Brezhnev and After

In response to:

Brezhnev and After from the March 4, 1982 issue

To the Editors:

Simon Head, in his article “Brezhnev and After” [NYR, March 4] makes a minor error in footnote 3 in saying that John Dornberg’s Brezhnev: The Masks of Power “remains the only unofficial, full-length biography in English.” There is now another such biography—Paul. J. Murphy, Brezhnev: Soviet Politician (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1981). Footnotes aside, Mr. Head’s thesis that Brezhnev is not as powerful as he is often portrayed and that “power in the Kremlin has not been vested in one man but in several,” though argued well, still would not, I think, survive a test question: “Can anyone on the Politburo act independently of Brezhnev even in a minor matter of policy?” No one has done so publicly and survived. Brezhnev is “first among equals” of course, but his “firstness,” however much it derives from a base of collective power, is still of a quality that cannot be challenged. The Soviet political system is still of the kind in which personalistic leadership is a defining characteristic of politics. Mr. Head does many useful things in presenting his thesis but he has not clinched his implicit argument that Soviet politics has changed in nature.

Karl W. Ryavec

University of Massachusetts

Amherst, Massachusetts