THE HISTORY OF RUSSIA

     

     Charles E. Ziegler

 

     The Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations
     Frank W. Thackeray and John E. Findling, Series Editors
     Greenwood Press / Westport, Connecticut ˇ London / 1999

   

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

7

 

De-Stalinization and Developed Socialism, 1953-1985 

         

[W]e still have a lot to learn from the capitalists. There are many things we still don't do as well as they do. It's been more than fifty years since the working class of the Soviet Union carried out its Revolution under the leadership of the Great Lenin, yet, to my great disappointment and irritation, we still haven't been able to catch up with the capitalists.

Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers: The Last Testament

 

In the wake of Joseph Stalin's death the Soviet Union confronted the problem of succession, just as it had after Lenin's death in 1924. Stalin left no testament designating a successor; more significantly, it was not even clear what position conferred final executive authority. Stalin's power had evolved from his position as General Secretary of the Communist Party's Central Committee, which gave him control over personnel and administrative matters. By the end of his rule, Stalin's offices and titles mattered little--he had amassed virtually unlimited personal power. None of Stalin's heirs approached his stature, nor were the Presidium members willing to grant any one of their peers the arbitrary power Stalin had possessed.

The solution was to divide the top posts among themselves, in a form of collective leadership. After Beria's arrest and execution, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) was divided into two organizations: a criminal policing agency which retained the MVD title; and a separate secret police, the Committee for State Security (KGB), subordinate to the Council of Ministers. Georgii Malenkov became Prime Minister, heading the government's Council of Ministers, and for a time appeared to be the most powerful of the top Soviet leaders. Nikita Khrushchev assumed the position of General Secretary (renamed First Secretary) of the Communist Party Central Committee. Khrushchev, a former Party Secretary from Ukraine, used his new position to appoint supporters to important republic and regional levels of the Party organization. Viacheslav Molotov, Stalin's confidant who had signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, became Minister of Foreign Affairs. Once they had disposed of Soviet secret police chief Lavrentii Beria, the main threat, each began maneuvering against the others to consolidate and expand his power.

The Soviet leadership, aside from Molotov and Lazar Kaganovich, agreed on the need for reform, in particular to address the needs of Soviet consumers who had been asked to make heroic sacrifices during the Stalin period. Domestically, there was some dispute over whether to continue Stalin's focus on heavy industrial and military production or to emphasize agricultural production and consumer goods to satisfy pentup demands. Malenkov argued for lower prices on food and industrial goods to curry favor with consumers, while reducing kolkhoz taxes. Costs would be covered through reductions in the military and heavy industry budgets. Khrushchev criticized Malenkov's plans to enact deep cuts in heavy industry and the military, countering with a low-cost scheme to bring millions of acres of new land in northern Kazakhstan, Siberia, and southern Russia under cultivation. This "Virgin Lands" project succeeded initially in boosting the grain harvest, but the and land was soon depleted, and massive dust storms eroded much of the once-fertile topsoil. Moreover, the project enticed tens of thousands of Russians and Ukrainians to settle in Turkic Kazakhstan, laying the groundwork for ethnic tensions in the post-communist era.

In the absence of open political debate and competition among political parties, as occurs in democracies, political infighting in communist systems took the form of policy discussions couched in esoteric language. When a particular policy line was discredited, it also meant the political decline of that policy's proponents. Malenkov's reform program was vulnerable because it broke radically with Stalinist tradition, threatened the interests of the Soviet military-industrial complex, and would likely fuel inflation. Khrushchev was able to exploit these opportunities and maneuvered Malenkov out of the premiership by the end of 1954, replacing him with his own appointee, Nikolai Bulganin.

New approaches were also needed in foreign policy. Confrontation in Europe had united the Western allies under NATO's military umbrella (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was established in 1949), while in the east the stalemated Korean War led to an American military buildup in Japan and the western Pacific. The Soviet leadership moved quickly to end the impasse in Korea; an armistice was signed in July 1953. Khrushchev also mended fences with Yugoslav leader Josip Tito, whom Stalin had excommunicated from the socialist camp. A high-level delegation of the Presidium visited Belgrade in May 1955, pledged not to interfere in Yugoslavia's domestic affairs, and acknowledged that "different roads to socialism" were acceptable. Harmony was restored in the communist world, as was Moscow's leading position, but both would soon be challenged.

In a conciliatory move to the West, Soviet troops were withdrawn from Austria in 1955 in exchange for that country's declaration of neutrality. But the Cold War, and the arms race it spawned, continued. The United States exploded its first thermonuclear (fusion) device in 1952; the Soviets tested their own hydrogen bomb the following year. Anti-communist paranoia had peaked in the United States during the McCarthy era ( 1950-1953), but hysteria over the possibility of a surprise nuclear attack continued to dominate American culture throughout the 1950s and well into the 1960s.

Joseph Stalin's death unleashed demands for change that had been ruthlessly suppressed for years. Relatives of those arrested and thrown in the camps by the MVD used the regime's admission that Beria was a criminal to argue for the release of their loved ones. Camp prisoners (zeks) began demanding better treatment, and major camp uprisings were reported in Siberia and Kazakhstan. In Eastern Europe, workers went out on strike in East Berlin and Czechoslovakia. The Soviet Party leadership had to come to terms with the Stalin repressions, and a commission was appointed to study the question.

First Secretary Khrushchev delivered the results of this investigation at the Twentieth Party Congress, in 1956. Party congresses had once been important expanded meetings of Party faithful, but had lost much of their significance and were rarely held under Stalin. Khrushchev restored the congress as a major forum for announcing new directions in Party policy. In a closed session held after the congress had completed its scheduled work, Khrushchev delivered his "Secret Speech" criticizing Stalin's "cult of personality" and detailing his crimes against loyal Party officials. Khrushchev was selective in his criticism--Stalin's forced industrialization program, the early repressions, and the horrors of collectivization were accepted as positive contributions toward building socialism. Likewise, critics of the Stalinist bureaucratic socialist system, most notably Leon Trotsky and Nikolai Bukharin, were not rehabilitated.

Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev was very different from his predecessor, Stalin. While Stalin was slim, with a dark mustache and piercing eyes, Khrushchev was bald, stocky, and ebullient. Khrushchev was born in the village of Kalinovka near Kursk in 1894. He worked as a shepherd and a locksmith, and was drafted to fight in World War I. Khrushchev joined the Communist Party in 1918 and fought with the Red Army in the Civil War. Later, he studied in Party schools and quickly worked his way up the ranks of the Party bureaucracy. During World War II he served as Communist Party First Secretary for Ukraine when that republic was under German occupation. After the war he helped reorganize Soviet agriculture, and always considered himself an expert on farming. Khrushchev did not share his predecessor's paranoia, and he was quite comfortable touring the countryside joking with peasants or observing workers in the factories. In many respects he was a populist leader--coarse, genial, and down to earth. However, his lack of culture and boorish manners, particularly when traveling abroad, embarrassed many Russians.

By embarking on his de-Stalinization program, Khrushchev planned to disassociate himself from Stalin's terror, and sought to reassure Communist Party officials that the arbitrary abuses they had suffered in the past would not be repeated. Soviet politics, he promised, would return to Leninist practices of collective leadership. Principles of socialist legality would be observed, as would Communist Party regulations and the Soviet constitution. Tens of thousands of camp inmates, both political prisoners and criminals, were released after the Twentieth Party Congress speech; millions more were rehabilitated posthumously.

