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Military Industry Under Brezhnev

After 1964 the military did rather well, and that in large part was because the new General Secretary, Leonid Brezhnev, had been the chief representative for the defense industry in the Politburo and because the American buildup in Vietnam and the growing tension with China were providing fuel for the hawkish position.

After removing Khrushchev from power in 1964, the leaders of the Politburo (as the Presidium was renamed in 1966 by the Twenty-Third Party Congress) and Secretariat again established a collective leadership. As was the case following Stalin's death, several individuals, including Aleksei N. Kosygin, Nikolai V. Podgornyi, and Leonid I. Brezhnev, contended for power behind a facade of unity. Kosygin accepted the position of prime minister, which he held until his retirement in 1980. Brezhnev, who took the post of first secretary, may have originally been viewed as an interim appointment by his fellows.

On 3 March 1965 Radio Moscow announced that on 26 February 1965 the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet had ordered the transformation of several state committees into ministries, The changes made were as follows:

  • USSR State Committee for Aviation Technology - All-Union Ministry of Aviation Industry
  • USSR State Committee for Defense Technology - All-Union Ministry of Defense Industry
  • USSR State Committee for Radioelectronics - Ail-Union Ministry of Radio Industry
  • USSR State Committee for Shipbuilding - All-Union Ministry of Shipbuilding Industry
  • USSR State Committee for Electronics - All-Union Ministry for Electronics Industry
  • USSR State Production Committee for Medium Machine-building - All-Union Ministry for Medium Machine-building
At the same time, the chairmen of the former committees -- Dementiev, Zveriev, Kalmykov, Butoma, Shokin, and Slavsky, respectively -- were given the title of minister but retained in effectively the same positions. It was also announced that the old Ministry of General Machine-building, which had been merged with the Ministry of Defense Industries in May 1957, was being resurrected, with Afanasyev as minister.

The significance of this re-designation -- it could hardly be called a reorganization -- lay in the fact that the institutions were all concerned with defense technology and production. Their new names represent a clear increase in formal organizational stature, and the move might be interpreted as a gesture of militancy in a tense international climate. In fact, however, it represents an organizational retreat from the great economic reform of May 1957, or, to put it more accurately, the explicit recognition that one aspect of that reform simply never worked out.

It seemed clear that, by the very nature of their function, the defense industries were never really decentralized under Khrushchev. Output remained more important than efficiency in these branches, and they therefore had to remain as invulnerable as possible to the supply bottlenecks plaguing the rest of the economy. The administrative autonomy resulting from this situation also rendered these industries relatively less vulnerable to the reforming impulses of the First Secretary, a fact which no doubt irritated him.

The formal reconversion of these industries to ministerial status was in part result of the inherent inadequacies of the 1957 reform and the peculiarities of defense production itself. The new leaders, being men of both administrative experience and a practical cast of mind, recognized that these industries must remain more or less insulated from the rest of the economy. They recognized that in Soviet defense industries, as well as in those of the United States, for that matter, efficiency could not be pushed to the point where it jeopardized total output.

Taking more and more from civilian investment to support the Soviet Empire, especially its massive military machine, as Brezhnev had been doing during the 1970s, could not be continued indefinitely, for it deprived the Soviet Union of badly needed future national income. Brezhnev favored guns over growth. He postponed the reckoning, but it began to draw near. The Soviets sacrificed growth and investment to defense. The defense buildup was a terrible problem.




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