Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
|Term of Office:||1984-1985|
|Date of Birth:||September 24, 1911|
|Place of Birth:||Bolshaya Tes, Imperial Russia|
|Date of Death:||March 10, 1985|
|Place of Death:||Moscow, U.S.S.R|
|Political party:||Communist Party of the USSR|
Konstantin Ustinovich Chernenko (Константи́н Усти́нович Черне́нко) (September 24, 1911 – March 10, 1985) was a Soviet politician and General Secretary of the CPSU who led the Soviet Union from February 13, 1984 until his death just thirteen months later. Chernenko was also Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet from April 11, 1984, until his death.
Chernenko was born in Bolshaya Tes , Novosyolovsky District , Krasnoyarsk Krai, Siberia. He joined Komsomol in 1926 and the Communist Party in 1931. After a brief stint in the Frontier Guard, on the Sino-Soviet border, he was a career politician. After work in the regions, he was called to Moscow in 1960 and promoted under the aegis of Leonid Brezhnev, becoming a candidate member of the Central Committee in 1966 and a full member in 1971. He joined the Politburo in October 1977, becoming a full member in November 1978.
Power struggle and election as General Secretary
In 1965 Chernenko became Director of Personnel in the party's General Department. He continued his work as a clerk but he now held a powerful position. He had knowledge about all the top people in the party and monitored wiretapping and surveillance devices in offices, but his main job was to sign hundreds of documents every day. He did this for 20 years. Even when he became General Secretary, he continued to sign papers, although thanks to Soviet bureaucracy his signature meant little more than it did in his previous position. Eventually, when he became ill, he was no longer physically able to sign documents and a facsimile was used instead, further devaluing his signature.
Following the death of Brezhnev in 1982, Chernenko lost the power struggle due to anti-Brezhnev forces, including the KGB and the Red Army, and instead Yuri Andropov, the former head of the KGB, was nominated as General Secretary. When Andropov died in February 1984 after less than 16 months in office, Chernenko was elected to replace him, despite concerns over his health.
Chernenko in office
Chernenko represented a return to the hard-line policies of the Brezhnev era. He supported a greater role for the labour unions, reform in education, and trimming of bureaucracy. In foreign policy, he escalated the Cold War with the United States and negotiated a trade pact with the People's Republic of China.
Chernenko's poor health made him unable to govern effectively. His frequent absences from office left little doubt that his reign had only been an interim measure in a longer struggle between conservatives and reformers.
Chernenko's time in office did bring some significant policy changes. The large scale personnel changes and corruption investigations from the Andropov regime had ended. Chernenko paid greater attention to public opinion. He invested in consumer goods, public services and agriculture. And he called for reduction in the Party's micromanagement of the Soviet economy. The KGB repression of Soviet dissidents increased under the Chernenko government.
The only major personnel change Chernenko made was firing the chief of General Staff, Nikolay Ogarkov , an advocate of less spending on consumer goods who promoted putting money into weapons research and development.
Last months and death
In what was almost universally regarded, even by his opponents, as a cruel act against Chernenko, Politburo member Viktor Grishin dragged the deathly ill Chernenko from his hospital bed to a ballot box to vote in the elections in late 1984.
After the death of a Soviet leader, it was customary for his successor to open and review the objects contained in his personal safe. When Gorbachev had the safe opened, they found a small folder of personal papers and large bundles of money stuffed into the safe. Even more money was discovered in his desk. No one has ever discovered what he had wanted with all the money. Another event is Chernenko's discussions on restoring Volgograd to its former name of Stalingrad.
Due to Chernenko's short time in office, very few photos exist of him. The majority of the photos that were taken are in black and white. His official portrait is considered the best image of the man.
He was buried at the Kremlin.
The following jobs were held by Chernenko during his lifetime:
Border Guard, Party Secretary of Border Guard Unit, Agitprop director in Krasnoyarsk and other regions, Party functionary (apparatchik), Central Committee member and secretary, Politburo member, Supreme Soviet Presidium member, Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, General Secretary of the CPSU.
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