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Brezhnev - Personality Cult

One of the most noteworthy facts of the very dull Soviet political life of the late 1960s - early 1970s was the exaltation within the ruling group of Brezhnev, around which the real - and at the same time comic - cult of personality was to form. Brezhnev did not wrest power from his associates as a result of fierce struggle and elimination of rivals, they themselves gave it into his hands. The concentration of power did not violate political stability. Brezhnev acted as a representative of the political caste, as an embodiment of the consensus and solidarity of the coalition, with which he was never going to break.

The coup of 1964 was carried out in the interests of the political elite, restrained by restless, restless Khrushchev and hungry for peace, measured, predictable work and a legitimate, comfortable rest. The first secretary of the CPSU Central Committee was Leonid Brezhnev, who turned 58 in 1964. It was a completely ordinary party worker, without a shine, but an executive, business, robust person, young and mature, not devoid of charm and humor, who loved life and those joys (no frills) what she brought to him: elegant costumes, hunting, fishing, Marlboro cigarettes. It seems that in addition to power, Brezhnev's main passion was cars, more precisely - fast, if not crazy, driving them.

Brezhnev suited many. He was moderately progressive, but also moderately conservative. At first, they feared that with his arrival the Stalinists would restore the cult and monuments of their immortal leader. But Stalinization did not happen. Brezhnev arranged a certain balance of Stalin's assessments, when the mean negative characteristics of the Generalissimo were evenly combined with positive but moderate assessments of his merits during the years of the war and the building of socialism.

Formally, there was a triumvirate in power: Leonid Brezhnev led the party, A. Kosygin - the government, and the formal head State (Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Council) was NA Podgorny. However, in the 1970s. Brezhnev gradually "ate" his colleagues in the triumvirate, and at the same time and those who posed a potential danger for him. In 1977, Brezhnev became head of state instead of Podgorny.

Leonid Brezhnev's rule was also characterized by a cult of personality, though unlike Stalin, Brezhnev did not initiate large-scale persecutions in the country. One of the aspects of Leonid Brezhnev's cult of personality was his obsession with titles, rewards and decorations, leading to his inflated decoration with medals, orders and so on.

A two-volume edition of Brehznev's speeches and articles was published in 1970 under the title On a Leninist Course. Since Brezhnev assumed the key role in Soviet foreign policy in August 1971, all of Pravda's foreign policy editorials had referred to Brezhnev at least once, and occasionally as often as five or six times (Pravda, Sept. 27, Nov. 1 & 29, 1971). During the entire year (March 5, 1971 until March 5, 1972) only five lead editorials of Pravda on foreign policy had failed to mention Brezhnev (apart from the three recent Ones cited above, those of June 2 and July 27).

The CPSU Central Committee plenum in early July 1970, when Brezhnev, apparently, for the first time attempted the takeover of the government, was preceded by three months of a rising personality cult, as reflected in the increasing number of references to Brezhnev in Pravda's lead editorials. The three months which preceded the CPSU Central Committee plenum in late November 1971 (SeptemberNovember 1971), at which another such attempt was staged on the part of Brezhnev and his supporters, although apparently in a modified form, were again marked by a fast-rising number of references to Brezhnev in Pravda's lead editorials.

As a result, an all-time peak of 25 references to Brezhnev was achieved by the Pravda lead editorials published during November 1971. On both occasionsthe July Plenum of 1970 and the November Plenum of 1971the rate of Brezhnev references inmediately dropped in the months that followed his abortive takeover bids (since the July 1970 plenum was held at the beginning of the month, it is only natural that this decline should have been reflected to a certain extent already in the July figure). It therefore looked as though the build-up of Brezhnev in Pravda's lead editorials represented, on both occasions, a deliberate effort to boost his position in anticipation of his takeover bid.

In connection with the 24th CPSU Congress in early April 1971 the reverse phenomenon was to be observed. There was no prior buildup, but the number of Brezhnev references increased sharply with the beginning of the Congress and dropped off again in the following months. This was a plausible reflection of the heavy emphasis then placed in the Soviet press on rehashing the Congress decisions and especially Brezhnev's report to the Congress.

Following publication of an esoteric anti-Brezhnev editorial in Pravda of 21 January 1972, references to Brezhnev sharply declined in the party organ's lead editorials. From January 22 until March 5 of this year, Pravdas lead editorials mentioned Brezhnev only three times, as compared with a total of 13 references during the first part of January (January 121) 1972.

Pravda's lead editorial of 21 January 21 was pegged, as usual, to the anniversary of Lenin's death, although it did not specifically mention the anniversary. In contrast with the past few years, when Pravda had stressed faithfulness toward Leninism in the headings of its editorials published on the occasion of this anniversary, it came out this year with the headline The Creative Force of the Ideas of Leninism. In itself this was hardly very significant. Nor was it in any way out of order for Pravda to insert a quotation from Brezhnev's report to the 24th CPSU Congress to the effect that the party sees its most important task in finding, on the basis of Lenin's thoughts and Lenin's methodology, a solution to the topical problems of communist construction.

But then the editorial became implicitly more critical, pointing out the importance of the fact that our scientific thought does not come late with an answer to the newly-arising urgent questions of the day. It did not elaborate on these urgent questions of the day, but there must be at least some suspicion that it was meant to refer to President Nixon's visit to Communist China.

