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Attacks from All Sides: The Dissidence to Brezhnev’s Soviet Union

Under Khrushchev, Soviets were allowed to criticize their political leaders as a certain amount of free speech was allowed. Deeply departing the days of terror under Stalin, Khrushchev’s leadership did not go after people whose actions did not threaten the state, allowing a greater expression of artistic and intellectual criticisms of the state. The arrival of Brezhnev constricted that freedom of expression or at the very least attempted to. As the current rulers of the Soviet Union wished to temper speech, intellectuals continued pushing for greater freedoms of expression in order to criticize the regime. From protests to mass demonstrations to the circulation of banned literature, intellectuals fought the current ideological status quo enforced by Brezhnev and his people.

Brezhnev
Leonid Brezhnev, leader of the Soviet Union from 1964-1982

Three main ideological dissidents arose out of the dissident movement towards Brezhnev’s Soviet Union. The liberal strain was best represented by Andrei Sakharov, arguing that policies which favored the freedom of expression and the defense of human rights were necessary, especially in this growing new world of nuclear weapons and divided powers. Liberals preached for greater cooperation with the United States and believed that the current strict ideological beliefs held by the modern Communist Party prevented the ideological cooperation needed for this to happen. Social justice and ideological freedom would benefit all of humanity. Conservative dissent towards the modern Soviet Union was also prevalent. Critics attacked Western values and labeled Marxism as one such ideology which emerged from the West. They desired a return to Russian Orthodoxism, viewing a greater return to Christianity as the only way Russia could heal itself from its mistakes throughout the century. Marxists also shared in the dissent of the modern Soviet Union. Many Marxists believed it was time to invite the people, or at least a greater portion of them, to have a say in the running of the government. These dissenters viewed Brezhnev as too authoritarian and demanded a new Soviet Union which embraced democratic principles which Marxism originally called for.

Sakharov
Andrei Sakharov, nuclear physicist and popular liberal author and dissenter.

The response to these criticisms were met with ferocity from the Brezhnev in others in the Soviet government. The most vocal of dissenters were placed in labor camps or were exiled. Underground organizations which preached for human rights and more democratic governance were sought out and demolished by government forces. The lack of change any of these criticisms of the modern Soviet state brought around deep unrest in the Soviet populace. This dissatisfaction with the modern government is one of the reasons Mikhail Gorbachev was able to gain ground and eventually lead the Soviet Union, with his radical policies of glasnost and perestroika going against the established political philosophy Brezhnev and his allies had pushed throughout the Soviet Union during the 1970s.

Sources:

James von Geldern, “The Dissident Movement,” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History.
Andrei Sakharov, Sakharov Speaks (New York: Knopf, 1974), pp. 58-61, 80-81, 112-13.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Letter to the Soviet Leaders (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), pp. 19-21, 24-26, 41-43, 51-54, 56-57.
Roy A. Medvedev, On Socialist Democracy (New York: Knopf, 1975), pp. 310-15, 331-32.
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, “Leonid Ilich Brezhnev: President of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” Encyclopedia Britannica, Photograph, June 24, 2014.
“Andrei Sakharov,” Encyclopedia Britannica Kids, Photograph.

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19 Responses to “Attacks from All Sides: The Dissidence to Brezhnev’s Soviet Union”

  1. A. Nelson says:

    I really like your title! What do you make of the dissidents’ reception in the West? Or rather, why (and how) were they perceived differently at home and abroad? Also – you should check out Roy Medvedev’s “Let History Judge. Crimes of the Stalin Era” — you’d like it.

  2. Logan Herschbach says:

    I really like the detail put into this post. I think it’s very interesting how the people became more liberal over time despite the fierce resistance by the government. From your description of the Soviet people’s mindset, I think it’s pretty clear why Gorbachev eventually rose to power.

  3. I really like the detail put into this post. I think it’s very interesting how the people became more liberal over time despite the fierce resistance by the government.

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  7. Dessy says:

    I think it’s very interesting how the people became more liberal over time despite the fierce resistance by the government.

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    For the reason I like this article.

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  11. fought the current ideological status quo enforced by Brezhnev and his people.

  12. agario says:

    From protests to mass demonstrations to the circulation of banned literature, intellectuals fought the current ideological status quo enforced by Brezhnev and his people.

  13. Konveksi Tas says:

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  15. Moses Bliss says:

    I think it’s very interesting how the people became more liberal over time despite the fierce resistance by the government and for that reason I like this article

  16. Trends says:

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