Leonid Brezhnev

Biography of Leonid Brezhnev

Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev (19 December 1906 (O.S. 6 December) – 10 November 1982) was the General Secretary of the Central Committee (CC) of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), presiding over the country from 1964 until his death in 1982. His eighteen-year term as General Secretary was second only to that of Joseph Stalin in length. He presided over the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia to stop the Prague Spring. During Brezhnev's rule, the global influence of the Soviet Union grew dramatically, in part because of the expansion of the Soviet military during this time, but his tenure as leader has often been criticised for marking the beginning of a period of economic stagnation in which serious economic problems were overlooked, problems which eventually led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Brezhnev was born in Kamenskoe into a Russian worker's family. After graduating from the Dniprodzerzhynsk Metallurgical Technicum, he became a metallurgical engineer in the iron and steel industry, in Ukraine. He joined Komsomol in 1923, and in 1929 became an active member of the Communist Party. He was drafted into immediate military service during World War II and left the army in 1946 with the rank of Major General. In 1952 Brezhnev became a member of the Central Committee, and in 1964, Brezhnev succeeded Nikita Khrushchev as First Secretary. Alexei Kosygin succeeded Khrushchev in his post as Chairman of the Council of Ministers.

As a leader, Brezhnev took care to consult his colleagues before acting, but his attempt to govern without meaningful economic reforms led to a national decline by the mid-1970s, a period referred to as the Era of Stagnation. A significant increase in military expenditure, which by the time of Brezhnev's death stood at approximately 15% of the country's GNP, and an aging and ineffective leadership set the stage for a dwindling GNP compared to Western nations. While at the helm of the USSR, Brezhnev pushed for détente between the Eastern and Western countries. His last major decision in power was to send the Soviet military to Afghanistan in an attempt to save the fragile regime which was fighting a war against the mujahideen.

Brezhnev died on 10 November 1982 and was quickly succeeded in his post as General Secretary by Yuri Andropov. Brezhnev had fostered a cult of personality, although not to the same degree as Stalin. Mikhail Gorbachev, who would lead the USSR from 1985 to 1991, denounced his legacy and drove the process of liberalisation of the Soviet Union.

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