The history of the Soviet Union from 1964 to 1982, referred to as the Brezhnev Era, covers the period of Leonid Brezhnev's rule of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). This period began with high economic growth and soaring prosperity, but ended with a much weaker Soviet Union facing social, political, and economic stagnation. The average annual income stagnated, because needed economic reforms were never fully carried out.
The collective leadership first set out to stabilise the Soviet Union and calm Soviet society, a task which they were able to accomplish. In addition, they attempted to speed up economic growth, which had slowed considerably during Khrushchev's last years as ruler. In 1965 Kosygin initiated several reforms to decentralise the Soviet economy. This initially succeeded, but hard-liners within the Party halted the reform's progress from fear that it would weaken the Party's prestige and power. This reform, while short-lived, successfully increased economic growth. No other radical economic reforms were carried out during the Brezhnev era, and economic growth began to stagnate in the early-to-mid-1970s. By Brezhnev's death in 1982, Soviet economic growth had, according to several historians, nearly come to a standstill.
The stabilisation policy brought about after Khrushchev's removal established a ruling gerontocracy, and political corruption became a normal phenomenon. Brezhnev, however, never initiated any large-scale anti-corruption campaigns. Due to the large military buildup of the 1960s the Soviet Union was able to consolidate itself as a superpower during Brezhnev's rule. The era ended with Brezhnev's death on 10 November 1982.
The collective leadership was, in its early stages, usually referred to as the "Brezhnev–Kosygin" leadership Brezhnev and Kosygin began their respective reigns on relative equal footing, After Kosygin initiated the economic reform of 1965, however, his prestige within the Soviet leadership withered. Kosygin's subsequent loss of power strengthened Brezhnev's position within the Soviet hierarchy. Kosygin was further weakened when Podgorny took his post as the second-most powerful figure in the Soviet Union.
Brezhnev conspired to oust Podgorny from the collective leadership as early as 1970. The reason was simple: Brezhnev was third, while Podgorny was first in the ranking of Soviet diplomatic protocol. Brezhnev was unable to oust Podgorny by 1970 though, because he could not count on enough votes in the Politburo to remove him. The removal of Podgorny would have meant weakening of the power and the prestige of the collective leadership, since Brezhnev would have taken over the post of head of state. Podgorny continued to acquire greater power as the head of state throughout the early 1970s, due to Brezhnev's liberal stance on Yugoslavia and his disarmament policies with First World countries.
Brezhnev strengthened his position considerably during the early-to-mid 1970s by strengthening his power base within the Party leadership, and by 1977 he had enough support in the Politburo to oust Podgorny from office and active politics in general. Podgorny's eventual removal in 1977 had the effect of reducing Kosygin's role in day-to-day management of government activities. After Podgorny's removal rumours started circulating in Soviet society that Kosygin was about to retire due to declining health. When Kosygin was on sick leave Brezhnev appointed Nikolai Tikhonov to be First Deputy of the Council of Ministers. Tikhonov, as with Brezhnev, was a member of the conservative faction; he took over the command of the Soviet economy from Kosygin in the late 1970s, and was able to reduce Kosygin to a standby figure.
Towards the end of the period, Brezhnev was regarded as too old to carry out some of the functions of head of state by his colleagues. Therefore, the Supreme Soviet, on Brezhnev's orders, established the new post of First Deputy Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet — something akin to a “vice president” role. The Supreme Soviet unanimously approved Vasili Kuznetosv, at the age of 76, to be First Deputy Chairman of the Presidium.
Podgorny's fall was not seen as the end of the collective leadership, and Suslov continued to write several ideological documents about it. In 1978, one year after Podgorny's retirement, Suslov made several notable references to the collective leadership. It was around this time that Andrei Kirilenko's power and prestige within the Soviet leadership started to wane. As Brezhnev's health worsened, the collective leadership took an even more important role in everyday decision-making. Brezhnev's death did not alter the balance of power in any radical fashion, and Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko were obliged by protocol to rule the country in the same fashion as Brezhnev left it.
The Soviet Union launched a large military build-up in 1965 by expanding both nuclear and conventional arsenals. The Soviet leadership believed a strong military would be useful leverage in negotiating with foreign powers, and increase the Eastern Bloc's security from attacks. In the 1970s, the Soviet leadership concluded that a war with the capitalist countries might not necessarily become nuclear, and therefore they initiated a rapid expansion of the country's conventional forces. Due to the country's weaker infrastructure compared to the United States, the Soviet leadership believed that the only way to beat the First World was by a rapid military conquest of Western Europe, relying on sheer numbers alone. The Soviet Union achieved nuclear parity with the United States by the early 1970s, after which the country consolidated itself as a superpower during. The apparent success of the military build-up led the Soviet leadership to believe that the military, and the military alone, "bought the Soviet Union security and influence".
