Copyright © 1995 Mikhail Gorbachev.All rights reserved.
27 NOVEMBER 1978
This date is written on the cover of a notebook I discovered in my personal archives. It is a momentous date in my political career. On Monday, the 27th of November 1978, I was elected a Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee at its plenum.(1) I had arrived in Moscow from Stavropol on the 25th. At noon on the following day, a Sunday, I was invited to a birthday party for Marat Gramov, an old Komsomol(2) friend and colleague from Stavropol. It was his fiftieth birthday and an ideal occasion for a reunion of friends. A small group of people, mostly from Stavropol, gathered in his apartment on the fourth floor of a new building on Malaya Filevskaya Street. Our Russian style of celebration on such occasions is well known: lavish parties, plenty of food, hearty conversation, jokes and songs. Moreover, this time it was a meeting of old friends. We started dinner with the traditional toasts. Everyone was in high spirits, including the host: what's fifty years? Nothing! Not even a halfway mark!
The toasts were followed by general conversation. Speculations ranged around the choice of successor to the late Fedor Kulakov as Central Committee secretary for agriculture. As a rule, we regional secretaries and members of the Central Committee knew who was `coming up', as we used to say. Sometimeswe were even consulted in these matters. Contrary to my expectations, there were no preliminary consultations this time.
We spent some hours feasting and by the end of the day we learned that Chernenko's office had been trying desperately to contact me all day. It turned out that Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev wanted to see me. Someone had telephoned the garage of the Central Committee's administrative department and was told that Gorbachev had called for a car and the driver had taken him to Gramov's home.When the telephone rang at midday at Gramov's apartment, nobody paid any attention to it. Gramov's son took the call, and, asked to call Gorbachev to the phone, simply answered: `Wrong number' ...
Hours later, a few minutes before six p.m., another friend from Stavropol joined the company and told us the entire hotel was in turmoil: they were looking for Gorbachev.
I dialled the phone number he gave me. It was Chernenko's office. `The General Secretary wants to see you. We'll lose our jobs ...'
`OK,' I replied, `I'll be right over.' This seemed to reassure my interlocutor.
It should be pointed out that in those days it was customary to drink liquor quite frequently on various occasions. However, having never had a propensity for alcohol, I was in a fairly normal state when I arrived at Chernenko's office. Yet a certain, well, awkwardness was obvious, and I explained it away: `A gathering of countrymen, you see, we got together for a while and had a chat.' Konstantin Ustinovich was not up to the joke. And he burst forth suddenly, without any preliminary niceties: `At tomorrow's plenum Leonid Ilyich intends to propose you for election as a secretary of the Central Committee. That's what he wanted to see you about.'
A MEANINGFUL SUGGESTION
I was on fairly good terms with Konstantin Ustinovich at that time: in my function as first secretary of a krai committee, I maintained regular contact with him on issues important to us. I was looking forward to a frank conversation. But this discussion turned out to be unlike any other before.
We knew Chernenko to be rather uncommunicative; some called him `the silent one'. This sort of person is often thought to be discreet and even modest, while men of a different character and temperament like myself may appear overambitious by comparison. Still, I prefer to deal with open people. I am always on my guard with the Chernenko-type `quiet ones': their ostensible modesty may conceal the most unexpected traits.
I expressed doubts as to whether the decision about my election had been thoroughly considered. I added that although I was familiar with the situation in agriculture, I was not sure I would be able to do what was needed today for the rural areas. Chernenko listened to me attentively and made a peculiar remark: `Leonid Ilyich assumes that you are on his side, that you are loyal to him. He appreciates that.'
My relations with Brezhnev were business-like and even-handed, but far from intimate.
I was going to continue the conversation but Chernenko interrupted me: `If Leonid Ilyich arrived at this conclusion, there can be no further discussion.'
I saw that Chernenko had no intention of prolonging our talk, and I had to know when to stop. I asked whether Leonid Ilyich intended to speak to me before the opening of the plenum.
