Created: 5/1/1977

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Office of Regional and Political Analyili


Prospects for Soviet institutions in the Brezhnev Succession


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NATIONAL SECURITY INFORMATION Unguthoriiid Dlicluur*o Criminal Sonttlsm

Prospects for Soviet Institutions In the Brezhnev Succession

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Summary and Conclutioni

Although Soviet political institutions have proved themselves and haveeasure of legitimacy by their durability and accomplishments, they face serious tests In the years immediately ahead. At present, although Brezhnev has not achieved mastery over the Politbuio, he appears able to manipulate it sufficiently to maintain relative political stability and lo achieve the restricted objectives he sets for the leadership. This precarious balance will be disrupted by his disappearance. Consequently, his departure from office, probably In the not distant future, willimited crisis for the regime, which has not yet succeeded i" ordering the transfer of supreme authority. In this succession crisis, the effective powers of the Politburois the new leader are likely to be strengthened. The net result mayidening of the political arena, at least temporarily,eduction in the new leadership's capacity to institute fundamental reforms or to pursue an integrated foreign and defense strategy.

The succession problems may be exacerbated by Brezhnev's failure to make preliminary arrangements for the succession and to deal with long-deferred economic and social problems which the new leadership may have to confront. Among these problemseclining growth rate-of the economy and an emergent energy crisis; an entrenched bureaucratic machine whose discipline may be failing; domestic agitation for greater ethnic, religious, and personal freedoms; and political Instability in Eastern Europe.

Failure to deal effectively with these problems in the succession would leaderious reduction in the resources available to the leadership for its goals. It might also lead to inadvertent institutional changes, perhaps evenerious challenge to the sovereignty of the party apparatus over the other institutions of the regime. Alternatively, but less likely, manifest failures of a

Thisersonal assessment by thiin

Residence, presentspreliminary findings of his ongoing s'tudv ofsuccession

weak post-Brezhnev leadership mighttrong individual subsequently to consolidate personal power, capitalizing on the manifest need to rejuvenate the leadership and restore discipline.eader might impose institutional reforms from above to strengthen discipline and central direction of the system.

While vulnerabilities in the present system thus could lead to its transformation in the direction of either oligarchy or strong personal rule (perhaps Inhe regime that emerges from the Brezhnev succession is likely to have the following features;

Continued hegemony of the party apparatus.

Persistence of the present mode of leadership, with authority concentratedolitburo whose members have markedly unequal powers and which is subject to manipulation by the general secretary of the Central Committee.

Inability of the successor leadership to deal effectively with the regime's fundamental problems.

A reduced growth rate of the economy, although it would still provide the resources needed to compete with the West.


Soviet political institutions'haveeasure of legitimacy by-their .durability and accomplishments-in economic development in defeating Germany's war machine, In effectively waging cold war against the US, in proving broad social servicesising standard of living to the Soviet people, and, in recent decades, In avoiding high levels of politicalough and conservative assessment of the prospects for Soviet political institutions would be obliged to prohis impressive performance forward at least one decudc.

A more refined assessment is needed, however, taking account of: (I) the forthcoming Brezhnevertain vulnerabilities that have been revealed in particular institutions in recent years:he challenges that developments in Soviet society and in the international environment seem likely to pose for these Institutions. Such an assessment suggests that Soviet political institutions will he seriously tested in tlic Brezhnev succession, and that crises lie ahead

It is true that suchly to involve basic turning points in the further development of Soviet Institutions, not necessarily dangers that arc likely to destroy them. But the difficulties confronting the Soviet regime in the years ahead should not be discounted merely because the politics of the post-Khrushchev period have been relatively quiescent. It should be recalled. In this connection, that In the People's Republic ofecade of seemingly tranquil politics ended abruptlyhen the fissures that had been concealed from observers suddenly came to the surface in the great cultural revolution, and the resulting divisions in the leadership led to moreecade of purges and counter-purges.

Vulnerabilities in Soviet Political Institutions

Vulnerable points are to be found in Institutions engaged chiefly in decisionmaking as well as in institutions engaged in implementing decisions.

