soviet people that was rapid by any-but especially by the Soviet-measure, particularly in the area of durable consumer goods. Especially notable in this achievement was the fact that it occurred simultaneously with the rapid growth of Soviet military power. In other words, the Brezhnev leadership pursued fully both a guns and butter policy. The stability of the Brezhnev period in the absence of terror can be explained to a large degree by the leadership's basic ability to satisfy more fully the demands of the Soviet consumer. The Soviet citizen-worker, peasant and professional-has become accustomed in the Brezhnev period to an uninterrupted upward trend in his well-being and more demanding in what he expects from the government in terms of goods and services. In view of the major claims on Soviet resources by other sectors in a period of declining growth, it will be extremely difficult for the Soviet leadership to continue its policy of consumption growth, even at the lower rates of the most recent Five Year Plan announced in February.

It is probable that even without major agricultural disasters or a particularly severe energy crisis, Soviet consumption may stagnate in the 1980s. The consequences of such stagnation are difficult to assess, but they will undeniably be negative. In the first place, it is difficult to see how the crucial goal of spurring Soviet productivity can be attained without an increase in wages and other incentives for the labor force. Second, the stagnation of the standard of living will be felt by the working population at a time when the other basic avenue of betterment, upward mobility, will also show a downward tendency because of a relative decline in expenditures on the educational system. Third and most important, neither the Soviet leaders nor we know how the Soviet industrial working class will react to such changing circumstances. The post-Stalin experience of a society without terror was at the same time the experience of a society with a steadily rising standard of living.

The desire of the Soviet population for a better life has never to our knowledge become unmanageable, has never assumed the form of a revolution or a vicious spiral of rising expectations. The key to Soviet systemic stability was the leadership's successful management of the population's expectations. Yet one should not forget that it was a "management of expectations" that went hand in hand with a sometimes rapidly and steadily growing rate of consumption. This growth in consumption may have been a substitute for, and a damper on, growing political expectations.

To what extent the existing police controls and the management of mass expectations can keep the Soviet working class docile during a prolonged stagnation of its living standards is an open question. One has the impression that the specter of the "Polonization" of the Soviet working class is never far from the minds of the Soviet leadership and the elites.


Of course, not only competition for resources among sectors but also competition for specific priorities within sectors will be much sharper in this decade. Specific elite constituencies represent each of these priorities in the national leadership. At the same time, however, the sharply increased competition for resources among and within sectors will be enmeshed in and complicated by a stronger, more tenacious competition for resources among the various regions of the Soviet Union. Such competition was a normal facet of Soviet politics already in the 1970s. Budgetary squabbles and fights concerning plans of development have been well documented. They are certain to increase in the 1980s.

The difficult political decisions regarding the distribution of available resources are complicated by an underlying economic dilemma: the European part of the Soviet Union has a well-developed infrastructure, and investments there would be relatively cheap and would provide a higher return. But at the same time, the European part of the Soviet Union is on the verge of exhausting new labor resources and is poor in natural resources. The Central Asian region has a limited infrastructure, especially in the technological sector. In addition, the claims of Central Asian elites for new resources would probably be fiercely contested by the dominant Slavic elites. Vast portions of Siberia where the natural resources are located offer virtually no labor resources and lack any infrastructure; investments here will be extremely expensive and difficult to manage.

Complicating the situation is the fact that the regional struggle for resources will be conducted during a period of succession in the Soviet leadership. During such periods, the influence and the political clout of provincial and republican elites traditionally increases, and the potential for playing good politics instead of good economics is quite considerable. Regional leaders assumed the role of real king-makers during Khrushchev's rise to power.

The first and foremost response of Soviet authorities to the difficulties that they face-both the economic difficulties and the volatile political situation-will be to strengthen the authoritarian character of the Soviet party-state. The stress on law and order, social discipline, unswerving loyalty, nationalism, and punitive and restrictive measures against anti-social behavior may become more pronounced than it was in the 1970s. Not surprisingly, the role of the secret and not-so-secret police may increase. When the situation becomes difficult, when no prospects for rapid improvement are in sight, and when a tightening of the belt is in order, the natural response of Soviet leaders-whether old or new-is to tighten the screws of political and social control. The capacity, the potential and the instruments for such policies already exist.

