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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: June 2014

10 - Stability and national development: the Brezhnev years, 1964–1982


The Brezhnev era (1964–1982) has been characterised as one of stagnation, and with some obvious justification: during the eighteen years when Leonid Brezhnev was general secretary of the CPSU, only sixteen new appointments were made to full membership of the highest decision-making body, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU. This does not, however, do justice to the many changes that were going on below the level of the top leadership, where society was developing in ways which eventually outstripped the comfortable complacency of the ageing leadership. This was also an active time in Soviet foreign policy, with the Cold War reaching new heights but also going through periods of calm, and the leadership often preoccupied with events in Eastern Europe, culminating in the Prague Spring of 1968. But the regime generally eschewed major policy upheavals. Many of Khrushchev’s innovations reached fulfilment in the years after his ouster, while others were quickly dropped. In the latter category, and of particular concern for the non-Russian nationalities, were the sovnarkhoz reform of 1957, abandoned in 1965, and the education reform of 1958–1959, which was quietly allowed to recede into irrelevance. Instances of large-scale unrest were rare, with the economy maintaining (by global standards) reasonable but not spectacular growth rates until the late 1980s. Although economic growth eventually lagged behind that of the major western economies and the limitations of the planned economy were already apparent, technological improvements and rising oil prices allowed for a greater emphasis on consumer goods, with many families now able to own refrigerators and televisions for the first time. Improved consumption levels (though low by western standards) did much to account for the stability of the time. Social stability was also underlined by the urbanisation of most of the country and universally high levels of education.

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