Brezhnev, Leonid Ilich
BREZHNEV, LEONID ILICH
(1906–1982), leading political figure since the early 1960s, rising to Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and leader of the ruling Politburo.
Leonid Illich ("Lyonya") Brezhnev's rise in Soviet politics was slow but sure. He was Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party from 1964, and after April 1966 he took the office of General Secretary. His tenure as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet spanned 1961 to 1963 and from 1977 to 1982. Brezhnev led the ruling Politburo from October 1964, after organizing the ouster of Nikita S. Khushchev, until his death. Although Brezhnev's ultimate successor, the reformer Mikhail S. Gorbachev, would accuse him of presiding over an era of stagnation (zastoi, literally a standstill) in the Soviet Union's economic development and political progress, many Russians remember his era as a "golden age" (zolotoi vek ) when living standards steadily improved. This was the result of his policy of borrowing from the West, combined with the twofold doubling of world oil prices and a deliberate decision after 1971 to real-locate production in favor of consumer products and foods. Together with Brezhnev's policy of vainly trying to achieve military superiority over every possible combination of foreign rivals and the growing corruption that he deliberately encouraged, the reallocation from industrial goods to consumption and agriculture did in fact lead to a slowing of the expansion of output that Soviet leaders deemed to constitute economic growth. It was this slowdown that lent credibility to Gorbachev's later charge of stagnation.
Brezhnev was born on December 19, 1906, in the east Ukrainian steel town of Kamenskoe, later renamed Dneprodzerzhinsk. His grandfather and father had migrated there from an agricultural village in Kursk province, hoping to find work in the local steel mill. Unlike some of his later Politburo colleagues, who joined the Red Army at age fourteen, Brezhnev evidently played no role in the civil war. At the time of collectivization, having trained in Kursk as a land surveyor, he was working in the Urals where there were few peasant villages to collectivize. In 1931 he abruptly returned to his home city, where he enrolled in a metallurgical institute, joined the Communist Party, and accepted low-level political assignments. Completing his studies in 1935, he trained as a tank officer for one year in eastern Siberia, only to return again to Dneprodzerzhinsk. Often accounted a member of the generation whose political careers were launched when the purges of 1937 and 1938 vacated so many high posts in the Communist Party, Brezhnev received only minor appointments. By 1939 he was no more than a provincial official, supervising the press and party schooling, and he transferred the next year to oversee conversion of the province's industry to armaments production. The German invasion in June 1941 interrupted that uncompleted task, and within a month Brezhnev had been reassigned to the regular army as a political officer. With the rank of colonel, he was charged with keeping track of party enrollments and organizing the troops. Many years later, well into his tenure as General Secretary, efforts were made to glorify him as a war hero, primarily by praising him for regularly visiting the troops at the front; however, he never actually took much part in combat.
Following the war he was recommended to Nikita S. Khrushchev, whom Josef Stalin had assigned to administer the Ukraine as Communist Party chief. Khrushchev presumably approved Brezhnev's assignments, first as Party administrator of the minor Zaporozhe province and later of the more important Dnepropetrovsk province. Although Brezhnev would later claim that Stalin himself had found fault with his work in Dnepropetrovsk, Khrushchev seems to have regarded Brezhnev as an effective troubleshooter and persuaded Stalin to put Brezhnev in charge of the lagging party organization in neighboring Moldavia in 1950. Brezhnev did well enough that he was chosen for membership in the Central Committee, and then inducted into its Presidium, as the ruling Politburo was renamed when Stalin decided to greatly expand its membership. (This expansion, apparently, was the first move in a plan to purge its senior members). But Stalin's death in March 1953 canceled whatever plans he may have harbored. In that same month, Brezhnev was summarily transferred back to the armed forces, where he spent another year supervising political lectures, this time in the navy. Although his postwar political career was temporarily derailed, he had gained the opportunity to form bonds with a number of officials who would take over ranking posts when he became General Secretary. Moreover, his reassignment to the Ministry of Defense enabled him to make additional connections with top military commanders.
