Brezhnev’s accession to power
(1964–1982, b. 1906)
marked the beginning of a new stage in Soviet history. The top
echelons of the state and party hierarchy were now fully dominated
by a new generation of Soviet leaders. Their political careers were
launched during Stalin’s violent cadres revolution of the late
1930s, when they were promoted to replace Communists, who perished
in the bloody purges of 1937–38. Their older colleagues had been
different: imbued with revolutionary ardor, they had thought of
themselves as a cohort of staunch party warriors leading the masses
to a radiant future.
contrast, the new generation of leaders, represented by Brezhnev,
were brought up, trained, and promoted entirely within the Stalinist
system. Most of them were pragmatic and mediocre functionaries, a
product of a long-term personnel selection carried out by the
dictator. They were not inclined to take risks or follow through on
big objectives, but excelled in bureaucratic intrigues and
politicking. Their intellectual and psychological makeup explains,
to a large degree, the indeterminate, half-and-half nature of the
policies of the post-Khrushchev leadership.
Brezhnev seemed to be the embodiment of the typical characteristics
of this new generation of Soviet administrators. He personified an
average first secretary of the regional level and lacked many
qualities necessary to be a national leader. No doubt, he was good
at “apparatus politics” and bureaucratic intrigues, but this was
hardly enough to compensate for his lack of education and strategic
foresight. He enjoyed little respect among the Soviet people, who
remembered the thrill with which Brezhnev used to pin medals on
Khrushchev’s chest. He was seen as an ungrateful man, who turned
against the very person who had promoted him to the top. The best
that could be said about Brezhnev was that, at least, he was not a
malicious or cruel person.
Brezhnev jokes mostly make fun of him in his later years, when he
was not quite all there. He
took a beating for the Soviet Union's stagnation under his
increasingly geriatric leadership. The
jokes depicted him as dim-witted, suffering from
delusion of grandeur.
"Leonid Ilyich is in surgery."
expansion surgery: to fit one more
Gold Star medal."
At the 1980 Olympics, Brezhnev begins his speech.
— more applause. "O!"
— yet more applause. "O!"
— an ovation. "O!!!"
— the whole audience stands up and
An aide comes running to the podium and whispers,
"Leonid Ilyich, that's the
Olympic rings, you don't need to read it!"
"Come on, no formalities among
comrades. Just call me 'Ilyich' ".
(In Soviet parlance,
"Ilyich" by itself by default refers to
Lenin, and "Just call me 'Ilyich'" was a line from a
well-known poem about Lenin.)
Quite a few jokes capitalized on the cliché used in Soviet
speeches of the time: "dear Leonid Ilyich".
The phone rings, Brezhnev picks up the phone: "Hello, this
is dear Leonid Ilyich...".
Related reading &