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"Social Contract"


Some analysts explain the prolonged nature of stagnation under Brezhnev with the help of the concept of “social contract.” This is interpreted as a tacit bargain or a set of unspoken mutual expectations that began to arise in the relations between the regime and society. The state committed itself to providing job security, social benefits, and relative income equality in exchange for quiescence and compliance from society.  


This strategy on the part of the political elite was matched by a complementary response in mass behavior, resulting in the emergence of a relatively stable conglomerate of diverse social forces that provided the social base of stagnation. It consisted of inefficient government and economic elites, semieducated white-collar workers, unskilled blue-collar workers, and, finally, collectivized peasants deprived of incentives to improve agricultural productivity. The forces of stagnation cared little about scientific and technological progress or intensification of production. They were content with the status quo and did not desire any far-reaching structural reforms in the economy and politics.  

By the early 1980s the country’s economy had entered the stage of terminal decline. Its predicament contrasted sharply with the new phase of the technological revolution, which was unfolding in the industrialized countries of the West. New scientific achievements led to the establishment of microelectronics and biotechnology as the main directions of the technological revolution. The Soviet Union had achieved military parity with the most powerful industrial nation of the modern world, but its stagnating economy made maintaining this military equilibrium more and more strenuous. The cost of the arms race aggravated technological backwardness in most other branches of production. Consumer industries and agriculture were neglected. The population’s living standards froze.

The deteriorating economic situation went hand in hand with an intellectual and physical decline of the Soviet leader and the ruling clique. Having suffered a stroke, Brezhnev was hardly fit to continue in his role of the national leader. His slow, unsure movements and indistinct speech at televised public meetings and official receptions betrayed his deteriorating physical condition. Yet the ruling party hierarchy continued to prop up the invalid leader at the top of the party-state pyramid. Throughout his almost two-decade-long period in power, the Politburo membership stayed practically unchanged. In the 1970s the average age of Politburo members reached 70 years old. Brezhnev’s entourage became too infirm to endure even twenty-minute Politburo meetings. But the old men in the Kremlin continued to cling to power with all the strength left in them, blocking the way to the top to younger and more educated rivals.

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Brezhnev's Stagnation


Soviet Russia

Understanding the Soviet Period
Russian Political Culture
Soviet Ideology
The Soviet System
Soviet Nationalities
The Economic Structure
The Socialist Experiment
"Great Leap" to Socialism
The USSR in World War II
Stalin's Legacy
Brezhnev's Stagnation
The Economy in Crisis
Political Reform
The USSR's Collapse

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