UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Collective Leadership

Some observers suggest that Russia was run by a collective leadership -- the Kremlin Corporation's board of directors, so to speak. It was said that Putin was the front man and public face for an elite group of seasoned bureaucrats, most of whom were veterans of the KGB and hail from the president's native St. Petersburg. But there is very little evidence in Putin's of the "collective leadership" as practiced in the Soviet Union.

Initially, Putin's was characterized by the dominance of an inner circle of about a dozen men who had worked with the Kremlin leader for decades, either in the KGB or in the St. Petersburg city government in the 1990s. Known colloquially as the "collective Putin" or "Putin's Politburo," they were widely viewed as Russia's untouchable ruling clique.

Vladimir Pastukhov noted 13 August 2016 "Sergei Ivanov's resignation from his post as head of the Presidential Administration of Russia, it symbolizes a change of epoch of Putin's rule, taking place against the backdrop of generational change in the power structures.... The meaning of the phenomenon is quite obvious. In place of the post-communist aristocracy comes postcommunist nomenklatura nobility serviceman class of XXI century. In place of the king's friends comes lordly servants. The dam burst, and the flow can not be stopped. So we can assume that we are at the very beginning.... On top of the post-communist government instead of "Prince", who ruled with his "entourage" ascended "the king", the manager and his "slaves.... Most of "cleansing" of the state apparatus, in which "friends of Putin" suffer the fate of "old Bolsheviks," is almost inevitable.... The new political system is built under a harsh reality of Russian - eternally warring, always mobilized to deal with a hostile environment, living not only in abundance, but in the shortage of resources. "

By 2012 Russian President Vladimir Putin had formed a separate informal governing instrument that in many ways resembles the Soviet Politburo. The senior managers of the Russian government were each responsible for his or her administration and sphere. Putin himself manages as an arbiter, resolving all disputes and occasionally redistributing influence within it. By 2016 Putin was in the course of forging a new inner circle of advisors and supporters in order to consolidate the political system he had created. The summer of 2016 was marked by significant shifts in the Kremlin’s normally static leadership lineup. Many of Vladimir Putin’s long-time allies were sidelined and replaced with younger deputies. At the same time, there was a substantial consolidation in the Russian security agencies. This included the regrouping of forces in the highest and middle echelons of the Russian nomenklatura. The researchers note the dismissal of high-profile representatives of Putin's "old guard" (such as former director of the presidential administration Sergei Ivanov and former head of Russian Railways Vladimir Yakunin).

The Duma election in September 2016 was un-eventful, though marred by amazing levels of voter abstention. The president was trying to form his election coalition and a future power configuration. There was been a regrouping of forces among the elite, most of whom were weakened, while Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu became stronger, and equal to the director of Russia's renewed National Guard, Viktor Zolotov. Political analyst Alexei Makarkin noted in NOvember 2016 that the system was based not only on the principle of checks and balances: "Putin doesn’t need powerful clans. As soon as the objective is reached, the appointees go home. This is the system that currently suits him most".

Vladimir Putin said he wasn’t a czar, but increasingly he behaved like one. Putin approached his job as a "soldier" who had a duty to serve Russia, and appeared to work tirelessly. To any but a very resolute or a very resigned man the weight of the Russian crown must have been almost insupportable. Nicholas II suffered from insomnia. Only on rare occasions was he able to tear himself away from the onerous duties of government. Worldly prosperity was bought at the price of sleepless care and vigilance, with the knowledge of the difficulty of holding with equal administrative power what their insatiable predecessors had won, and finally, with ever watchful attention to the phenomena on the political horizon, which have their foundation in the uncertain and unreliable interior life of the country.

The Czar must issue hundreds of orders a week, each one of which may have momentous consequences. He was not only Premier as well as Sovereign, but he was supreme legislator, Commander-in-Chief of the largest of armies—in itself a task for more than one man—chief, and to an enormous extent supreme, Judge of the Civil Service, and possessed of the initiative, as well as of the final power of decision, in all foreign affairs. It was the strength and the curse of autocracy that Ministers, unless exceptionally strong men, would not act for themselves; that they sought constantly the shelter of a "supreme order” which relieved them of responsibility; that they were always wanting to be approved by the ultimate master for their conduct of their work.