`I don't know. We didn't talk about that. He only asked me to convey to you what I have told you already.'
Chernenko was in a hurry.
I still needed to know whether I was expected to speak at the plenum.
`I don't think a speech by you at the plenum will be needed. Leonid Ilyich will propose your nomination himself, and the Central Committee will therefore back it straight away ... Besides, you made a speech not that long ago,' Chernenko added sarcastically. This was the end of our conversation.
WHAT MADE THEM CHOOSE ME?
When in Moscow, I used to stay at the Rossiya Hotel. I have stayed at the Moskva Hotel only two or three times. I have often been asked why, as my rank `entitled' me to stay at the Moskva. But somehow I got used to the Rossiya. My room was No. 98 on the tenth floor, with windows overlooking the Kremlin. Returning late at night, exhausted from the day's hustle, it was pleasant to find a quiet room, remote from street noise, away from loud drunkards and midnight brawls at the entrance of the hotel restaurant. The Kremlin was directly opposite. At night, especially when it was illuminated, it was more than just a beautiful sight: it evoked a very special feeling. Even years later, when the Kremlin became my permanent residence, I never became indifferent to its cathedrals and squares, its gardens and its park. I used to go for walks with my family around the area. We would sometimes drive to the Kremlin on state holidays to watch the fireworks.
I spent a sleepless night. I pushed the armchair to the window without turning on the light: before me the domes of St Basil's Cathedral were outlined against the night sky and the majestic silhouette of the Kremlin ... God knows, I had not expected such an important appointment!
After graduating from university, I had worked for almost a quarter of a century in Stavropol, including nearly nine years as first secretary of the Stavropol krai committee of the CPSU. During this time I was able to do and to understand a great deal, but many problems remained unresolved. And it was not altogether my fault - more often than not the solutions were blocked by the existing order of things.
Once, in the early 1970s, P. N. Demichev had asked me how I would feel about directing the Central Committee Propaganda Department. F. D. Kulakov hinted at the post of USSR Minister of Agriculture. Apparently I had also been considered for the post of Procurator General of the USSR. Rudenko's state of health had seriously deteriorated and a suitable successor had to be found, which was an extremely difficult task, considering the criteria which were involved at the time in this kind of decision-making. N. I. Savinkin, head of the Central Committee administrative department, later told me that A. P. Kirilenko had opposed my nomination because they had `found an axe under the bench': in Savinkin's interpretation, this meant that they had other plans for me.
I declined all such offers. Obviously it was not merely a question of my sentiments. The members of the Politburo(1) had divergent views about me. From confidential conversations with some Central Committee officials I gathered that some people did not particularly approve of the independently minded secretary from Stavropol. As my friend Nikolai Karpovich Kirichenko, first secretary of theCrimea oblast committee (obkom),(2) used to say: `Don't stick your nose out, or else you'll get smacked in the mug.' So nothing went any further than exchanges of views. My personal wishes mattered little in those times, anyway. The decisive factor, I think, was the view shared by the whole leadership.
Furthermore, the unfailing yardstick of one's status was foreign travel. Departments of the Central Committee occasionally invited me to visit this or that country as a member or head of a delegation. I usually agreed, but at the last minute someone would object. The explanation would usually be: `You know, the leadership thinks that your krai is vast, hence, it isn't advisable at this time to pull you out of your work.' I was not unduly upset about it; I would just ask, tongue in cheek: `Do those who travel abroad have so little work, or are they inveterate loafers?' Everybody laughed and that was the end of that.
But never mind the trips abroad, there were other more important issues to worry about. In all the years as secretary of a krai committee, from early 1970 until November 1978, that is, eight and a half years, I was given the floor only once during the Central Committee plenum debates and once during a session of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, whereas many of my colleagues were givenfar more opportunities to expound their views. I found ways of expressing my views publicly, namely through articles in national and regional newspapers and journals. I also had extensive discussions with secretaries of the Central Committee and with members of the Union and Russian governments.
