his private life Brezhnev enjoyed a good meal, was a keen huntsman,
and relished a fast ride in a car. He introduced the habit for
leaders to race through the streets of Moscow at the speed of 90
miles an hour. However, as a politician, Brezhnev did not like sharp
turns and preferred to apply brakes rather than accelerate too
briskly. He came to power without a political program or an action
plan of his own. Instead, he strove to project the image of a sober
and levelheaded leader, who never took important decisions without
consulting his Politburo colleagues.
practice, this approach spawned an unwieldy bureaucracy that stifled
innovation and initiative and accumulated unresolved problems.
Brezhnev’s basic strategy was to muddle through by balancing in the
political middle and by rejecting both de-Stalinization and a
full-scale return to Stalinism.
Brezhnev became general secretary because he suited almost everyone
in the top leadership. His co-conspirators in the plot to oust
Khrushchev regarded him as a temporary figure and would have never
thought that he would be able to stay in power for as long as
eighteen years. Brezhnev, however, was shrewd enough to know how to
play the power game at the top political level.
understand how he was able to consolidate power, it is important to
bear in mind that the CPSU had always contained within itself not
one, but two parties. There was the outer party, which at that time
had more than twelve million rank-and-file members; and there was
the inner core comprised of several hundred thousand professional
functionaries. The outer party of rank-and-file Communists had
practically no say in deciding party policies and therefore the
country’s destiny. Real power was concentrated in the inner party or
inner party consisted of a legion of party secretaries—from the
district, through regional and union republics’ levels. Brezhnev
began each working day by spending two hours on the phone ringing
first party secretaries in the regions and the republics and
cultivating good relations with them. More importantly, Brezhnev
skillfully built up his base of support within the party’s central
apparatus, especially in its supreme body, the Politburo, where he
was able to consolidate and enhance his authority.
Brezhnev took considerable care to expand his influence by promoting
his old cronies to the top party and state circles. Individuals whom
he knew from the period of his work as party secretary in Moldavia
and the Ukraine were persistently promoted to the top. Many of them
were of very modest intellectual and cultural endowments, but had an
overdeveloped taste for perks and privileges. Even a quick look at
Brezhnev’s inner circle is enough to see that it was comprised of
self-centered politicians with a narrow provincial outlook, who were
poorly equipped to run the country when the need for change was more
and more obvious.