Khrushchev's success in the power struggle unleashed by Stalin's death enabled the First Secretary to recall Brezhnev from military duty in 1954. Brezhnev was sent to Kazakhstan to take charge of selecting the Communist Party officials who would execute Khrushchev's plan to turn the so-called Virgin Lands into a massive producer of grain crops. Within eighteen months Brezhnev took the place of his initial superior and successfully led the transformation of the Virgin Lands. This record, combined perhaps with Brezhnev's previous experience, moved Khrushchev to return Brezhnev to Moscow in June 1957 as the Communist Party's overseer of the new strategic missile program and other defense activities. While Brezhnev could claim some credit for the successful launch of Sputnik in October 1957, he had supervised only the last stages of that program. He did not manage to prevent the failure of the initial intercontinental ballistic missile program, on which Khrushchev had placed such high hopes. By 1960 Brezhnev had been shoved aside from overseer of defense matters to the ceremonial position of Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, where for the first time he came into extensive contact with officials of foreign governments, particularly in what was then becoming known as the Third World. A stroke suffered by his rival, Frol R. Kozlov, enabled Brezhnev to return to the more powerful post of Secretary of the Central Committee, where Khrushchev regarded him as his informal number two man.
leader of the politburo, 1964–1982
It was Brezhnev who organized the insider coup against his longtime patron, Khrushchev, spending some six months calling party officials from his country seat at Zavidovo and delicately sounding them out on their attitudes toward the removal of the First Secretary. Khrushchev quickly learned about the brewing conspiracy; but the failures of his strategic rocketry, agricultural, and ambitious housing programs, as well as dissatisfaction with his reorganizations of Party and government, had undermined Khrushchev's authority among Soviet officials. The Leningrad official, Kozlov, on whom Khrushchev had relied as a counterweight to Brezhnev, did not recover from his illness. Khrushchev was thus unable to mount any effective resistance when Brezhnev decided to convene the Central Committee in October 1964 to endorse Khrushchev's removal. Brezhnev did not overplay his own hand, taking only the post of First Secretary for himself and gaining rival Alexei N. Kosygin's consent to Khrushchev's ouster by allowing him to assume Khrushchev's post of Chairman of the Council of Ministers (head of the economy).
The contest between Brezhnev and Kosygin for ascendancy dominated Soviet politics over the next period. As a dictatorship, the Soviet regime could not engender the loyalty of the general populace by allowing citizens to reject candidates for the exercise of power; in other words, it could not let them vote meaningfully. Thus, how to sustain popular allegiance was a recurrent topic of discussion among Soviet leaders, both in public and in private. In the public discussion, Brezhnev took the conventional Soviet stance that the Communist Party could count on the allegiance of workers if it continued its record of heroic accomplishment manifested in the past by the overthrow of tsarism, the industrialization of a backward country, and victory over Germany. He proposed two new heroic accomplishments that the leadership under his guidance should pursue: the transformation of Soviet agriculture through investment in modern technology, and the building of a military power second to none. Kosygin, by contrast, argued that workers would respond to individual incentives in the form of rewards for hard work. These incentives were to be made available by an increase in the production of consumer goods, to be achieved by economic reforms that would decentralize the decision-making process from Moscow ministries to local enterprises, and, not coincidentally, freeing those enterprises from the control of local party secretaries assigned to supervise industrial activity, as Brezhnev had done in his early career.
The contest between these competing visions took almost four years to resolve. Although Kosygin blundered early by interpreting the outcome of the 1964 U.S. presidential election as a sign of American restraint in the Vietnam conflict, Brezhnev equally blundered by underestimating the difficulty, or more likely impossibility, of resolving the Sino-Soviet split. Kosygin sought to protect economic reforms similar to the one he proposed for the Soviet Union, then in progress in the five East European states controlled by the Soviet Union. In Czechoslovakia, economic reforms suddenly brought about political changes at the top of the Communist Party, impelling its new leader, Alexander Dubcek, to begin retreating from the party's monopoly of power. Brezhnev took advantage of this emergency to align himself with military commanders pressing for the occupation of Czechoslovakia and the restoration of an orthodox communist dictatorship. Introduction of a large Soviet army enabled Czechoslovak communists, working under Brezhnev's personal direction, to remove reformers from power, and the replacement of leaders in Poland and East Germany ended economic reforms there as well. By 1971 proponents of economic reform in Moscow became discouraged by the evident signs of Kosygin's inability to protect adherents of their views, and Brezhnev emerged for the first time as the clear victor in the Soviet power struggle.