In spite of our mutual good feelings my arguments with F. D. Kulakov were becoming increasingly frequent and heated. I remember particularly a discussion in the late autumn of 1977. It probably was engraved in my memory because this time we didn't leave it at an exchange of opinions. Ostensibly, it started with a specific issue - credits and guaranteed wages for the farmers.
`How do we grant credits?' I said. `If a farm is inefficient and operating at a loss, then it'll get more: whereas if it's a well-run farm, it will receive neither credits nor building materials, only to be told "You have to look after yourself." Those with a potential for growth are deprived of our support. And what's happening now? Instead of letting the rural workers and the kolkhoz(1) or sovkhoz(2) either earn money or go bankrupt, we introduce guaranteed wages that make everyone equal. The rural population is losing its incentive to work.'
`A know-it-all, aren't you?' replied Kulakov. `You sit around in your provincial Stavropol and you don't see further than the tip of your nose. Here in Central Russia, woods are encroaching on the farmland more and more. We have to offer the people a minimum to prevent the last ones from deserting the land.'
The comment about `the tip of my nose' really got me going ...
`If you consider the issue as an "urgent measure", you're right that we must help. But how long can we continue to "take measures", "save", "fight" for the harvest, for the cattle, for heads and tails? In the central belt, where precipitation and other climatic conditions are normal, the farms show the same poor results and the land perishes. Whereas in the past the farmer used to live, work and feed the country ... This simply means that we have to change our policy. You take pride in the 1965 March plenum.(3) Yes, we should be proud of it: it was a major step forward to a political solution of agricultural problems, that is from the point of view of relationship with agriculture and farmers in general. And look what is happening now? The March plenum is a dead letter: the normal, mutually beneficial terms of trade between industry and agriculture have been disrupted. Hence, the farmer reasons: "If you don't pay me adequately for production, I couldn't care less about anything." Especially since the wages are guaranteed. There's no way out for you, you'll provide the credits and he won't pay them back because you are the debtor and not the farmer ... Everything's been turned upside down ...'
Kulakov responded emotionally. One could understand him from a purely human point of view: both in Stavropol and during his tenure as agriculture secretary of the Central Committee, he had been defending the countryside with all his clout, working hard to get tractors, combines, cars, spare parts and fertilizers for the farmers. And now to have to listen to such words, coming from someone like Gorbachev! Without trying to control his wounded ego, he informed me that the next Central Committee plenum on agriculture was in the offing, but that A. N. Kosygin had been unexpectedly appointed to be the head of the Preparatory Commission instead of Kulakov, although Kulakov was a member of the Politburo and Central Committee secretary responsible for precisely these matters. He wasn't even included in the commission as a regular member.
I was taken aback. For it was Kosygin who in the late 1960s was responsible for the deteriorating terms of trade between the city and the countryside.(1)
`Why don't you write down what you have just said?' suggested Kulakov with a cunning smile. He was sure I would refuse to do so. But I agreed. `OK, when do you want it?'
`Before the first of January.'
I worked thoroughly on the memorandum: it grew to seventy-two pages. I finished editing the final version at 3 p.m. on 31 December and sent it right away to Kulakov. Kulakov studied it, showed it to Brezhnev's aide Golikov, and telephoned me some two or three months later:
`Listen, Mikhail, how about sending your memorandum to all the members of the Politburo commission?'
I replied that I had written it personally for him and that it would have to be revised for the commission. He agreed, asking me to do it as quickly as possible. A week later an abridged version of the memorandum was submitted to the Central Committee. It contained all the main arguments of the original. This version was then sent to the Politburo commission.
I remember that July Central Committee plenum well. On 3 July Brezhnev spoke on `Further development of agriculture in the USSR', and then the floor was open to debate. On the second day of the meeting, 4 July, the USSR Minister of Agriculture, V. K. Mesyats, and the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Belorussian Communist Party, P. M. Masherov, took the floor. My turn came after the first secretary of the Amur oblast committee. It was my first statement at a plenum of the Central Committee, in my ninth year as secretary of a krai committee. I was determined to present in condensed form the topics drawn from the memorandum ...