Khrushchev's de-Stalinization campaign clearly tried to preserve the legitimacy of the political, social, and economic system Stalin had created, while renouncing the more threatening aspects of Stalinism. Although the speech was supposedly available only to leading Party officials, the contents soon became readily available both within the USSR and abroad. It had a dramatic impact. Many older communists who had dedicated their lives to the cause became disillusioned. Mem bers of the optimistic younger generation interpreted the attack on Stalin as a sign of impending political liberalization, raising their expectations for significant reform.

Khrushchev's revelations reverberated through the communist world. In Eastern Europe, intellectuals, workers, and students took to the streets demanding political reforms and the dismissal of their Stalinist leaders. Eastern Europeans naturally resented Soviet control over their foreign and defense policies, and the mandatory study of eight years of Russian language in schools. In Poland, where Soviet imperialism and the imposition of communism were bitterly resisted, the Party leadership ended Poland's collectivization drive and allowed some 80 percent of the farms to revert to private ownership. The Catholic Church, a repository of Polish national identity, was allowed a greater degree of independence. Poland's leaders also dumped the Stalinist Party Secretary Boleslaw Bierut and appointed Wladyslaw Gomulka, a Polish nationalist, in his place. Khrushchev and the Soviet leadership were furious that they had not been consulted on the matter, but Gomulka maintained stability and, after several rounds of high-level shuttle diplomacy, the Soviets acquiesced to the Poles' decision.

Hungary was a different matter. Replacing the Stalinist Matyas Rakosi only encouraged popular demands for greater democracy. In the fall of 1956 strike committees and independent workers' councils were formed, censorship was relaxed, and political parties began to form. Mobs attacked the secret police headquarters. American broadcasts through Radio Free Europe hinted that the West would support Hungary's bid for independence from the communist bloc. When the Hungarians announced their intention to withdraw from the Soviet-led defense pact, the Warsaw Treaty Organization (or Warsaw Pact), Soviet troops were sent into Budapest to crush the nascent revolution.

Soviet ties to the Eastern European empire were formalized through two institutions: the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, or CMEA, established in 1949; and the Warsaw Treaty Organization (WTO), formed in 1955. The CMEA was designed as the communist equivalent of Western Europe's Coal and Steel Community, to facilitate economic cooperation among member nations. Under Stalin it was used mainly as a vehicle to funnel resources from Eastern Europe into the USSR. His successors promoted a more equitable division of labor, with the USSR supplying oil, natural gas, electricity, and other natural resources; the more developed East European states ( Czechoslovakia and East Germany) provided manufactured goods, and the less developed ( Bulgaria and Ro mania) contributed agricultural products. CMEA never achieved a high degree of integration, however, and most of the members (including the Soviet Union) believed that they were contributing more than they received in benefits.

The Warsaw Pact, a military defense alliance, was created at the same time Soviet forces left Austria and West Germany was admitted into NATO. A Soviet general invariably commanded the WTO, and Soviet troops constituted the bulk of WTO forces. Though supposedly a bulwark against aggression from Western Europe and the United States, the Warsaw Pact was not an alliance of equals, and it is questionable how well Polish, Hungarian, or Czech troops would have carried out Soviet orders in the event of a conflict with the West. Nicolai Ceausescu, Romania's dictator from 1965 to 1989, refused even to allow armed WTO forces to be stationed on Romanian territory. The WTO's main function was to preserve the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe. Warsaw Pact troops exercised military force on only two occasions--the invasion of Hungary in November 1956, and the invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. As Poles liked to joke, when Soviet tourists visited Eastern Europe they drove tanks instead of cars.

Challenges to communist rule in Eastern Europe and scattered instances of domestic protest within the USSR led some of the Soviet hierarchy to question the wisdom of de-Stalinization. Khrushchev's administrative reforms also sparked considerable opposition from Soviet officials. He had strongly condemned bureaucratic sclerosis at the Twentieth Party Congress, and advocated greater participation by workers and farmers in Soviet management. Oversight of industrial production was shifted from the center to the republics or regions. In 1957 Khrushchev sought to dismantle much of the central bureaucracy by creating 105 regional economic councils (sovnarkhozy) to manage economic development. The sovnarkhozy reforms shifted power from the central ministries in Moscow to the regions, and were opposed by Party and government elites in the Presidium and the Council of Ministers, who recognized them as a challenge to their authority.

Resistance to Khrushchev's experiments culminated in a move by several members of the Presidium to oust him from his position as General Secretary in June 1957. Claiming that the larger CPSU Central Committee had elected him, Khrushchev insisted that the Presidium's action must be ratified by this body. With the help of war hero Marshal Georgii Zhukov, Central Committee members were flown in from the provincial capitals at short notice. Since many owed their position to Khrushchev's patronage, the wily leader managed to prevail over his rivals, whom he later dubbed the "Anti-Party Group."

This incident reveals much about the changed conditions in post- Stalin USSR. First, open opposition to Khrushchev's reforms indicated a more relaxed political climate. No single leader could exercise the absolute control over the Party and the government formerly wielded by Stalin. Second, Khrushchev triumphed by relying on formal Party procedures-the Presidium voted against him (eight to four), while a majority of the Central Committee voted to keep him in power. Arbitrary rule was being supplanted by more routinized and predictable ways of conducting politics. Third, the consequences of losing in Soviet politics were far less severe than under Stalin. Khrushchev's opponents resigned from the Presidium and were given less prestigious positions--Viacheslav Molotov became ambassador to Mongolia, Georgii Malenkov director of a power station in Kazakhstan, Lazar Kaganovich director of a cement plant in the Urals--but they kept their pensions, many of their privileges, and, most important, their lives.

After dismissing his opponents, Khrushchev appointed his supporters to the Presidium and further consolidated his power. In March 1958 he eased Nikolai Bulganin out as Premier and assumed the top government office himself. Khrushchev then pursued a new round of reforms. Providing more meat, milk, and butter for the spartan Soviet diet was one of his top priorities. This was to be accomplished, though, without any fundamental changes in the collective farm system. Like many communist leaders, Khrushchev believed that campaigns and exhortation were preferable to material incentives in motivating people. In 1957 he had promised to overtake the United States in meat production within four years; enthusiastic local officials, tempted by the opportunity to boost their careers, achieved impressive short-term results that over the long term did more harm than good. Khrushchev also developed a fixation with corn, reinforced by a visit to Iowa in 1959, and ordered its planting throughout the USSR. Millions of rubles were wasted on a crop unsuited to Soviet soil and climatic conditions, and by the early 1960s the USSR was forced to import grain on the world market. In private, Russians ridiculed the First Secretary, calling him the "corn guy" (kukuruznik).

Great progress was made during Khrushchev's tenure in providing housing for the Soviet consumer. A large portion of Soviet housing had been destroyed by the Germans during World War II, and Stalin had been slow to undertake reconstruction. Many families lived in kommunalki, small communal apartments where they shared a kitchen and toilet with several other families. The truly poor lived in barraki (barracks), long two-story buildings very similar to college dormitories. A family of four might spend years in a room twelve feet square, cooking on a hot plate and sharing toilet facilities with a dozen other families. Khrushchev ordered the construction of thousands of high-rise apartments to deal with the housing shortage. While the "Khrushchevki" were of poor quality, and the elevators often broke down, the average family now had at least two or three rooms with a kitchen and bath they could call their own.

