Honecker had seen Soviet leaders come and go. As a working-class youth and district leader of his regional Communist Youth organisation in the early 1930s he had been to the Soviet Homeland and had learned to love ‘Uncle Joe5. As the leader of the post-war Free German Youth his admira­ tion for Stalin had continued. Had not Stalin led the Soviet forces to victory over the Nazi Wehrmacht in 1945, which resulted in Honecker being released from a Nazi jail? After Stalin’s death in 1953 came Malenkov, followed by Khrushchev. Honecker witnessed Khrushchev as a member of the SED Politburo. Khrushchev had made scenes both in East Berlin and elsewhere but he had secured Castro’s Cuba from American aggression and, more importantly, had secured the GDR by giving the go-ahead for the building of the ‘Anti-Fascist Protective Wall’ in Berlin in 1961. He had put the Soviet Union on top in the space race. As First Secretary of the SED, Honecker witnessed Khrushchev’s successor, Brezhnev. He had also witnessed the decline of Brezhnev, who in his last years was a living corpse.

Gorbachev, 'a sharp debater1 When Brezhnev finally died in 1982, Yuri Andropov, who had been chair­ man of the KGB since 1967, replaced him. The appointment of 68-year-old Andropov made clear just how the security apparatus had come to play a dominant role in the CPSU. If he was remembered at all, Andropov was remembered abroad as the butcher of Budapest who had smashed the Hun­ garian revolution. As General Secretary he was ridiculed, at home, for his unsuccessful anti-drink campaign. He took up a hard line position against the Solidarity free trade union in Poland.1 A sick man when he took office, Andropov died of kidney failure in 1984. There was shock and despair at home and abroad when Konstantin Chernenko, an ailing 72-year-old, was named as Andropov’s successor. He had clawed his way up the CPSU ladder and was a close associate of Brezhnev. The appointment of Andropov followed by Chernenko exposed the ossification of the CPSU leadership. Chernenko died before his 74th birthday and Mikhail Gorbachev, who had been groomed as his successor, took up the reins of power without a hitch.