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"Mature" Socialism


The ruling circle grew increasingly aware of the looming crisis, but its self-centered interests prevailed over the strategic interests of the country. Some sporadic and timid attempts at reform were still periodically launched, but all this had little or no effect. It became common practice to juggle figures and to massage statistics to simulate nonexistent success. Such “creative accounting” was not regarded as something reprehensible. Systematic falsification of economic data and bogus, fraudulent statistics in economic plans, reports, and accounts became widespread. 


Deceit and whitewash at all levels were now the chief mode of the functioning of the administrative apparatus. The low living standards for millions of people, the absence of any incentives to raise labor efficiency, and a sharp increase in the alcohol consumption level were all signs of decay and disaffection within Soviet society. The country came face to face with a crisis of the entire socioeconomic system that the ruling elite refused to acknowledge or see. Moreover, the authorities sought to divert public attention from real problems by massive propaganda of militarism and by pushing the country into reckless military adventures, such as the war in Afghanistan.

In this parlous state the Soviet Union entered the 1980s and the time to meet the party’s “solemn promise” made in 1961 that in 1980 the Soviet people would live under communism. Obviously, the promise was not and could not be kept. Soviet ideologists had to use all their ingenuity to explain away the embarrassment, and they came up with the neat idea of “developed” or “mature” socialism. This was presented as an indefinitely long stage of historical development. The implication was that the promised land of communism was no longer at hand and that generations of Soviet people should now be prepared to stick with “developed” socialism for as long as it takes to reach communism:


The extensive experience of socialist and communist construction in the USSR incontrovertibly demonstrates that our advance to communism is being accomplished through the stage of a developed socialist society. This is a necessary, natural, and historically long period of the formation of the communist system. This conclusion was drawn and elaborated by the Party in recent years and, unquestionably, it should be duly recorded in the Party Program.


The state’s propaganda system tried hard to persuade the Soviet people of the correctness of party doctrine, but its attempts were now increasingly met with cynicism and derision. In the conditions of mounting deficit, which affected practically the entire consumer goods and services sectors, and which was further aggravated by the abnormal distribution system, skewed in favor of the privileged nomenklatura, many Soviet citizens began to question the proposition that the Soviet system did indeed offer an alternative model of economic development and social justice to that of capitalism.

Soviet leaders became unable to persuade the population that the bright future of communism would ever arrive. A popular joke of the time posed a question: “What sort of a job should you take, so as never to be unemployed?” The answer was characteristic of the disdain in which people now held party promises: “Climb up the Kremlin wall and watch for the approach of communism.”

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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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