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date: 21 November 2017

Brezhnev, Leonid Ilich

Who's Who in the Twentieth Century

Brezhnev, Leonid Ilich (1906–1982) 

Soviet statesman, general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party (1966–82) and president of the Soviet Union (1977–82). In 1976 he was promoted to marshal, the Soviet Union's highest military rank.

Born in Dneprodzershinsk, in the Ukraine, the son of a steelworker, Brezhnev became a manual labourer after leaving the local school. In 1923, as a student at a technical college in Kursk, he joined the communist youth organization, Komsomol. After graduating in 1927 he became a surveyor, but continued his studies in agriculture and later in metallurgy (1931–35).

Brezhnev joined the Soviet Communist Party (CPSU) in 1931. After serving in the Red Army in 1935, he returned to his hometown to become director of the Metallurgical Technical College (1936–37), moving on in 1938 to the deputy headship of the regional CPSU committee. During World War II he served as a high-level political officer in the armed forces. After the war Brezhnev rose rapidly through the party hierarchy to become a full member of the central committee and a candidate member of the Presidium in 1957, being elevated to chairman of the Presidium in 1960. In 1964 he and Kosygin forced Khrushchev to resign and Brezhnev became first secretary of the CPSU, rising to general secretary in 1966, a position he held until his death. By the late 1960s Brezhnev was the most powerful man in the Soviet Union and in 1977 he was appointed president.

A shrewd politician, Brezhnev instigated the so-called ‘Brezhnev doctrine’, which emphasized the right of the Soviet Union to intervene in the affairs of other Eastern European states if the future of communism there appeared at risk. The SALT agreements of 1969 and 1972 were the products of his policy of detente with the West, although there was renewed tension between the superpowers following the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Domestically, his period in office is now seen as an era of economic and institutional stagnation.

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