Mikhail Andreyevich Suslov ( 21 November [O.S. 8 November] 1902 – 25 January 1982) was a Soviet statesman during the Cold War.
He served as Second Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1965, and as unofficial Chief Ideologue of the Party until his death in 1982.
Suslov was responsible for party democracy and the power separation within the Communist Party.
His hardline attitude toward change made him one of the foremost anti-reformist Soviet leaders.
Born in rural Russia in 1902, Suslov became a member of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) in 1921 and studied economics for much of the 1920s. He left his job as a teacher in 1931 to pursue politics full-time, becoming one of the many Soviet politicians who took part in the mass repression begun by Joseph Stalin’s regime.
Suslov impressed the Soviet leadership to such an extent in the pre-Eastern Front Soviet Union that he was made First Secretary of Stavropol Krai administrative area. During the war, Suslov headed the local Stavropol guerrilla movement.
He became a member of the Organisational Bureau (Orgburo) of the Central Committee in 1946 and, four years later, was elected to the Presidium (Politburo) of the All-Union Communist Party.
Suslov lost much of the recognition and influence he had earned following the reshuffle of the Soviet leadership after Stalin’s death. However, by the late 1950s, Suslov had risen to become the leader of the hardline opposition to Nikita Khrushchev’s revisionist leadership.
After Khrushchev was ousted in 1964, Suslov supported the establishment of a collective leadership. He also supported inner-party democracy and opposed the reestablishment of the one-man rule as seen during the Stalin and Khrushchev Eras.
During the Brezhnev Era, Suslov was considered to be the Party’s Chief Ideologue and second-in-command. His death on 25 January 1982 is viewed as starting the battle to succeed Leonid Brezhnev in the post of General Secretary.
Suslov was born in Shakhovskoye, a rural locality in Pavlovsky District, Ulyanovsk Oblast, Russian Empire on 21 November 1902. Suslov began work in the local Komsomol organisation in Saratov in 1918, eventually becoming a member of the Poverty Relief Committee.
After working in the Komsomol for nearly three years, Suslov became a member of the All-Union Communist Party (the Bolsheviks) in 1921.
After graduating from the rabfak, he studied economics at the Plekhanov Institute of National Economy between 1924–1928.
In the summer of 1928, after graduating from the Plekhanov institute, he became a graduate student (research fellow) in economics at the Institute of Red Professors, teaching at Moscow State University and at the Industrial Academy.
In 1931 he abandoned teaching in favour of the party apparatus. He became an inspector on the Communist Party’s Party Control Commission and on the People’s Commissariat of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate.
His main task there was to adjudicate on large numbers of “personal cases”, breaches of discipline, and appeals against expulsion from the party. In 1933 and 1934 Suslov directed a commission charged with purging the party in the Ural and Chernigov provinces.
The purge was organised by Lazar Kaganovich, then Chairman of the Soviet Control Commission. Author Yuri Druzhnikov contends that Suslov was involved with setting up several show trials, and contributed to the Party by expelling all members deviating from the Party line, meaning Trotskyists, Zinovievists, and other left-wing deviationists. On the orders of Joseph Stalin, Suslov purged the city of Rostov in 1938.
Suslov was made First Secretary of the Stavropol Krai’s Communist Party in 1939.
On the Eastern Front in World War II (also known in Russia as the “Great Patriotic War”), Suslov was a member of the Military Soviet of the Northern Group of Forces and led the Stavropol Krai Headquarters of the Partisan Divisions (the local guerrilla movement).
According to Soviet historiography, Suslov’s years as a guerrilla fighter were highly successful; however, testimonies from participants differ from the official account. These participants claim that there were a number of organisational problems which reduced their effectiveness on the battlefield.
During the war, Suslov spent much of his time mobilising workers to fight against the German invaders. The guerrilla movement he led was operated by the regional party cells. During the liberation of the Northern Caucasus, Suslov maintained close contact with the Red Army.
During the war, Suslov supervised the deportations of Chechens and other Muslim minorities from the Caucasus. In 1944–1946, he chaired the Central Committee Bureau for Lithuanian Affairs.
Anti-Soviet samizdat literature from the height of his power in the 1970s would accuse him of being personally responsible for the deportation and killings of nationalist Lithuanians who became political opponents of the Soviets during the course of Soviet re-entry into the Baltic states on their drive to Berlin in 1944.
Suslov, in the words of historian Simon Sebag-Montefiore, “brutally purged” the Baltics in the aftermath of the Great Patriotic War.
At the beginning of the 1980s, the political and economic turmoil in the People’s Republic of Poland had seriously eroded the authority of the Polish United Workers’ Party.
Suslov’s position on this matter carried particular weight as he chaired a Politburo Commission, established on 25 August 1980, on how to deal with the Polish crisis.
Members of the commission included such high-ranking Soviets as Andropov, Minister of Defence Dmitriy Ustinov, Andrei Gromyko, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Brezhnev’s long-time associate Konstantin Chernenko. On 28 August, the Commission considered Soviet military intervention to stabilise the region.
Wojciech Jaruzelski, First Secretary of the Polish United Workers’ Party, was able to persuade the Commission that a Soviet military intervention would only aggravate the situation. Suslov agreed with Jaruzelski’s argument, stating that “if troops are introduced, that will mean a catastrophe.
I think that we all share the unanimous opinion here that there can be no discussion of any introduction of troops”. Suslov was able to persuade Jaruzelski and the Polish leadership to establish martial law in Poland.
In January 1982, Yuri Andropov revealed to Suslov that Semyon Tsvigun, the First Deputy Chairman of the KGB, had shielded Galina and Yuri, Brezhnev’s children, from corruption investigations. When these facts were revealed to him, Suslov challenged Tsvigun to make a statement on the matter.
Suslov even threatened Tsvigun with an expulsion from the Communist Party, but Tsvigun died on 19 January 1982 before he could challenge Suslov’s statement. Two days later, Suslov had a coronary, and died on 25 January of arteriosclerosis and diabetes.
His death is viewed as starting the battle to succeed Brezhnev, in which Andropov, who assumed Suslov’s post as the Party’s Second Secretary, sidelined Kirilenko and Chernenko during the last days of Brezhnev’s rule. Suslov was buried on 29 January at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. Brezhnev expressed great sadness at Suslov’s passing.