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Culture and the Arts in the 1960s and 1970s

Progress in developing the education system was mixed during the Brezhnev years. In the 1960s and 1970s, the percentage of working-age people with at least a secondary education steadily increased. Yet at the same time, access to higher education grew more limited. By 1980 the percentage of secondary-school graduates admitted to universities had dropped to only two-thirds of the 1960 figure. Students accepted into universities increasingly came from professional families rather than worker or peasant households. This trend toward the perpetuation of the educated elite was not only a function of the superior cultural background of elite families but also, in many cases, a result of their power to influence admissions procedures (see The Soviet Heritage, ch. 5).

Progress in science also was variable under Brezhnev. In the most visible test of its advancement--the race with the United States to put a man on the moon--the Soviet Union failed, but through persistence the Soviet space program continued to make headway in other areas. In general, despite leads in such fields as metallurgy and thermonuclear fusion, Soviet science lagged behind that of the West, hampered in part by the slow development of computer technology.

In literature and the arts, a greater variety of creative works became accessible to the public than had previously been available. As in earlier decades, the state continued to determine what could be legally published or performed, punishing persistent offenders with exile or prison. Nonetheless, greater experimentation in art forms became permissible in the 1970s, with the result that more sophisticated and subtly critical work began to be produced. The regime loosened the strictures of socialist realism; thus, for instance, many protagonists of the novels of author Yuriy Trifonov concerned themselves with problems of daily life rather than with building socialism. In music, although the state continued to frown on such Western phenomena as jazz and rock, it began to permit Western musical ensembles specializing in these genres to make limited appearances. But the native balladeer Vladimir Vysotskiy, widely popular in the Soviet Union, was denied official recognition because of his iconoclastic lyrics (see Literature and the Arts, ch. 4).

In the religious life of the Soviet Union, a resurgence in popular devotion to the major faiths became apparent in the late 1970s despite continued de facto disapproval on the part of the authorities. This revival may have been connected with the generally growing interest of Soviet citizens in their respective national traditions (see The Russian Orthodox Church, ch. 4).

The Death of Brezhnev

Shortly after his cult of personality began to take root in the mid-1970s, Brezhnev began to experience periods of ill health. After Brezhnev suffered a stroke in 1975, Politburo members Mikhail Suslov and Andrey Kirilenko assumed some of the leader's functions for a time. Then, after another bout of poor health in 1978, Brezhnev delegated more of his responsibilities to Konstantin U. Chernenko, a longtime associate who soon began to be regarded as the heir apparent. His prospects of succeeding Brezhnev, however, were hurt by political problems plaguing the general secretary in the early 1980s. Not only were economic failures damaging Brezhnev's prestige, but scandals involving his family and political allies also were undermining his stature. Meanwhile, Yuriy V. Andropov, chief of the Committee for State Security (Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti--KGB; see Glossary), apparently also began a campaign to discredit Brezhnev. Andropov took over Suslov's functions after Suslov died in 1982, and he used his position to promote himself as the next CPSU general secretary. Although he suffered another stroke in March 1982, Brezhnev refused to relinquish his office. He died that November.

The Soviet Union paid a high price for the stability of the Brezhnev years. By avoiding necessary political and economic change, the Brezhnev leadership ensured the economic and political decline that the country experienced during the 1980s. This deterioration of power and prestige stood in sharp contrast to the dynamism that had marked the Soviet Union's revolutionary beginnings.

Data as of July 1996

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