After forcing out Nikita Khrushchev in 1965, Leonid Brezhnev became First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. Some consider the regime under Brezhnev, as the ‘golden era of USSR’. Brezhnev managed to improve the quality of life, stabilize social life, virtually eliminate unemployment, and expand educational opportunities. However during the Brezhnev era, “something else was becoming evident: what had been aptly described as a ‘mono-organization system was showing cracks” (Dallin qtd. in Ostrow, 119) and a second illegal economy was pervading the Soviet Union. Even though quality of life had improved the economy had started to stagnate and signs of corruption were starting to proliferate the Union.
Brezhnev invested heavily in the War effort, which led to lack of consumer goods for the people. Socialist economies are “called economies of shortages” (Verdery qtd. in Ostrow, 71). The unsustainability of socialist economies is exemplified by the shortage of consumer goods and inability to produce consumer goods in the Soviet Union. The lack of consumer goods inevitably led to a black market and the failure of reforms to stimulate the economy were signs that the Soviet system was unsustainable in the long term. The black market economy forced “most citizens were forced to engage in activities undermining the Soviet system, which fed a cynicism that eventually destroyed popular trust in authority” (The Responsive Economy).However, the improvement of the quality of life under the Brezhnev era and the achievement of equality (albeit low-level) added to the legitimacy of the Union. Whereas the cracks in the Soviet system that started appearing under Brezhnev contributed to the inevitable collapse of the Soviet system.
History helped play a role in maintaining control with fear but also with keeping expectations at a relatively low level. Citizens of the Soviet Union never knew a luxurious lifestyle and with nothing to compare their lifestyle to except the past, expectations stayed modest. Any “comparison with the past can only heighten approval of ongoing improvements and temper expectations” (Bialer qtd. in Ostrow, 57). Which is why, Brezhnev talked about in a speech that the Soviet economy was growing and production had increased. However, while there was growth it was not significant enough to stop the inevitable cracks in the Soviet Union. The socialist system that was refined under Brezhnev added to the legitimacy of the Soviet regime because “as long as economic conditions permitted their partial fulfillment, certain socialist regimes gained legitimacy as a result” (Verdery qtd. in Ostrow, 74). As long as a decent amount of consumer goods could be provided, the socialist system attained legitimacy.
Ostrow, Joel M. Politics in Russia: A Reader. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, 2013. Print.
“Speech by Comrade L I Brezhnev” The Current Digest of the Russian Press, No. 25, Vol.22, July 21, 1970, page(s): 8-16. <http://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/13651037>
Von Geldern, James “1968: The Responsive Economy” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. Macalester College, n.d. Web. 2 Nov 2014. <http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1968economy&Year=1968&navi=byYear>