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Brezhnev - Leadership Style

Brezhnev pointedly emphasized the capacity of the Party chief to act on the most important matters on behalf of the nation. Brezhnev was accorded the full measure of head-of-state honors during visits to the capitals of major Western states, including the USA.

Leonid Ilyich sent from the capital those whom Khrushchev put forward, and gathered those whom Nikita Sergeyevich had dispersed. Instead of Titov in December 1965, Ivan Kapitonov, the new head of the organizational-party work department, became secretary of the Central Committee of the studs. This was the key department in the Central Committee apparatus. The department of organizational-party work was in charge of party cadres. But even the branch departments could not appoint anyone without Kapitonov's knowledge. In this position he spent more than twenty years.

The increase in Brezhnev's personal authority and prestige in the 1970s was assisted by and reflected in his control of Soviet foreign policy. The promotion to full Politburo membership in April 1973 of Foreign Minister Gromyko, KGB chief Andropov, and Grechko placed the heads of important ministries - already key actors in foreign policy-making and participants in Defense Council deliberations - more closely and clearly under Brezhnev' a direct influence as chairman of the Politburo and further undercut Kosygin's authority in foreign affairs and within his own cabinet.

He formed a private secretariat to help him conduct summit negotiations and frame policy guidelines, and he took the lead in expanding relations with major Western countries. His chairmanship of the Defense Council contributed considerably to his ability to dominate national security issues, especially SALT, and strengthened Brezhnev's direct influence in this key area. Brezhnev's ability to protect his position within the Politburo was even more convincingly demonstrated over the same period by the removal of four members who either had given him political trouble or had not been closely allied with him. In addition, Brezhnev became predominant in economic policy.

Even more convincing evidence of Brezhnev's ability to affect high-level appointments and improve his position on the Politburo lay in the departures engineered in 1973-1975. Until that time the only full members ousted since 1964 had been old-timers Hikoyan and Shvernik, both in their seventies when they left. But in the three years 1973-1975, three Politburo members who had, in one way or another, given Brezhnev trouble, were eased out: Voronov, the main exponent of an alternative approach to agriculture; Shelest, the most outspoken critic. of detente and an incautious promoter of local Ukrainian interests; and Shelepin, who may have raised the issue of succession in the winter of 1974-1975.

The very basis of Brezhnev's strength contained implicit limits on his power. By sticking to his cautious style of consensus-building and keeping a finger on the Politburo pulse, Brezhnev prevented the formation of organized opposition to his preeminent position. But any effort to expand his personal rule to a significant degree or in any unprecedented manner would likely disturb the personal confidence and satisfaction his colleagues have in his leadership.

Within the Party Brezhnev continued to enjoy the respect and support of Central Committee-level officials and a degree of personal popularity in mid-level and regional circles. But his control over Party cadres was not absolute. There was no pattern of his successfully "packing" the Politburo or Secretariat to make them pliant instruments of his will, and the influence of other leaders was still felt along with his own. In Brezhnev's absence other Politburo-level secretaries sometimes acted as Politburo chairman (usually Kirilenko, but also Suslov and Kulakov). Kosy'gin, Podgorny, and Ustinov were members of the Defense Council, and Suslov remained a powerful force in the Secretariat. While a Brezhnev supporter, Kirilenko was positioned as Brezhnev's chief deputy and heir apparent, individuals less obviously allied with Brezhnev have also attained full Politburo membership since 1964, notably Mazurov and Grishin. The length of time sometimes required to settle appointments to certain key posts suggested intra-Politburo tugging and pulling, with no faction able to gain majority support for its choice.

"The strength of Brezhnev was a special interest in cadres," Andrei Andreyevich Gromyko wrote. "Sometimes his conversations with members of the Central Committee and other responsible workers boiled down to the topic of who is doing what, who has some relations with whom, with the purpose of finding out from the interlocutor whether somebody is building someone against him personally, or any intrigues ..." [Mlechin LM Brezhnev. - Moscow: TK Velby, Publishing House, 2005. - 520 p.] While Brezhnev would keep the center stage in negotiations, and generally demonstrate that he was the master of his brief, he relied heavily for expert support on his growing staff of personal foreign policy advisors, particularly the senior of these, Aleksandrov. Aleksandrov treated the boss with politeness but did not hesitate to break in if he felt his chief is getting confused or had made a serious mistake. There was in fact an air of informality in Brezhnev's office, and his aides were not reluctant to approach him.

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