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Soviet Union

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's first stroke in 1975, Politburo members Mikhail A. Suslov and Andrei P. Kirilenko assumed some of Brezhnev'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 long-time associate who soon began to be regarded as the heir apparent. His prospects of succeeding Brezhnev, however, were hurt by problems plaguing the general secretary in the early 1980s. Not only had economic failures hurt Brezhnev's prestige, but scandals involving his family and political allies also damaged his stature. Meanwhile, Iurii V. Andropov, chief of the secret police, the Committee for State Security (Komitet gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti--KGB), 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 advance himself as the next CPSU general secretary. Brezhnev himself, despite ill health following another stroke in March, would not relinquish his office. Soon after reviewing the traditional Bolshevik Revolution parade in November 1982, Brezhnev died.

Ultimately, the Soviet Union paid a high price for the stability that prevailed during the years of the Brezhnev regime. 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 marked the Soviet Union's revolutionary beginnings.

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A number of comprehensive texts covering the history of the Soviet Union have recently appeared. Most worthy of recommendation to the nonspecialist is A History of Russia and the Soviet Union by David MacKenzie and Michael W. Curran. A thoughtful survey can be found in Geoffrey A. Hosking's The First Socialist Society. Other general works covering the Soviet period include Robert V. Daniels's Russia: The Roots of Confrontation, Donald W. Treadgold's Twentieth Century Russia, and Adam B. Ulam's A History of Soviet Russia. There are also a number of excellent books on the various phases of Soviet history. The recognized classic on the revolutionary and Civil War period is William H. Chamberlin's The Russian Revolution, 1917-1921. Recommended for the Stalin era is Stalin by Adam B. Ulam. For Khrushchev, the reader is referred to Carl A. Linden's Khrushchev and the Soviet Leadership, 1957-1964. Khrushchev's two-volume memoirs, Krushchev Remembers, are fascinating reading. Harry Gelman's The Brezhnev Politburo and the Decline of Detente treats the Brezhnev period in detail. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of May 1989