It is an open question whether such policies will suffice to maintain order under conditions of new and prolonged economic stringencies. In my opinion, one may expect an increase in the restlessness of the industrial labor force, and a weakening of the basic stability of the Brezhnev period and the compact between the elites and the workers. After the Soviet population realizes that a prolonged decline in the growth of its living standard is on the way, an increase in labor unrest, work stoppages, industrial demonstrations, and growing communal dissatisfaction are clear possibilities. The degree to which they will occur may have an effect on the allocation policies that the government adopts.

In the new situation, the nationality problem may also become aggravated. This may be the case regardless of the kind of policy which the leadership adopts vis-à-vis the non-Russian regions. The ability of the Soviet leadership in the 1970s to contain the nationality problem was partly related to the fact that the nationality areas enjoyed more rapid growth than the rest of the country, especially in the standard of living and the conditions of the rural sector. If the Party should decide to slow the growth of those regions, under conditions of greater stringency of resources, the relative peace in Soviet relations among the nationalities will be strained.

But in this respect, the leadership's manner of responding to the dilemma posed by the new demographic trend in the growth of Soviet labor resources will be the most important issue on the Soviet agenda concerning the nationality question in the 1980s. The need to exploit the growing non-Slavic-particularly Central Asian-labor resources poses two options for Soviet policymakers: migration of the non-Slavic labor force to the industrial areas, or a dramatic increase in the industrial development of Central Asia. Both options carry major destabilizing potential for nationality relations in the U.S.S.R.

In my opinion, the second option is more likely to be adopted. If this is the case, it may produce, in some Central Asian regions, the sort of major social displacement associated with rapid industrialization. It will also involve a rapid and massive influx of Russian bureaucrats into those regions, with all the attendant dissatisfactions and tensions between local, native elites and the newcomers. The non-Russian republics, including those of Central Asia, have only recently developed native administrative and technical cadres that suffice to administer their own affairs without Russian help. Under these conditions, local elites may increasingly assert their own identities and provide difficulties for the central authorities.

The economic realities of the 1980s will sharply strengthen the tendency toward a political climate markedly less benign than that of the 1970s, and will contribute immensely to an environment of sharp competition, confrontation and discord. The virulence of conflict over these economic realities will be intensified to an incalculable degree by the unavoidable onset of yet another unprecedented set of political circumstances-the conjuncture of the replacement of the top leadership and virtually the entire core elite group in the principal hierarchies. Without a doubt, the difficult economic issues will constitute the most important factor in the disputes, conflicts and realignments which will accompany these successions.


The most important stimulus for political change in the Soviet Union in the 1980s may not be the new policy issues but rather the policymaking process itself. Such change will originate in the impending turnover of the leaders and elites, a turnover that will inject a more pronounced element of unpredictability and uncertainty into the overall Soviet political process than is characteristic of its operation in "normal" times.

The consequences for the political system are profound. The chances for deep personal and policy conflicts within the top leadership structure are increased, as are the possibilities for resolving these conflicts in more extreme ways. The tendency toward large-scale personnel changes within the leadership itself and among the top elites and bureaucratic hierarchies is heightened. The period ahead offers a strong potential for destroying the bureaucratic inertia of the departed leaders and for halting the unrelieved drift of their policies. It will be a period ripe for ferment; for greater responsiveness, real and anticipated, to broadening political participation; and for opening the political process. In sum, the succession, aside from its own intrinsic importance, will act as a catalyst for pressures and tendencies which already exist within Soviet society but which previously had only limited opportunity for expression and realization.

The 26th Party Congress was the first one in Soviet history at which no changes in the upper echelons of the leadership took place. This Congress made abundantly clear that the destabilizing effects of the inevitable succession may be even stronger than had been envisaged. By failing to prepare in even a rudimentary way for change at the top and directly below the top levels of the leadership, the aged Soviet oligarchs are delegitimizing their own rule and increasing the chances of a disorderly struggle for power and of the emergence of alternative policies when they leave the scene.

