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Brezhnev - Soviet Society

Conservative policies characterized the regime's agenda in the years after Khrushchev. Upon assuming power, the collective leadership not only reversed such policies of Khrushchev's as the bifurcation of the party but also halted de-Stalinization, and positive references to the dead dictator began to appear. The Soviet Constitution of 1977, although differing in certain respects from the 1936 Stalin document, retained the general thrust of the latter.

In contrast to the relative cultural freedom tolerated during the early Khrushchev years, Brezhnev and his colleagues continued the more restrictive line of the later Khrushchev era. The leadership was unwilling or unable to employ Stalinist means to control Soviet society; instead, it opted to exert repressive tactics against political dissidents even after the Soviet Union acceded to the Helsinki Accords in 1975. Dissidents persecuted during this time included writers and activists in outlawed religious, nationalist, and human rights movements. In the latter part of the Brezhnev era, the regime tolerated popular expressions of anti-Semitism.

Under conditions of "developed socialism" (the historical stage that the Soviet Union attained in 1977 according to the CPSU), the study of Marxism-Leninism served as a means to bolster the authority of the regime rather than as a tool for revolutionary action.

Progress in developing the education system was mixed during the Brezhnev years. In the 1960s and 1970s, the percentage of working-age people with secondary and higher education steadily increased. Yet at the same time, access to higher education grew more difficult. By 1980 the percentage of secondary school graduates admitted to universities had dropped to only two-thirds of the 1960 figure. Students accepted into the universities increasingly came from professional families rather than from worker or peasant households. This trend toward the perpetuation of the educated elite was not only a function of the superior cultural background of elite families but was also, in many cases, a result of their power to influence the admissions procedures.

Progress in science also enjoyed varied success under Brezhnev. In the most visible test of its ability -- the race with the United States to put a man on the moon -- the Soviet Union failed, but through persistence the Soviet space program continued to make headway in other areas. In general, despite leads in such fields as metallurgy and thermonuclear fusion, Soviet science lagged behind that of the West, hampered in part by the slow development of computer technology.

In literature and the arts, a greater variety of creative works became accessible to the public than had previously been available. True, the state continued to determine what could be legally published or performed, punishing persistent offenders with exile or prison. Nonetheless, greater experimentation in art forms became permissible in the 1970s, with the result that more sophisticated and subtly critical work began to be produced. The regime loosened the strictures of socialist realism; thus, for instance, many protagonists of the novels of author Iurii Trifonov concerned themselves with problems of daily life rather than with building socialism. In music, although the state continued to frown on such Western phenomena as jazz and rock, it began to permit Western musical ensembles specializing in these genres to make limited appearances. But the native balladeer Vladimir Vysotskii, widely popular in the Soviet Union, was denied official recognition because of his iconoclastic lyrics.

In the religious life of the Soviet Union, a resurgence in popular devotion to the major faiths became apparent in the late 1970s despite continued de facto disapproval on the part of the authorities. This revival may have been connected with the generally growing interest of Soviet citizens in their respective national traditions.

From the late 1960s, the main trends of dissidents were united in the Democratic Movement with a very fuzzy structure, representing the three "ideologies" that arose in the post-Stalin period and were rather programs of action: "genuine Marxism-Leninism" presented, in particular, by Roy and Zhores Medvedev; liberalism in the person of A. Sakharov, "Christian ideology", defended by A Solzhenitsyn.

The idea of the first program was that Stalin distorted the ideology of Marxism-Leninism and that a "return to the sources" would help to improve society; the second program considered a possible evolution to Western-style democracy while preserving public ownership, the third offered the values of Christian morality as the basis of society's life and, following the traditions of the Slavophils, emphasized the specifics of Russia. The "democratic movement" was nevertheless very small and numbered only a few hundred adherents from among the intelligentsia.

In a country in which any power, whether collective at the lowest level, bureaucratic at the middle or despotic at the top, has always remained hostile to the free expression of opinions that run counter to the established attitudes and against the very nature of this power, moreover, under conditions of repression, dissidence as an expression of radical opposition and an alternative political concept that defended the rights of the individual before the sovereign, could not reach out to broad sections of society.

Brezhnev made 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 services during the war and the construction of socialism. But in general, with every new edition of textbooks on the history of the Party and the USSR, they were increasingly skeptical about the lawlessness of the Stalin era. The rehabilitation was stopped, people tried to forget about the Stalinist past, tried to avoid mentioning the repressions that swallowed up millions of people. Censorship only had vague hints about the fate of innocent victims in the prisons and camps of GULAG. About the executed writer and artist it was customary to write in the preface of the publication of his book: "In 1938, his creative path was cut off ..."




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