is unlikely that Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982) was the mastermind
behind the conspiracy that saw Khrushchev peacefully voted out of
office. As an extremely cautious politician, Brezhnev was hardly
suitable for the part of a coup ringleader. However, his position in
the supreme leadership, including his membership in the Politburo,
required his active involvement for the plot to be successful.
Significantly, following Khrushchev’s removal from his post,
Brezhnev repaid generously his backers with promotions, honorary
titles, and other rewards.
Brezhnev’s accession 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.