Brezhnev had, according to some of his closest advisers, been concerned for a very long time about the growing military expenditure in the 1960s. Advisers have recounted how Brezhnev came in conflict with several top-level military industrialists, the most notable being MarshalAndrei Grechko, the Minister of Defence. In the early 1970s, according to , one of Brezhnev's closest advisers, Brezhnev attended a five-hour meeting to try to convince the Soviet military establishment to reduce military spending. In the meeting an irritated Brezhnev asked why the Soviet Union should "continue to exhaust" the economy if the country could not be promised a military parity with the West; the question was left unanswered.
When Grechko died in 1976 Dmitriy Ustinov took his place as Defense Minister. Ustinov, although a close associate and friend of Brezhnev, hindered any attempt made by Brezhnev to reduce national military expenditure. In his later years, Brezhnev lacked the "will and energy" to reduce expenditure, due to his declining health. According to the Soviet diplomat Georgy Arbatov, the military-industrial complex functioned as Brezhnev's power base within the Soviet hierarchy even if he tried to scale-down investments.
At the 23rd Party Congress in 1966, Brezhnev told the delegates that the Soviet military had reached a level fully sufficient to defend the country. The Soviet Union reached ICBM parity with the United States that year. In early 1977, Brezhnev told the world that the Soviet Union did not seek to became superior to the United States in nuclear weapons, nor to be militarily superior in any sense of the word. In the later years of Brezhnev's reign, it became official defence policy to only invest enough to maintain military deterrence, and by the 1980s, Soviet defence officials were told again that investment would not exceed the level to retain national security. In his last meeting with Soviet military leaders in October 1982, Brezhnev stressed the importance of not over-investing in the Soviet military sector. This policy was retained during the rules of Andropov, Konstantin Chernenko and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Throughout his reign, Brezhnev remained committed to stability, and stabilisation became a watchword in Soviet politics. Brezhnev actively supported the policy of "stability of cadres," which was one factor in the start of the Era of Stagnation. At the very beginning of his reign, however, Brezhnev oversaw the replacement of half of the regional leaders and Politburo members. This was a typical move for a Soviet leader trying to strengthen his power base. Examples of Politburo members who lost their membership during the Brezhnev Era are Gennady Voronov, Dmitry Polyansky, Alexander Shelepin, Petro Shelest and Podgorny. Polyansky and Voronov lost their membership in the Politbuto because they were considered to be members of the "Kosygin faction." In their place came Andrei Grechko, the Minister of DefenseAndrei Gromyko the Minister of Foreign Affairs and KGB Chairman Andropov. The removal and replacement of members of the Soviet leadership halted in late 1970s.
Initially, Brezhnev portrayed himself as a moderate — not as radical as Kosygin but not as conservative as Shelepin. Brezhnev gave the Central Committee formal permission to initiate Kosygin's 1965 economic reform. According to historian Robert Service, Brezhnev did modify some of Kosygin's reform proposals, many of which were unhelpful at best. In his early days, Brezhnev asked for advice from provincial party secretaries, and spent hours each day on such conversations. During the March 1965 Central Committee plenum, Brezhnev took control of Soviet agriculture, another hint that he opposed Kosygin's reform program. Brezhnev believed, in contrast to Khrushchev, that rather than wholesale reorganisation, the key to increasing agricultural output was making the existing system work more efficiently.
In the late 1960s, Brezhnev talked of the need to "renew" the party cadres, but according to Robert Service, his "self-interest discouraged him from putting an end to the immobilism he detected. He did not want to risk alienating lower-level officialdom." The Politburo saw the policy of stabilisation as the only way to avoid returning to Joseph Stalin's purges and Khrushchev's reorganisation of Party-Government institutions. Members acted in optimism, and believed a policy of stabilisation would prove to the world the "superiority of communism". The Soviet leadership was not entirely opposed to reform, even if the reform movement had been weakened in the aftermath of the Prague Spring in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. The stabilisation policy also had the effect of reducing cultural freedom, and several dissident samizdats were shut down.
The reshuffling process of the Politburo ended in the mid-to-late 1970s. In the period that followed, the Soviet leadership evolved into a gerontocracy, a form of rule in which the rulers are significantly older than most of the adult population.