The approaching succession is in many respects different from those in the past, and combines a number of characteristics which make it fraught with very important political implications in the 1980s, for better or for worse from the Western point of view. The most important of these characteristics is the fact that it almost inevitably will combine the replacement of the top leader with the replacement of the core leadership group and a large part of the central elite, as well as with the beginning of generational turnover among the Soviet elites. The age configuration of the Soviet leadership and elites is such that, even if the initial interim leadership comes substantially from the old generation, a massive change in personnel will be needed and will be compressed into a relatively short time span.

The fact that such a succession would have an interim character from the start may, and in all probability will, lead to the destabilization of the central policymaking system; such destabilization, in a highly centralized polity such as the Soviet Union, may have very important consequences. It will involve a breakdown of the consensus among the leadership and the elites, the intensification of factional struggles at the top and middle levels of the bureaucracy, possible realignments of existing alliances, the exploitation of policy issues for the accumulation of power by individual leaders and groups, and sharp twists and turns in central policies. Dislocations in the political arena can only be exacerbated by the nature and depth of the economic problems which the Soviet Union will face in the 1980s.

This scenario for succession is the most probable one, but we cannot exclude the possibility of another in which no interim leader emerges and the new generation replaces the old on a much more massive scale from the outset. This second scenario appears unlikely, since no leadership and elite is ever ready to liquidate itself, especially in a country like the Soviet Union, where retirement is tantamount to political death. Yet, one may underestimate the degree of frustration and the extent of dissatisfaction in the Central Committee with the way things are going and with the total grip of the old generation over the affairs of state. If a revolt is brewing among the younger members of the Central Committee and if they succeed in speeding Brezhnev's succession, the push toward changes in the Soviet domestic scene and particularly toward economic experimentation and reform would be much stronger and quicker than that envisaged in the first scenario.

What characteristics will distinguish the new generation of leaders who will make their mark on the Soviet political scene during the 1980s? Given the fragmentary evidence at our disposal, we must at the outset underscore the tentativeness of this profile of the post-Stalin generation. But certainly one of the key traits of this generation is that it entered politics immediately after Stalin's death, and therefore did not experience the paralyzing and destructive process of terror which continued to corrode and influence the behavior of earlier generations, despite the renunciation of mass terror as an instrument of rule. Nor does it appreciate from direct involvement-out of its own hide, so to speak-the enormous price paid for Soviet achievement.

Yet one thing seems fairly certain about this new generation. One of its crucial formative political experiences-if not the most crucial-took place during the protracted ferment and shock of Khrushchev's anti-Stalin campaign, a campaign that admitted the monstrosities no one had hitherto dared to name, a campaign that questioned authority and established truths and thereby stimulated critical thought. The post-Stalin generation's entrance into Soviet politics coincided as well with open recognition of the gross inadequacies of Soviet development and the backwardness of Soviet technology and, at the same time, with extravagant predictions of matching Western achievements in the foreseeable future, predictions that collapsed with no little embarrassment.

The new generation is clearly a Soviet generation in its typical and persistent adherence to the cult of the state. One cannot doubt the sincerity of its members' commitment to the basic forms of Soviet political organization or their belief that the system is right and proper for the Soviet Union. At the same time, one is not persuaded that they judge this system suitable or desirable for a developed Western society. If they share with their predecessors a devoted patriotism, they tend to exhibit little of their xenophobia and much less of their fear and deeply rooted suspicion of the outside world. Rather, they display a curiosity that surely reflects intense concern with the patent inadequacies in the working of the Soviet system.

Some traits of the new generation may appear contradictory. On the one hand, one detects a sense of security that contrasts with a sense of insecurity-one may say inferiority-of the old generation; yet at the same time their attitude toward the Soviet system is defensive. If they seem to feel stronger, more self-confident, they are at the same time more conscious than their predecessors of the failures, shortcomings and backwardness of the Soviet polity and society and less willing to overlook them. Unlike their predecessors, many of them are more ready to engage outsiders in frank and serious exchanges of opinion.

