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Developed Socialism


The concept of developed ("mature," or "real") socialism emerged in the offices of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in the late 1960s, soon after the establishment of Leonid Brezhnev's regime, which reacted to the public ideology of Nikita Khrushchev's regime. Almost immediately, it was accepted in all Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe as the leading doctrine. As a matter of fact, each new Soviet regime made considerable changes in the public ideology. With Brezhnev's demise, the concept of developed socialism was almost immediately discarded. Already in the span of Yuri Andropov's short regime skeptical attitudes toward the previous regime emerged. The new propaganda focused on social justice. Then, with the start of perestroika, this concept associated with Brezhnev's stagnation was sent to the dustbin of history.

Khrushchev, the most eclectic Soviet leader, who tried to combine the goal of developing military might (his son Sergei Khrushchev aptly named a book about his father Nikita Khrushchev and the Creation of a Superpower, 2000) with a naive belief in communist ideals, and also with serious liberalization of society. Khrushchev wanted to reach the standard of living associated with communism without deflecting any resources from the defense of the motherland, the sacred cow of all Soviet leaders. It was Khrushchev who in 1961, just a few years before the coup against him, in the new program of the Communist Party, promised that "the next generations of the Soviet people will live under communism."

Khrushchev tried to implement this belief through his policy, which had some disastrous consequences. He castigated the personal ownership of cars and private country houses, as well as encouraged collective transportation and vacations. He initiated people's teams for keeping order as an attempt to diminish the role of the professional police, an idea that goes back to Vladimir Lenin's utopian vision of socialist society in "State and Revolution," written before the October revolution. Moved by the same motivation, Khrushchev promoted amateur theaters with the same ridiculous fervor. More serious consequences rose from Khrushchev's economic policy. He promised a radical jump forward in the production of food by the collective farms. However, he put a limit on the production of milk and meat from private plots. While Khrushchev's program in collective agriculture failed, the curtailment of food production in the private sector led to big lines for food products in the state and even in the so-called free collective market.

The leadership who ousted Khrushchev as a demagogue and adventurist (or voluntarist as he was cautiously and indirectly named in the press) who endangered the system searched for more realistic mass propaganda. Preoccupied with military competition with the United States, Brezhnev and his colleagues did not want to spread the illusion that paradise was right around the corner. Such illusions, it was thought, would generate discontent among the people in the near future.

With a sober stance, the leadership looked for an ideological concept that would preserve the communist phraseology ("the building of the materialtechnological basis of communism"), but instead of waiting for the future, would proclaim that Soviet life could be enjoyed right now. This was the message of developed socialism, which commanded great fanfare in the early 1970s. The leadership's appeal to the masses to be "satisfied"a famous term, often used by Brezhnevwith life at present seemed all the more reasonable because they were indeed "deeply satisfied" with the military parity with the West in the 1970s, an achievement that had been dreamed about by all the Russian leaders since Peter the Great.

The authors of the concept described the current Soviet society as having already accomplished many of the goals of socialism in the first stage of communism. They depicted Soviet society as based on highly developed productive forces, as a society that was close to eliminating class and ethnic distinctions, and as a new type of human community and socialist personality. Soviet ideologues also talked about the highly developed socialist democracy, and the scientific character of the political management. Most postulates of the concept had few links to reality. The pathetic statements about the technological revolution in the Soviet economy looked absurd against the backdrop of the growing economic gap between the Soviet and Western economies, particularly in the production of civil goods. The thesis about the flourishing of socialist democracy was ridiculous considering the system's harsh persecution of dissidents.

There was, however, one element of the new thinkingthat is, the mode of life, or obraz zhiznithat held a special place in the concept of developed socialism. The "Soviet mode of life" was closer to reality than most other dogmas. While refusing to claim that Soviet society can in the foreseeable future surpass the level of material consumption and productivity in the West (which had been promised by Khrushchev) the sophisticated Soviet ideologues focused on other elements of everyday life. They used the concept of "quality of life" with its focus on the subjective evaluation of different components of life that had just emerged in the West in the early 1970s.

While in some ways they followed the spirit of Western studies on the quality of life, the Soviet ideologues avoided the comparison of the material consumption in the USSR and the West. As the most important features of Soviet life, they concentrated on the free education and health care system (the quality of which was quite high by international standards) as well as the high level of science and culture, the relatively low social inequality, the importance of cultural activities in the lives of ordinary people, the big network of institutions for children, the vacations in resort institutions accessible to everybody, full employment, the absence of homeless people, and the impossibility of evicting people from their apartments. The Soviet ideologues also described, and not without reason for the significant part of the Soviet population, the Soviet people as patriots, internationalists, collectivists, and optimists. They depicted life in the West as full of various conflicts and deeply immoral. They also ascribed to the Soviet people mostly fictional properties, such as high labor discipline, temperance, active participation in the management of their factories and offices, and a motivation to work that was not driven by material incentives, but by the general willingness to make their country strong and prosperous.

Despite the permanent grumbling about the lines for consumer goods and services, the majority of the Soviet people accepted the propaganda about the superiority of the Soviet style of life compared to capitalist society. In a national survey, which the author conducted in 1976, the majority of the respondents evaluated the quality of life in the USSR as "four" on a five-point scale; they graded life in the USA as "three," and in the German Democratic Republic as "five."

The concept of developed socialism, which underpinned the anti-Western propaganda, was used also as a tool against "the Great Chinese Proletarian Revolution." Both countries since the late 1960s struggled for the leadership of the international communist movement as well as in the third world in the 1960s and 1970s. The Soviet ideologues denounced the Maoist utopian leftist radicalism of the "Great Chinese Cultural Revolution," opposing it to Soviet "real socialism."

The concept of developed socialism was concocted as an ideological trick by the Soviet propagandists for the justification of the new regime. It was a laughing stock for liberal intellectuals, and the subject of political jokes from the moment of its birth. However, ironically, it became a monument to the period that is considered by many Russians as the happiest time of their lives. In any case, ten years after the demise of the USSR, one-half to two-thirds of the Russians, according to various polls, believed that life during Brezhnev's times was much better than in any other period of Russian history in the twentieth century, and definitely better than in post-Soviet Russia.

See also: brezhnev, leonid ilich; khrushchev, nikita sergeyevich; socialism


Kelley, Donald. (1986). The Politics of Developed Socialism. New York: Greenwood Press.

Shlapentokh, Vladimir. (1988). The Soviet Ideologies in the Period of Glasnost. New York: Praeger.

Vladimir E. Shlapentokh

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