The Brezhnev generation — people who lived and worked during the Brezhnev Era — owed their rise to prominence to Joseph Stalin'sGreat Purge in the late 1930s. In the purge, Stalin ordered the execution or exile of nearly all Soviet bureaucrats over the age of 35, thereby opening up posts and offices for a younger generation of Soviets. This generation would rule the country from the aftermath of Stalin's purge up to Mikhail Gorbachev's rise to power in 1985. The majority of these appointees were of either peasant or working class origin. Mikhail Suslov, Alexei Kosygin, and Brezhnev are prime examples of men appointed in the aftermath of Stalin's Great Purge.
The average age of the Politburo's members was 58 years in 1961, and 71 in 1981. A similar greying also took place in the Central Committee, the median age rising from 53 in 1961 to 62 in 1981, with the proportion of members older than 65 increasing from 3 percent in 1961 to 39 percent in 1981. The difference in the median age between Politburo and Central Committee members can be explained by the fact that the Central Committee was consistently enlarged during Brezhnev's leadership; this made it possible to appoint new and younger members to the Central Committee without retiring some of its oldest members. Of the 319-member Central Committee in 1981, 130 were younger than 30 when Stalin died in 1953.
Young politicians, such as Fyodor Kulakov and Grigory Romanov, were seen as potential successors to Brezhnev, but none of them came close. For example, Kulakov, one of the youngest members in the Politburo, was ranked seventh in the prestige order voted by the Supreme Soviet, far behind such notables as Kosygin, Podgorny, Suslov, and Kirilenko. As Edwin Bacon and Mark Sandle note in their book, Brezhnev Reconsidered, the Soviet leadership at Brezhnev's deathbed had evolved into "a gerontocracy increasingly lacking of physical and intellectual vigour".
Brezhnev was the Chairman of the Constitutional Commission of the Council of Ministers, which worked for the creation of a new constitution. The Commission had 97 members, with Konstantin Chernenko among the more prominent. Brezhnev was not driven by a wish to leave a mark on history, but rather to even further weaken Premier Alexei Kosygin's prestige. The formulation of the constitution kept with Brezhnev's political style and was neither anti-Stalinist nor neo-Stalinist, but kept to a middle path, following most of the same principles and ideas as the previous constitutions. The most notable difference was that it codified the developmental changes which the Soviet Union had passed through since the formulation of the 1936 Constitution. The 1977 Soviet Constitution described the Soviet Union as an "advanced industrial society". It can be seen as proof of the achievements, as well as the limits, de-Stalinisation had on the nation. The constitution enhanced the status of the individual in all matters of life, while at the same time solidifying the Party's hold on power.
During the drafting process, a debate within the Soviet leadership took place between the two factions on whether to call Soviet law "State law" or "Constitutional law." Those who supported the thesis of state law believed that the Constitution was of low importance, and that it could be changed whenever the socio-economic system changed. Those who supported Constitutional law believed that the Constitution should "conceptualise" and incorporate some of the Party's future ideological goals. They also wanted to include information on the status of the Soviet citizen, which had changed drastically in the post-Stalin years. Constitutional thought prevailed to an extent, and the 1977 Soviet Constitution had greater a greater effect on conceptualising the Soviet system.
In his later years, Brezhnev developed a cult of personality, and awarded the highest military decorations of the Soviet Union to himself. The media extolled Brezhnev "as a dynamic leader and intellectual colossus". Brezhnev was awarded a Lenin Prize for Literature for Brezhnev's trilogy, three auto-biographical novels. These awards were given to Brezhnev to bolster his position within the Party and the Politburo. Brezhnev's physical and intellectual capacities, however, had started to decline in the 1970s from bad health. When Alexei Kosygin died on 18 December 1980, one day before Brezhnev's birthday, Pravda and other media outlets postponed the reporting of his death until after Brezhnev's birthday celebration.
Brezhnev stayed in office under pressure from some of his Politburo associates, though in practice the country was not governed by Brezhnev, but instead by a collective leadership led by Suslov, Ustinov, Gromyko, and Yuri Andropov. Konstantin Chernenko, due to his close relationship with Brezhnev, had also acquired influence. While the Politburo was pondering who would take Brezhnev's place, his health continued to worsen. The choice of a successor would have been influenced by Suslov, but since he died in 1982, before Brezhnev, Andropov took Suslov's place in the Central Committee Secretariat. With Brezhnev's health worsening, Andropov showed his Politburo colleagues that he was not afraid of Brezhnev's reprisals any more, and launched a major anti-corruption campaign. On 10 November 1982 Brezhnev died. He was buried on 15 November 1982 at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.