According to George Breslauer (1982), Brezhnev used his victory not only to assert his own policy priorities but to incorporate selected variants of Kosygin's proposals into his own programs, both at home and abroad. At home he emerged as a champion of improving standards of living not only by increasing food supplies but also by expanding the assortment and availability of consumer goods. Abroad he now emerged as the architect of U.S.-Soviet cooperation under the name of relaxation of international tensions, known in the West as the policy of détente. Yet Brezhnev represented each of these new initiatives as compatible with sustaining his earlier commitments to a vast expansion of agricultural output and military might, as well as to continuing support for Third World governments hostile to the United States. His rejection of Kosygin's decentralization proposals did nothing to address the growing complexity of managing an expanding economy from a single central office.
Although the policy of détente and the doubling of world oil prices in 1973 and again by the end of the decade made it financially possible for Brezhnev to juggle the competing demands of agriculture, defense, and the consumer sector, there was not enough left over to sustain industrial expansion, which slowed markedly in the last years of his leadership. As the crucial criterion by which communist officials had become accustomed to judging their own success, the slowdown in industrial expansion undermined the self-confidence of the Soviet elite. Brezhnev's policy of cadre stability—gaining support from Communist Party officials by securing them in their positions—developed a gerontocracy that blocked the upward career mobility by which the loyalty of officials had been purchased since Stalin instituted this arrangement in the 1930s. Brezhnev therefore made opportunities available for corruption, bribe-taking, and misuse of official position at all levels of the government, appointing his son-in-law as chief of the national criminal police to assure that these activities would not be investigated. His encouragement of corruption rewarded officials during his lifetime, but it also further sapped their collective morale, and made some of them responsive to the proposals for change by his ultimate successor, Mikhail Gorbachev.
In foreign policy his initially successful policy of détente foundered as his military buildup lent persuasiveness to objections from American conservatives. Soviet backing for the 1973 attack on Israel and for armed takeovers in Africa discredited the U.S. public's faith in the sincerity of the Soviet Union's peaceful intentions. By 1979 the effort to occupy Afghanistan, in a reprise of the Czechoslovak action, landed the Soviet army in a war it proved incapable of winning while compelling President Jimmy Carter to abandon arms control negotiations and to withdraw from the Moscow Olympics. In the summer of 1980 Polish strikers formed the movement known as Solidarity, demonstrating to Soviet officials that Brezhnev had bet wrongly on the combination of military expansion, improved food supplies, and increases in the availability of consumer goods to secure the allegiance of workers in communist-ruled states.
Under the strain of personal responsibility for preserving the Soviet order, Brezhnev's health deteriorated rapidly after the middle 1970s. In 1976 he briefly suffered actual clinical death before being resuscitated; as a result, he was constantly accompanied by modern resuscitation technology bought from the West (which had to be used more than once). Ill health made Brezhnev lethargic; it is unclear, however, what even a more energetic leader could have done to solve the Soviet Union's problems. Despite Brezhnev's torpor, his colleagues within the Politburo and his loyalists, whom he had placed in key posts throughout the apex of the Soviet party and state, continued to see their personal fortunes tied to his leadership. He remained in power until a final illness, which is thought to have been brought on by exposure to inclement weather during the 1982 celebration of the October Revolution anniversary.
For Gorbachev and his adherents, Brezhnev came to personify everything that was wrong with the Soviet regime. The popularity of Gorbachev's program among Western specialists, and the interest generated by the new leader's dynamism after the boring stasis of Brezhnev's later years, precluded a reappraisal of Brezhnev's career until 2002, when a group of younger scholars picked up on Brezhnev's growing popularity among certain members of the Russian population. These people remembered with fondness Brezhnev's alleviation of their or their parents' poverty, a relief made all the more striking by the extreme impoverishment experienced by many in the post-Soviet era. This reassessment may appear unwarranted to those who prize political liberty above marginal increments in material consumption.
