Leonid Brezhnev died on 10 November 1982, but the announcement of his death was withheld from the Soviet and international public until II November. The same day, a funeral commission was formed headed by Yuri Andropov. This was the first clear sign that Andropov and his supporters were better organised than Konstantin Chernenko and his men. A day later, Andropov was elected Secretary General of the Central Committee ( CC) of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union at a special CC plenum. The speed with which Andropov took over was in marked contrast to the slow pace of decision-making during the last years of Brezhnev's rule. However, Andropov, at 68 years of age, is the oldest man ever to have been elected to lead the party and is a full ten years older than Brezhnev was when he assumed party leadership in October 1964.
Does this mean that the new Soviet leadership should be viewed as an interim leadership, one which is unlikely to survive the 1980s? Will the new leaders settle for consensus, or will they attempt solutions to some of the Soviet Union's pressing problems? Is it likely that the younger generation of leaders, held back so frustratingly long by Brezhnev's tenacious hold on power, will now be able to force their way to the forefront? Or will those who feel that a thoroughgoing economic reform, high on the agenda of the new leadership, could imperil their power and privileges be able to render such a reform, and all other changes, void? Will the conflict of generations merely mean a continuation of Brezhnev's policy of muddling through?
It is worth looking at the evolution of the Soviet political system before attempting to analyse the present and see into the future.
When the Bolsheviks seized power in October 1917, a majority of the population was in favour of revolution. It soon became clear that Lenin had different ideas from many of the other Bolshevik leaders, not to mention the population, about which direction the revolution should take. For Lenin, power rested with the proletariat, or working class. The Bolshevik party was its vanguard and therefore had the right to map out the route to socialism. The gulf between the aspirations of the working class, as expressed by party and non-party members alike, and the Bolshevik party leadership widened during the Civil War of 1918— 20, and in 1921, a dismayed Lenin declared that the Russian working class 'had ceased to exist as a proletariat'.