The 1965 Soviet economic reform of economic management and planning was carried out between 1965 and 1971. It was characterised by the introduction of capitalist methods of management, the introduction of extensive use material incentives and the decentralisation of the Soviet economic system. This increased the economic independence of enterprises, associations and organizations. The reform was initiated by Alexei Kosygin'sFirst Government. It was implemented during the , during the years of 1968–1970. The Eighth Five-Year Plan is considered to be one of the most successful periods for the Soviet economy, and the most successful for consumer production.
Era of Stagnation
The Era of Stagnation, a term coined by Mikhail Gorbachev, is considered by several economists to be the worst financial crisis in the Soviet Union. It was triggered by over-centralisation and a conservative state bureaucracy. As the economy grew, the volume of decisions facing planners in Moscow became overwhelming. Labour productivity decreased nationwide. The cumbersome procedures of bureaucratic administration did not allow for the free communication and flexible response required at the enterprise level to deal with worker alienation, innovation, customers and suppliers. The late Brezhnev Era also saw an increase in political corruption. Data falsification became common practice among bureaucrats to report satisfied targets and quotas to the Soviet Government, and this further aggravated the crisis in planning.
1973 and 1979 reform
Kosygin initiated the 1973 Soviet economic reform to enhance the powers and functions of the regional planners by establishing associations. The reform was never fully implemented; members of the Soviet leadership complained that the reform had not even began by the time of the 1979 reform. The 1979 Soviet economic reform was initiated to improve the then-stagnating Soviet economy. The reform's goal was to increase the powers of the central ministries by centralising the Soviet economy to an even greater extent. This reform was also never fully implemented, and when Kosygin died in 1980 it was practically abandoned by his successor, Nikolai Tikhonov. Tikhonov told the Soviet people at the 26th Party Congress that the reform was to be implemented, or at least parts of it, during the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (1981–1985). The reform never came to fruition, however, and the reform's implementation stagnated. The reform is seen by several Sovietologists as the last major pre-perestroika reform initiative put forward by the Soviet government.
Soviet – First World relations
Alexei Kosygin, the Soviet Premier, tried to challenge Brezhnev on the rights of the General Secretary to represent the country abroad, a function Kosygin believed should fall into the hands of the Premier, as was common in non-communist countries. This was actually implemented for a short period. Kosygin, who had been the chief negotiator with the First World during the 1960s, was hardly to be seen outside the Second World after Brezhnev strengthened his position within the Politburo. Kosygin, however, headed the Soviet Glassboro Summit Conference delegation in 1967 with Lyndon B. Johnson, the then-current President of the United States. The summit was dominated by three issues: the Vietnam War, the Six-Day War and the Soviet–American arms race. Immediately following the summit at Glassboro, Kosygin headed the Soviet delegation to Cuba, where he met an angry Fidel Castro who accused the Soviet Union of "capitulationism".
Détente, literally the easing of strained relations, or in Russian "unloading", meant "ideological co-existence" in Soviet foreign policy context. This did not, however, mean an end to competition between capitalist and communist societies. The Soviet leadership's policy of détente did, however, help to ease the Soviet Union's strained relations with the United States. Several arms control and trade agreements were signed and ratified in this time period. When the Soviet Union intervened for the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan by request of the communist government located there, the détente policy collapsed.
The Soviet Union sought an official acceptance of the state borders drawn up in post-war Europe by the United States and Western Europe. The Soviets were largely successful; some small differences were that state borders were "inviolable" rather than "immutable", meaning that borders could be changed only without military interference, or interference from another country. Both Brezhnev, Gromyko and the rest of the Soviet leadership were strongly committed to the creation of such a treaty, even if it meant concessions on such topics as human rights and transparency. Mikhail Suslov and Gromyko, among others, were worried about some of the concessions. Yuri Andropov, the KGB Chairman, believed the greater transparency was weakening the prestige of the KGB, and strengthening the prestige of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Another blow to Soviet communism in the First World came with the establishment of eurocommunism. Eurocommunists espoused and supported the ideals of Soviet communism while at the same time supporting rights of the individual. The largest obstacle was that it was the largest communist parties, those with highest electoral turnout, which became eurocommunists. Originating Prague Spring, this new thinking made the First World more sceptical of Soviet communism in general.
