XX CPSU Congress. "Thaw" (1956-1964)
Socio-economic development in 1965-1984
Different understanding of the economic reform meaning was one of the main sources of continuous friction and conflicts inside the country's administration.
Though Khrushev's removal meant a refusal from energetic carrying-out of the reforms, the necessity to search for solutions of the current problems in socio-economic sphere still existed.
As for the reform of the second half of the 60-s, there were two visible streams in the administration: the first one was represented by L.Brezhnev as an advocate for limited decentralisation and a backer of the economic nomenclature in the system of administrative management of the economics. The second one was personalised by A. Kosygin, the follower of more radical and drastic steps in course of performing the economic reform with a stress on the market regulators. For Brezhnev the priorities stood in the following order: agriculture, basic industry, defence. The sympathies of Kosygin were given to light industry.
This opposition lasted up to the second part of the 70s. The tenth five-year plan, approved by the XXV Communist Party Congress in February, 1976, named the main priorities of the government policy: development of the defence industry, energetics, agriculture and Siberia reclamation.
In the middle of the 60s, when Kosygin's line prevailed, Soviet leadership tried to carry out the greatest since the middle of the 30s economic reform. But the results were practically equal to zero, mainly due to mismatch in viewpoints within the higher layer of the country's administration. Decisions of March and September (1965) Plenums of the CPSU initiated the reform.
September (1965) Plenum decisions were of great importance, especially in the context of the economic reform. The denotation of the reform was considered to be a complex of steps intended to strengthen the economic controls, to widen selfsufficiency in the self-financing segment, to improve the centralised planning.
Primarily the reform was aimed towards weakening of economic management centralisation and strengthening of administrative control levers. These steps found their reflection in cutting down the number of directive-planned indexes, compulsory for fulfilment by industrial production units. During the reform realisation it became clear that many of the problems linked with economic indexes were not solved. Already in 1966-1967 some negative side effects of the reform began to appear, the nature of which was obviously in its inconsistency and halfandhalf character.
New indexes were introduced with difficulty. Bonus funds were not able to stimulate the workers properly. It was profitable for production units to manufacture maximum priced twin products. The reform was actually sabotaged from the very beginning. As a result in 1972-1973 conservative tendencies overwhelmed and the administration adopted a decision to come back to the tried get-tough administrative structure. Gross indexes began to play an important role in economic life again.
In late 70-s Brezhnev's administration (under the press of getting worse and worse situation in economics) was compelled to come back to the idea of economic reform again. There were many discussions about how to be through with "gross output" by means of introducing "standard-clear products" index. Strengthening both selfsupport relations and directive planning were in the agenda. It was in fact one of the last attempts to modernise the traditional administrative command system. As any half-step, it was fated to accept complete failure in those conditions.
Brezhnev's administration, alongside with attempts to reform the economic machinery in 1965-1985, gave much attention to improvement administrative structure of bureaucratic apparatus. The number of ministries increased year after year.
The part of the administrative apparatus, linked with managing national economy, was structurally changed in late 70-s in the deepest degree. The burden of the changes was to unite industrial and agricultural enterprises and foundations and as a result to raise labour productivity in agriculture and to lower departmental disconnection.
The characteristic feature for economics of the country in 60-80-s was permanent fall of the pace. Though the 1965 reform was halfandhalf and incompleted, it impeded in some way or other the fall of the output, but in early 70-s the readings went roughly down again. From one five-year plan to another the main economic figures fell down.
The "equalisation" in industry, corresponding to the idea of rapprochement of social groups, lead to the situation, when complex, intellectual, expert work became non-prestigious. As a result, raise of qualification and labour productivity were not stimulated. In mid-80-s 50 mln. people in industry, construction, in transportation were occupied with hand work.
Since 1967 and during the 70-s the so-called "Shekinsky experiment" carried on. Shekino chemical plant enjoyed the right to reduce the number of workers and simultaneously to have the same wages-fund. The savings were used for labour productivity raise stimulation. The results of the experiment licked all creation. By 1980 the output tripled, labour productivity raised 4 times, and a considerable reduction of working staff took place. Nevertheless in course of 15 years the experiment didn't have a continuation in broad economic practice.
The negative processes had also their influx onto social sphere. Living conditions improved very slowly. Problems, connected with foodstuff supply, public transport, health care, education occured more and more often. Anyway the level of life in the Soviet Union slowly increased up to mid-70-s, and then for 5 years didn't go down.
State-planned economy imbalance and unwieldiness led to favourable conditions for machinators and cheats of different kind.
