POL354 Lecture 10 – Post Brezhnev Years
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Last stage of Soviet development can be considered as overlapping with the first
stage of transition.
Major developments and events from 1985 – Present
Importance of leadership in understanding the limits of change (Gorbachov, Elstin
One of the major challenges Russia has confronted since the collapse of Soviet Union
is trying to figure out its identity. What is Russia? Who are the Russians? (Are they
Russians from Imperial Russia? Reformed Soviets? Or a new nation?) Different
identities are contesting for domination over who the Russian people are.
The new leadership, Mikhail Gorbachov, started with what existed by way of the
legacies of Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev. There was a recognition of a
need for change but a lack of will to begin to move the country in that direction.
The legacies consisted of the core of Stalinism – industrialization and
collectivization drive, also for the most part it was without the coercion of the
Stalinist period and without Stalin himself (this period is called Stalinism Lite
because it taken off the extreme edges of Stalinism).
This resulted in a loss of the mobilization abilities of the old Stalinist regime
Late 1970s – early 1980s was an economy based on the old Stalinist regime.
Command dominated system, there was stagnation, conservatism, and an inability
to change and adapt.
A state which was not a normal state – was a massive administrative bureaucratic
system. No legislative role of any significance – the roles of the president were
largely symbolic, and the legislature was a complete sham. The state as a
mechanism for distributing and sharing power between the centre and the republics
was also a sham. In practice it appeared to be a highly centralized state. Huge gap
between theory and practice.
The Communist party which was supposed to be the guiding force of the country,
had completely lost its function in those terms. The leadership was growing older,
lacked vision and increasingly lacked control over the direction that the country was
going. Lost its ability to exercise the real power and authority.
The constitution and the law were a farce. The constitution was irrelevant to
understanding the distribution of power. Virtually total disregard for the basic
principle of the rule of law. Growing disgust and alienation amongst the population
as a whole.
Elections took place all the time and were deemed to be meaningless. There were no
real elections – all of the outcomes were predetermined by the bureaucracies. Civil society existed in a sense – there were huge numbers of organizations, groups,
clubs, but all of them were led by/controlled by the political leadership of the
country through its personnel appointments. And through the understanding that
these organizations/groups were transmission belts.
The leadership The leadership beginning in the mid 1970s (about a decade after
Brezhnev comes to power) manifests a number of weaknesses and flaws in its
nature. Brezhnev had put in place a policy of stability for party members (there was
very little turn over at the middle and upper levels of the political leadership). By
the 1980s there was a garauntaucracy of the leadership.
In 1976 the average age of the Politburo was 66 years, if you go ahead 5 years the
average age was 71 years (this indicates no turnover). Chronologically a
gerontocracy is occurring.
These people had originally began their political careers under Stalin, and their
initial success in their career was under Stalin. What was happening in the centre
was also happening in the regions.
The country was made up of 15 republics. In 1982 the average tenure of a republics
first secretary in central Asia was 19 years. They had all been appointed between
1959 and 1961, the oldest had been in power for 26 years and the shortest for 15
years. Each of them remained in place until they died.
At the highest and middle levels of the system the leadership was growing old
together and constituted a gerontocracy*
This is the perfect formula of the failure to recognize the need for change and a
leadership that lacks any vision of where the country might go in the future. These
are the circumstances when Brezhnev dies in 1982 and is replaced by Andropov.
Andropov was a former leader of the KGB, comes into power in November 1982 and
leaves in March of 1984. Most of this time he is incapacitated by chronic health
problems. Replaced by Chernenko who had been responsible for virtually nothing
and had never held a major policy portfolio – lasted from March 1984 to March of
1985. During this time he is hospitalized. These leaders to absolutely nothing.
They had no perception of the depth of the problems faced by the Soviet Union.
They are a reflection of the larger group who did not go against the older leaders of
Andropov while in power promoted Gorbachev, wanted Gorbachev to be the
General Secretary after Chernenko.
March 1985 – Gorbachev is elected General Secretary of the party. What is obviously needed with Gorbachev is something different by way of
leadership style and leadership characteristics. This was also the case when the
Soviet Union collapsed.
Transformational Leadership was required leadership that has a vision that can
be articulated and can serve as a symbol for the direction that this person is going to
take the country. In a direction away from old institutions and towards a new period
where modernization can be advanced.
This type of leadership also has to have an agenda/strategy. A good sense of how
one plans to achieve their vision.
Also need to have some sense of how to achieve these changes in a tactical way –
changes to policy, programs, personel, and institutions. What needs to be changed,
how does it need to be changed and a sense of how it is going to end up.
In order to achieve this that leader needs to be able to both (1) generate support
and (2) contain opposition. The support has to come from all levels of society, from
his fellow leadership, from the middle, and from society as a whole. Has to convince
society that they have to change their attitudes and behavioural patterns. This
involves the challenging of basic institutional interests therefore the leadership
must be able to contain opposition.
Finally this individual has to have (3) a sufficiently long perspective in terms of his
ability to remain in power so that the changes being made become entrenched and
In what ways did the post-Brezhnev leaders meet these criterias? In what ways did
they fall short? How does this help to understand what happened in Russia?
Example Gorbachev failed to contain much of his opposition.
Anilysis of Gorbachev
Gorbachev recognized the challenges left by the Brezhnev legacy – recognized the
obstacles to modernizaton, the depth of conservative resistence, and recognized
that a modernization program was essential in order to move the country ahead.
His vision entitled transforming the country but not necessarily changing the
nature. Had a vision of Socialism that was efficient but had a human face.
Gorbachev moved in the direcion of limitred by never the less major reform by
creating a new vocabulary for politics and economics to describe what he wanted to
do by way of moving the country. He put in place an agenda of a number of
When this didn’t work he recognized the need to expand reform. But along the line
he lost control of the process. Lost control of his supports and his ability to contain
opposition to the regime. In the end Gorbachev was outflanked by his opposition and fell short. Gorbachev never intended to have the country fall apart the way it did
– never intended to dismantle the Soviet Union.
Dispite these shortfalls Gorbachev is good – started the process of dismantling a
system that was systematically abusive of fundamental human rights, a non
transparent system, and a system that was a very strong authoritarian system that
did not work in favour of the people it proported to support.
Gorbachev was responsible for the critical first stage of transition – the dismantling
of institutions and beginning to put in place new policies and institutions. If he had
had the ability to contain opposition and generate support there would have been a
This first stage can be termed liberalization – a necessary first step.
Gorbachev as a transformational leader
When Gorbachev comes to power he does essentially what the other general
secretaries did – spends a good deal of time consolidating that power by changing
officials. Had to revamp Politburo, change state administers and has to replace as
many of the 15 republic first secretaries as he can in order to take out those that are
likely to oppose him and replace them with individuals that he trusted.
1. Uskoolenie For his first year in power he claims that he is speeding up or
intensifying the existing system – squeezing more out of it but not making any
radical changes to the institution. He does this by introducing three short term
1. Improving discipline at the work place getting people to be
compliant/do what they are supposed to do. Did not introduce and
significant sanctions or incentives.
2. Campagn to get rid of corruption Gorbachev’s campagn against
corruption was used to quickly remove large ammounts of middle and
high ranking officials. In other words he was changing the system of
stability that Brazhnev had put into place. Introduces an anti-corruption
campaign which created the initial round of resistance to Gorbachev as a
3. Introduced an anti-al