In the aftermath of Khrushchev's removal and the Sino–Soviet split, Alexei Kosygin was the most optimistic member of the Soviet leadership for a future rapprochement with the People's Republic of China (PRC), while Yuri Andropov remained sceptical and Brezhnev did not even voice his opinion. In many ways, Kosygin even had problems understanding why the two countries were quarrelling with each other. The collective leadership; Anastas Mikoyan, Brezhnev and Kosygin were considered by the PRC to retain the revisionist attitudes of their predecessor, Nikita Khrushchev. At first, the new Soviet leadership blamed the Sino–Soviet split not on the PRC, but on policy errors made by Khrushchev. Both Brezhnev and Kosygin were enthusiastic for rapprochement with the PRC. When Kosygin met his counterpart, the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, in 1964, Kosygin found him to be in an "excellent mood". The early hints of rapprochement collapsed, however, when Enlai accused Kosygin of Khrushchev-like behaviour after Rodion Malinovsky's anti-imperialistic speech against the First World.
When Kosygin told Brezhnev that it was time to reconcile with the PRC, Brezhnev replied: "If you think this is necessary, then you go by yourself." Kosygin was afraid that the PRC would turn down his proposal for a visit, so he decided to stop off in Beijing on his way to Hanoi on 5 February 1965. He met with Enlai, and they were able to solve smaller issues, and they both agreed to increase trade between the countries, as well as celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Sino–Soviet alliance. Kosygin was told that a reconciliation between the two countries might take years, and that rapprochement could occur only gradually. In his report to the Soviet leadership Kosygin noted Enlai's moderate stance against the USSR, and believed he was open for serious talks about Sino–Soviet relations.
After his visit to Hanoi, Kosygin returned to Beijing on 10 February, this time to meet Mao Zedong personally. At first Mao refused to meet Kosygin, but he changed his opinion and Kosygin was able to meed Mao on 11 February. His meeting with Mao was in an entirely different tone, and Mao criticised Kosygin, and the Soviet leadership, of revisionist behaviour. He also continued to criticize Khrushchev's earlier policies. This meeting was to become Mao's last meeting with any Soviet leader.
Both Khrushchev and Brezhnev were derided as "betrayers of [Vladimir] Lenin" by the Chinese. To counter accusations made by the Chinese Central Government, Brezhnev condemned China's "frenzied anti-Sovietism", and asked Enlai to follow up on his word to normalise Sino–Soviet relations. In another speech, this time in Tashkent, Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, Brezhnev warned First World powers of using the Sino–Soviet split against the Soviet Union, saying it would spark "tension and mistrust". Brezhnev had offered a non-aggression pact to China, but its terms included a renunciation of China's territorial claims, and would have left China defenceless against threats from the USSR. The Soviet Union had by this time championed an Asian collective security treaty in which the USSR would defend any country against a possible attack from the PRC.
Not all reforms were supported by the Soviet leadership, and Alexander Dubček's political and economic liberalisation in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic led to a Soviet-led Warsaw Pactinvasion of the country. Not all in the Soviet leadership were as enthusiastic for a military intervention; Brezhnev remained wary of any sort of intervention throughout the discussion and Kosygin still remembered the consequences that arose with the Soviet suppression of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. In the aftermath of the Soviet-led invasion the Brezhnev Doctrine was introduced; it stated that the Soviet Union had the right to intervene in any socialist country on the road to communism which was deviating from the communist norm of development. The Brezhnev Doctrine was condemned by the Socialist Republic of Romania, the People's Republic of Albania and Yugoslavia. As a result, the worldwide communist movement became poly-centric, meaning that the Soviet Union lost its role as 'leader' of the world communist movement. In the aftermath of the invasion, Brezhnev reiterated this doctrine in a speech at the Fifth Congress of the Polish United Workers' Party (PUWP) on 13 November 1968:
With Willy Brandt's ascension to the West German chancellorship, West German – Soviet tension started to ease. Brandt's Ostpolitik policy, along with Brezhnev's détente, contributed to the signing of the Moscow and Warsaw Treaties in which West Germany recognised the state borders established following World War II, which included West German recognition of East Germany as an independent state. The foreign relations of the two countries continued to improve during Brezhnev's rule, and in the Soviet Union, where the memory of German brutality during World War II was still remembered, these developments contributed to greatly reducing the animosity the Soviet people felt towards Germany, and Germans in general.