The atmosphere in the conference hall was usually business-like. Even whena speech didn't arouse the interest of the participants, they would still keep quiet, sometimes even too quiet. However, there was usually some background noise, whispering and the rustle of newspapers.
I went up to the rostrum. As I elaborated my arguments, an uneasy silence fell upon the conference hall. After an initial hush, I overheard comments in the presidium behind me.
I finished my speech and returned to my seat. L. Yu. Florentiev, Minister of Agriculture of the Russian Federation, an old friend of mine and a very wise man, whispered to me:
`All in all, not bad. But you should have listened to me: I warned you to keep mum about certain issues. They have become pretty edgy in the presidium.'
Why then did they choose me to succeed Kulakov only a year later? What had happened? Chernenko's remark came to my mind: `Leonid Ilyich assumes that you are on his side.' Did this imply that there was another side, and if so where was it, what was it like, and who was on that `other side'?
I knew of the existence of different opinions on certain problems and disagreements among the country's leadership: but I considered it a normal way of trying to find the optimal solutions through discussions. Only after starting work in the Central Committee did I realize that it was more than just a divergence of opinions: it was due to the existence of different groups in the leadership and their infighting. Yet it was not a struggle between `reformers' and `conservatives'. No, they were all people of the same `faith', loyal to the system. The rival factions were fighting for power. And Brezhnev was looking for support. Initially there were Grechko and Kirilenko, then Gromyko and Ustinov on his side, joined later by Andropov and Kulakov. Subsequently, backing came from Shcherbitsky, followed by Kunayev, Rashidov and Aliyev ...
I am not mentioning the others who held lower positions in the hierarchy and who also supported Brezhnev. It seems to me now that the consolidation of the Politburo around the person of the General Secretary had in the long run a more negative than positive effect, with nascent new forms of Stalinism and curbs on democracy. Thus, the suppression of one faction by another was not as innocuous as it might have seemed.
After the death of Kulakov in July 1978, Brezhnev started looking for a substitute. First and foremost, he needed someone who would not upset the precarious balance attained at `the top'. At the time I understood this but wasn't aware of a lot of things I was to learn later. Today, I can fully imagine the extent of discussion involved to recommend me to the plenum. There was the fear of making a mistake: the agriculture secretary holds a key post in the Central Committee structure, maintaining permanent contact with the entire country, with the first secretaries of the Central Committees of the republics, the krais and the oblasts. And the body of first secretaries represents the fief and the mainstay of the General Secretary. Thus Brezhnev had the last word in thechoice of a candidate for this post.
THE `ANDROPOV FACTOR'
In August 1978 Yury Vladimirovich Andropov, then head of the KGB, telephonedme in Stavropol.
`How are things going?'
`We're expecting a good harvest; it's a good year for the crops. And thegeneral situation in our krai is not too bad.'
`When do you intend to go on holiday?'
`This year I thought of leaving earlier than usual.'
`Great! Then we'll meet in Kislovodsk.'
I didn't attach special importance to this telephone call. I considered it aconfirmation by Andropov of our good relations, nothing more. Today, I recallthat we met more often than usual during our holidays in Kislovodsk that year,talking less about Stavropol and more about the general situation in thecountry. Yury Vladimirovich was generous in sharing information and hisviews on many issues of foreign policy. I recall his comments on the decisiverole of the `Brezhnev factor' in maintaining unity in the leadership, and consolidationof the country and of the socialist states. Now I realize thatAndropov's `educational talks' with me were not without a purpose: obviouslypeople at the top were already `prying into my affairs', and he was briefing meaccordingly. But to me at the time these conversations seemed to be just acontinuation of a debate we had started long before, when I had openly confidedmy doubts to him.
This is how it had happened. During a discussion back in 1975, I made ablunt remark:
`Are you or aren't you thinking of the good of the country?'