The burden of empire, real empire, on the mind must be terribly severe. It killed Nicholas I, a really strong man, even if it did not, as is persistently rumored, induce him to commit suicide. It plunged Alexander II into a melancholy only distinguishable from melancholia because his reason remained clear and he could compel himself to work. It shattered the splendid constitution of Alexander III so that disease found him without power of recuperation, and unless all stories from St. Petersburg are incorrect, it afilicted Nicholas II with spasms of doubt and mental pain which occasionally seem to take all happiness out of his life and convert his magnificent position into a source of torment.

Putin is the center of all of this. He sees himself as the modern day Peter the Great. Even in a recent profile of Putin, his closest advisors called him czar. Much like Peter the Great, Putin sees and wants an expanding Russian empire.

Robert Service, professor of Russian history at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, wrote in the New York Times on 06 April 2014, "Vladimir V. Putin himself is much more like another czar, Nicholas I, who stumbled into military conflict with the British and French and rejected calls for the basic reforms needed to enable Russia to compete with the world powers of the day. Nicholas had a cramped perspective and arrogant personality. Always attentive to the armed forces and the secret services, he overlooked the broader necessity to modernize Russia’s economy and society."

The Soviet Union had a "collective leadership" in the aftermath of Stalin's death and Khrushchev's ouster. In theory the leaders of all Party organs in the USSR were charged with carrying out their responsibilities in a collective spirit, which was to be guaranteed by means of thorough discussion and joint decision-making. Failure to observe this precept provided grounds for dismissal of Party leaders at any level.

Stalin and Khrushchev were accused essentially of violating the principle of collectivity by allowing the development of "personality cults" centered on themselves; the former was indicted posthumously, but such charges figured explicitly in Khrushchev's removal from office.

Collectivity came to be valued highly because so much of previous Soviet history has demonstrated vividly the dangers of personal rule. A common sense of self—preservation put the Soviet leaders on guard against signs of excessive ambition by any of their number and led them to approve a theory of leadershio that made the re-establishment of autocratic methods less likely. Additionally, the growing complexity of administering contemporary Soviet society made highly personalized rule an increasingly difficult mode of leadership. Although the Politburo retained centralized political control, the representation within that body of major contending interests created pressures for the sharing of power among its members.

Party congresses varied greatly over the years in character and significance. The 19th Congress in 1952 - the last under Stalin's leadership — laid the groundwork for a generational change among the top leaders. The groundwork did not hold up when the dictator died six months later, and his heirs were left to quarrel over Soviet policies and their own hierarchic positions.

After Stalin died, his successors assigned different men to the top-most Party, and government posts. But there was no firm agreement, formal or tacit, to deny preeminence to any single leader, and Khrushchev was able to exploit the fluid leadership conditions of the mid—1950s to his own benefit. He accumulated personal power and acquired a momentum for major policies he advocated.

Collectivity suffered. His colleagues found themselves increasingly reacting to his initiatives and less able to restrain or oppose his actions and exercise power on their own.

Khrushchev was not, however, another Stalin; he needed policy successes in order to maintain his political position. His style of leadership aroused dissatisfaction among high Soviet officials, including but not limited to his Politburo colleagues. He, intervened personally in lower—echelon Party meetings, announced initiatives not previously cleared among the top central leadership, encouraged the public "personality cult" that grew up around him, appeared not to recognize limits to his behavior, and showed increasing disregard for the niceties of discussion and compromise within the Politburo.

These actions left his colleagues feeling insecure and evoked concern throughout the wider circle of mid—level Party leaders who felt threatened by his larty reorganization scheme and the requirement for mandatory replacement periodically of a portion of the membership of key Party bodies. The resulting impression of Khrushchev's capriciousness gand personal rule might not have been sufficient by itself to do him in. But combined with policy setbacks, it provided a core issue around which the other leaders could coalesce with a feeling of restoring legitimacy in ousting him.

In October 1964, while Khrushchev was vacationing in Crimea, the Presidium voted him out of office and refused to permit him to take his case to the Central Committee. Khrushchev retired as a private citizen after his successors denounced him for his "hare-brained schemes, half-baked conclusions, and hasty decisions."

The new leadership agreed that the government must no longer be conducted in the “arbitrary” and “subjective” manner which they consider characteristic of Khrushchev's later years. The collective was working hard to give the impression of a scientific approach to all problems. The dominant tone was set by Brezhnev and Kosygin in speeches which were characterized by a concentration on the solution of practical problems and by criticism of the “hare-brained schemes" and “armchair decisions" of Khrushchev.