In the first place, the ordering of the highest organs and offices In the top leadership has not been fixed but has varied according to circumstances.esult, the relative authority of the highest party and government organs has repeatedly emergedubject of contention, as has the relative authority of the highest bodies within the party. The Politburo is Ihc decisive legislative and executive organ (its policies being formally confirmed by the Centra'ut the Politburo has found it difficult to

operateollegia! body and to maintainough equality inof its members. In particular, the great potentialities of the officegeneral secretary have enabled strong Incumbents to arrogatepart of the Politburos powers. The result has been ain the relutive power of the Politburo and the generalsubstantial tension between-

Since the powers of the general secretary arc neither*specifiedtatute nor well<staWished by precedent, no reliable means for the orderly transfer of these powers has yet been devised. More than this: there are no established pollttval means of removing an unsatisfactory general secretary (though conspiracy mayoorhere are no established political rules for choosing the successor; there is no way of ensuringew incumbent will inherit his predecessor's powers. Typically, there hasouble crisis ofirst crisis when the incumbent Is replaced,econd arising from the new general secretary's attempts to arrogate the powers of his predecessors, powers that he believes to be necessary-and may be so in fact-to provide stable and effective leadership. In such crises, the political police and the armed force* have played significant roles at several critical junctures, and they may do so again, possibly with disruptive consequences.

The Present Situation In the Leading Government and Party Organs

In assessing the stability of Soviet institutions in the period immediately ahead, the initial focus must be on the leading organs, for if the leadership is not seriously weakened the odds are that it will be able to cope with the political und social challenges that It will face. The stability of the leadership is uncertain, however, for the reason noted above: Institutionalization of supreme authority has not progressed enough lotable balance between the personal power of Ihe general secretary and the collective authority of the top organs, the Secretariat, Ihe Politburo, and the Central Committee. The present distribution of power in the top leadership appears to have arisen largelyesult of Brezhnev's effort during the post-Khrushchev period to establish his personal ascendency. While these efforts have met with only partial success, Brezhnev's present power is sufficiently great that his departure from office, or even the substantial degradation of his physical capacities, will give risetruggle nol only of personalities, but probably also of institutions.

What is Ihe present balance of institutions within the top leadership, how did il arise, and how is it likely to be affected by Brezhnev's

continuation in office in the near future and by the subsequent struggle for his succession? Brezhnev initially relied heavily on the Secretarial to enhance the powers of hit office of general secretary. He used the General Department of the Central Committee, In particular, to control the Internal administration of the Politburo. He was unable, however, to secure the strong personal control of the Secretariat and its staff that enabled StalinXin) and Khrushchev to Influence the composition of the Central Committee, and thereby to determine the membership of the-Polilburo. Inrezhnev became more deeply preoccupied with foreign affairs and economic ad ministration. Heecond office, inside the Kremlin, and his Involvement in the Secretariat decllncd;his dependence on Kirilcnko, his deputy in the Secretariat, correspondingly Increased and with it, perhaps Kirilenko's scope for independent action.

The Central Committee Is too unwieldy to serveruly deliberative body, and for many years has not done much more than confer status on its memben and provide Important.channels of information to them. Because of its size, it is subject to manipulation by the senior secretary. In recent years It has assembledear for plenary sessionsay or two, usually to hear Brerhnev report on his foreign policy activities, or to criticize Gosplan and various ministries for their inefficient operation of the economy. The Central Committee is not as important to Brezhnevounding board as it was to Khrushchev, however, and It seems questionable, in view of Brezhnevs apparent failure to achieve strong control over appointments to the Central Committee, that he could confidently rely on itolitical crisis to protect his position.

Brezhnev's limited ability to choose the members of the Central Committee has lessened his capacity lo achieve mastery over the Politburo.alf dozen yean of their succession, Stalin and Khrushchev were in each case the sole survivors of their predecessor's executive body; in contrast, four veterans of Khrushchev's executive organ (Podgorny, Kosygin, Suslov, jnd Kirilcnko) sit with Brezhnev today in the Politburo. Nevertheless, Brezhnev has strongly Influenced the composition of the Politburo by adding followers (Kunayev, Kulakov, and Shcherbitsky) and allies of varying dependability (Gromyko. Andropov, Ustinov, and Romanov) and,y purging potential rivals and others with strongly independent views (Shelest, Voronov, Shclcpin, and Polyansky).