`What a crazy question!' Yury Vladimirovich was taken aback, although hewas used to my `outbursts'.
`In the coming three, four, five years the majority of the members of thePolitburo will be no more. They'll just die. They practically have one foot inthe grave ...'
It is noteworthy that the issue of the ageing of the Politburo had by thenbecome critical: the average age of individual Politburo members had reachedsomething like seventy. People were sick of the fact that many leaders, notexcelling in any respect, had been in power for twenty or thirty years and werenow, for obvious reasons, unable to attend to their duties. And neverthelessthey all remained in the leadership.
Andropov laughed: `Well, that's a harsh statement ...'
`I don't mean you personally,' I said, `but it is a real problem. Just look atmany of the regional secretaries.'
Andropov argued that older men were promoted because they had experienceand lacked ambition: they would do their jobs without pursuing careeristaims. Whereas the young think only of their career and how to get ahead ... Inshort, the general idea was that an old horse can be depended upon'.
`That's something new in Lenin's teaching about cadres,'(1) I replied, half-jokingly.`Up to now I've imagined that placing young cadres alongside theexperienced ones is always a necessity: that this particular practice provides asynthesis, creates a felicitous blend. The older colleagues put you on guardagainst recklessness, while the younger ones watch out for stagnation andconservatism.'
Andropov dismissed my argument. `This is all in theory; life is different.'
`Nevertheless, I agree with Lenin on this issue.' I was pushing on heatedly.
`I, too, agree with Lenin,' replied Yury Vladimirovich ironically.
`OK, forget Lenin ... Remember the saying: "There's no trees withoutsaplings."'
Andropov never forgot this remark about saplings or the whole conversation.But the country refused to accept the `council of the elders'. Obviously, informationabout the public mood reached the `higher echelons', both overtly andin another, more `classic' form - anonymous letters and jokes. I remember oneof them, which circulated later, after the XXVIth Party Congress. It began withthe question `How will the XXVIIth Party Congress be opened?' The answer:`The delegates will be asked to stand up while the members of the Politburo arecarried in.'
In short, those `signals' reached both the Politburo and the GeneralSecretary, and it bothered them. Thus, Kulakov's replacement had to be relativelyyoung. I suspect that Andropov `had a hand' in my nomination, althoughhe never so much as dropped a hint about it.
Another episode marked that autumn. On 19 September Brezhnev leftMoscow by train for celebrations to mark the awarding of the Order of Leninto Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. He was accompanied by Chernenko. At eachstop the local leaders came to welcome them. In Donetsk, Leonid Ilyich metthe first secretary of the oblast committee, B. Kachura; in Rostov it wasBondarenko; at the Kavkazskaya station in Krasnodar he was received byMedunov.
Later that same evening the special train arrived at the Mineralnye Vodystation. I, Andropov and the chairman of the Stavropol krai executivecommittee, I. T. Taranov, were there to greet them. The night was warm andvery dark. The mountains were outlined against the sky. The lights of the cityglittered in the distance. The sky was studded with those enormous bright starswhich are only visible in the south. The silence was occasionally broken by theaeroplanes landing at the Mineralnye Vody airport. The train came slowly to ahalt. Brezhnev emerged from the car, followed by Chernenko in a track suit.Taranov walked away after greeting the General Secretary. The four of us,Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko and I, strolled up and down the empty stationplatform ...
Much was written later about this meeting. It became the subject of a lot ofidle talk ... It was indeed a rare sight: four men who in the near future were tosucceed each other as General Secretaries of the Party!
Andropov and I had travelled up in the same ZIL car(1) from Kislovodsk togreet Brezhnev. We were talking as usual. Yury Vladimirovich dropped a seeminglycasual remark:
`Listen, you're the host over here, so you should take the initiative conductingthe conversation ...'
But the conversation was strained: having exchanged greetings and thestandard questions about health and my and Andropov's holiday, we all fellsilent. It was almost as if the General Secretary was not quite there and didn'tnotice us as we walked alongside him. The silence was becoming oppressive ...