 

 

  

THE THAW                                                

           

The decade after Stalin died saw a relaxation of political controls in the cultural sphere and the revival of literature and the arts. Writers began to challenge the canon of socialist realism, which had reached a repressive zenith under culture tsar Andrei Zhdanov. Ilya Ehrenburg novelThe Thaw ( 1954), a critical look at life in a factory town, marked the beginning of and provided the label for this period. In 1956 Vladimir Dudintsev's Not by Bread Alone portrayed an individualist inventor, Lopatkin, who struggles heroically against the stifling bureaucratism of his collective. Lopatkin eventually convinces his skeptical bosses to adopt his innovations, but only after being harassed and incarcerated in a labor camp. Although Dudintsev's book was published as one component of Khrushchev's campaign against bureaucratism, the Soviet writers' union and Khrushchev himself condemned Dudintsev's novel as unduly critical of life under socialism. Dudintsev second major novel, Robed in White, a critique of hack biologist Trofim Lysenko, was not published until 1987, under Gorbachev.

Khrushchev's attack on Stalin at the Twentieth Party Congress encouraged even bolder efforts. The most explosive work of the post-Stalin period was that of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. An artillery officer arrested late in World War II for making derogatory comments about Stalin in his correspondence home, Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to eight years in the camps and another three in internal exile. His first novel was published in 1962 in the literary "thick journal" Novyi Mir (New World). Titled One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, it details an ordinary day through the eyes of a concentration camp prisoner incarcerated simply for surrendering to the Germans. Ivan Denisovich's life revolves around the meager rations, bitter cold, and brutal guards of a strict regime camp. Later, in his novels First Circle and Cancer Ward, Solzhenitsyn depicted conditions in the elite camps (for specialists and intellectuals who were engaged in scientific work) and in exile, both of which he had experienced directly. By the late 1960s, however, the Thaw was reversed. First Circle, Cancer Ward, and Solzhenitsyn's three-volume encyclopedia of the labor camp system, The Gulag Archipelago, were all rejected by Soviet publishers, and copies of Ivan Denisovich were quietly removed from public library shelves. Solzhenitsyn's powerful writing did much to discredit communism among European intellectual circles.

Poetry was another popular vehicle of expression. Yevgeny Yevtushenko was the most popular young poet of the times; fans filled soccer stadiums to hear his readings. His poem "Stalin's Heirs" appeared in the Communist Party newspaper Pravda in 1957; in it Yevtushenko warned against the followers of Stalin who were biding their time in the hope of returning to power. "Babi Yar" ( 1960) commemorated the massacre of Jews by Nazi troops in Ukraine during World War II. Acknowledging that the Jews had been singled out for extermination was sensitive in the Soviet Union--the regime preferred to assert that all Soviet peoples had suffered equally. Yevtushenko's poetry was tolerated because he praised socialism, but his was a humanist, tolerant international socialism that had little in common with Stalinism.

The Thaw clearly had its limits. Censorship had not been abolished, and artists were still expected to follow the general principles of socialist realism. Boris Pasternak's novel about the Revolution and Civil War, Dr. Zhivago, was condemned as a reactionary work glorifying the enemies of socialism, and Novyi Mir refused to publish it. In his memoirs Khrushchev insists that he favored releasing the novel in the USSR. Presumably, he could easily have ordered the manuscript published. When it was released in the West, Soviet authorities were infuriated at the praise heaped on the book. Pasternak was pressured into refusing the Nobel Prize for literature, which was bestowed on him by the Swedish Academy in 1958.

Artistic experiments were permitted during the Thaw, and works by Picasso and Matisse reappeared in the galleries of Moscow and Leningrad. But modern art encountered great resistance from the authorities, most notably Khrushchev himself. At the 1962 Manezh exhibition in Moscow, Khrushchev personally viewed the modernist abstract works. After he crudely belittled some of the paintings, calling them "dog shit," Khrushchev peremptorily declared that artists would have to paint differently or leave the Soviet Union. Not one kopek of state money would go to support such work, he asserted. The exhibit was closed, and the Party launched a campaign to restore ideological purity and eliminate bourgeois influences in Soviet art.

 

 

 

 

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS                       

           

Soviet foreign policy in the Khrushchev era was marked by several major setbacks, the biggest of which was the break with the People's Republic of China. The Chinese Communist Party claimed that Khrushchev's revelations at the Twentieth Party Congress undermined communism's international prestige. China's preeminent leader, Mao Zedong, personally resented de-Stalinization; he was determined to wield unlimited power and to build his own personality cult. Mao also bitterly opposed Khrushchev's promise at the Twentieth Party Congress to pursue peaceful coexistence with the West. Khrushchev's new doctrine rejected the Stalinist assertion that war between the socialist and capitalist camps was inevitable. Nuclear weapons could destroy civilization; in the atomic age peaceful competition, premised on the Marxist notion that socialism would eventually triumph, was the only logical means of struggle between the two systems. This victory of socialism through peaceful competition is what Khrushchev meant when he startled the West by declaring, "We will bury you."

By contrast, Mao was perfectly willing to start a war; he wanted Soviet support to regain Taiwan, which was then defended militarily by U.S. troops. In 1958 he proposed to Andrei Gromyko ( Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1957 to 1985) that in the event of a conflict between the United States and China, China's strategy would be to draw American forces deep into the interior, where they could be annihilated by Soviet nuclear weapons. With its huge population, Mao reasoned, China could absorb 300 million casualties and socialism would still triumph. In his Memoirs Gromyko writes, "I was flabbergasted." He assured Mao that this proposal would never be approved by his fellow leaders in the Kremlin.

Convinced the Chinese communists might draw the Soviet Union into war, the Presidium terminated the Soviet-Chinese nuclear cooperation program late in the 1950s. In addition, Soviet technical advisors helping with some 330 Chinese industrial projects were recalled. The Soviet leaders were appalled by Mao's bizarre economic experiment, the Great Leap Forward ( 1958-1960), which was supposed to transform China into a major industrial power but instead resulted in a massive famine. For their part, the Chinese strongly resented the conclusion of the limited Test Ban Treaty negotiated by the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain in 1963, limiting the yield and venues of nuclear testing. The two largest communist powers also began competing for allies among the newly independent Third World nations. These factors, aggravated by the personal animosity between Khrushchev and Mao, led to open estrangement by the beginning of the 1960s.

Relations with the United States and Western Europe improved somewhat from the late Stalin years, but the Cold War continued to fester. When in 1957 the Soviet Union launched the first spacecraft, Sputnik, Americans were both surprised and intimidated by this accomplishment. Massive U.S. resources were poured into scientific and technical education, military hardware, and Soviet area studies. The downing of U.S. Captain Francis Gary Powers' U-2 spy plane deep inside Soviet territory in 1960 resulted in the cancellation of a summit meeting scheduled to be held in Paris. John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign included promises to overcome a "missile gap"; later evidence that the missile gap was nonexistent, and that U.S. nuclear forces were superior to those in the USSR, did little to stem the nuclear arms race.