Even more striking was Pravda's anonymous criticism on this occasion: Leninism does not tolerate a dogmatic attitude toward theory. V. I. Lenin mercilessly ridiculed those who on all occasions 'snatch at quotations from books' and feel lost in the face of new situations which are not described in the books. A favorable atmosphere has been created in our country for bold, creative searches. . . . Creatively to adopt and develop Lenin's ideas in the situation of the means unflinchingly to defend their purity. . . . Militant implacability toward distortion of revolutionary theory, and toward any alien viewsthat is the most important Leninist principle.

But what does it mean to defend the purity of Lenin's ideas in the present situation and in the context of a specific reference to Lenin's opposition to the frequent use of quotations? Could not the purity of these ideas be best defended by making frequent appeal to Lenin's quotations? Obviously, what the authors of the Pravda lead editorial were concerned about was not the quotation-mongering from Lenin's works, which had existed for a great many years, but the similar phenomenon that had been developing in the more recent past with regard to Brezhnev's books.

It was in any case inconceivable that the editors of Pravda would have chosen the anniversary of Lenin's death for an insidious attack on the practice of all-too-frequent appeals to the words of Lenin, almost half a century after his death. What was involved was clearly a condemnation of the quotation-mongering that had developed around Brezhnev, apparently coupled with an esoteric attack against Brezhnev himself for feeling lost in the face of new situations which are not described in the books.

But the proof of the pudding is in its eating. And it is absolutely clear that this esoteric lead editorial was aimed against Brezhnev. There was the factual evidence of a sharp decline of references to Brezhnev since publication of this lead editorial in Pravda. The party organ's lead editorials had returned to the rate of Brezhnev references that existed before April 1970 (viz., 3 to 4 per month), when the great Brezhnev quotation boom began, at least as far as Pravda was concerned.

Particularly noteworthy was the fact that on three occasions since January 21, Pravda featured lead editorials on foreign policy that failed to mention Brezhnev (viz., on January 28, February 10 and March 2).

There was bound to arise the question of Pravda's motives in debunking the Brezhnev personality cult, if only esoterically, when it had so amply participated at times in propagating it. There are two possible explanations: either this debunking of the Brezhnev cult was decreed from above, i.e., by the Politburo, and Pravda was merely executing the decision, or it reflected the ups and downs of infighting on Pravda's editorial board. Some evidence may be cited in favor of both hypotheses. Pravda's lead editorial of January 21 and its subsequent practical implementation may be seen as a follow-up measure of the Politburo decision not to let Brezhnev address the nation on New Year's Day (see: A Small Step Back Toward Collectivity of Leadership, 4 Jan. 4, 1972).

There was evidence, at the same time, of a sort of power struggle between Zimyanin, the chief editor of Pravda, and his first deputy (and Brezhnev protege) V. G. Afanasyev, who was seen maneuvering before the Third All-Union Congress of the Union of Soviet Journalists in December 1971 for a top position in the union, but was defeated, as it appeared, through Zimyanin's exertions (see: A LowKeyed Congress of Soviet Journalists, Radio Liberty Dispatch, Dec. 21, 1971).

Afanasyev was not only not elected to a secretaryship in the union, to which he would have been entitled in accordance with precedents, but he was not even elected to membership to the Board of the Union, composed of 159 people, nor to the Union's Central Auditing Commission (see Zhur malist, No. 1, Jan. 1972, pp. 30 & 32). This was tantamount to having been blackballed. Whatever the details of this story (the delegates to the Congress presumably resented the way Afanasyev had recommended himself in Pravdaduring Zimyanin's absencefor a top job in the Union), it meant a serious setback for Brezhnev's protg in the Pravda leadership.

By the end of the 1970s, Stagnation had entered into full force. Meanwhile propaganda spread the cult of Brezhnev, all the mass media continuously praised the merits of "dear comrade Leonid Ilyich," politicians, masters of the arts competed in flattery to the secretary general. In the school curriculum, Brezhnev's memoirs written by literary aides were included, which were awarded in 1979 to the Lenin Prize for Literature.

The 70th anniversary of Brezhnev, and then the subsequent birthdays of the general secretary, were turned into celebrations of world significance: the heads of friendly states who arrived in Moscow were humbly standing in line holding boxes with the highest orders of their countries in order to obsequiously pin them on the chest of the "leader" at the end of life especially passionately fell in love with "tsatsk" (Brezhnev had 64 orders and medals).

These long ceremonies, the long kisses of infirm old men, in which for Brezhnev's reign his companions turned, brought unbearable boredom to the society - it seemed that life had stopped. He became a common laughingstock and he himself surrendered to Brezhnev.

His tongue-tied, smacking speech with a characteristic South Russian screech of "he" sound was parodied at every festive table, about Brezhnev hundreds of sharp and ridiculous anecdotes were born. The impotent Brezhnev of the early 1980s became a symbol of the state of the decrepit communist regime in the USSR.

One of the ways to many dissatisfied and exhausted under the rule of the old people seemed to be emigration. In the 1970s. the mass departure of Jews "to their historical homeland" began in Israel, and often under this pretext and to the West. To get the right to leave, people underwent a humiliating, mocking procedure of "erupting" a person from Soviet society. About 40-50 thousand people left each year. The emigration of the Germans to the Volga region began in Germany. Major artists, famous artists during the tour began to seek political asylum in the West. So, the brilliant dancers R. Nuriev and M. Baryshnikov stayed abroad. But the majority had nowhere to run - they waited for changes at home.




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Page last modified: 03-07-2018 19:19:54 ZULU