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New Left Review I/164, July-August 1987

Boris Kagarlitsky

The Intelligentsia and the Changes

When, in the spring of 1985, the third ceremonial funeral in three years took place in Moscow, most of the intelligentsia were in a state of apathy and pessimism. This was due, not to regret for the passing of the cpsu general secretary, Konstantin Chernenko, but to quite different causes. The Brezhnev epoch of Soviet history was described by the ideologists of that time as ‘an era of stability’. Later they took to calling it ‘a time of stagnation’. There is an element of truth in both appraisals, but the main problem in the early eighties consisted not in knowing whether Brezhnevism had been good or bad, intrinsically, but in the fact that this policy had now exhausted itself. The country’s economic situation was steadily worsening. Cultural life, based on the ideas and controversies inherited from the sixties, was in profound crisis. Brezhnev’s passing had clearly ‘come too late’, and with it also the change of course. The accession to power of Yuri Andropov in November 1982 aroused in many the hope of seeing radical changes, but unfortunately he was to outlive Brezhnev by no more than fifteen months. In that space of time not only was he unable to carry out any serious changes in the economy and the political sphere, he could not even exert any influence on the general psychological climate. When Andropov was succeeded by Chernenko, whom Brezhnev himself had regarded as his successor, it became obvious that the hopes were not to be realized.

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