The Role of Ihe Politburo

The Politburo remains central to the working of the system. There the key institutions and information channels come togelher so thai major problems can be dealt with and national policies established. The Politburo meets regularly and appears to be consulted on ull important questions.

Brezhnev has recognized Die need to elaborate policy within its confines and has been careful to observe the procedural requirements of consultation and formal voting by its members. Instead of attempting to ignore or override the Politburo, as Khrushchev did, Brezhnev has sought to manipulate the Politburo, to exploit its vulnerable points in order to achieve his objectives.

"The Politburo's integrityeliberative body is questionable, however, for several reasons. First, it is big and unwieldy.-There areull members, as against the customaryrt times when the Politburo has been most decisive, and several members are notosition to participate effectively in its work. Three of theave posts outside Moscow (in the Ukraine, Leningrad, and Kazakhstan) and are notosition to bring informed and independent judgment to bear on disputed issues of policy. Several others, like Gromyko and Ustinov (and Grechko when he was Minister ofave had nanowly specialized careers outside the party apparatus which probably limit their capacity to judge the full range of issues coming before the Politburo. Of the six alternate members of the Politburo, three work outside Moscow and are not available for its meetings. For members and candidates who work outside Moscow, Politburo rank may be more important in conferring prestige, which makes them more effective in work at their assigned posts, than in providing them influence on Politburo deliberations.

Despite these deficiencies in the Politburo's capacity to acteliberative body, there can be no question that the Politburo as it currently functions significantly restricts Brezhnev's ability to act independently. Not oniy is he obliged to get formal approval of his major Initiatives, but there is evidence that the Politburo's senior members, at least, are able to argue vigorously against particular proposals of Brezhnev without being subjected to sanctions. The Politburoorum where major decisions are discussed and disputes are aired. Brezhnev is obliged to win over or neutralize those who hold dissenting views and are willing to voice them. He is not at presentosition to disregard the Politburo or to override It. To this very limited degree, then, Brezhnev has furthered the institutionalization of the Politburo.

To sum up: In his dozen years tenure as general secretary Brezhnev has aggrandized substantial powers which hive given him the predominant position in the Secretariat and provided him with substantial. If not infallible, means to manipulate the Politburo in order to effectuate his will. In addition, Brezhnev seems to have won substantial though diffuse support In the Central Committee, based on his respect for the tenure of officials: and

(he elevation uf many of (hem to membership in (he Centralonsequently) Brezhnev's departure from office,ipuiftcani degradation of his physical cupacltics. is likely to upset the present balance within the leadership, giving rise to struggle among individuals and, probably, among the leading political organs and institutions.

Source* of Short-Term

While Brezhnev's health is not likely of itself ta force Jits retirementhe nextombination of slow physical deterioration and political challenges to his authority, perhaps acting rcciprocalty, could deprive him of office in the not distant future. Moreover. Brezhnev's history of cardiovascular disease makes him vulnerableudden heart attack or stroke. However, even if Brezhnev remains In office for several years, which is quite possible, the present balance between personal and collective authority probably will not persist.

There are important sources of instability:

balance between collective and personal authority, despite some setbacks suffered by Brezhnev, has shifted markedly in his favor and may beoint where the Polithurocl ihe need to reassert itselfollegia! body.

disproportion currently exists between the cull ofBrezhnev-which he enhanced considerably during Ihe past year.

particularly by the recognition accorded htm as an outstanding mililary figure and his personal power, which did not increase correspondingly. Brezhnev may yet try to convert the cult's new riles into effective personal power. Althoujdi Brezhnev docs not appear to Ik strongly committed to major economic or social reforms which would require him lo possess overriding authority, he has reason to Iry to make his position more secure in the event his policies suffer severe setbacks,

ot" the advanced age and poor health of Ihe Politburo members, vacancies probably will occur in the next year or two. They need not be filled, in view of the inflated size of Ihe present Politburo, but the effect, nonetheless, would be to change the

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balance in the leadership. Moreover.nev probably would try lo take advantage of vacancies to bring his proteges into (he Politburo.

