MOSCOW — The late Leonid I. Brezhnev, who for 18 years led the Soviet Union, came under harsh attack here Friday as vain, corrupt and inept, a power-hungry, morally weak man without political vision and ideologically a successor to dictator Josef Stalin.
Declaring that Brezhnev's mistakes will take years to correct and can never be forgiven, Soviet historians, political commentators, foreign policy analysts and Communist Party officials condemned him in unprecedented terms and with unremitting severity in a full media assault on a man once hailed here as a "second Lenin."
Brezhnev's long tenure as the Communist Party's general secretary has been denounced for the last two years as "the period of stagnation," and his name has been removed from dozens of towns, factories, schools, streets, parks and other places that had been named in his honor.
But the new attacks go much further, and they are striking in their bitter portrayal of Brezhnev, who died in 1982 at the age of 76, as incompetent, venal and a threat to the nation's security and prosperity.
The point of the attacks, clearly, is to discredit Brezhnev, his leadership and his policies in advance of the special party conference that Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the present general secretary, will convene here next week to broaden and accelerate his program of political, economic and social reforms.
Facing strong opposition throughout the party and government bureaucracy, Gorbachev is reminding the 5,000 conference delegates and the 20 million party members nationwide of how bureaucrats amassed so much power under Brezhnev, of what they have done with it and of what they stand for today.
The focus of the conference will be Gorbachev's proposal for a complete overhaul of the political system to end the Communist Party's monopoly on power and shift much responsibility to state bodies. Other groups, such as environmentalists, would be allowed to play much larger roles in the future.
The economic reforms, party officials say, will be a sharp step backward from central planning toward individual enterprise and market forces.
Any critic of these sweeping reforms, who might simply be cautioning that they reach too far and are going too fast, thus risks being labeled a "Brezhnevite" and being forced out of party meetings and groups as liberals consolidate their hold.
Link to Afghan Policy
They are also likely to find themselves characterized, along with Brezhnev, as proponents of Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan--at a time when Moscow fears it cannot get its troops out fast enough.
Pyotr Y. Shelest, the Communist Party leader in the Ukraine from 1963 until he was ousted by Brezhnev in 1972, recounted in a newspaper interview this week how Brezhnev, aided by the late Mikhail A. Suslov, then the party's ideology chief, managed to depose Nikita S. Khrushchev in 1964. The two men apparently orchestrated every move, down to cues on when to interrupt a speaker, at the meeting of the party Central Committee that elected Brezhnev.
Brezhnev and Suslov then did all they could "to ensure the continuation of the bureaucratic command system of government developed under Stalin," Shelest said. He described the two as driven largely by a desire for power rather than wanting to speed the country's development or even correct what they called Khrushchev's "hare-brained schemes."
Stanislav Kondrashev, a political commentator for the government newspaper Izvestia, recalled this week how a Brezhnev ally, Viktor I. Grishin, then head of the Moscow party organization, had opposed Gorbachev for the leadership three years ago but lost decisively.
Had Grishin won that Central Committee election, Kondrashev speculates, \o7 perestroika \f7 (restructuring) would probably never have been undertaken and the "period of stagnation" continued and deepened.
Demand for Honors
Shelest also recalled how Brezhnev demanded the nation's top honor, Hero of the Soviet Union, for his 60th birthday in 1966, though this award is usually reserved for war heroes or cosmonauts. He got it--and on two later occasions as well--and amassed a chestful of other medals.
Brezhnev's last years were the worst, the commentator Alexander Bovin writes in a just-published book promoting Gorbachev's reforms. Well before his death, "Brezhnev began to collapse and fall apart as a personality and a politician," Bovin asserts. "He totally lost any self-critical control over his actions, and he believed completely in his own greatness."
Bovin contends that Brezhnev had always been "a man of the (party) apparatus, and in fact a servant of the apparatus," the bureaucracy whose power Gorbachev is trying to break.
Perhaps the most devastating portrayal of Brezhnev came in a special prime-time television series on the background to Gorbachev's reforms that describes the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan as Brezhnev's war.