Linkage of party-and-state apparatus and dealers of shadow economy was a characteristic feature in the 70-s. Trying to hide failures in economics and in internal policy, the administration used to arrange mass festivals and holidays all over the country, which ate a lot of money of course.
Political climate got more severe with coming of Brezhnev's administration to power. Free-thinking was outside the law. There was a real threat of Stalinism reanimation. Groups of people who were not agree with the official policy and regime appeared here and there among scientific and creative intellectuals, believers, some nationality minorities. The dissidents (it was their official name) openly opposed trample of human freedoms. This informal social movement appeared in mid-60-s; it put the defence of human rights in the first place.
The B-day of the movement is December 5, 1965, when the first demonstration under right-defencive slogans took place in Pushkinskaya square in Moscow. Simultaneously non-censorial press appeared (So-called "Samizdat"). Typewrited copies of known dissidents and right-defenders went rounds.
A new stage in development of dissident and right-defencive movement took place within 1968-1976. Many of progressively thinking reporters, editors left their jobs. The censorship raged. Some prominent Soviet historians, whose ideas didn't coincide with the official ideology, were persecuted. "Harmful" fiction wasn't printed by the same reason. Films remained on the shelves for decades. Theatre activity was under strictest control from Ministry of Culture.
In those conditions some creative intellectuals shrinked into themselves, others emigrated. In 1965 the known writers Yuly Daniel and Andrey Sinyavsky were legally persecuted. Political legal action towards self-defenders A.Ginsburg and U.Galansky influenced organisational form of civil activity of some part of the otherwise minded. Dissident groups became more like normal social movement foundations.
In late 60-s the dissident main streams linked together into "Democratic movement" with a rather fuzzy structure, consisting of three ideologies, namely: "The real marksism-leninism", represented among others by Roy and Jores Medvedev; "Western liberalism", represented by academician A.Sakharov and "Christian ideology", defended by A.Solzhenitsyn.
Aside from narrow groups of intellectuals other layers of the society expressed their protest: Catholic circles of Lithuania; Jews, discontented with the immigration policy in 1970-1985; a certain part of national intellectuals of the Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, the Baltic republics, who were concerned with mass migration from Russia. Moreover, certain forms of protest against official policy and ideology existed in various layers of the society.
Renewal of religious consciousness was on its peak. New interest to religion accepted different forms. It became fashionable to collect icons and arrange home exhibitions. This renaissance took place out of borders of official church, since the latter was strictly controlled by KGB.
Together with non-official social movements in 60-80-s a considerable growth of official social institutions was noticed. Simultaneously those organisations became more and more bureaucratic. Among the biggest and most important ones, like Trade Unions, The Communist Unit of Youth, there appeared many new groups, such as The Committee of Soviet Women, Soviet Committee for Peace Defence, The Committee of Youth Organisations, Soviet Red Cross and a number of others. By and by membership in those organisations became compulsive.
Foreign policy in 1965-1984
Brezhnev's administration set three foreground tasks in the sphere of foreign policy: to dispose of the threat of the socialist camp breakdown and to unite it more closely in political, military and economic terms; normalise the relationship between the West and the East (the so-called policy of peaceful co-existence); to carry on the policy of consistent support for "progressive' movements and regimes all over the world.
That policy was especially active in regard to the countries that were under the USSR influence. The most important events in the foreign policy at that time were: Soviet intervention into Checkoslovakia; signing up of the two first agreements about confinement of strategic weapons during Richard Nixon's visit to Russia in May, 1972; the Soviet Union Intervention into Afghanistan.
Soviet foreign policy had always had a number of levels: relationship of the CPSU with foreign communist and working parties, interstate relations with socialist countries, relationship with developed capitalist countries, relations with the countries of "the third world", developing countries.
Strengthening of USSR's cracked positions in the socialist world and among communist parties of the "Third world" was for Khrushev's successors the first concern in the realm of foreign policy. In Eastern Europe Soviet leadership managed to stabilise the situation and clear away the backwashes of the Hungarian events of 1956. In spite of a slightest rise of political and economic independence of the socialist countries the relationship between them were far from being equal-right ones. The USSR was still "The elder brother", determining main directions in his brothers' life. At the same time it should be said that there were some positive achievements in cooperation between the socialist countries. The Soviet for Mutual Economic Aid initiated a complex programme of deepening the cooperation, planned for 15-20 years.
Together with socialist countries within the SMEA there existed socialist countries, carrying out an independent foreign policy course. With some of these lands the Soviet Union maintained friendly, good-neighbour relations, with others it was in the situation of confrontation. The relations between the USSR and Yugoslavia were friendly. Romania occupied an interim position between Yugoslavia and other socialist countries. The relationship "USSR-China" and "USSR-Albania" were rather tense. Speaking about "USSR-China" relations, "confrontation" would be a more correct word.