The former German capital, Berlin, was a recurring source of tension. The exodus of nearly 2 million East Germans into West Berlin, the sector controlled by the French, British, and Americans, constituted a brain drain from communist East Germany. In 1961 the Soviets and East Germans stemmed the flow by constructing a wall around the perimeter of West Berlin. The Berlin Wall remained as a testament to oppression, and a major source of dispute between the United States and the USSR, until it was torn down in 1989 as communism collapsed throughout Eastern Europe.

A major forum for East-West confrontation was the struggle for allies and influence in the newly independent Third World nations of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Many of the former colonies rejected capitalism as inextricably linked to colonialism. The socialist model offered an attractive alternative--impressive Soviet economic and scientific achievements provided convincing evidence that central planning and socialist ownership were more effective in promoting development than the free market. Under Khrushchev the Soviet Union established close ties with Indonesia, India, Afghanistan, Burma, Egypt, and Iran, supplying generous loans, technical advisors, and military equipment. In addition, students from developing nations were invited to study free of charge at the best Soviet universities and institutes. Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow, named after the socialist leader of the Congo, catered exclusively to a Third World clientele.

However, few of these countries became "puppets" of the Soviet Union, although many foreign policy analysts in the United States believed this to be the case. Powerful nationalist forces limited Soviet influence, as did frequent regime changes which deposed leaders friendly to the USSR. For example, links to Indonesia were severed in 1965 when President Sukarno was overthrown by General Suharto amid a massacre of thousands of Indonesian Communist Party members. Substantial investments in Egypt came to naught when President Gamal Abdel Nasser died and his successor, Anwar Sadat, expelled all Soviet advisors in 1972. The United States developed close relations with both of these nations once the Soviets had departed.

By far the most critical point in East-West relations during the Khrushchev era was the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. After defeating Cuba's corrupt dictator Fulgencio Batista and taking power in 1959, Fidel Castro declared Cuba socialist and aligned his country with the Soviet Union. In August 1962 U.S. spy planes flying over Cuban territory discovered Soviet medium-range nuclear missile complexes in Cuba, ninety miles from Florida, capable of hitting most cities in the eastern United States, together with surface-to-air missile sites to protect the installations from air attack. After contemplating various options, President Kennedy ordered a naval quarantine, or blockade, of Cuba, technically an act of war, and demanded that the USSR withdraw the missiles. After nearly two weeks of confrontation and confusing diplomatic exchanges, the Kremlin agreed to withdraw their weapons in exchange for American promises not to invade Cuba and to withdraw obsolete U.S. missiles targeted at the Soviet Union from Turkey. Recently released information suggests that the Soviet leadership did not intend to start a war or provoke a crisis; rather, installing missiles in Cuba was a relatively quick and cheap way to overcome Soviet strategic inferiority.

 

 

  

UNFULFILLED PROMISES                             

           

Khrushchev constantly emphasized Soviet accomplishments, and he bragged about plans to "catch up and overtake" the West in agriculture, science, and industry. At the Twenty-Second Party Congress in 1961 he made the rash promise that the current generation would live under full communism, that is, a society in which there would be no scarcity, no wages, and no markets. He also introduced a new ideological concept, the All-People's State, in which a congenial alliance of the three major social classes (workers, peasants, and intelligentsia) replaced the dictatorship of the proletariat. In practical terms, this meant that greater popular participation was encouraged among the population, but still within strict Communist Party supervision. Local governments (the councils, or soviets) were to be reinvigorated. Comrades' courts, staffed by ordinary citizens and empowered to deal with minor criminal cases, were promoted as an example of democracy and socialist legality. Another innovation was the druzhina, a people's militia, made up of young (often Komsomol) volunteers who wore armbands and patrolled the streets looking for miscreants.

The aim of these programs was to socialize citizens to more responsible behavior and a stronger commitment to socialism through greater participation in the system. But Soviet politics remained, as Russians frequently observed, like the weather--it came from on high, and most people could do nothing about it. Khrushchev's modest attempts at expanding participation were jettisoned by his successors toward the end of the 1960s and, although they insisted that Soviet democracy was continuing to expand under the rubric of "developed socialism," the Brezhnev era ( 1964-1982) was decidedly less liberal.

By 1964 Khrushchev had managed to antagonize most powerful interests in the Soviet Union. Regional and local Party officials resented frequent personnel changes and the decision in 1962 to divide their responsibilities into separate agricultural and industrial portfolios. Government ministers had been alienated by the creation of the regional economic councils. By reducing the standing army and shifting expenditures toward nuclear weapons while neglecting conventional armaments, Khrushchev had earned the enmity of the USSR's top military leaders. Other annoying traits included his frequent reversals on policy matters, ill-considered experiments in agriculture, and boorish behavior such as pounding his shoe on the lectern at the United Nations during a speech by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan of Great Britain; Soviet people particularly resented that they were forced to pay Khrushchev's fine for this display of childishness by having their lottery proceeds frozen for two decades.

In October 1964 the Presidium demanded his resignation. At a special emergency meeting of the Central Committee, Party ideologist Mikhail Suslov charged the First Secretary with violating the principle of collective leadership, mismanaging agriculture and industry, and damaging t he Communist Party through his frequent reorganization schemes. Leonid Brezhnev, a rather bland protégé of Khrushchev's who would succeed him as Party leader, criticized his attempts to restore a cult of personality. His enforced retirement approved by the Central Committee, the seventy-year-old Khrushchev retreated to his dacha outside Moscow, where he tended his garden and eventually taped two volumes of memoirs. Aside from occasional references to the purveyor of "harebrained schemes," the Soviet press did not again mention Nikita Khrushchev until his death in 1971.

 

  

 

 

 

BREZHNEV AND COMPANY                           

           

The first order of business for the new regime was to restore stability to Soviet politics. Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev, who assumed the position of General Secretary of the CPSU at age fifty-eight, proclaimed renewed adherence to the principle of collective leadership and assured Party officials that frequent personnel changes were a thing of the past. Communist Party cadres were now allowed to hold their positions for life, barring gross malfeasance. Brezhnev was a bureaucrat of limited intelligence with an interest in agriculture. Born in 1906 in Kamenskoye (renamed Dneprodzherzhinsk under Soviet rule), he attended a classical gymnasium and dreamed of being an actor. Brezhnev joined the Komsomol in 1923, studied agriculture and land management, and graduated in the 1930s from the Dneprodzherzhinsk metallurgical institute. During World War II he served as a political commissar; later, his memoirs, entitled The Small Earth, became required reading for all high school students. After the war he was appointed CPSU First Secretary in Moldavia, and then First Secretary of Kazakhstan. Brezhnev was granted membership in the Central Committee Presidium in 1957 and became a Secretary of the Party Central Committee in 1963.

The new Soviet leaders divided the leading Party and government positions between two individuals; Khrushchev had held both positions since 1958. Alexei Kosygin, chairman of the Leningrad Party organization during the war and former Minister of Light Industry, became Chairman of the Council of Ministers, or Premier. Most of Kosygin's experience had been in textiles and consumer goods industries, and as Premier he would assume much of the responsibility for industrial production. Nikolai Podgornyi took over the less influential office of Chairman of the Supreme Soviet, often described as the presidency of the USSR.