See also: brezhnev doctrine; constitution of 1977; dÉtente; khrushchev, nikita sergeyevich; kosygin, alexei nikolayevich; politburo
Anderson, Richard D., Jr. (1993). Public Politics in an Authoritarian State: Making Foreign Policy in the Brezhnev Politburo. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Bacon, Edwin, and Sandle, Mark, eds. (2002). Brezhnev Reconsidered. Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Breslauer, George W. (1982). Khrushchev and Brezhnev as Leaders: Building Authority in Soviet Politics. London: George Allen and Unwin, Publishers.
Brezhneva, Luba. (1995). The World I Left Behind, tr. by Geoffrey Polk. New York: Random House.
Dawisha, Karen. (1984). The Kremlin and the Prague Spring. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Dornberg, John. (1974). Brezhnev: The Masks of Power. New York: Basic Books.
Institute of Marxism-Leninism, CPSU Central Committee. (1982). Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev: A Short Biography. Elmsford, NY: Pergamon Press.
Richard D. Anderson Jr.
"Brezhnev, Leonid Ilich." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/brezhnev-leonid-ilich
"Brezhnev, Leonid Ilich." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Retrieved May 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/brezhnev-leonid-ilich
Leonid Brezhnev held a number of important government posts in the former Soviet Union, and was the best known of a three-man committee that held power there from 1964 until his death in 1982. He played a large role in improving relations between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1970s.
Early life and education
Leonid Ilich Brezhnev was born on December 12, 1906, in Kamenskoye (now Dneprodzerzhinsk), an industrial town in the Ukraine. He was one of three children of Ilya Yakovlevich Brezhnev and Natalya Denisovna. His father worked in a steel mill, as had members of several previous generations of the family. Brezhnev's childhood was far from ideal. During his youth a civil war raged in the Ukraine, the Russian Revolution occurred in 1917, and World War I (1914–18) was fought. Brezhnev was forced to leave school at the age of fifteen to go to work. He continued as a part-time student of land surveying at a trade school and graduated at the age of twenty-one.
In the years after his graduation, Brezhnev held a number of minor government posts. He also joined the Communist Party, whose members believed in a system in which there was no private property, and goods were owned and shared by all people. Under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (1879–1953), peasant farmers were ordered to sell their extra grain to the state rather than keeping it for themselves. Brezhnev was one of many party members who beat and threatened the peasants to get them to cooperate. Eventually Brezhnev enrolled in the Kamenskoe Metallurgical Institute, graduating in 1935 as an engineer. He left the field of engineering after a short time, however, in favor of returning to government and party work.
Moving up in the party
By the beginning of World War II (1939–45) Brezhnev was an important party leader in his native region. After the outbreak of the war, he served in the branch of the Soviet Red Army responsible for setting up Stalin's "Russification" policy (under which, for example, children were forced to study Russian subjects in school, and newspapers were ordered to be printed in Russian only). He earned many promotions and was given more responsibilities, eventually achieving the rank of major general. When he left the army in 1946, he continued to move steadily ahead as a party official. He gained national prominence in 1950, with his election as first secretary of the Central Committee of the Moldavian S.S.R., one of the republics that made up the Soviet Union. Two years later he left Moldavia for Moscow, Russia, to serve under Stalin in the powerful Secretariat (official organization) of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
The progress of Brezhnev's career was briefly interrupted by Stalin's death in 1953. Brezhnev was removed from the Secretariat and assigned to lesser posts, first in the Ministry of Defense and later in the Central Committee of the Kazakh republic. But because he proved to be such a successful administrator, he was recalled to Moscow in 1956 to serve again in the Secretariat. He worked closely with Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971), the new head of the Secretariat and the most powerful man in the Soviet Union. In 1960, with the support of Khrushchev, Brezhnev was chosen chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. This post brought Brezhnev great prestige but not great power.
After three years Brezhnev returned to the Secretariat, where he allied himself with other leaders who were unhappy with Khrushchev's record. In 1964 this group succeeded in removing Khrushchev from power, after which Brezhnev took over the most important of Khrushchev's former positions, that of first secretary of the party's Central Committee. Brezhnev became seen as the leader of the Soviet Union. In 1966 his title was changed from first secretary to general secretary, the title under which Stalin had served. But Brezhnev was not as powerful as either Stalin or Khrushchev had been. Instead, according to the arrangement that had followed Khrushchev's removal, he became the first among equals and shared power with two others, the chairman of the Council of Ministers and the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet.