With the memory of Khrushchev‘s "errors" fresh in their minds, the Soviet leaders moved in the months following his ouster to establish a carefully apportioned distribution of power among themselves and to alter the style and internal operations of their leadership. Since the ouster of Khrushchev in the fall of 1964 it was agreed that in peacetime no one leader would again be allowed to hold simultaneously the top Party and government posts; Brezhnev and Kosygin took over these two positions immediately and remained in them for years thereafter. A third individual, first Mikoyan and then Podgorny, occupied the third—ranking office, that of titular head of state. For several years the holders of these three posts were accorded near-equal public status.

The domestic political scene in the Soviet Union witnessed a struggle for power within the leadership. Two of the key figures in this struggle, Brezhnev and Shelepin, attempted to gain the support of the old-guard party apparatchiks by espousing orthodox policies.

Aleksandr Nikolayevich Shelepin, (born Aug. 18, 1918, Voronezh, Russia—died Oct. 24, 1994), led the Komsomol (Young Communist League; 1952–58), served as head of the Committee for State Security (KGB; 1958–61), and was a member of the Communist Party’s Politburo (1964–75). He played a role in Nikita Khrushchev’s ouster in 1964.

Friction within the leadership was reflected in a debate which was waged in the press during the summer and early fall of 1966. The issue was that of collective leadership versus individual responsibility and all factions participated. The neo-Stalinists opened the debate with several articles stressing the importance of collective leadership and warning of the dangers inherent in the imposition of one-man rule. They received support from an unlikely direction -- the liberals who used the cult of personality and the resulting violations of legality to illustrate the evils of one-man rule. Both of these factions clearly had a vested interest in retaining collective leadership and in preventing Brezhnev from acquiring too much power.

Brezhnev and his backers responded to the concerted attacks with several articles emphasizing the need for responsibility and discipline, stressing the importance of individual leadership, and quoting Lenin to the effect that irresponsibility must not be permitted to hide beneath references to collectivity. Brezhnev also responded by mentioning favorably that most notable of individual leaders -- Stalin; in a November-speech in Tbilisi, he referred to Stalin as an "ardent revolutionary."

With the moderates on the defensive, Brezhnev and his followers next turned their big guns on Shelepin. In May 1967, Shelepin's protege Semichastnyy was removed as head of the KGB and the following month the most outspoken neo-Stalinist, Yegorychev, was removed as Moscow City First Secretary. In addition to creating an atmosphere of leadership stability and reducing dissatisfactions within the Party, the post—Khrushchev leaders established orderly processes for their own operations in a conscious a workable system of shared power.v Decision—making on major issues normally followed a weekly cycle. Typically, on Monday the General Secretary reviewed draft proposals from the other leaders for possible consideration by the Politburo. On Tuesday the Secretariat, with Brezhnev presiding, made up an agenda of items for Politburo consideration. 0n Wednesday Kosygin convened the Presidium of the Council of Ministers, which discussed agenda items and prepares positions relevant to them for Politburo attention. On Thursday the Politburo met to discuss the agenda issues and act on draft proposals. The agenda was restricted to a rather small number of important matters, in contrast to the practice under Khrushchev of crowding it with secondary items. Any Politburo member may raise an issue for consideration, but detailed discussion and final decision on new questions were usually deferred.

Although this policy—making process was intended to serve the principle of collective leadership, Brezhnev was clearly its focal point and provided much of its direction. He controlled the schedule of Politburo meetings, the attendance at them of non-Politburo members, and the content and order of the vaizrznda. At the Politburo sessions themselves, he presided, presented issues for consideration, summed up the discussions, and expressed the consensus reached. If there was substantial disagreement on a question, Brezhnev might call for a vote to decide the issue. If he believed that the discussion was moving against the-direction he favored, he might defer decision until another time. He may even be able in such cases to sway the decision by stating his views last and using the weight of his personal authority as General Secretary.

Using the advantages inherent in his position as de facto chief executive of the USSR, Brezhnev emerged in the 1970s as the preeminent Soviet leader. The process, had been gradual and incremental, but the result was unmistakable. In the 1960s the top three leaders had received carefully constructed even-handed public treatment. But in 1970 public mention of Brezhnev in Pravda and in the USSR Supreme Soviet election campaign became noticeably more prominent relative to the attention accorded the other ranking leaders.