I had often met Brezhnev; I had been to his office to discuss our local problemson various occasions. He invariably showed genuine interest in myconcerns and lent me his support. Therefore I was not surprised when hesuddenly asked after this long pause:
`Well, Mikhail Sergeyevich, how are things going in your sheep empire?'
The Stavropol krai accounted for 27 per cent of all the fine wool producedin the Russian Federation. In early summer, after lambing, thousands of flocksgrazed in the steppes: a total of ten million sheep. An impressive sight, I cantell you: truly a `sheep empire'. I briefed him about our achievements. Thatyear we had had a very rich harvest: over five million tonnes of grain, two tonnesper inhabitant of the Stavropol region.
Another question followed:
`How is the canal getting on? It seems to be taking so long! Are you planningto make it the longest in the world?'
I tried to explain what was holding things up. But Brezhnev fell silent again.Yury Vladimirovich was looking at me expectantly, while Chernenko was asdumb as a fish: he appeared to be some sort of `walking silent recordingmachine'.
`And what about your vacation, Leonid Ilyich? Won't it work out?' I asked,trying at least to keep the conversation going. He shook his head.
`Yes, indeed, I should ...'
Andropov joined in. They exchanged comments about Brezhnev'sprogramme in Baku. Then there was another silence. It was obvious that theGeneral Secretary was not inclined to continue the conversation. It was time toboard the train. We went up to the carriage. Standing on the platform andholding on to the handrail, he suddenly turned to Yury Vladimirovich:
`How's my speech?'
`Good, good, Leonid Ilyich,' Andropov answered quickly.
In the car on the way back, I asked which speech the General Secretary hadin mind. Andropov explained that I had misunderstood - Leonid Ilyich washaving increasing trouble with speaking. This may have accounted for hissilence, although he was by nature a sociable person. The meeting left me withan uneasy impression, while Andropov seemed pleased.
Another `study' of me was made after the meeting with Brezhnev at theMineralnye Vody station, when A. P. Kirilenko unexpectedly visited Stavropolkrai. He was spending his vacation in Sochi and arrived by helicopter. We spenttwenty-four hours together driving around the krai, visiting the observatory ofthe USSR Academy of Sciences in Zelenchuk and some rural communities. Itold him about our problems. I was put off by his manner of picking constantlyon every detail, whether it was relevant or not ...
Seeing an agricultural machinery store, he burst into an angry diatribe:
`How many idle vehicles do you have there? You've grabbed too muchmachinery ... Or do you intend to scrap them? You're getting too spoiled overhere ...'
He was in charge of the machine-building industry in the Politburo, andconsidered the requests made by the agricultural sector outrageous. His overbearing,hectoring tone got on one's nerves, while his inarticulate speech turnedevery conversation into an ordeal: it was impossible to understand what he wastrying to say.
We disliked each other from the start, and this never changed. Kirilenkoproved to be a power-hungry and malevolent man. Our relations deteriorated,reaching the stage of antagonism, and later led to a political confrontation.
But in spite of it all they chose me. Brezhnev was clearly afraid of making amistake and hesitated up to the very last moment. This was the reason why ourmeeting had not taken place earlier. Brezhnev was very cautious in selecting hiscandidates for the leadership, it took him a long time to decide. However, oncehe made up his mind he never reversed his decision.
* * *
And so I spent that night at my hotel window, recalling many past events andexperiences. Morning came, and it was time to go to the plenum. I thought itover once more and decided that if I were requested to speak, I would definitelymention both the situation of the people living in the country and the need forchanges in the government's agricultural policy.
I left the hotel early to avoid meeting anyone. I didn't feel like having toexplain anything.
The plenum opened at ten o'clock. The seats in the Kremlin's Sverdlovassembly hall were not reserved in advance, but everyone knew his place: somepeople had occupied the same seats for decades.