The Forthcoming Succession

Changes In the balance among-thu leaders In what remains of Brezhnev's

itnuie In office could affect both Ihe Institutional balance between the party

and the government, and the likelihood that attempts might br made to

order the succession in advance, if Brezhnev's position weakened, this could

produce Instability in the leadership and could leadharp struggle for

the succession even before the position of general secretary was vacated. On

the otheroderate Increase in his power jrobably would nol end his

preoccupaiion with its preservation and, consequently, his unwillingness to

share his authority in an atte . to order Ihe succession.

Even were he lo consolidate his positionoint where he had secure control of the Politburo, thereby facilitating efforts to arrange the succession, Brezhnev, in view of his record of caution In using his power, might still choose not to make the attempt. While the actual outcome of previous succession arrangements have often diverged sharply from what their authors had in view, these arrangements have facilitated the transfer of power. Thus if Brezhnev failed lo make preliminary arrangements for the succession, the chances of an orderly succession would probably be reduced.

In'thc event Brezhnev fails to survive the next few years oi docs not use Ihem to groom younger leaders for Ihc succession, his likely successor would be Kirilenko. Because he is the only senior figure whoember ofboth the Politburo and the Secretariat, and also is ambitious and relatively vigorous, he would probably be able to assume the post, perhaps without an acute struggle, if Brezhnev were to vacate it in Ihe nearirilenko's uge (he, however, and certain limitations of experience (particularly in the realms of foreign and defense policy)robably resultubstantial weakening of the office of general secretary. The Secretariat might then become an arena of acute conflict once more, as in the mid-oOs, and the government might become as strong and assertive as it was in the early posl-Slalin period. Were these things to occur, the leadership's capacity to make urgent decisions or to initiate basic reforms would be reduced, perhaps seriously, until such timeounger, more vigorous, man might assume the office and expand its powers.

alihouah he depuilMi Ini Brethnev. It nol formally Uie preiumpdve heii. Accoidlnereinnev'i rank-ordwot Ihe newly circled SccietiiUt foUov/lnii ihe 2Sih Party Coupe's. SuiUr* It trnloi io Kirilenko. and Ihlt dictum tanco mtthioonjrer rival of Klrllenko-ihoujh preiumaNy nol ihe superannuated Stulov himwtt-io eomeit Kiillcflko'i claim to ihe lucceulon. pvikutarlv Ifan alternative Itfure were nippoiied by tenter membcra of Ihe Poliibuio.

From this analysis il follow- (hat the prospect In the next several years Iseakening of the leadership's capacity to uct decisively owing to the probable slow deterioration In Brezhnev's physical powers and to the likelihood that his probable heir In the event of an early succession. Kirilcnko, would find it difficult to assert strong personal leadership.

A weakening of the leadership, were it to accompany; the Brezhnev succession, would have political consequences of two major kinds: it would probably reduce the leadership's capacity to reform institutions and resolve serious political and social problems that have already been too long deferred; in addition, it could leadidening of the political arena by activating institutional Interest groups in the economic bureaucracy, the scientific establishment, and the creative intelligentsia. The latter development, while it cannot be discounted, may be the lessei danger. Despite the expectations of many observers, interest groups in the USSR-other than the military-have displayedtrong inclination to engage in higher SoviM pol'tics, nor great effectiveness when they have attempted to do so. Thi; was true even when circumstances seemed propitious, as during the succession to Khrushchev. Unless the divisions in the leadership become considerably deeper than they were in the Khrushchev succession (which, as discussed below,ealhe party apparatus will probably be able to maintain Its control over the other Institutions and to limit their participation In higher Soviet politics.

Problems of Rule That Must Soon Be Faced

In the ncxl few years the leadership will have to deal with institutional defects and adverse social developments that have emerged prominently during the past decade. Many of them were not addressed seriously by the leadership that followed Khrushchev and was repelled by his activism. They concentrated for the most part on urgent questions of policy rather than on underlying problems that arc difficult to resolve and whose effects might not be felt for some time. In the next few years these problems, having grown more acute, will have lo be dealt with, or their seriously adverse consequences accepted,eadership that (as argued above, will be somewhat weakened and perhaps seriously divided.

