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High Point of State Socialism


The party’s demand for full loyalty to its doctrines prohibited any alternative ideas from being aired in public life and stifled serious discussion of trends and processes affecting society. Any attempts at a critical analysis of negative phenomena and social contradictions, even made by individuals loyal to the regime, were stamped out as provocative insinuations, hostile to the socialist system. Such critics were branded “anti-Soviet dissidents” who dared to deny the “historical advantages of socialism.” The entire philosophy of stagnation was based on turning one’s back on real problems, ignoring the realities, which cried out for radical changes in the economy and in foreign and domestic policies. All those who dared to say the unpalatable truth had to be muffled or silenced. The essence of the Brezhnev regime’s twilight years has been well captured in the following Russian joke: 

L. Brezhnev

Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev are traveling in a train. The train breaks down. “Fix it!” orders Stalin. They repair it, but still the train does not move. “Shoot everyone!” orders Stalin. They shoot everyone but still the train doesn’t budge. Stalin dies. “Rehabilitate everyone!” orders Khrushchev. They are rehabilitated, but still the train won’t go. Khrushchev is removed. “Close the curtains,” orders Brezhnev, “and pretend we’re moving.”

The regime’s obsession with maintaining stability even at the cost of stagnation appeared to Soviet progressives to stand for extreme conservatism. Yet Russia’s subsequent turbulent periods of reform and revolution, starting with Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika and continuing with Boris Yeltsin’s controversial market reforms of the 1990s, have made many reconsider their views of Brezhnev’s period in power. In the 1990s, in particular, when Russian society struggled to preserve the remnants of stability in the economy and politics, many began to look back to Brezhnev’s days with nostalgia, realizing that stability in life had its own definite value and that, at times, “stagnation” was more desirable than reforms and changes. Some even claim that Brezhnev’s era was the pinnacle of Russia’s achievement, when the country enjoyed the elevated international status of one of the world’s two superpowers.

There is no doubt that Brezhnev’s era was the high point of state socialism in Russia. Soviet socialism had accomplished a great feat by bringing into being a modern society that in its occupational composition and educational level was comparable to the industrialized countries of the West. However, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Soviet social structure, characteristic of a postindustrial society, came into conflict with the conservative instincts of the Soviet system. Dogmatic and inflexible, state socialism sought to perpetuate outmoded socioproductive relations and economic patterns, inherited from Stalin’s era and geared to the technological level of the 1920s and 1930s. Its conservatism was no longer compatible with the aspirations of an increasingly urbanized and better-educated population, which was tired of sweating for the abstract and ever receding prospect of communism and wanted to be treated as consumers rather than “builders of communism.”

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Brezhnev's Stagnation


Soviet Russia

Understanding the Soviet Period
Russian Political Culture
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"Great Leap" to Socialism
The USSR in World War II
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Brezhnev's Stagnation
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