During the 1970s Brezhnev led the Soviet Union in a number of military actions, including the invasion of Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) in 1968 and warfare in the People's Republic of China in 1969. In order to remain popular with its Eastern European group of republics, which were the strongest supporters of Communism, the Soviet Union turned to hostile enforcement of its political system. Perhaps the harshest example was the Soviet attack launched on Afghanistan in 1979, which continued after Brezhnev's death. In addition, the Soviet economy (the system of production, distribution, and use of goods and services), which had flourished at first, had stopped growing by the mid-1970s.
Although the end of the Brezhnev years saw an increase in tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, the two world powers still developed respect for each other. During the years President Richard Nixon (1913–1994) was in office (1969–74), the two leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union often visited each other. They improved relations enough to allow the creation of a joint United States-Soviet space program in 1975, a large purchase of American wheat by the Soviets, and other cooperative efforts.
As Brezhnev's health declined, so did Soviet power and unity. This was shown by an increasing amount of criticism from people within the country, such as Andrei Sakharov (1921–1989), a scientist who was imprisoned for speaking out in favor of human rights and against nuclear weapons. Although countries such as Poland, which nearly broke free of Soviet control in 1981, were still no match for the power of Soviet armies, their growing unhappiness eventually led to the break up of the Communist Soviet Union in later years. After several years of serious health problems, Brezhnev died in Moscow on November 10, 1982, leaving the Soviet Union without strong leadership until the arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev (1931–) in 1985.
For More Information
Brezhnev, Leonid I. Leonid I. Brezhnev, His Life and Work. New York: Sphinx Press, 1982.
Murphy, Paul J. Brezhnev, Soviet Politician. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1981.
Navazelskis, Ina L. Leonid Brezhnev. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.
"Brezhnev, Leonid." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/brezhnev-leonid
"Brezhnev, Leonid." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved May 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/brezhnev-leonid
Leonid Ilich Brezhnev
Leonid Ilich Brezhnev
The Soviet political leader Leonid IIich Brezhnev (1906-1982) held a number of important government posts and was a major figure in the post-Stalinera.
Leonid Brezhnev was born on Dec. 12, 1906, in Kamenskoe (now Dneprodzerzhinsk), a metallurgical center in the Ukraine. A member of a working-class family, he was obliged to leave school at the age of 15 and go to work. But he continued to study as a part-time student of surveying at a vocational secondary school, and graduated at the age of 21. In the years immediately following, Brezhnev held a number of minor government posts and at that time also joined the Communist party. Then he enrolled in the Kamenskoe Metallurgical Institute, graduating in 1935 as a metallurgical engineer. The field of engineering engaged him only briefly, however, for he soon became involved in government and party work. By the beginning of World War II, he was an important party leader in his native region.
After the outbreak of the war, Brezhnev served in the branch of the Red Army responsible for political indoctrination. There he held increasingly responsible posts, eventually achieving the rank of major general. When Brezhnev returned to civilian life in 1946, he continued to move steadily ahead as a party official. In 1950, with his election as first secretary of the Central Committee of the Moldavian S.S.R., one of the constituent republics of the Soviet Union, he gained national prominence. Two years later he left Moldavia for Moscow to serve under Stalin in the powerful Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist party.
The progress of Brezhnev's career was temporarily interrupted by Stalin's death in 1953. He was removed from the Secretariat and assigned to lesser posts, first in the Ministry of Defense and later in the Central Committee of the Kazakh S.S.R. But because he proved to be such a successful administrator, he was recalled to Moscow in 1956 to serve again in the Secretariat. He worked closely with Nikita Khrushchev, the head of the Secretariat and the most powerful man in the Soviet Union.