It is a generation that perceives the inability of the Brezhnev administration in recent years to lay out a direction for Soviet development. It is a generation that deplores the backwardness of Soviet society, the functional deficiencies of the system, and the inability of the present leadership to make progress in rectifying the situation. At the same time it probably stands confident of its own ability to do so. It is a generation that is less likely to accept actual or potential international achievements as substitutes for internal development. It is a generation that may be willing to pay a higher price in terms of political and social change if it is persuaded that such a price would assure substantial improvement in the growth and efficiency of the productive and distributive processes.

Even if our portrait of the new generation of Soviet officials were less provisional and patchy, it would still be presumptuous and unwise to try to deduce from it any specific kinds of anticipated behavior. The formative political experiences to which these officials were exposed and some of the predilections which they display, and which we have tried to identify, suggest only that they might be different as a group from their predecessors in the older generation.

I should like to make one thing clear. I do not expect from the new generation of Soviet Party officials the sort of reformist tendencies advanced by Dubcek in Czechoslovakia. Nor do I expect them to favor the highly ideological, frantic, campaign-like reforms associated with Khrushchev. At the same time I should not be surprised if they were reform-minded within the limits of the Soviet framework or if they were dissatisfied with the thoroughly conservative attitudes toward innovation which pervade the present Brezhnev administration.

Neither do I suggest that they will be easier to deal with in the international arena. It may well be that they will be less cautious, more prone to take risks than the present leadership, precisely because they have no first-hand experience of the costs of building Soviet might and are used to the Soviet Union's great-power status. I am in no way making a judgment here as to whether the new generation of Soviet officials is better or worse from the standpoint of our value system and our interests. I only suggest that the new generation seems to be different from the old.

The West will have to deal in the 1980s, perhaps even in the very near future, with new Soviet leaders who have limited knowledge of international relations and who will have to learn on the job. Their presence in the top Soviet leadership, the entire process of succession, and the confrontational politics that the succession and the difficult economic situation will introduce into elite politics, will contribute to increased volatility in international politics and will make the uncertainty we face even more pronounced.

I have no doubt that with the new generation in positions of power a major effort will be made by the Soviet leadership to reform the antiquated economic system that is no longer able to deal with new priorities and demands. Yet I remain skeptical whether the Soviet Union will succeed in a wholesale revamping of its economic system, even with a new generation of leaders in office. The obstacles to restructuring the Soviet system of management and planning are formidable indeed, and their cumulative effect stultifying with regard to prospects for change.


The interaction of Soviet domestic political and economic developments in the 1980s will yield a number of consequences for Soviet international behavior that might have important international repercussions.

First, clearly contradictory domestic pressures will affect Soviet military policy, especially the growth of military expenditures. On the one hand, certain pressures will work to continue expanding Soviet military might regardless of cost. As achievement in other fields declines, the military might could well become to an even greater extent the showcase of the state's success and glory. Moreover, military power will remain for a long time to come the dominant foreign policy resource of the Soviet Union. High military spending will in all likelihood be assured both by the momentum of the already planned military buildup and by the greater political weight of the military establishment as the potential ally of contending groups in periods of succession and interim leadership.

On the other hand, certain pressures will work to limit military growth and to make the leadership more willing to entertain timely and realistic Western proposals for arms limitations and reductions. As growth declines and resources become increasingly scarce, the costs of a continuing military buildup at the rates of the past decade will burden the Soviet economy and polity more greatly than at any time during the 1970s. Sectors of the leadership and elite groups competing for resources may press to cut the military budget, a decision that has been unacceptable since the early 1960s. The Soviet military-industrial complex does not enjoy the same close ties with the incoming generation of Soviet elites that bound it to elites of the Brezhnev period, for the new men have made their careers for the most part in civilian sectors.

But even if this symbiotic relationship between the political and military leadership threatens to weaken or break down, one should not doubt that a military buildup regardless of cost and sacrifice will meet any perceived danger to the basic security interests of the Soviet Union or to the hard-won parity with the West. This is why those American politicians and analysts who promote regained military superiority over the Soviet Union cannot hope to see their goal realized. Nevertheless, in the difficult and volatile political and economic environment of the 1980s, the new Soviet leaders, unlike their counterparts in the 1970s, may well refuse to accept the demands for a continuous military buildup as an automatic response, indeed almost a conditioned reflex. Of course, much will depend on the conduct of American leaders, who must steer the difficult course between the unquestionable need to safeguard American strengths and interests and the no less important need to appreciate new Soviet dilemmas and avoid belligerent actions.