Some of Khrushchev's experiments were undone almost immediately. The regional economic councils were abolished in 1965, and centralized ministries were restored under the Council of Ministers. Kosygin, though, understood the need for reform in the Soviet economy. Growth rates in the mid-1960s had declined to 4-5 percent per year from the 7-9 percent rates of the 1950s, and the quality of goods produced through central planning was often shoddy. Soviet economist Yevsei Liberman in 1962 had first proposed introducing some limited forms of profit making and greater enterprise autonomy, while reducing the role of the State Planning Committee (Gosplan) in Soviet industry.

The post- Khrushchev leadership agreed on the need to improve the material well-being of the population and to dampen consumer expectations (or at least avoid the wild promises voiced by their predecessor). Kosygin linked his political reputation to the development of consumer goods and light industry, using a modified version of Liberman's ideas. Brezhnev, who had helped implement the Virgin Lands project in Kazakhstan, stressed massive investment and expanded use of fertilizer and scientific methods in agriculture. The defense establishment, a powerful vested interest, also received a large share of the budgetary pie. Since state investment favored agriculture, the consumer, and the military, long-term capital investment in heavy industry was slighted. By the 1980s these priorities had caused economic growth to slow to a crawl.

Structural weaknesses in the Soviet economy paralleled similar problems in Eastern Europe. The more highly industrialized Eastern European countries-East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary-experienced a slowdown in growth rates first. These countries struggled to meet the growing aspirations of their people. Hungary under Janos Kadar had been gradually reforming since the 1956 revolution; a New Economic Mechanism introduced in 1968 broadened these reforms. East Germany relied on technology and, after 1972, subsidies from West Germany to maintain a relatively high standard of living. Poland's leadership borrowed technology and money from the West throughout the 1970s, and then had to resort to price increases to cover their massive debts. When the Polish government raised prices on basic food items, workers and students took to the streets in protest. Major public disturbances occurred in Poland in 1968, 1970, and 1976. Massive strikes originating in the Gdansk shipyards in 1980-1981 led to the formation of the labor organization Solidarity and forced Soviet officials to recognize that socialism had major structural flaws.

Czechoslovakia under Anton Novotny had combined rigid central planning with neo-Stalinist repression. When Alexander Dubcek replaced Novotny as General Secretary in January 1968, the Czechoslovak Communist Party quickly adopted market reforms, relaxed censorship, permitted the formation of independent political parties and interest groups, and severed links to the Soviet KGB. Soviet leaders watched these developments with growing unease through the spring and summer; Eastern Europe's Communist leaders fretted about the possible spill-over of democratic ideas into their domains. After several attempts at negotiation, the Kremlin ordered Warsaw Pact forces to invade Prague and restore order. Dubcek was bundled off to Moscow, pressured to capitulate, and then forced to retire. His successor, Gustav Husak, steered the country back to the Leninist model of rigid Party control.

The invasion of Czechoslovakia was watched with dismay by the more reform-minded intellectuals in the USSR and Eastern Europe. A tiny demonstration of eight took place in Moscow's Red Square, but it was quickly disbanded by the police. Pavel Litvinov, grandson of Stalin's Minister of Foreign Affairs Maksim Litvinov ( 1930-1938), was one of the participants. An authoritative article published in Pravda articulated what came to be known as the Brezhnev Doctrine--an open declaration of the Soviet Union's right and duty to intervene with force in countries where socialism was in danger. The Brezhnev Doctrine preserved Soviet control over the East European empire; it remained in effect until Mikhail Gorbachev renounced it early in 1989.

Premier Alexei Kosygin's identification with economic reform proved a liability when the Czechoslovak experience demonstrated the political dangers associated with reform. After 1968 his influence in the Soviet hierarchy waned, and the conservative Brezhnev emerged as first among equals. In 1969 he contemplated rehabilitating Stalin, but opposition from the Polish and Hungarian Communist Parties quashed this idea. However, this setback did not deter Brezhnev from creating his own personality cult. By the time of his death this General Secretary of modest accomplishments had received over 200 medals, including four Hero of the Soviet Union awards and the rank of Marshal of the USSR for his "outstanding contributions" to building socialism. The 1977 Constitution marked his crowning achievement, the new stage of "developed socialism," and was generally known as the Brezhnev Constitution.

Brezhnev, like many chief executives, soon discovered the advantages of being a world statesman. Starting in 1969 the Soviet Union and the United States began discussions on limiting long-range nuclear missiles, the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT). President Richard Nixon, who had built his political career bashing communism, now was willing to deal with Soviet leaders as equals and even partners. Brezhnev in turn basked in the publicity of summit negotiations: Nixon visited Moscow in May 1972; Brezhnev went to the United States in June 1973; Brezhnev and Nixon's successor Gerald Ford met in the Russian Far East port of Vladivostok in December 1974. Besides the welcome media attention, summit meetings provided opportunities for Brezhnev to add to his collection of foreign limousines and sports cars, given to him as gifts by fellow statesmen.

This relaxation of tensions, détente, was formalized in the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty (SALT I), the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), and the Basic Principles agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union, all signed in 1972. Ostensibly an attempt to cap the arms race, the SALT I negotiations merely established numerical limits on missile launchers, which were then raised in the second round of talks. The Soviet side was unwilling to permit inspections on the ground, so both sides verified the limits through spy satellites. And SALT failed to constrain technology. Both sides quickly developed multiple-warhead, independently targeted reentry vehicles (MIRVs), putting more nuclear weapons on the same number of missiles and further accelerating the arms race. The ABM Treaty limited each side's ability to construct missile defense systems, premised on Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). The MAD doctrine reasoned that if Soviet and American cities remained undefended, neither power would risk initiating nuclear war since the result would be mutual annihilation.

The Basic Principles agreement, a political document, provided for various economic, environmental, cultural, and technological exchanges, such as the joint Apollo-Soyuz space mission in 1975. Trade expanded, as the Soviet Union purchased grain from farmers in the Midwest and in turn exported oil products and Stolichnaya vodka to the United States. Dozens of joint projects on air and water pollution, soil erosion, agricultural runoff, and noise pollution were operating by the mid-1970s.

Soviet-American rapprochement was very much driven by events in Asia. Since 1964 the U.S. presence in Indochina had been expanding, as Washington supported the anti-communist regime in South Vietnam. Soviet support for the communist regime in North Vietnam also grew, from $50 million in 1964 to nearly $1 billion per year from 1967 to 1972. Soviet support for North Vietnam paid major dividends by forcing the United States to commit troops and money to an increasingly unpopular cause. Moscow's support for North Vietnam was also a component of its rivalry

with China. Through the 1960s Beijing had portrayed the Chinese model as better suited to the lesser developed countries, and during the tumultuous Cultural Revolution (1966-1969) invective against the "revisionist" Soviet Union escalated. When armed forces of the two nations engaged in border clashes along the Amur River in 1969, the Kremlin sounded out Washington about its possible reaction to a preemptive strike on Chinese nuclear installations.

Détente was vitally important to the Soviet Union. First, cordial relations with the United States raised the stakes for China of any potential aggression against the USSR. President Nixon and National Security Advisor (later Secretary of State) Henry Kissinger realized this, and adroitly played the "China card" to extract concessions from the Soviets. In addition, America was now treating the USSR as an equal, militarily and diplomatically. The Soviet Union had in fact achieved nuclear parity with the United States by the end of the 1960s as a result of its rapid nuclear buildup. In Europe, Warsaw Pact conventional forces greatly outnumbered NATO in tanks, troops, and aircraft. In 1972 the two alliances entered into the Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions Talks in Vienna, but there was no real progress in conventional arms negotiations until late in the Gorbachev era.