In 1960, with Khrushchev's support, Brezhnev was chosen chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. This post brought Brezhnev great prestige but not great power. After three years he returned to the Secretariat, where he allied himself with other leaders who were dissatisfied with Khrushchev's record. In 1964 this group succeeded in ousting Khrushchev from power, whereupon Brezhnev immediately took over the most important of Khrushchev's former positions, that of first secretary of the party's Central Committee, and became the major personage in the Soviet Union. In 1966 his title was changed from first secretary to general secretary, the title under which Stalin had served. But Brezhnev was not as powerful as either Stalin or Khrushchev had been. Instead, according to the informal arrangement that had followed Khrushchev's removal, he became the first among equals and shared power with the chairman of the Council of Ministers and the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet.
During the 1970s, Brezhnev oversaw the Soviet Union through a number of military interventions, beginning with the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, now the Czech Republic, and warfare in the People's Republic of China in 1969. In order to maintain clout with the largely Communist Eastern European bloc, the Soviet Union turned to hostile enforcement of their political system. Perhaps the harshest such case was the Soviet attack launched on Afghanistan in 1979, which continued past Breshnev's life.
Although the end of the Brezhnev years saw the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union escalate, the two world powers still managed a high level of rapport. During the office of President Richard Nixon, the two leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union often visited each other, easing tensions enough to allow a cooperative space program in 1975, a massive purchase of American wheat by the Soviets, and other such liasons.
The decline of Brezhnev's health was paralleled by the waning solidarity of Soviet power, as was evidenced by an increasing number of dissenting voices within the country such as Andrei Sakharov. Although countries such as Poland, which nearly broke free of Soviet control in 1981, were still no match for the might of Soviet armies, their mounting unrest foreshadowed the crumbling of the Communist Soviet Union in later years. Under Brezhnev, the Soviet economy had initially flourished, but by the mid-1970s it had reached a point of stagnation. After several years of serious ailment, Brezhnev died in Moscow on November 10, 1982, leaving the Soviet Union without coherent leadership until the regime of Mikhail Gorbachev.
Biographical information on Brezhnev is scanty. The best source in English is Grey Hodnett's article on Brezhnev in George W. Simmonds, ed., Soviet Leaders (1967). His career is also discussed in Robert Conquest, Russia after Khrushchev (1965), and in Myron Rush, Political Succession in the USSR (1965; 2d ed. 1968). For comprehensive discussions of the Brezhnev era, see The Brezhnev Politburo and the Decline of Detente (1984) by Harry Gelman or Soviet Foreign Policy: The Brezhnev Years (1983) by Robin Edmonds. □
"Leonid Ilich Brezhnev." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/leonid-ilich-brezhnev
"Leonid Ilich Brezhnev." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved May 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/leonid-ilich-brezhnev
Brezhnev, Leonid 1906-1982
Leonid Brezhnev, leader of the Soviet Union from 1964 until his death in November 1982, was at the Soviet helm longer than anyone besides Joseph Stalin (1879-1953). Brezhnev grew up in Ukraine in an industrial working-class family (his father worked in a steel plant). Not intellectually inclined, Brezhnev was a hard worker, a good organizer, and a decent student; moreover, he showed early signs of leadership and political ambition, quickly joining the Komsomol (communist youth group) and the Communist Party. Professionally, Brezhnev trained in both industrial and agricultural sectors. He worked in factories, certified as a land surveyor (1927), and received an engineering degree (1935), all while demonstrating leadership within his trade union and party organizations.
In 1936 in Ukraine, Brezhnev’s political career began, oddly thanks to Stalin’s “Great Terror,” which left high-ranking posts empty, allowing eager beginners like Brezhnev to advance quickly. By 1941 he had achieved the post of regional party secretary for defense industries and, crucially, made a lasting, good impression on Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971), Ukrainian first secretary. During World War II (1939–1945), Brezhnev was assigned to the political administration of the Red Army. Though political administration was physically safer than other wartime assignments, Brezhnev later tended to exaggerate his heroic war performance, heaping an absurd number of medals on himself.