Stanisław Kania, the First Secretary of the PUWP, mooted the Soviet proposal for introducing martial law in Poland. Erich Honecker, the First Secretary of the East GermanSocialist Unity Party, supported the decision of the Soviet leadership, and sent a letter to Brezhnev and called for a meeting of the Eastern Bloc leaders to discuss the situation in Poland. When the leaders met at the Kremlin later that year, Brezhnev had concluded that it would be better to leave the domestic matters of Poland alone for the time being, reassuring the Polish delegation, headed by Kania, that the USSR would intervene only if asked to.
As Archie Brown notes in his book The Rise & Fall of Communism, however, "Poland was a special case." The Soviet Union had intervened in the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan the previous year, and the increasingly hard-line policies of the Reagan Administration along with the vast organisational network of the opposition, were among the major reasons why the Politburo Commission pushed for martial law instead of an intervention. When Wojciech Jaruzelski became Prime Minister of Poland in February 1980, the Soviet leadership, but also Poles in general, supported his appointment. As time went by, however, Jaruzelski tried, and failed, "to walk a tightrope" between the demands made by the USSR and the Poles. Martial law was initiated on 13 December 1981 by the Jaruzelski Government.
Soviet – Third World relations
Since 1975, after the Angolan War of Independence, the Soviet Union's role in Third World politics increased dramatically. Some of the regions were important for national security, while other regions were important to the expansion of Soviet socialism to other countries. According to an anonymous Soviet writer, the national liberation struggle was the cornerstone of Soviet ideology, and therefore became a cornerstone for Soviet diplomatic activity in the Third World.
Soviet influence in Latin America increased after Cuba became a communist state in 1961. By the late-1970s, Soviet influence in Latin America had reached crisis proportions according to several United States Congressmen. Diplomatic and economic ties were established with several countries during the 1970s, and several countries, such as Peru, bought external goods from the Soviet Union. Mexico, and several countries in the Caribbean, forged increasingly strong ties with the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA), an Eastern Bloc trading organisation established in 1949. The Soviet Union also strengthened its ties with the communist parties of Latin America. Soviet ideologists saw the increasing Soviet presence as a part of the "mounting anti-imperialist struggle for democracy and social justice".
The Soviet Union played a key role in the secessionist struggle against the Portuguese Empire and the struggle for black majority rule in Southern Africa. Control of the Somali Democratic Republic was of great interest to both the Soviet Union and the United States, due to the country's strategic location at the mouth of the Red Sea. After the Soviets broke foreign relations with Siad Barre's regime in Somalia, the Soviets turned to the Derg Government in Ethiopia and supported them in their war against Somalia. Because the Soviets changed their allegiance, Barre expelled all Soviet advisers, tore up his friendship treaty with the Soviet Union, and switched allegiance to the West. The United States took the Soviet Union's place in the 1980s in the aftermath of Somalia's loss in the Ogaden War.
Nikita Khrushchev had initially supported North Vietnam out of "fraternal solidarity", but as the war escalated he urged the North Vietnamese leadership to give up the quest of liberating South Vietnam. He continued by rejecting an offer of assistance made by the North Vietnamese government, and instead told them to enter negotiations in the United Nations Security Council. Brezhnev, after Khrushchev's ouster, started once again to aid the communist resistance in Vietnam. In February 1965, Kosygin travelled to Hanoi with dozens of Soviet air force generals and economic experts. During the Soviet visit, President Lyndon B. Johnson had allowed US bombing raids on North Vietnamese soil in retaliation of a recent attack by the Viet Cong. In post-war Vietnam, Soviet aid became the cornerstone of socio-economic activity. In the early 1980s, 20 to 30 percent of the rice eaten by the Vietnamese people was supplied by the Soviet Union. Since Vietnam never developed an arms industry during the Cold War, it was the Soviet Union who assisted them with weapons and matériel during the Sino–Vietnamese War.
Soviet dissidents and human rights groups were routinely repressed by the KGB. The Soviet dissident movement grew considerably during the Brezhnev Era, due to the revitalisation of some old Stalinist policies. The two leading figures in the Soviet dissident movement during the Brezhnev Era were Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov. Despite their individual fame, both had problems organising an effective opposition to the Soviet regime in the country itself. Sakharov was forced into internal exile in 1979, and Solzhenitsyn was forced out of the country in 1974.
The Jews emigrating from the Soviet Union in the 1970s were the most successful, and most organised, dissident movement. Their success can be attributed to the movement's support abroad, most notably the Jewish community in the United States. In addition, as a group they were not advocating a transformation of Soviet society; the Jewish dissident movement was simply interested in leaving the Soviet Union for Israel. The Soviet Government subsequently sought to improve diplomatic ties with the First World by allowing the Jews to emigrate. The emigration flow was reduced dramatically as Soviet–American tension increased in the later half of the 1970s. Jewish emigration revived somewhat in 1979, peaking at 50,000 emigrators. In the early 1980s, however, the Soviet leadership decided to halt the emigration flow all together.