The détente process, coupled with the Soviet military buildup and America's precipitous withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975, gave the impression that the USSR was an ascendant superpower. In 1972 Foreign Affairs Minister Andrei Gromyko proudly proclaimed that no international problem of significance anywhere in the world could be resolved without Soviet participation. In the wake of Vietnam the U.S. Congress limited American involvement in Africa; Moscow responded by expanding its presence in Yemen, Angola, and Mozambique. Conservatives in the United States quickly became disillusioned with détente, which seemed merely to encourage Soviet adventurism around the world. The December 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by Soviet forces marked détente's collapse and the beginning of the second Cold War.

 

 

  

SOCIETY                                                   

           

Life for the average Soviet citizen improved considerably during the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras. For example, the output of consumer goods increased by 60 percent just from 1959 to 1965, and meat consumption rose by over 50 percent. Real wages increased 50 percent from 1967 to 1977. Millions of units of new housing, consisting of high-rise apartments, were constructed in the cities. The quality was poor by Western standards, but these small units were a great improvement over the collective apartments (kommunalki) of earlier years, when several families had to share a kitchen and toilet. Families began purchasing refrigerators, televisions, and other durable consumer goods. However, there were long waiting lists for such items, and many households lacked goods commonplace in the West. When Vice President Richard Nixon hosted an exhibit of U.S. kitchen appliances in Moscow in 1959, Khrushchev challenged the display as an exercise in American propaganda. The press, which reveled in this clash of systems, dubbed their exchange the "kitchen debate."

Stalin's policies had greatly changed the social composition of the USSR. On the eve of collectivization, about 80 percent of the population lived in rural villages, and only a fifth lived in cities. By the time Brezhnev died in 1982 nearly 70 percent of the population was classified as urban, and only 30 percent rural. Behind these figures lies a major social transformation. Millions of peasants had either left the countryside for jobs and a better life in the cities, or had starved to death during collectivization. Cities, with their cultural attractions and educational opportunities, lured many young people away from the collective farms. Moving to the city and gaining an education were the two keys to social mobility in the Soviet Union; there were no business opportunities under socialism. Becoming a member of the Communist Party was not critical to a better life, but it helped. Party membership was required for many of the more prestigious and higher paying positions, those listed on the Nomenklatura.

Officially, Soviet society was classified into two social classes--the workers and peasants--and an overarching stratum, the intelligentsia, drawn from both. Peasants worked on the kolkhozyand generally were the poorest of the three groups. They were the least educated, lived in the most primitive conditions (many peasant homes to this day do not have running water or indoor plumbing), and were bound to the kolkhoz by the lack of an internal passport. An unusually large proportion of the rural population was female; older men had been killed in the war, and ambitious younger men left for the cities. One distinct advantage of life in the countryside was easy access to food. Peasants supplemented their diets by raising vegetables and livestock on small private plots, and any surplus could be sold in the marketplace for extra income.

Industrial workers, including state farmers (those who worked on the sovkhoz were classified as workers--they received a set wage and were granted internal passports), were supposedly the backbone of the Soviet system, and indeed, they lived better than the peasants. Blue-collar wages in 1960 were on average 73 percent higher than peasant wages, and about 22 percent higher than those of routine service workers. Wages of the scientific and technical intelligentsia, however, were 50 percent higher than the average worker's wages.

Under Brezhnev wages became more nearly equal. By 1973 the average intelligentsia wage was only 34 percent above that of a manual worker, and workers' wages were now only 31 percent above those of the peasantry. Highly skilled workers, those in dangerous occupations (coal miners, for example), and those living in Siberia or the Far East might earn incomes well above those of professionals. The more prosperous workers and intelligentsia might have a small dacha (summer home) with a garden plot outside the city. Usually they were entitled to vacation once a year with their work group at a resort or sanatorium on the Black or the Baltic Sea. But incomes were a very poor indicator of how well an individual lived. Bonuses, access to special shops, subsidized canteens, and other perquisites were far more important than salaries; holding a job where bribes could be extorted was even more important. The expanding opportunities for graft and corruption under Brezhnev made Soviet society highly stratified, although differences in wealth were much smaller than those in American society.

Soviet workers were neither very productive nor very satisfied with their jobs. Labor turnover was high, industrial accidents were frequent, and price increases might come unexpectedly. When the government raised food prices overnight in May 1962, workers took to the streets in protest in several cities. Some 200 were killed when troops opened fire on a large demonstration organized by disgruntled locomotive workers in the southern Russian town of Novocherkassk. Worker protests continued sporadically through the Brezhnev period over prices and working conditions. Usually, the regime responded by removing the immediate source of discontent, arresting the ringleaders, and covering up the incident.

Official ideology glorified the manual worker, but in reality it was the intelligentsia--engineers, scientists, professors, writers, and other cultural figures--who received the highest status and extra privileges. Most professionals and skilled workers needed more than their salaries to live well. For example, positions in law schools were greatly in demand, since lawyers could obtain choice bribes. Doctors were severely underpaid, but they often received food or other rewards from grateful patients. Medi cine was not a prestigious occupation, and the fact that about 70 percent of Soviet medical doctors were women was more an indication of the low priority accorded health care than of a commitment to women's equality. Prosecutors, judges, and defense lawyers (advokaty), like doctors, were employed by the state, and attorneys' legal fees were set by the state until 1988.

Getting anything or getting anything done in the Soviet Union was usually complicated, bureaucratic, and tiring. Many goods were in short supply or, if there was no demand, items simply piled up on the shelves. To live well one had to cut corners, bend or often break the law. One's position, connections (blat), privileges, and opportunities for graft were critical in obtaining defitsit (scarce) goods. For example, a clerk in a meat store could set aside choice cuts for her family and friends, or exchange them for other defitsit items. Dentists might do some quality drilling in exchange for ballet tickets or French cognac. Hotel maids collected tips in foreign money and, at some risk, could purchase Western goods in the hard currency stores. Those with foreign connections could obtain Italian shoes, American blue jeans, or Japanese electronic equipment and sell them on the black market for huge profits, although "speculation" was a crime and could be severely punished.

Of course, Party and government officials on the Nomenklatura were best positioned to use their influence to enrich themselves. Top Soviet leaders lived a secretive existence protected from public scrutiny. Those on the "Kremlin ration" automatically had access to the best food, consumer goods, and medical care. They lived rent-free in huge apartments, had luxurious dachas in the country, and were permitted to travel outside the country. Benefits were pegged to one's level in the Nomenklatura: the privileges accorded to an oblast (regional) Party first secretary would be greater than those of a raion (district) first secretary; Moscow ministers lived better than union republic officials. Huge bribes were paid for appointments to these positions.

For those interested in public affairs, participation was either through official channels supervised by the Communist Party--the Komsomol, trade unions, conservation clubs, and women's groups--or it was suppressed as a threat to socialist order. Nonetheless, a small unofficial dissident movement did emerge during the Brezhnev era, consisting of several factions. One tendency was social democratic in nature, represented by intellectuals like Andrei Sakharov and Roy Medvedev, who advocated a more benign socialism. A second group of dissidents were religious believers, including Baptists, Catholics, and Jehovah's Wit nesses. Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Crimean Tatar, and other non-Russian nationalist activists comprised yet a third group, Jews petitioning to leave for Israel a fourth. Russian nationalists comprised a fifth dissident strain, albeit one with powerful supporters in the Soviet establishment.