A second consequence of domestic developments for international policy concerns the new economic grounds for Soviet expansionism and international aggressiveness that have hitherto been rooted entirely in political and strategic impulses. Political and strategic motives will almost certainly continue to feed the Soviet quest for greater influence and power in the international arena. In terms of global interests, the Soviet Union is, after all, still a young and expanding power, fighting for its place in the sun. To this already potent challenge to the West in the next decade, however, one must add the disquieting prospect that a new economic rationale may soon join the traditional spurs to Soviet expansion.

Soviet economic and political difficulties suggest two principal motives and targets for expansion. The first and more obvious is the attempt to alleviate domestic oil deficiencies by movement in the Persian Gulf area. I do not at all suggest an inevitable Soviet invasion of Iran, for in the present circumstances such an adventure seems almost out of the question. Circumstances do change, however, and in the long run a Soviet effort to secure Iranian oil cannot be excluded. Much will depend on the unpredictable course of Iran's revolution, still only in its initial stages. Should irredentist pressures within Iran lead to a disintegration of the country and its central government, for example, or should leftist forces sympathetic to the Soviet Union assume an important voice in the revolution, then Soviet leaders would be tempted to intervene, their decision reinforced by their own economic and political difficulties.

Of course, Soviet foreign policy may pursue other solutions to its energy problem apart from expansion into oil-rich regions. A much more likely development might involve the negotiation of barter agreements for the purchase of oil by means of overtures to friendly Arab regimes (e.g., Iraq and Libya) and intimidation of conservative regimes (e.g., Saudi Arabia). If successful-and they might well be-such agreements would be clearly political in nature, since any civilian goods involved in the barter would not be competitive on the world market.

The second motive for Soviet expansion is less obvious but may become more important in the 1980s: the desire to secure high technology on favorable terms for the Soviet economy may tempt the Soviet Union to exercise increasing political pressure on Western Europe. The Soviets will in all probability need even more Western technology, know-how and especially credits in the 1980s. The pattern of recent Soviet-American relations suggests scant likelihood that the United States will serve as a key partner in mutual economic enterprises. The economic role of Western Europe for the Soviet Union, on the other hand, will probably increase substantially, both as a trading partner and a source of credit. Soviet foreign policy in the 1980s will probably try to serve economic as well as political interests by decoupling the détente with the United States from that with its Western allies.

Western Europe's mood today-and it will probably remain so for the next decade-is such that, despite growing signs of Soviet expansionist ambitions, the political classes are determined to have détente with the Soviet Union at almost any price, even without meaningful Soviet concessions on military matters and without a change in the direction of the military balance in Europe itself. This seems to be particularly true for the most influential European country, West Germany. In an effort to improve economic relations with Western Europe and to split further the Western alliance, the Soviets may adopt a tactic of taking a hard position against the United States regarding strategic global military and political matters for which the Europeans have little concern, while at the same time exhibiting a concessionary attitude on European questions.

At the same time, the Soviet policy of offering carrots may not preclude a simultaneous policy of using sticks. The Soviets cannot help but notice that the European attitude toward increasing Soviet military power is rather conciliatory and that European resistance to Soviet political pressures is weaker than ever before. In any case, one can expect political and economic pressures to be increasingly concentrated on the European theater and on compelling expanded economic relations with Western Europe.

Third, the political and economic situation of the Soviet Union may significantly affect Eastern Europe in the 1980s. While the Soviet Union remains unshakably committed to controlling its East European empire, increasingly it will be forced, owing to economic difficulties, to maintain its domination by intimidation and the threat to use force. Given the projected decline of economic muscle available to hold Eastern Europe, a situation will develop in the next decade where most East European countries will remain politically dependent on the Soviet Union but will become economically more dependent on the West.

