chapter  7
The Soviet Empire
Stagnation under Brezhnev, 1964–82
Pages 7

The world held its breath on 15 October 1964. In a palace coup in Moscow Khrushchev had been replaced by Leonid Brezhnev as first secretary of the CPSU. The following day the world held its breath again as it heard that China had become a nuclear power. Brezhnev, aged 58, a steel engineer by training and a party functionary by profession, had clawed his way up the party ladder with Khrushchev’s help. Brezhnev was formal head of state but it was from his vantage point as secretary in charge of day-to-day CPSU affairs that he had brought down his predecessor. His position had given him the power of patronage. Alexei Kosygin replaced Khrushchev as head of government. Khrushchev had been ‘an arbitrary and unpredictable leader’.1 His foreign policy, especially with regard to the Cuban crisis and the breach with China, had worried his colleagues. His anti-Stalin campaign frightened them even more. Where would it all end? It could jeopardise increasing numbers of the party and security officials by questioning their actions during the Stalin years and the methods they still used to maintain power.