Relations with developed capitalist countries were of contradictory, but mainly constructive character. The second half of the 60-s was the time of detente between USSR and France. The relations "USSR-FRG" improved considerably. In the Fall of 1969 Socio-Democratic Party of Germany won the election. The new administration declared about irreversibility of the post-the-war borders and de-facto recognised existence of the Democratic Republic of Germany. All this served a good fundament for the peace treaty between USSR and Western Germany in August, 1972. Among other issues the borders between Western Germany and USSR and Western borders of Poland were acknowledged in that treaty. In the second half of the 70-s Western Germany became one of the main USSR's external economic partners.
The relations between USSR and the majority of other European and non-European capitalist countries developed in an analogous way. The relationship "USSR-Great Britain", "USSR- Japan" had the strictest character. Improvement in relations between USSR and Britain began only after coming the labourites to power in 1974. While the economic relations between USSR and Japan were successful enough, the foreign-policy ties were on a rather low level. Relations "Washington-Moscow" were in the main stream of development. Late 60-s were clouded with the war in Vietnam.
1972 was the year of an important turn in Soviet-American relations, which was connected with 1972 President Nixon's visit to Moscow.
Helsinki, Finland Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) was the peak of detente. Heads of 33 European States as well as of the USA and Canada signed the Final Act of the Conference. The Act nailed down and legalised political, military, social and economic position in the post-war Europe and in the whole world.
In 1973-1976 the countries exchanged visits of their leaders. On the meetings military, political and economic issues were talked over. For the period the gross volume of trade increased 8 times, while the gross volume of goods traffic between the West and the East increased only 5 times.
In its turn, in late 70-s attitude of the West towards cooperation with the East began to worsen. In early 80-s constructive contacts with Western countries fizzled out, practically came to nought. In mass media of both the East and the West words of the Cold War period got popular again. The retrogress carried on for the whole first half of the 80-s, up to coming M. Gorbatchev to power.
Soviet intervention to Afghanistan in December, 1979 killed the detente. The assumption of Afghanistan proved the widespread in the West opinion, that the detente was "a street with one-way traffic", that it was like a manipulative deception in the market-place. A new period began, the one of deep mistrust, even of opposition between the two super-empires. The opposition was expressed in continuous accusations ("The USSR is an empire of evil" - said Ronald Reigan), in demonstrative actions (the refusal of American, then Soviet delegations from participating in Olympic Games in Moscow and Los-Angeles).
Culture in the "stagnation" period
Negative events in the life of Soviet society were in full degree reflected in spiritual sphere, in education, science, culture. For instance while the number of those Russian youths, having secondary education, increased, the quality of education lowered.
An attempt to correct this disharmony was undertaken: more attention was given to technical and professional orientation in the secondary school, the number of vocational technical schools and technicums increased. But on the whole the problem wasn't solved. Moreover, by the end of the period it had become more acute. The crisis in the school system prompted an attempt to carry out a school reform (1983-1986), with the purpose to direct it to the needs of the country's economy. But unpreparedness, not understanding the reasons of the crisis phenomena in the sphere had led to refusal from the idea. In 1985-1986 the reform was aborted.
Together with the fall of education quality in the majority of schools in the Soviet Union, there appeared a number of creative, thinking teachers: V.Shatalov, E.Ilyin, Sh.Amonashvili and others.
The system of university education had similar problems. While the number of universities and other higher education institutions constantly increased (there were 69 universities in the USSR in 1985, let alone institutes, academies, etc.), industry and agriculture needed more and more qualified specialists. The main reasons were: irrational use of the graduates, low level of their preparedness, low prestige of specialists with higher education.
The two "stagnant" decades in the development of Russian science were not in fact so stagnant. The number of scientific employees grew considerably, many new research institutes and centres were opened. Achievements of Soviet scientists in the realm of theoretical and experimental physics, economic mathematics, chemistry and other subjects were especially significant. The results of the researches were connected with development of defence and space technology.
By early 80-s Soviet science began to loose its leading positions even in the segments where prestige had always been questionless. One of consequences of that was that even space programmes were fulfilled with difficulty and deceleration.
Development of Soviet Culture and Art in 1965-1985 reflected the state leadership turn to new-stalinist policy. In fiction prose of that period the divergence from acute modern problems was clearly visible. Many-volume epopees and long serials began to appear in fiction literature and movie industry. "Industrial" theme was actively supported.