Soviet censorship made it difficult for dissidents to communicate their ideas to a broader audience. One means was through self-published, or samizdat, material. Writers would laboriously type copies of their manuscripts using carbon paper, and copies would be passed from hand to hand. Samizdat consisted of a few regular underground journals, like the Chronicle of Current Events, copies of Solzhenitsyn's and Pasternak's work, religious tracts, and occasional Western novels or political writings banned from the public. Students and intellectuals in the larger cities read samizdat, but the average person did not have access to, and was not interested in, such writings. Most Soviet citizens were well educated but not particularly critical in their thinking; many seemed to agree with the authorities that anyone who criticized the Soviet system was psychologically unstable. Indeed, the Russian word for dissident is "otherthinker" (inakomyslyashchie). Under Iurii Andropov's tenure as head of the KGB ( 1967- 1982), the regime often silenced dissidents by incarcerating them in psychiatric hospitals and keeping them drugged.

 

 

 

 

  

SOVIET NATIONALITIES                                                

           

Ethnically, the Soviet Union was one of the most diverse countries in the world. Soviet census figures for 1989 listed over one hundred separate national groups with distinct languages, cultures, and religions; Russians, however, made up barely 51 percent of the population (see Table 7.1 ). In keeping with Lenin's idea of a national-territorial federalism, the USSR was divided into fifteen Union Republics for large ethnic groups located on the border, twenty Autonomous Republics, eight Autonomous Regions, and ten National Areas for progressively smaller groups. However, Lenin had argued that socialist federalism would be transitional. Centralization and the eventual disappearance of national distinctions was the ultimate goal--communist leaders clearly did not believe in multiculturalism, nor were they willing to have Moscow share power with the regions.

 

Table 7.1 


Major Nationalities of the Soviet Union, 1989

(those in excess of 1 million)

 

 

Number

%

                                   

Russians

145,155,000

50.8

Ukrainians

44,186,000

15.5

Uzbeks

16,968,000

5.8

Belorussians

10,036,000

3.9

Kazakhs

8,136,000

2.8

Azerbaijanis

6,770,000

2.4

Tatars

6,649,000

2.3

Armenians

4,623,000

1.6

Tajiks

4,215,000

1.5

Georgians

3,981,000

1.4

Moldovans

3,352,000

1.2

Lithuanians

3,067,000

1.1

Turkmen

2,729,000

1.0

Kyrgyz

2,529,000

.9

Germans

2,039,000

.7

Chuvash

1,842,000

.6

Latvians

1,459,000

.5

Bashkirs

1,449,000

.5

Jews

1,378,000

.5

Mordovans

1,154,000

.4

Poles

1,126,000

.4

Estonians

1,027,000

.4

Others

12,142,000

4.2

Total

285,742,000

100.4 *

 

*Percentages do not add up to 100 due to rounding.

Source: Figures are from the 1989 national census, in Narodnoe khoziaistvo SSSR v. 1990 g.
( Moscow: Finansy i Statistika, 1991), 77.

 

By creating distinct territorial homelands for the minorities, Soviet nationality policy unintentionally reinforced separate ethnic identities. Wide variations existed in economic development, education, and urbanization among the republics. The Baltic states--Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania--were the smallest republics (1 to 3 million in population), the most Westernized, and had the highest standard of living. These peoples had historically been linked to Germany, Finland, and Poland, and were Lutheran (Estonians and Latvians) or Catholic (Lithuanians) in religious persuasion. Forcibly incorporated into the USSR by Stalin during World War II, the Baltic peoples remained fiercely nationalistic and resentful of Soviet domination; armed resistance against Soviet occupation by guerrilla groups continued well into the 1950s. Furthermore, Estonians and Latvians resented the large numbers of Russians who moved into their republics in the postwar period to assume leading political and economic posts and to man the army units stationed there. By 1989 Estonia's population was 30 percent Russian, Latvia's 34 percent.

Ukrainians were the second largest nationality in the Soviet Union, at over 40 million. Ukraine, with its rich black-earth region, was the breadbasket of the USSR. It also contained important steel, iron ore, and coal industries and about half the Soviet Union's nuclear power stations, and was home to the Black Sea fleet ( Khrushchev, in a fit of international generosity, unilaterally transferred the Crimea to Ukraine in 1954. After the Soviet breakup Russia and Ukraine both claimed ownership of the fleet.) Ukraine was the historical center of eastern Slavic culture, and Ukrainians were proud of their traditional costumes and folk dances and their ourstanding nineteenth-century poet, Taras Shevchenko. Ukrainian nationalist dissidents were active from the 1960s to the early 1970s; central authorities, however, cracked down in the wake of disturbances in neighboring Czechoslovakia. First Secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party Petro Shelest was demoted in 1972 for tolerating nationalist tendencies in his republic. Russians, who made up over a fifth of Ukraine's population, occupied prominent positions in the republic's government and economy.

Nationalism was also strong in the three republics of the Caucasus Mountains--Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Georgians and Armenians were both ancient peoples with distinct languages, Orthodox Christian since the fifth century. Before the Revolution they looked to the Russians for protection against the Moslem Turks. Armenia's strong nationalism derives from the death of over a million Armenians at the hands of Turkey in 1915, resulting from forced marches and internment in concentration camps. Georgian nationalism is equally powerful--under Soviet rule nationalist demonstrations occurred there in 1924, 1956, and 1978. Azeris too were nationalistic, but unlike their Caucasian neighbors they are a Shi'ite Moslem, Turkic people. Azerbaijan, though rich in oil, was one of the poorest Soviet republics. Relatively few Russians had settled in these republics--only about 6 percent of Georgia's and Azerbaijan's population was Russian; in Armenia it was under 2 percent.

The Moldavians had also been incorporated during the war; their republic had once been the Romanian province of Bessarabia. Ethnically Romanian, and Orthodox in religious background, Moldavia was poor and heavily agricultural, with a large peasant population. Belorussia, ituated north of Ukraine, was also largely an agricultural region. Most Belorussians did not have a strong sense of nationalism. Russians tended to regard them as a rather backward peasant people, a Slavic "little brother" but lacking the historical distinction of Ukrainians. In the late Soviet era about 13 percent of the population in both republics was ethnic Russian.

Central Asians ranked lowest among the republics on education, level of economic development, and representation in Soviet politics. Central Asians were Turkic peoples, with mostly Sunnite Moslem religious traditions, but beyond these commonalities they were extremely diverse. Uzbeks were a sedentary people who had built great cities filled with grand mosques--Bukhara, Tashkent, and Samarkand. Kazakhs, like their relatives the Mongols, had been a nomadic people, living in circular tents (yurts) and driving their horses and cattle from the steppes to the mountains in semiannual treks until forced onto collective farms during collectivization. Tajikistan, the very poorest of Soviet republics, was divided into a number of tribal societies, most of whom were Persian rather than Turkish in origin. Three of the five Central Asian republics--Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan--had relatively small colonies of Russians, between 5 and 10 percent, while over a fifth of Kyrgyzstan's population was ethnic Russian.