Everything happened as Chernenko had predicted. The meeting openedwith a discussion of organizational matters. Brezhnev proposed first to elect theSecretary of the Central Committee for Agriculture, mentioned my name andreferred to me. I stood up. There were no questions. The nomination wasapproved unanimously, impassively, without any display of emotion.
The plenum voted equally dispassionately to promote Politburo candidatemember Chernenko to full membership, while Tikhonov and Shevardnadzebecame candidate members. Mazurov, a Politburo member, was relieved of hispost, `for health reasons and at his own request'. The entire procedure took nomore than a few minutes: no-one took the floor, no-one asked a question,no-one voted against.
During a break in the plenum, colleagues, ministers and acquaintancessurrounded me in the hallway to congratulate me on my appointment. After alittle while I was invited to the presidium office, where the members and candidatemembers of the Politburo and the secretaries of the Central Committeehad gathered.
I stepped into the office. Everybody was already there. Andropov stoodclosest to me. He smiled and made a step in my direction, saying`Congratulations, sapling.' Kosygin came up to me and said quite warmly:`Congratulations on your election. I am glad to see you here with us.' I wentover to talk to Brezhnev. He was drinking tea and only nodded in reply. Afterthe closing of the plenum I returned to the hotel, where I was already expected:`A ZIL car is at your disposal and we have already installed a high-frequencytelephone in your room. A duty officer will take all your orders ...' I could seefor myself the efficiency of the services of the KGB and the administrativedepartment of the Central Committee.
A CONVERSATION WITH BREZHNEV
I telephoned Raisa Maksimovna at home, telling her to listen to the eveningnews. The next morning, without invitation and not having requested anappointment in advance, I went to the Kremlin and asked to see Brezhnev. Ireally needed an audience with the General Secretary. I wanted to share myideas with him, since I thought it impossible to begin my work without havingdone so. I do not know whether he wanted to see me or not, but I was usheredinto his office at once. Leonid Ilyich was alone, sitting at a huge conferencetable. I sat down next to him and could not help noticing that he was in lowspirits. This did not change throughout our conversation.
`I don't know how I will manage,' I concluded, `but I can assure you that Iwill do my best. And knowing your concern for agriculture, I hope for yoursupport.'
On my way to the Kremlin, I had intended to tell Brezhnev about somechanges in the agricultural policy I considered necessary - but now I realized,or rather sensed, that this would be useless. Not only did he not take up theconversation, but he showed no response at all, neither to my words nor tomyself. I had the impression that he was, at this moment, completely indifferentto my presence. The only sentence he uttered was: `It's a pity about Kulakov,he was a good man ...'
I was taken aback. After the meeting with Brezhnev, it dawned on me that`It's really sink or swim for me now'. My heart was heavy.
I went from the Kremlin to Staraya Ploshchad (`Old Square').(1) Pavlov, theCentral Committee's chief of administration, was already expecting me. Mypredecessor Kulakov had had an office on the fourth floor in the old building - notfar from Brezhnev's office on the fifth floor. The office assigned to mewas a little further away, in the new building.
Pavlov gave me a detailed report of the `perks' a Central Committee secretarywas entitled to - 800 rubles a month (`same as Leonid Ilyich'), a special foodallocation allowing me to order 200 rubles worth of food products (Politburomembers got 400 rubles). Food and entertainment expenses incurred duringmy work would also be paid for by the administrative department.
`Suggestions concerning an apartment and a dacha as well as the personnelassigned to you will be ready when you return from Stavropol,' Pavlovconcluded.
I decided to pay courtesy calls on the Central Committee secretaries - to havea chat and establish contacts, as we would have to work together, after all. Icalled on Dolgikh, Kapitonov, Zimyanin, Ryabov and Rusakov. Ponomarevstarted at once advising me on matters of agriculture when I visited him.Incidentally, he continued doing so until his retirement. Boris Nikolaevich wasan `amateur agriculturist': driving from his dacha in Uspenskoe he noted everythinghe saw on the way ...
`Yesterday I saw a field along the road. The crops are ripe. It's time toharvest, but nothing's being done. Why?'
