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Brezhnev - Stability of Cadres

The years after Khrushchev were notable for the "stability of cadres" in the party and state apparatus. In this context, cadre were party members who held responsible positions (usually administrative) in either the party or the government apparatus. In a more restricted sense, a person who has been fully indoctrinated in party ideology and methods and uses this training in his or her work. By 1991, the entire upper crust of power in the USSR was the result of negative selection. That is, upstairs on the career ladder were selected not the most capable and initiative, but on the contrary people who did not have independence, but were simple performers.

The group of people in the younger generation who would be in important positions were not at all typical oftheir generation. The party groomed its own. They came up in an environment and had been imbued and indoctrinated - not to put too fine a point on it - with an outlook that was much more akin to that of the generation they would be replacing than it was to that of their peers in the broader population.

Brezhnev was very cautious in his personnel policies. He regulated Soviet cadre policy very carefully, in reaction, in part, to the wild swings in policy under Khrushchev, which made an awful lot of party officials very nervous about their security, and for the most part in the hard-core cadre, Soviet party jobs, right down through the party, no one had been leapfrogging anyone else. Someone who was a party secretary, when he died, his first subordinate moved up one notch, and his subordinate moved up one notch.

Beginning in the early 1970's, Brezhnev provided the Soviet Union with a decade of coherent and stable leadership. The Brezhnev generation had been near the top for 40 years. Gromyko was Ambassador to the United States in World War II. Ustinov was a minister of the defense industry in 1941. They were very much from the Stalin generation. Every one of them - all but 1 of the top 30 - got well into their political careers in Stalin's time, and indeed 8 of the leadership in 1982 were actually personally selected members of Stalin's Central Committee. Ponomarbv had a leading post in the Comintern in 1935.

"The Brezhnev era" was commemorated as a "period of stagnation", as the country's economy was destroyed due to failed reforms, which subsequently led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The growth of bureaucracy and bureaucratic arbitrariness, corruption and embezzlement became key epithets characterizing the power of the USSR during the Brezhnev years. The characteristic of Brezhnev's personnel policy was the irremovability of cadres, the cases in which leaders have held office for several decades have become routine.

By introducing the slogan "Trust in Cadres" in 1965, Brezhnev won the support of many bureaucrats wary of the constant reorganizations of the Khrushchev era and eager for security in established hierarchies. As an example of the new stability, nearly half of the Central Committee members in 1981 were holdovers from fifteen years earlier. The corollary to this stability was the aging of Soviet leaders; the average age of Politburo members rose from fifty-five in 1966 to sixty-eight in 1982 - it had aged by 13 years over 16 years. The Soviet leadership (or the "gerontocracy," as it was referred to in the West) became increasingly conservative and ossified.

Brezhnev's idea of stability had no spectacular, positive consequences, since the percentage of aging was significantly higher than the active participants in the political and economic process. There were no strategic priorities and desired courses for the country as a whole, which led to the emergence of such rather acute social problems as the shortage of goods for the population and the housing problem.

Brezhnev and Khrushchev in personnel matters were in a sense antipodes. Khrushchev considered it necessary constantly to rearrange people from one place to another, often creating a chaotic situation in certain areas of work. Brezhnev, on the contrary, even those workers who, in the interests of the cause, in the interests of the country, should be freed and replaced with new ones, left in their posts.

The quest for stability and balance was accompanied by the search for appropriate effective measures; it was necessary to find solutions that would stabilize the administrative system, fragmented by the struggle for power between the sectoral and territorial authorities, and improve the control over the cadres.

The practice of rotation of party cadres, the transfer of responsible persons from one institution to another became characteristic. The friction caused by the rivalries of institutions or functionaries was not permanent or associated with an excellent world view or special status. There were also insurmountable barriers between different hierarchical structures, as evidenced by the diverse and changeable careers of representatives of the Soviet nomenklatura. Combining conservatism and adaptability, the Soviet bureaucracy was by no means an inert and petrified formation. To a much greater extent than generally accepted in the general theories of totalitarianism or "managed society" it was characterized by independence and the ability to self-regulation.

To eliminate the instability that was constantly generated by reforms it was necessary to firmly implement a personnel policy that affirmed stability (primarily in the higher echelons of power), giving party cadres confidence in their importance, in their future and contributing to the advancement of a new change of party workers. Serious changes took place at the beginning of the period 1965-1970 that led to apparent stabilization immediately after the 24th Congress of the CPSU (1971), which led to the aging of local cadres (whose average age in 1980 was 59 years in compared with 49 years in 1971).

In the 1970s the composition of Party leaders on the ground (which always constituted the core of the army of party members) reached at last the stability that they dreamed of under Stalin. Each was given the opportunity to plan the development of his career. The central authorities supervised the local recruitment. All these processes favored the establishment of relations of personal devotion and the establishment of a system of values, in which loyalty to the patron prevailed over competence and "ideological consistency."

In this sense, the 1970s were the apogee of "nepotism" and a kind of "Soviet feudalism", against which Stalin, and then Khrushchev, the first - state terror, and the second - by legal means, fought tirelessly. At the same time personal devotion as the main means of achieving stability was hardly compatible with the improvement of the system itself, implying sanctions against incompetent cadres, as well as with the system of technocratic values generated by economic reform.

Regardless of the differences that existed among the leaders of the leadership, they all sought to stabilize and balance the potential and interests of various bureaucratic structures and to try to retain their collective power as long as possible, excluding any alternatives to it. This meant rejecting the consideration of problems that could cause conflict, from fundamental disputes, meant a cult of pragmatism built into the system, and ultimately stagnation.

The stable and welded ruling elite, also rapidly decrepit - a kind of "oligarchy of idiot old men" - was held in power thanks to agreement in the main: the desire to institutionalize power relations, to protect the interests of bureaucratic structures and to retain the collective leadership.

Ultimately, the Soviet Union paid a high price for the stability that prevailed during the years of the Brezhnev regime. By avoiding necessary political and economic change, the Brezhnev leadership ensured the economic and political decline that the country experienced during the 1980s. This deterioration of power and prestige stood in sharp contrast to the dynamism that marked the Soviet Union's revolutionary beginnings.

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