A crucial question here is the degree to which the Soviets will have to cut oil deliveries to Eastern Europe and allow the East European nations to compete for available oil resources on the international market. Ill-prepared for such competition, the East European countries have very limited exportable resources and hard-currency reserves. Even a partial cutoff of Soviet oil deliveries could undercut the already precarious economic situation of many East European countries, particularly Poland. Serious economic difficulties in Eastern Europe have a way of translating into social and political unrest and internal destabilization, to which the Soviets are very sensitive. Until now, fortune has favored the Soviet Union in its dealings with the empire. Revolts, rebellions, unrest, and reform movements have almost always erupted in one satellite country at a time. The coming decade may well bring the coincidence of outbursts among increasingly restive elites and populations in several East European countries at the same time.

A fourth area where domestic developments might influence foreign policy relates to the extension of foreign trade, the infusion of advanced foreign technology, and the attendant questions of credits, foreign indebtedness and cooperative arrangements. These matters will acquire an importance for the Soviet leadership surpassing even that of the 1970s. Do Soviet leaders regard the infusion of foreign technology and economic cooperation with advanced Western nations as a temporary affair or a long-term commitment? The answer cannot be given a priori, for it depends partly on Soviet ability to arrest the decline in productive growth with domestic resources-a very unlikely prospect even with major economic reforms-and partly on the reliability and cost of Western policies and cooperative arrangements.

The importance of foreign technology for the Soviet leadership goes beyond its intrinsic worth to the largely misguided belief that technological imports will diffuse throughout the economy and significantly stimulate Soviet domestic technological progress without major reforms. The need for foreign technology and know-how, and especially the much greater need for credit arrangements in the difficult decade ahead, are not sufficient or overriding factors in the determination of future Soviet foreign policy. Such needs, however, through the working of the domestic political process, will exert additional pressure to restore détente with the United States and to preserve and enlarge by means of both intimidation and concession the economic relations with American and European allies.

Fifth, foreign adventurism may prove a consequence of the struggle for the top leadership position under conditions of economic stringency and the efforts of the first victorious contender to solidify his position. Contenders for top leadership almost always advance programs on which alliances within the Politburo and among various elite groups can be built. On the road to power, such programs and alliances often prove transitory and tactical in nature. In the long term, no leader can hope to gain and hold power without formulating and implementing major solutions to the country's serious economic difficulties. At a time when few reserves are available for either long-range improvement of the economic situation or for quick and flashy economic fixes, exploitation of a timely opportunity for foreign adventure can rally allies to a leader eager to show his mettle. Such a prospect becomes all the more likely as contenders in the succession struggle compete for the support of one key group, the military establishment.

Sixth, the international climate may well be affected by increased use of coercive means to resolve domestic political and economic problems. As we have seen, in the 1980s Soviet leaders will need to find ways to counteract the effects of a decline in growth and possible stagnation in the standard of living, to alleviate frictions that develop among elites, to justify greater demands for sacrifice, and to mobilize the population for greater productivity. In all probability they will resort to coercion in a less restrained manner than their predecessors in the 1970s. It is even highly probable that in the political mood of the 1980s the Soviet leaders will try to increase persuasive, normative efforts for the purpose of mobilizing the population and promoting sacrifice. One such effort might seek to recreate the atmosphere of a besieged fortress, to rally around the theme of external enemies, and to foster public xenophobia. The harsh conditions and demands that will prevail in the Soviet Union during the next decade are not conducive to the mood of détente. While the need for an "external enemies" syndrome may not prevent the restoration of some sort of détente, given the presence of countervailing pressures, I think it will be an important factor in determining Soviet international behavior, particularly in relations with the United States and China.

Each period of Soviet history and each decade of Soviet development brings before Soviet leaders new dilemmas and choices. The dilemmas and choices of the 1980s are harsher and more difficult than any faced by Soviet leaders since Stalin died. In all areas of domestic, military and foreign policy, the Soviet Union stands at a crossroads no less significant than that at the end of the New Economic Policy in the late 1920s and at the death of Stalin in 1953. As yet, Soviet policy is moving in accordance with the legacy of inertia of the 1970s. We may expect, however, that this inertia will be interrupted in the 1980s, and that a new Soviet policy will start to emerge.

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  • Seweryn Bialer is Professor of Political Science at Columbia University and Director of its Research Institute on International Change. He is the author of numerous works on the Soviet Union, of which the latest is Stalin's Successors.
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