"Every time when we speak about Solzhenitsyn as the enemy of the Soviet regime, this just happens to coincide with some important [international] events and we postpone the decision."
The dissident movement had spurts of activity, and during the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, several people demonstrated at the Red Square. Dissidents who were interested in democratic reform were able to show themselves. This demonstration, and the short-lived organised dissident group, was eventually repressed by the Soviet Government. The movement was then renewed once again with the Soviet signing of the Helsinki Accords. Several Helsinki Watch Groups were established across the country, all of which were routinely repressed, but also closed down. Due to the strong position of the Soviet Government, many dissidents had problems reaching a "wide audience". By the early 1980s, the Soviet dissident movement was in disarray, and the country's most notable dissidents had either been exiled, either internally or externally, sent to prison or to the Gulags.
Many dissidents, and a number of radical reformers, became members of the Communist Party instead of protesting actively against the Soviet system. These dissidents were defined by Archie Brown as "gradualists" who wanted to change the way the system worked in a slowly manner. The , a department considered to be filled with conservative communists by the First World media, was the department were Mikhail Gorbachev, as Soviet leader, would draw most of his "new thinkers". These officials had been influenced by Western culture and ideals by their travelling and reading. The , while also considered to have a largely conservative membership, was also filled with many "new thinkers" and reformers. Reformers were also in much greater numbers in the country's research institutes.
Ideology and beliefs
Soviet society under Brezhnev's rule had evolved into a modern society. As noted by Edwin Bacon and Mark Sandle in their book Brezhnev Reconsidered, "a social revolution" was taking place in the Soviet Union during his 18-year long reign. The increasingly modernised Soviet society was becoming more urban, and people were becoming more educated and professionalised. The Brezhnev Era saw, in contrast to previous periods, a continuous development without interruption. In previous years, development had been halted by "terrors, cataclysms and conflicts". There was a fourfold growth in higher education between the 1950s and 1980s; this development was referred to as the "scientific-technological revolution". Women also came to make up half of the country's educated specialists.
Following Khrushchev's outrageous claim that Communism could be reached "within 20 years", the new Soviet leadership responded by developing the concept of developed socialism. According to the Soviet leadership, developed socialism was socialism "attaining developed conditions" therefore, just another stage in the development of Communism. According to the Soviet Government, the task was "perfecting" the socialist society which had been created. Developed socialism evolved into the Brezhnev regime's ideological cornerstone, and helped them to explain the situation of the Soviet Union.
The developed socialism theory that the Soviet Union had reached a state in development where it was crisis-free, and could only progress further, proved wrong. Yuri Andropov, Brezhnev's successor, initiated the de-Brezhnevisation of the Soviet Union during his short reign, and introduced more realistic ideological theses. He did retain, however, developed socialism as a part of the state ideology.
During the Brezhnev Era, pressure from below forced the Soviet leadership to alter some cultural policies; fundamental characteristics of the Communist system, however, remained the same. Within the realm of popular culture, the Soviet leadership was forced to alter its policies on Western influence, and rock music and jeans, which had been criticised as hallmarks of Western culture, were legalised. The Soviet Union started to manufacture its own jeans in the 1970s. As time progressed, however, the youth were more eager to buy the Western product. The flourished during the Brezhnev Era, and "fake Western jeans" became very popular.
Before 1973, the GDP per head in US dollars increased. Over the eighteen years Brezhnev ruled the Soviet Union, average income per head increased by half; three-quarters of this growth came in the 1960s and early 1970s. There was one-quarter average income per head growth during the second half of Brezhnev's reign. In the first half of the Brezhnev period, income per head increased by 3.5 percent per annum; slightly less growth than what it had been the previous years. This can be explained by the reversion of most of Khrushchev's policies when Brezhnev came to power. The consumption per head rose by an estimate of 70% under Brezhnev, but with three-quarters of this growth happening before 1973 and only one-quarter in the second half of his reign. Most of the increase in consumer production in the early Brezhnev era can be attributed to the Kosygin reform.