At the same time in the sphere of fiction literature those writes who depicted village life, rural people, became popular. Among them first should be mentioned: F.Abramov, V.Belov, V.Astafiev, P.Proskurin, B.Mozhayev. In their books we can find truthful stories about country farmers' bitter destiny. The heroes, like in real life, in spite of all the troubles and misfortunes, maintained loyalty to the folk traditions. A special, prominent role in this row belonged to Vasily Shukshin, a gifted actor, producer, writer. Truthful books about the war time by Y.Bondarev, V.Bykov, B.Vasiliev should be mentioned.
Among talanted writers we can mention V.Aksenov, A.Bitov, F.Iskander, poets: I.Brodsky, A.Galich, V.Vysotsky etc.
Party and state system
The "palace revolution" on October (1964) Plenum of the CPSU removed Nikita Khrushev, a party leader. This happened for the first time in 50-year history of the Communist Party.
November (1964) Plenum of the CPSU Central Commettee approved nomination of a number of leaders, who had played a noticeable role in those events: L.Brezhnev, the first secretary of the CPSU Central Committee, A.Kosygin, the chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers and M.Suslov, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet member in charge of ideology.
The peculiarity of the party and state system of the USSR was that it was impossible to act without a clearly shaped leader. That place was occupied by Leonid Brezhnev. On XXIII CPSU Congress he was elected as General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee (that post was called "First Secretary" before). He remained at that post up to his death in 1982. Yury Andropov followed him, then in 1984 Konstantin Chernenko came to power (died in March, 1985).
In early 70-s Brezhnev managed to gain a foothold, when, participating on most international conferences of the East and West, he occupied Alex Cosigin's place. By and by all the key posts were occupied by workers whom Brezhnev had known well enough on his activity in Moldavia and the Ukraine. The situation was controlled by means of well-known already in Stalin's period "personnel control level" that always enabled the party apparatus to reach their purpose.
In 1965-1970 the leadership carried out a rather vast replacement of local manpower, that had been administered to their posts in Khrutshev's time. That new personnel constituted the skeleton of all Brezhnev's administration, up to the 80-s.
For the first time in history that was a period of the party and state nomenklature's comparatively stabilised existence, without traditional mass comb-outs. That was a period of a high level of protection, when for the first time the nomenclature came close to practical owing power, managed to concentrate in their hands controls over the riches of the country.
All-in-all 1965-1984 was a period of a comparatively slow evolution of party and federal power foundations, within the borders of the current regime. This time is traditionally called "stagnation", or "stagnation period". As in former time, the Supreme Soviet was the ultimate federal body. It consisted of the Soviet of Union and the Soviet of Nationalities. Elections were to be once in five years; Sessions were gathered yearly.
The Council of Ministers was the ultimate executive body. In 1978 a Presidium appeared in the Council of Ministers, because of quantitative membership growth and complexity in management. In 1964 A.N.Kosygin was appointed the Chairman of the Soviet of Ministers. He remained there up to his death in 1980. Since 1980 through 1985 the post of the Chairman was occupied by N.Tikhonov.
A speciality of the time: intensive swelling of the apparatus. New ministries and departments appeared almost each year. Due to the management apparatus overgrowth it became the most numerous one in the world (apart from China). By the mid-80-s 18 mln employees worked there, which was 1/7 of the whole able-to-work population of the USSR.
Problems connected with how to feed such a massive apparatus began to appear. After Brezhnev's death Yury Andropov came to power. He tried to make the bureaucratic apparatus more effective by means of barely structural changes, strengthening repressive organs, first of all KGB. He couldn't attain the purpose though, since the party and state apparatus didn't want to part with their benefits. Yury Andropov died in February, 1984. His comb-out operation remained unfinished.
Stabilisation of the main political and state institutions by the mid-70 had its reflection in new 1977 "Brezhnev's" Constitution of the USSR. In 1962 an constitutional commission was established. After Khrushev's removal soviet leadership rejected the idea of construction communism in the USSR by 1980. There appeared a new definition: "Well-developed socialism".
In article 6 of the 1977 Constitution monopolistic leading role of the CPSU was formally legalised. The CPSU was understood as "directing and managing force of the Soviet society". Promotion in any sphere was possible only providing the person had been an active CPSU member. This was the basic reason why in 1965-1985 the party quantitative membership grew like leavened dough.
In "stagnation" period four CPSU Congresses were held: XXIII, XXIV, XXV and XXVI ones.
Revolutions of 1917
Russia in NEP
Industrialization. USSR in 30s
USSR in Second World War (1939-1945)
First Post-war Decade
XX CPSU Congress. "Thaw" (1956-1964)
Epoch of "Developed Socialism" (1964-1985)