Brezhnev attained prominence without violating the leadership procedures set up after 1964 to ensure collectivity, barring a few instances where he may have overstepped the boundaries of his prerogatives. At some Party meetings he interrupted speakers with impromptu comments, thereby drawing attention to himself and displaying a trait pointedly reminiscent of Khrushchev. There were also reportedly instances in which he took a foreign policy initiative that was subsequently questioned by other senior leaders as not having been previously agreed upon. For example, it was rumored in Moscow that Brezhnev was criticized by other leaders in December 1971 for his method of negotiating the SALT accord at Vladivostok, having in effect come back to Moscow and requested the Politburo to ratify a fait accompli.

These examples stood out as exceptional against the general pattern of Brezhnev's frequent consultation with his colleagues. While he identifirf himself with particular policy lines, he constantly sought to build support for them, and reportedly on at least one occasion was unwilling to override the views of a significant minority in his efforts to attain a Politburo consensus before reaching final decisions. It was appaeent that Brezhnev has profited from his predecessor's example and avoided his failings. Brezhnev led, but he treated the other leaders respectfully and did not demand that they follow his lead unquestioningly.

The Soviet leadership remained a Collective decision-making body. The Politburo met regularly to decide jointly on key policy moves. Certain top leaders — some of them by no means pliant instruments of Brezhnev - exercised considerable influence in important policy areas, and the General Secretary took care to maintain a supporting consensus for his own positions.

Brezhnev seemed to operate fairly comfortably within the constraints of collective leadership, although he had not hesitated to advance his own interests at the expense of his colleagues. He appeared to prefer the human interaction of a closely-knit working group to the more complex and abstract rewards of the solitary leader. His career had been based primarily on his long years as a regional party leader. He was an expert at finding a consensus to lead. Although the boss, Brezhnev still gave the impression of being highly sensitive to the needs of the collective, constantly reassuring himself that his colleagues could have no conceivable grounds for complaint or soliciting their compliments.

In negotiations with foreign leaders, Brezhnev was free to expound an agreed position of the collective, perhaps adding some nuances and emphases of his own, but once he had exhausted his guidance he evidently was required to go back for more, as well as for any changes necessitated by the course of negotiations. He also seemed to be under some obligation to report back. At the same time, if Brezhnev believed a particular change in position was necessary, it appeared he has the authority to persuade tho Politburo to agree to it. In any case, situations could well arise where Brezhnov will say that he Hmst check back with his colleagues.

The Soviet party congress in February 1976 was the 25th in the party's history and the third presided over by General Secretary Brezhnev. The average age of the Politburo — the party's steering committee — was 71, and more than half of its members probably would leave the scene within the next few years. General Secretary Brezhnev and his unofficial deputy, Andrey Kirilenko, were approaching 70. Mikhail Suslov, the party ideologist, was 72. Premier Kosygin was 71, President Podgorny is 72, and Defense Minister Grechko is 71. These six seniors, along with Foreign Minister Gromyko (66) and KGB Chairman Andropov (61), functioned as a small inner collective within the Politburo.

There was little or no devolution of authority to the juniors on the Politburo. Among the juniors — a relative term at best — there were able men already on the Politburo, as well as others waiting on the threshold. None of them had established a special claim to consideration as a contender for the position at the top. If the Soviets wished to achieve the first smooth succession in their history, serious collective planning would have to begin soon. There was no sign of such planning.

In 1999, after Boris Yeltsin appointed Vladimir Putin Prime Minister, the former Russian Secret Service (KGB) agent pledged to create a powerful state at home capable of projecting Russia s influence abroad. He spoke favorably about democracy but soon indicated by his actions that political authority would be concentrated in his hands alone, although he surrounded himself with a medley of supporters: members of the security services and military collectively known as the Siloviki business tycoons, high-level government officials, and members of criminal organizations.

Andrew Monaghan, senior research fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, wrote from BBC on 28 December 2015 that "When Vladimir Putin first came to power, he was asked in an interview which of his colleagues he trusted most. He named five people: Nikolai Patrushev; Sergei Ivanov; Dmitry Medvedev; Alexei Kudrin; and Igor Sechin. Fifteen years later, these men still form President Putin's core group and dominate the strategic heights of Russian government and big business... Such figures convene in the security council, one of the most important organisations for co-ordinating high-level decision-making and resources.... while the President is the central figure, he is part of a team, which itself is part of a system, and therefore highlights the importance of effectiveness in implementing tasks."

Whether it is the "degeneration of the Russian elite" or a real grass-roots swell to secure the continuation of the one post-Soviet leader whose rule is associated with stability and economic growth, the fact of Putin's outsized personality and domination of the political scene is viewed by political opposites as a paralyzing distortion of Russian politics.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 02-01-2017 19:50:01 ZULU