When the USSR's economic growth stalled in the 1970s, the standard of living and housing quality improved significantly. Instead of paying more attention to the economy, the Soviet leadership under Brezhnev tried to improve the living standard in the Soviet Union by extending social benefits, which led to an increase, albeit a minor one, in public support. The standard of living in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) had fallen behind that of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic (GSSR) and the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic (ESSR) under Brezhnev; this led many Russians to believe that the policies of the Soviet Government were hurting the Russian population. With the mounting economic problems, skilled workers were usually paid more than had been intended in the first place, while unskilled labourers were indulged in punctuality, conscientiousness and sobriety. The state usually moved workers from one job to another which ultimately became an ineradicable feature in Soviet industry; the Government had no effective counter-measure because of the country's lack of unemployment. Government industries such as factories, mines and offices were staffed by undisciplined personnel who put a great effort into not doing their jobs. This ultimately led to a "work-shy workforce" among Soviet workers and administrators.
During the Brezhnev era, there were material improvements for the Soviet citizen, while the Politburo of the CPSU was given no credit for this. The material improvements in the 1970s, i.e. the cheap provision of consumer goods, food, shelter, clothing, sanitation, health care and transport, were taken for granted by the common Soviet citizen. The common citizen associated Brezhnev's rule more with its limitation than its actual progress; this led to Brezhnev earning neither affection nor respect. Most Soviet citizens had no power to change the existing system, so most of them tried to make the best of a bad situation. Rates of alcoholism, mental illness, divorce and suicide rose inexorably during the Brezhnev era.
While investments in consumer goods were below projections, the expansion in output increased the Soviet people's standard of living. Refrigerators, owned by only 32 percent of the population in the early 1970s, had grown considerably to a total of 86 percent by the late 1980s, and the ownership of colour televisions increased from 51 percent in the early 1970s to 74 percent in the 1980s. The material improvements of blue-collar workers had risen disproportionately; they had higher wages than professional workers in the Soviet Union. For example, the wage of a secondary school teacher in the Soviet Union was only 150 rubles while a bus driver's wage was 230.
While some areas improved during the Brezhnev era, the majority of civilian services deteriorated, with the physical environment for the common Soviet citizen falling apart rapidly. Diseases were on the rise because of the decaying healthcare system. Living space remained rather small by First World standards, with the common Soviet person living in 13.4 square metres. At the same time thousands of Moscow inhabitants were homeless, most of them living in shacks, doorways and parked trams. Nutrition ceased to improve in the late 1970s, with rationing of staple food products returning to locales such as Sverdlovsk.
The state provided daily recreation and annual holidays for hard-working citizens. Soviet trade unions rewarded hard-working members and their families with beach vacations in Crimea and Georgia. Workers who fulfilled the monthly production quota set by the Soviet government were honoured by placing their respective names on the factory's Roll of Honour. The state awarded badges for all manner of public services, and war veterans were allowed to go to the head of the shop queues. All members of the USSR Academy of Sciences were given a special badge and their own chauffeur-driven car. These awards, perks and privileges made it easier for some to find decent job placements. There was a large minority of citizens during the Brezhnev era who benefited from these perks. These perks did not stop, however the degeneration of Soviet society. Urbanization had led to unemployment in the Soviet agricultural sector, with most of the able workforce leaving villages for the local towns.
Social "rigidification" became a common feature in Soviet society. During the Stalin era in the 1930s and 1940s, a common labourer could expect promotion to a white-collar job if they studied and obeyed Soviet authorities. In Brezhnev's Soviet Union this was not the case. Holders of attractive offices clung to them as long as possible; mere incompetence was not seen as a good reason to dismiss anyone. In this way, in addition to the others previously mentioned, the Soviet society Brezhnev passed on had become "static".
Despite Brezhnev's failures in domestic reforms, his foreign affairs and defence policies turned the Soviet Union into a superpower. His popularity among citizens lessened during his last years, and support for the ideals of communism and Marxism-Leninism waned, even if the majority of Soviet citizens remained wary of liberal democracy and multi-party systems in general.
The political corruption which had grown considerably during Brezhnev's tenure had become a major problem to the Soviet Union's economic development by the 1980s. In response, Andropov initiated a nationwide anti-corruption campaign. Andropov believed that the Soviet economy could possibly recover if the government was able to increase social discipline amongst workers. He was seen as very vain and self-obsessed, but was praised for leading the Soviet Union into an unprecedented age of stability and domestic calm.
Following Andropov's death, political wrangling led to harsh criticism of him and his family. Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, drew support from hard-line communists and the Soviet population by criticising Brezhnev's rule, and referred to his rule as the "Era of Stagnation". In a poll taken in 2006, however, 61 percent of the people polled viewed the Brezhnev era as good for Russia.