`Yesterday I went for a walk near my dacha and came across some ravines:the grass is waist-high ... Why doesn't anyone mow it? What are they thinkingabout?'
This is the way it was - an expert in international relations did not shrinkfrom giving expert advice on agriculture.
But what struck me most during my visits to the Central Committee secretarieswas the attitude of the employees, assistants, consultants and legaladvisers. I knew many of them fairly well. On my trips to Moscow we hadchatted and joked dozens of times - perfectly normal relations, or so it seemedto me then. And now, all of a sudden ... In every anteroom, I had the impressionthat I was meeting strangers. A certain `distance' was maintained byeveryone. The `apparatchik' staff was drilled and disciplined, and respect forrank was an established standard in the Communist Party.
I convened the agricultural department staff, my new co-workers. The samething happened ... Only the day before they had been giving me advice andinstructions and interfering in our Stavropol affairs. And everyone would addsignificantly: `There is a view that ...', without ever mentioning whose view itwas. But now they all had a guarded look (watching `the new chief'), full ofanxiety (`a new broom sweeps clean'). To make things clear and to ease thetension I said straight away: `I don't intend to reshuffle the staff. Let's continueworking as in the past.' Everyone calmed down and we had a business-likediscussion.
THE RULES OF THE GAME
Next I called on Andropov. It had been his idea to have a meeting. I hadnonetheless the impression that he had arranged our appointment ... withBrezhnev's consent. He started somewhat hesitantly, and the entire conversationwas very different from the numerous talks we had had in the past.
`Mikhail, I would like to outline the picture somewhat to you. You see, unityis now the most important thing. And its nerve centre is Brezhnev. Rememberthat. Among the leadership, there have been in the past ... how should I say?I mean for example people like Shelest or Shelepin, or Podgorny for thatmatter. They pulled in different directions. Well, we don't have that any more,and we have to reinforce this achievement.'
It was not my way to beat around the bush when talking with Andropov andI said frankly:
`Yury Vladimirovich, you know me better than the others, my views and myopinions. And I do not intend to change them just to please anyone.'
Andropov smiled ...
`Well, that's good. It's just that I have noticed that Aleksei Nikolaevich hasalready started to court you. Hold your ground.'
So that was it! During the break in the plenary meeting, while I was beingcongratulated in the presidium office, I noticed Andropov's watchful eye.Apparently, Kosygin's remark and his confidential tone hadn't escaped him.
`Yury Vladimirovich,' I asked, `I beg your pardon ... but until now I thoughtthat we were friends. Has anything changed?'
`No, not at all,' he answered. `It's true, we are friends.' And Andropov wasa man of his word.
Next I rang up Suslov and he invited me to his office. I had known MikhailAndreyevich for a long time; he had very strong ties with Stavropol. In 1939he had been transferred from Rostov to the Stavropol krai committee as firstsecretary. In the Stavropol region, people link his name with the end of thebrutal Stalinist repressions of the 1930s. He told me once that the situation hadbeen extremely tense: the initial steps he took to correct the `mistakes' wereopposed by some of the cadres. The conference of the Kaganovich district inStavropol had adopted a motion declaring the entire bureau of the kraicommittee, which Suslov headed, to be `enemies of the people'. But fortunatelythere were no consequences.
Conversations with Suslov were always short. He hated talkative people andhad a quick mind, grasping the heart of the matter immediately. He dislikeddisplays of emotion and kept his interlocutors at a distance, treating everyonewith the same official politeness, using only the polite, formal second-personplural form of `you' in Russian (vy). He made an exception for very few peopleindeed.
This time, he had summoned me to discuss my successor as the Stavropolkrai committee's first secretary. Two personal files were on his desk. He askedfor my recommendation and I gave it.
`Good, that's agreed then,' Suslov concluded, standing up. `Now go andcarry out the decision. I'll send you all the necessary documents.'
Soon afterwards I boarded the plane to Stavropol.