The Brezhnev Era (1964-1982)

Leonid Brezhnev (1906-1982)

Leonid Brezhnev

Brezhnev, "a typical regional apparatchik" (Brezhnev's aide quoted in John Keep: A History of the Soviet Union. 1945-1991. p. 193), was second to Stalin (General Secretary from 1922 to 1953) in terms of holding the top party position (First Secretary from 1964 to 1982). Often referred to as a neo-Stalinist, he showed a more cultured way of dealing with the opposition, preferred stability to the point of stagnation over revolutionary bustle, and rooted the Soviet Union more firmly in the texture of international relations.

When chosen by his comrades to succeed Khrushchev as Party leader, he was 58 years old. … Brezhnev seemed a save choice. Sturdily built, beetle-browed, he was – until his health gave way – a cheerful and sociable man who treated others courteously and had considerable charm. There was also a darker, more devious side to his character. In early life, before becoming an engineer and then entering politics, he had wanted to be an actor, and could still play a part to perfection.” (John Keep: A History of the Soviet Union. p. 193)

Intellectually he was a mediocrity, but this was not necessarily a disadvantage in the jockeying for power.” (ibid. p. 193)

Naturally rather indolent, he felt most at ease on hunting expeditions and favoured a self-indulgent life-style that others were quick to copy. Long before his accession to power officials noticed his inordinate fondness for parades and ceremonies – a weakness that later would be taken to ridiculous lengths as his vanity came to the fore. This defect of character, coupled with the temptation of near-absolute power, made him susceptible to flattery. Before many years had passed he would sponsor or tolerate a 'cult' of his own person that had even less justification than the self-adulation fostered by his predecessors Khrushchev and Stalin.” (ibid. p. 194)

Internal Affairs

Publicists of the Brezhnev era described the political and social system of their country as 'real, existing socialism. … The implication was that constant experimentation, mass mobilization, and exhortation for new and ambitious campaigns would largely be abandoned. The era was one of complacency and conservatism.” (Peter Kenez: A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to the End. p. 216)

National Economy

Trade agreements with Western states were signed. The lion share of international trade, two-thirds of all foreign trade, was carried on with states of the socialist bloc. For the first time there were plans to standardize and integrate their economies.

Social Conditions

The Soviet Union witnessed both an improvement in general living standards and an increasing demand for further progress. Differences in status were now generally accepted with the shift from ideology to technocratic rule. Party officials, managers, sectors of the intelligentsia, athletes, and artists belonged to the privileged nomenklatura and enjoyed adequate housing, had access to consumer goods, and were even allowed to travel abroad.

Between 1968 and 1975, real income per family rose considerably but growing demand was not met with adequate supply.

Culture and Science

Science had already been freed from ideology in the Khrushchev era. The success story of Soviet science continued with the first unmanned rocket sent to Venus in 1969 and by the first supersonic aircraft put into regular service by 1975. In many areas - biology, space, medicine, chemistry, mathematics - outstanding scientific achievements were made.

Foreign Affairs

Perfection of the Soviet atomic arsenal led to parity with the US. American embroilment in Vietnam and Soviet overtures to the West - Ostpolitik in 1972 with West Germany, the strengthening of ties with Canada, France and other western countries - ended the policy of "containment" and brought about the concept of "peaceful coexistence."

Brezhnev's passion
Yuri Andropov (1914-1984)
Konstantin Chernenko (1911-1985)