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Brezhnev - Leadership Dynamics

It took Stalin some seven years before he rid himself of the Trotskyite and other factions. It took Khrushchev about five years to neutralize his opposition. Brezhnev did not feel confident enough to move into Stalin's former office for eight years.

Jerry F. Hough noted [Soviet Succession - Issues and Personalities, Problems of Communism, September-October 1982] "Brezhnev undoubtedly remembers well that when Nikita Khrushchev placed a man of the right age and experience in a post that positioned him to become the successor, that man took advantage of the situation to succeed "prematurely." Determined to prevent anyone from doing to him what he did to Khrushchev, Brezhnev has consistently avoided appointing someone with the proper qualifications to a post that would make him -the obvious heir apparent." The young party leaders who overthrew Khrushchev quickly discovered that Brezhnev did not like them either. They expected big changes in politics, economics, personal destiny, but it turned out that they removed Khrushchev only so that Brezhnev could enjoy power. Brezhnev, like Khrushchev before him, was bound to show a healthy respect for the political threat which his senior secretariat colleagues, particularly his "second in-command" could pose. At the time of Khrushchev's ouster, the Secretariat included three full-members of the Politburo in addition to Brezhnev: Podgornyy ("second in command" by virtue of his responsibility for party organization), Suslov, and Kirilenko.

  1. Podgornyy must have figured in Brezhnev's thinking as the one to watch. A favored member of Krushchev's leadership, Podgornyy had an opportunity to build a strong power base within the party, and his past political views were somewhat at odds with Brezhnev's. Thus, the potential for rivalry between the two leaders was already high.

  2. Suslov, despite continuous membership on the Secretariat since 1947 and consequent prestige and influence among party functionaries, had specialized in foreign Communist policy -- his views being quite close to Brezhnev's, judging by the public record -- and seemed to lack the ambition to bid for the top party post.

  3. Kirilenko, the industrial watchdog with whom Brezhnev had worked closely throughout most of their careers, appeared to present the least immediate cause for concern, since much of his political base was also Brezhnev's. For years, Western Sovietologists pointed to Kirilenko as the likely heir apparent. In his speeches. he came across as a rather traditional bread-and-butter Communist. The balance within the Secretariat was, therefore, inherently unstable, and maneuvering for political power in that body would occur in its most concentrated form. The exact nature of Kirilenko's responsibilities during the Brezhnev era should be considered an open question. By 1980 a number of signs began suggesting that Kirilenko's status was falling. In 1982, there were rumors that his health was failing, but his political health was surely worse.

  4. Shelepin was younger and more energetic than Brezhnev. Around him, the majority of the recent members of the Komsomol grouped, who occupied prominent positions in the organs of state security, internal affairs, the apparatus of the Central Committee, and ideological institutions. They spoke of Brezhnev very casually and believed that Shelepin should lead the country. Brezhnev knew about such moods. In Kremlin intrigues, he turned out to be a much more sophisticated person than yesterday's Komsomol members. A black cat ran between Brezhnev and Shelepin. The nestlings of Shelepin's nest, who came from the Komsomol, actually occupied the most important posts in the country. The State Security, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, television, TASS - Shelepin's friends were everywhere. But could Alexander Shelepin become the first person in the country after all? His weak point was the lack of practical experience. From the Komsomol he immediately went to the KGB, and then to the Central Committee. He never led a region, he did not deal with issues of the national economy.

As his own power grew, Brezhnev built up a coterie of followers whom he, as first secretary (the title reverted to general secretary after April 1966), gradually maneuvered into powerful positions. At the same time, Brezhnev slowly demoted or isolated possible contenders for his office. He succeeded in elevating Podgornyy to the ceremonial position of chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, the highest legislative organization in the government, in December 1965, thus eliminating him as a rival.

Brezhnev was generally benevolent, he did not like complications and conflicts either in politics or in personal relations with his colleagues. When such a conflict did arise, Brezhnev tried to avoid extreme solutions. In the conflicts within the leadership, very few people were sent to retirement. Most "disgraced" leaders remained in the "nomenclature", but only two or three steps lower.

By the late 1960s the significance of the party's Central Committee in decision-making began to fall, and its functions passed to the bureaucratic structures of departments of the Central Committee apparatus, in which political management at the central level was briskly implemented by 1,500 high-ranking party officials. Plenums of the Central Committee still met twice a year, but became increasingly brief (taking an average of two days a year), and most importantly, they had less and less influence on the adoption of important decisions in both domestic and foreign policy.

Brezhnev's rise was very gradual; only in 1971, when Brezhnev succeeded in appointing four close associates to the Politburo, did it become clear that his was the most influential voice in the collective leadership. After several more personnel changes, Brezhnev assumed the chairmanship of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet in 1977, confirming his primacy in both party and state.

Looking at the evolution of full politburo membership since 1964, apart from Brezhnev, only three full members as of October 1964 remained in office by 1977: Suslov, Kosygin and Kirilenko. Who was ousted, and was brought up? -- none of those removed from the Politburo in this period (Kozlov, Voronov, Shelest, Shelepin, Polyanskiy, Podgorniy, Mikoyan and Shvernik) was a strong Brezhnev ally or protege. Most of the tne newcomers to the Politburo seemed to be either Brezhnev supporters (Kulakov, Kunayev, Ustinov, Shcherbitskiy) or non-threatening functionaries (Gromyko, Pel'she). Of the four other newcomers, one (Mazurov) probably was brought up by Kosygin, one (Grishin) appeared to be a competent but colorless holdover from the Khruschev era, and two (Andropov and Romanov) may conceivably owe political debts to Suslov.

It was hard to conceive of a substantive issue that could realistically weld both Kosygin and Suslov, plus their respective younger supporters as well as one or two "swing votes," into an effective anti-Brezhnev coalition within the politburo. Kosygin's interest in enhanced economic rationality probably was not shared by Suslov, and in any case seemed to have been effectively thwarted by Brezhnev's economic orthodoxy. Suslov's apparent concern for doctrinal purity, particularly regarding the "world communist movement" and eurocommunism, probably did not greatly excite Kosygin, and Brezhnev's center-of-the-road views on these topics seem to have prevailed. If Nrezhnev were to have passed from the scene under circumstances obtaining IN 1977, the US anticipated a relatively smooth transition from Brezhnev to Kirilenko, with Kulakov most likely moving to the unofficial number two position in the party presently held by Kirilenko. The anchor of stability in this scerario would be the "Brezhnev machine" at the center, plus the hard core of Obkom first secretaries (whose basic political attitudes Brezhnev probably reflected) in the full Central Committee.

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Page last modified: 03-07-2018 19:19:55 ZULU