The critical institutional and policy problems facing the leadership in the next several years include the following:

he overriding problem, in view of the regime's long<stabllshcd priorities, is the progressive reduction in the rate of growth of the economy. This has been caused in large part by factors that will continue toteady decline In die output obtained from given increments of capital, increased costs

of extracting raw materials,eclining rate or growth In the size of the labor force. The problem or the labor force will worsen over the next few yearsoint is reached where increases in production must come entirely from increases In labor productivity. (In the past, these Increases have tended to lag behind planned ratesartial solution mightought In institutional reform, by improving the .administrative apparatus that directs the country's economic enterprises, which has longource of serious dissatisfaction to the leadership. But unsuccessrul attempts during tho past thirdentury to amalgamate the numerous economic ministries, to modify themhen they werend to create an alternative mechanismuggest that no administrative solution to the problem of reduced economic growth Is readily available.

If economic growth continues to decline-that is, if current efforts to improve economic management do not yield the anticipated gains- the Soviet leaders may confront difficult choices among further reducing the rate of capital formation, which could accelerate the decline: reducing the rate of increase in consumption, which might adversely afreet labor productivity or sharply reducing the rate or increase in defense spending, which could slow to some extent the decline .in economic growth, but at the probable cost of antagonizing the military establishment, thereby aggravating the leadership's nolitical problems. The basic choice, betweeneduced rate of economic growth ora reduced rate of growth in defense spending, has long-term implications for Soviet foreign pol!cy. The first might lessen the USSR's capacity to deal with worldecade or more hence; the second choice might weaken the USSR's capacity to cope with its chief adversary, the United States, in the years immediately ahead.

Major Inefficiencies in the regime's bureaucracies haveerious problem from the beginning, but the disease and its consequences appear to have worsened substantially in the past decade. To remedy the disafrection and uncertainty caused by Khrushchev's numerous and disruptive reorganizations, the post-Khrushchev leadership gave officials virtually ensured tenure, short of gross incompetence or serious misfeasance. Thus, inclusion in the nomenklatura (pool of officials) at the higher levels has tended toested right to occupy positions that entail high salaries as well as numerousd privileges.

esult, op port unities fot the rapid advancement of ableambitious young officials have declined, and discipline,ey strcnglh of the regime's institutions, has suffered. Disturbing signsorsening of discipline have appeared not only in Ihe work force, in local administration, and in theinistries, but also In the army, lhcnd inarty apparat itself. Stalin's means of dealing with this problem, which though costly were effective, are not available*-to the present leadership.

party apparatus, the key institution of lhc regimeis currently constituted, appears to be suffering fromBrezhnev, from the rostrum of the 2Stli Party Congresswarned against the Leninist sin of "liberalism"of incompetence and wrongdoing) in party workthat Ihe apparat's lack of responsiveness toreceiving prolonged attention from the party'sFrequent reports reach the West thai party officialsmore openly cynical and increasingly less committedofficial ideology. The apparat clearly needs to beprocess that presents opportunities as well as dangers. Itan improvement in the technical andof its members, but. carried too far. Ihisthe apparat's coherence and "parly spirit,"ils capacity to give coherence to thehole.

major ethnic minorities and the republics theycontinue toource of concern to the leadership.nationalities problem lhat existed al the time ofhowever, was ameliorated by Khrushchev, whoUkrainians into the central leadership. As long as the Slavic

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peoples of the USSR are not In conflict, the nationality question is likely to be manageable, since the Slavic leaden, If united, probably can cope with the remaining quarter of the Soviet population. There is,esidual danger over theecade that manifestations of strong nationalist feelingskrainian members of the leadership (like that shown byShelcst in thes, for example) may encounter strong currents of Russian national sentiment (as seen In Shelepln) Inside the Politburo. In any case, institutional adjustments may eventually be required to accommodate the national and religious sentiments of the republics of the Caucasus, the Baltic area, and, especially. Central Asia, where the rapid growth of population In the next quarter century may pose serious social and political problems for the regime.

The problem of dissidence, particularly of demands that the regime respect its nominal guarantees of civil rights, may be intensified if the scientific and creative intelligentsia become more assertive during the Brezhnev succession. Even so, political dissidence is not likely to become unmanageable, since the desire for political und civil rights does not appear tocricus concern of the working class and the peasuntry and is unlikely to become so in the decade ahead.