In 1950 Brezhnev began his ascent to the highest echelons of Soviet power when he was named first secretary of Moldova, charged with “Sovietizing” it. Tw o years later Stalin promoted Brezhnev to candidate member of the Presidium (Politburo), possibly to replace another lieutenant scheduled for removal by purge. Despite Stalin’s death in 1953, Brezhnev lost little political momentum, thanks to his Ukrainian connections to the new leader, Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev named him first secretary of Kazakhstan in 1955 in charge of the “Virgin Lands” scheme, and elevated him to full membership of the Presidium in 1957. By 1963 Brezhnev had become a secretary of the Central Committee, controlling daily party organization. From that powerful position, Brezhnev helped plan and execute Khrushchev’s overthrow in 1964, condemning Khrushchev’s impulsiveness and excessive power. Brezhnev then became one of three leaders, until he consolidated his paramount position by the mid-1970s. From then on, Brezhnev was clearly the most authoritative figure within a collective leadership.
Those eighteen years—the Brezhnev era—saw the Soviet Union rise to become one of the two global superpowers dominating the world. Living standards increased, while classes of modern, educated professionals expanded. There were no terrors, cataclysms, or major conflicts; life was stable for two decades. Accordingly, when Russians are asked to assess the best time to have lived in their country in the twentieth century, the Brezhnev era usually comes out on top. Yet, Brezhnev’s regime was a one-party dictatorship with no regard for human rights. It ruled through security police and censorship, and kept Eastern European nations in captivity. It brutally crushed the 1968 reform movement in Czechoslovakia, and invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The time of stability was also an era of stagnation and economic and social rot. Brezhnev’s collective leadership style led to extreme bureaucratic inertia, a government of enervated gerontocracy. When Brezhnev died, Yuri Andropov (1914–1984) inherited a superpower in deep decline. Though he made initial stabs at correcting those problems, Andropov’s protégé, Mikhail Gorbachev, would go further than anyone ever imagined.
SEE ALSO Cold War; Communism; Gorbachev, Mikhail; Khrushchev, Nikita; One-Party States; Stalin, Joseph; Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; Warsaw Pact
Bacon, Edwin, and Mark Sandle, eds. 2002. Brezhnev Reconsidered. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Garthoff, Raymond. 1994. Detente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan. Rev. ed. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.
Julie M. Newton
"Brezhnev, Leonid." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/brezhnev-leonid
"Brezhnev, Leonid." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved May 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/brezhnev-leonid
Brezhnev, Leonid Ilyich
Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev (lāyōnēd´ Ĭlyēch´ brĕzh´nĕf), 1906–82, Soviet leader. He joined (1931) the Communist party and rose steadily in its hierarchy. In 1952 he became a secretary of the party's central committee. After suffering a slight political setback following Joseph Stalin's death (1953), Brezhnev filled a number of party posts. In 1957, as protégé of Nikita Khrushchev, he became a member of the presidium (later politburo) of the central committee. He was (1960–64) chairman of the presidium of the Supreme Soviet, or titular head of state. Following Nikita Khrushchev's fall from power in 1964, which Brezhnev helped to engineer, he was named first secretary (later general secretary) of the Communist party.
Although sharing power with Alexei Kosygin, Brezhnev emerged as the chief figure in Soviet politics. In 1968, in support of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, he enunciated the "Brezhnev doctrine," asserting that the USSR could intervene in the domestic affairs of any Soviet bloc nation if Communist rule were threatened. While maintaining a tight rein in Eastern Europe, he favored closer relations with the Western powers, and he helped (1972–74) bring about a détente with the United States. In 1977 he assumed the presidency of the USSR, thereby becoming head of state and head of the party. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, cold war tensions returned with an acceleration in the arms race, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the continued intransigence toward political and economic reform within the Soviet bloc, such as the imposition of martial law in Poland. Following his death, he was succeeded by Yuri Andropov. Under Mikhail Gorbachev, Brezhnev's regime was criticized for its corruption and failed economic policies.
See M. McCauley, ed., The Soviet Union under Brezhnev (1983); I. Navazelskis, Leonid Brezhnev (1988).
"Brezhnev, Leonid Ilyich." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/brezhnev-leonid-ilyich
"Brezhnev, Leonid Ilyich." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved May 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/brezhnev-leonid-ilyich
Brezhnev, Leonid Ilyich
"Brezhnev, Leonid Ilyich." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/brezhnev-leonid-ilyich
"Brezhnev, Leonid Ilyich." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved May 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/brezhnev-leonid-ilyich