Kazakhstan was a special case. Encompassing a territory the size of all Western Europe, Kazakhstan was home to a population of just under 17 million in 1989. It was by far the most diverse of the republics: ethnic Kazakhs made up only about 40 percent of the republic's population, and Russians 38 percent; the remainder was a mosaic of Koreans, Germans, Chechens, Greeks, Ukrainians, Uighurs, and others. Some had migrated there to take jobs; others (the Germans, Koreans, and Chechens) had been deported to this huge region under Stalin for real or imagined political crimes. In addition to agriculture (grain, cotton, and apples), Kazakhstan had huge oil reserves. Kazakhstan also had the distinction of hosting the Soviet nuclear testing range at Semipalatinsk and the Baikonur launching facility for the space program. Soil erosion from the Virgin Lands project, the disaster of the disappearing Aral Sea (drained under Brezhnev to irrigate the Central Asian cotton crop), and years of nuclear tests ruined much of Kazakhstan's natural environment.

Russians dominated Soviet society, government, and the economy, partly by virtue of their numbers, and partly because of a Russian imperial mentality fostered by the state. During the 1960s a nationalist genre of Russian literature, the "village prose" school, became popular.

Village school authors such as the Siberian Valentin Rasputin sympathetically portrayed Russian peasant life and implicitly criticized the dehumanizing aspects of modern industrial society. Other nationalists sought to preserve Russian traditions through the All-Russian Society for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Monuments. This organization, which had high-level supporters in the Party, tried to stem the destruction of Russian Orthodox churches promoted by Khrushchev. More chauvinistic and anti-Semitic currents existed in the Communist Party and the armed forces; these coalesced into national-patriotic movements after the Soviet collapse.

The Khrushchev and Brezhnev regimes both maintained the fiction that ethnic relations were constantly improving; their long-term goal was for national identities to be submerged into a general Soviet consciousness. In most cases, surface relations among the various nationalities were at least cordial. Open displays of racism were infrequent, and intermarriage was common among some groups. But the strong Russification trend underlying Soviet nationalities policy antagonized those with strong national feelings, especially the Baltic and Caucasian groups, and generated resentment even among the two smaller Slavic nationalities, who were condescendingly referred to as the "younger brothers" of Russians. Russian nationalists chafed at the limits Soviet ideology imposed on their cultural aspirations.

Language is central to any ethnic identity. The Soviet 1959 Education Law allowed parents of minority children to choose their preferred language of instruction in primary and occasionally secondary school, but in reality there was considerable pressure to enroll children in Russianlanguage schools. All students in minority-language schools were required to complete at least eight years of instruction in Russian. Education at a Russian-language school was more prestigious, and a Russian high school education was necessary to matriculate at the best universities and to secure a good job after graduation.

Russification was also promoted by the influx of ethnic Russians into the republics mentioned above. Russians often occupied the most important posts in industry, government, and the military. For example, while the top Party and government offices in the republics were usually staffed by a representative of the titular nationality, more "reliable" Slavs were given such key positions in the republics as second secretary of the Party or head of the KGB. In this way, Moscow was able to monitor nationalism among the minorities. Russians also dominated sensitive industries. For example, less than 10 percent of Lithuania's population was Russian, but they comprised 90 percent of personnel in that republic's Ignalina nuclear power station. Likewise, Soviet defense industries and the officer corps of the Soviet army were largely the preserve of ethnic Russians.

 

 

  

SOVIET POLITICS                                      

           

Soviet politics in the late Brezhnev period were no longer as totalitarian as under Stalin, but the country was still one of the most repressive authoritarian systems in the world. Political control over the population was far more pervasive than in non-communist authoritarian regimes. However, the chief instrument of control now was bureaucratic regulation rather than police terror. The Communist Party remained the nerve center of the system, supervising all government offices and schools, army units and newspapers, factories and farms. Article 6 of the 1977 Constitution had enshrined the Party as the "leading and guiding force" in Soviet society. By 1982 the Party had grown to some 18 million members out of a total population of 285 million. About 250,000 of these were Party officials at various levels--they were the ones who exercised power. The top Party leaders, thanks to Brezhnev's promises of stability in personnel matters, often stayed in office until they died. Moscow's rulers grew so old and infirm that Western Sovietologists began to refer to the regime as a gerontocracy--rule by the elderly.

Under Brezhnev the already large state bureaucracy became even more bloated and sclerotic. The USSR Council of Ministers, roughly equivalent to a Western cabinet but with several dozen production ministries included, reached 110 members by the late 1970s. Soviet planners struggled to keep pace with rapidly advancing technology by using consumer surveys and computer models, but central planning proved to be no substitute for market mechanisms. Although Soviet scientists were among the best in the world, bureaucracy and ideology stifled innovation and productivity, leaving Soviet consumers with shoddy merchandise, poor health care, pervasive shortages, and widespread environmental disasters.

Governments have a tendency to be unresponsive when there is no chance that leaders will be voted out of office. Soviet citizens did vote, but the electoral system was used only for the least powerful of the three "branches" of the system--the soviets (the other two were the Party and the government bureaucracy). Despite Khrushchev's rhetoric about the All-People's State and Brezhnev's claims for developed socialism, there was little genuine political participation through these institutions. Candidates for positions on the councils were vetted at each level by the appropriate Party secretariats, and there was only one candidate on the ballot for each position. On election day voters would receive their ballot, fold it in half, and drop it in the ballot box in full view of officials. Voters had the option of stepping into a booth and crossing the single name off the ballot, but this was regarded as uncooperative behavior and was frowned on. Local Party secretaries were tasked with getting out the vote as a show of support for the regime, and they were very effective-turnout was usually about 99.9 percent!

These three "branches" of the Soviet system are depicted in Figures 7.1 and 7.2. The Communist Party's primary function was decision making and oversight, the government ministries carried out policies, and the soviets provided a patina of democracy. Offices frequently overlapped--important bureaucrats like the Minister of Defense, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and head of the KGB were also members of the Politburo, and would routinely be "elected" to the Supreme Soviet. Local Party secretaries were represented on the executive committees of local soviets. Virtually all members of the USSR Council of Ministers were also on the Party Central Committee. Unlike in the United States, the various institutions did not provide for checks and balances. Instead, the interlocking system of appointments contributed to a highly centralized framework of political power in the Soviet Union.

General Secretary Brezhnev died in November 1982, leaving a legacy of economic stagnation, cultural mediocrity, and political repression. His rule had been more benign than that of Stalin and more stable than that of Khrushchev. But stability led to stagnation. Problems were mounting that Brezhnev either could not or would not acknowledge. One popular joke of the time has Brezhnev, Khrushchev, and Stalin riding together in a railway car. When the train grinds to a halt, Stalin declares, "I'll fix this," and promptly has the entire crew shot and replaced. The train moves along for a bit, but then stops again. Khrushchev promises to get it going, and immediately reorganizes the entire management. The train starts up, rolls along the tracks for a while, but soon stops yet again. "I know what to do," says Brezhnev. He pulls down the blinds in the car and suggests to the others, "Let's just pretend we're moving." Within three years the Soviet Union would be taken over by a generation of leaders who would succeed in derailing the train of state.

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 


CHARLES E. ZIEGLER is Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Louisville. He is the author of Foreign Policy and East Asia ( 1993), Environmental Policy in the USSR ( 1987), and dozens of scholarly articles and book chapters.