On the other hand, relations with Eastern Europe, which strongly affect Soviet domestic politics, will almost certainly pose serious problems for the leadership, especially if crises arise in the area, as is likely. In particular, the issue of whether to engage in military repression would seriouslyivided and weak Soviet leadership, such as the one8 that had to deal with the Prague Spring.

Alternative Contingencies for Soviet Institutions

The problems of institutional development and policy resolution enumerated here clearlyerious challenge to the leadership in the next few years. If the challenge is not effectively met and the leadership simply continues to muddle through, the resources available to the leadership for the pursuit of Its goals may be seriously reduced. Is it likely, however, to threaten the stability of ther of its established institutions? Is it iikely, even, lo upset the stability of the leadership?

The regime's institutions will probably persist without substantial modification for the next several years, possibly for the next decade. In view of their record of solid, if inefficient and wasteful, performance, the odds arc that they will neither fail, on the one hand, nor, on the other, be reformed


Io make Ihcm markedly more efficient and responsive to the leadership's commands.

There are, however, two distinct ways in which basic changes might come about: inadvertently, as the resulteakening of the top leadership, leadingidening of the political arena and increased participation by various groups in' the making of high policy; or deliberately,trong personal leader were to emergeroad program, for reform and the will to carry it through, The Brezhnev succession could have cither outcome.

The firsterious weakening of the top leadership's cohesioneciprocal enhancement of the regime's key vulnerabilities, might occur If arrangements for Ihc succession to Brezhnev are not made in advance. Any successor leadership will have to confront Ihe serious problems enumerated above, particularly the most urgent ones: falling rates of economic growih and an emerging energy crisis; an entrenched bureaucratic machine whose internal discipline may be failing; some domestic agitation for greater ethnic, religious, and personal freedom; and most likely, disturbances in Easterneakened and divided leadership would find it difficult to deal with these refractory problems, yet unable to ignore them, and might be further weakenedrisis of such proportions might call in question Ihe sovereignty of the party apparatus over other interest groups, which has not been seriously challenged since Khrushchev's victory over "the anti-party group"he leaders of institutional interest groups might then tJke courage and form alliances aimed at weakening Ihe party opparai's control ovei them and lo assert joint claimsignificant measure of institutional autonomy and to participation in higher Soviet politics. An incipient movement in this directiot did. in fact, occur after Stalin's death, but was aborted by Khrushchev's victory

If Ihe Brezhnev succession brought abouteakening of control by the party apparatus, the oligarchical elements in the prtseni system would probably become stronger. Leaders of the chief institutions who sit on the Politburo (and perhaps Iheir supporters and allies in the Central Committee as well) would be able to contribute more actively to the formation of national policy. This would probably leadurther loosening of the rigors of the system bequeathed by Stalin andeduction in Ihe leadership's capacity tonified grand strategy embracing foreign and defense policy. The stability ofodified institutional order is hard lo predict. If it proved ineffective in pursuing the regime's ends, it could lead, in turn, to the restoration of strong personal rule.

An altcmativc-but perhaps less likely- method of institutional reform might become feasibletrong leader were to emerge, as Khrushchev did, to capitalize on the manifest need to purge incompetent officials and to rejuvenate both the supreme leadership and its middle levels. This mightuccessful candidate for the succession totrong personal machine, which could be employed to strengthen discipline and perhaps also to impose institutional reforms from abovcr The resultto subordinate institutional interest groups more closely-to direction from the ruling center and to limit the prospectsiberalization of the regime.

The Probabilities

While vulnerabilities in the present system cor'd lead during the succession to its transformation in the direction of cither oligarchy or strong personal rule (perhaps inhe regime that emerges from the Brezhnev succession is likely lo have the following features:

Continued hegemony of the party apparatus over other institutions.

Persistence of the present mode of leadership, with authority concentratedolitburo whose members have markedly unequal powers and which is subject to manipulation by the general secretary of the Central Committee.

Inability of the successor leadership to deal effectively with the regime's fundamental problems.

A reduced growih rate of the economy, although it would still provide the resources needed to compete with the West.


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