Andropov replied without a touch of irony: “What makes you think that you know more about yourself than I know about you?”

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The task is . . . to work out a system of logistical, economic, and moral steps that would make old modes of work unprofitable, that would encourage renovation of equipment and managers. -Yuri Andropov, 15 June 1983 (1)


The idea of renovating the Soviet Union originated not with Mikhail Gorbachev, but with his mentor Yuri Andropov. For years after the Soviet collapse, many said wistfully: “If only Andropov had lived longer.” They meant that under his leadership the country could have been reformed yet be held together. In fact, Andropov made the idea of renovation possible and left his heir apparent Gorbachev with the task of promoting it.

Leonid Brezhnev &Yury Andropov

Andropov was born in June 1914, two months before the outbreak of World War I. His family origins are the subject of controversy.2 He claimed to be of Cossack descent, yet in reality he was born into the family of Karl Finkelstein, a Jewish merchant from Finland, who had moved with his family to Moscow and opened a jewellery shop on 26 Big Lubyanka street. Had Andropov been born a few decades earlier, he might have become an entrepreneur or even a banker. Instead, he concealed his origins, made a Party career during Stalin’s terror, and ended up in another office on Lubyanka street, as the head of the KGB (1967–82). (Pg.477)

“Let me tell you about myself,” Andropov replied without a touch of irony: “What makes you think that you know more about yourself than I know about you?”4 (Pg.492)

“In some unfathomable way,” Shakhnazarov recalled, “two different men co-existed in Andropov—a man of the Russian intelligentsia, in the common sense of this word, and a bureaucrat who saw his vocation as a service to the Party.”10 In Andropov, the hard line always trumped reformism. In 1965–67, he supported the conservative economic reforms in the Soviet Union. Yet in 1968, he argued in favor of the Soviet military invasion of Czechoslovakia, where the Party reformers unleashed “socialist democracy.” The occupation of Czechoslovakia turned, however, into a strategic defeat for the Andropovian vision of renovation. General Secretary Brezhnev shut down economic reforms; in fact, even the word “reform” became a taboo for fifteen years. (Pg.517)

In Poland, workers were demanding lower prices for food, and, with the help of dissident intellectuals, had created the Solidarity movement back in 1980. This time Andropov concluded that Soviet tanks could not help. The Polish state accumulated $27 billion of debt to Western banks, which came with high interest. The Soviet Union was unable to bail out its Eastern European client. (Pg.523)

The first thing the new Soviet leader did was to destroy “the rust” in the Party-State apparatus. The KGB arrested several top men in the Soviet “shadow economy” that, some estimated, accounted for 20–25 percent of GDP. (Pg.530)

Ronald Reagan and Yuri Andropov

Andropov, just like Deng Xiaoping in China at the time, realized that modernizing the Soviet economy would require Western technology, know-how, and capital. He once asked Ryzhkov what he knew about the reforms of Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP) in the 1920s. Was it possible, for instance, to lease Soviet economic assets to foreign companies? Ryzhkov said he knew nothing about this. Andropov responded: “Neither do I. Do research on this, and come back.” Finally, somebody found a history thesis on this subject, buried in Moscow’s central library.17 Andropov was keenly aware that the Cold War rivalry with the West, as well as the existing imperial burden, clashed with the Soviet need for renovation. “The most complex problem,” Andropov confessed to Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi, in 1981, “is that we cannot avoid the strains of military expenditures both for us and the other socialist countries.” He also could not give up on Soviet clients, such as Vietnam and Cuba, as well as “progressive forces” in Laos, Angola, Ethiopia, and other countries. Without this burden, Andropov said, “we could solve all the other problems in two or three years.” (Pg.554)

The preparations for reforms took place in complete secrecy. “Even deputies in the Gosplan did not know what we had been working at,” recalled a member of Ryzhkov’s team. “[Andropov] concluded that the old system of rigid planning from the top had exhausted itself . . . We had to demonstrate to the bureaucracy that cooperatives, with their greater economic liberties, would make more profits than state enterprises. In the document we prepared we did not speak openly about private property, but we laid out an idea of having, next to state ownership, also cooperative ownership.” Andropov backed those ideas. (Pg.584)

Andropov instructed the State Bank to shift from distribution of state investments to competition. “Other ministers should come to you,” he said to the Minister of Finance, “crawling on their bellies, begging for money.”23 (Pg.587)

In January 1984, with the approval of the Politburo, a pilot economic experiment was launched in some industries within Ukraine, Belorussia, and Lithuania. It was here where the reforms of 1965–68 had come to a standstill.24 Andropov had enough power, but he lacked the time necessary to carry out further reforms. In declining health, his kidneys failed completely in February 1983, so he was subsequently on dialysis. His last appearance at the Politburo was on 1 September 1983. Andropov went to a Black Sea resort and returned to Moscow only to be hospitalized. He died on 9 February 1984 from acute kidney failure. Andropov’s main contribution to Soviet reforms was the team of people and academics he had brought into the Politburo and the Soviet government. It took them a further two years to launch the reforms he had initiated. The key man whom the ex-KGB reformer had groomed to continue his policies was Mikhail Gorbachev. (Pg.595)

Leonid Brezhnev (1906-1982) was the leader of the Soviet Union from 1964 until his death in 1982.

Brezhnev was born in Kamenskoye in Ukraine, the son of a steelworker and a housewife. Like his father, he was given a technical education in metallurgy and sent to work in steel factories. Brezhnev joined the Komsomol youth party as a teenager and the Communist Party (CPSU) in 1929.

His loyalty to Joseph Stalin opened up opportunities for the young Brezhnev. By 1939, he was the CPSU secretary in his hometown. In 1941 Brezhnev joined the Red Army as a political commissar. He served for the duration of World War II and reached the rank of major general.

Brezhnev’s escalation through the ranks of the CPSU continued after the war. He spent the 1950s working as a regional party secretary, and during this period earned membership of the Central Committee (1952) and the Politburo (1957).

Until 1963 Brezhnev was loyal to incumbent Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev – but like other hardliners he was disappointed with Khrushchev’s economic reforms and his handling of the Cuban missile crisis. Brezhnev replaced Khrushchev as Soviet leader in 1964 and was elected general secretary of the CPSU two years later.

As the Soviet leader, Brezhnev revived some aspects of Stalinism, particularly its repression of critics and dissidents. Censorship of the press, literature and the arts was increased; several Soviet writers were arrested and sent to trial; the investigative powers of state security agencies like the KGB were restored.

Even more devastating were Brezhnev’s economic policies, which were anti-reformist and pushed the Soviet Union into a decade of stagnation and negative growth. Living standards and the availability of consumer goods, both of which had improved under Khrushchev, suffered under Brezhnev. There were also significant increases in bribery, corruption and alcoholism.

WE&P by: EZorrilla.

“Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union” by Vladislav M. Zubok.,9263,7601840220,00.html,16641,19821122,00.html

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