The Kremlin after Suslov

From Leonid Brezhnev's standpoint, Mikhail Suslov's departure from the scene may be timely. The hard-line ideologist was bound to act as a check on Brezhnev's ascendancy. In fact, Suslov always showed a degree of restraint in praising the Soviet General Secretary. In comparison to the eulogies heaped upon Brezhnev at his 75th birthday commemoration last December, Suslov's praise sounded quite faint. While other Politburo members described Brezhnev as the leading ''thinker'' and ''strategist'' of our times, Suslov confined himself to calling Brezhnev merely a ''talented party organizer and leader of the masses.''

With Suslov gone, the way now is opened for Brezhnev and his closest allies in the party to assert themselves. The No. 2 slot, which Suslov acquired after Kosygin's death two years ago, will fall to the Brezhnev protege and heir apparent, Konstantin Chernenko, whose ambitions are known to alienate a number of officials at the summit of power.

Also, Suslov had acted as a block to the ambitions of the military. While he listened sympathetically to the advice of the generals and admirals (what Brezhnev has called Soviet ''thrusting'' worldwide certainly has been supported by both Suslov and the military), Suslov opposed the slightest violation of the principle, going back to Tsarist days, of civilian supremacy over the professional military. It was Suslov who helped Khrushchev engineer the ouster of Marshal Georgi Zhukov from the party Presidium in 1957. In more recent times, Suslov and others have seen to it that no professional military man sat on the ruling Politburo.

All this may now change. Some Western Soviet specialists speculate that the coming to power of General Jaruzelski in Poland is a harbinger of what could occur in the Kremlin, as the succession struggle enters a new phase. An astute Kremlinologist writing recently in the New York Russian daily, Novoye Russkoye Slovo, suggested that the ''Polish military dictatorship (might be) the model for the USSR.'' With so many of the top leaders in the Kremlin in their 70s (Suslov was the third oldest), the writer predicted the battle for Brezhnev's mantle could get out of hand, as contrasted to the relatively smooth transition processes that took place in the USSR after Stalin's death (1953) and the ouster of Khrushchev -- when the average age of the Politburo was around 55.

It is by no means ruled out that the Soviet military would reassert itself over the aging civilian center of power, especially as the numerous evidences of mismanagement and plan underfulfillments accumulate. As in Poland, the military in the USSR deplore the corruption and high living of a number of civilian leaders, in the provinces as well as in the capital. A ''moral crusade,'' as a disguise for enhancing the military's political influence in the Politburo, could well originate in the ranks of the military.

As the Soviet leader most concerned with the international communist movement , Suslov watched in recent years a resurgence of the old Kremlin bogey of ''polycentrism'' -- i.e., growing independence on the part of communist parties around the world. Suslov's method in attempting to win back the loyalty of the Japanese, Spanish, Italian, and other parties lay principally in persuasion, or in calling conferences of the world's ''progressive forces.'' But this policy has failed. The Kremlin's recent stinging attack on the Italian party leadership apparently was not of Suslov's stamp, and it may be a sign of a harder line emerging against straying communists abroad.

This process likely will be acompanied by a recrudescence of superpatriotic pan-Russism, or what Lenin once abhorred as ''Great Russian chauvinism.'' Evidence of this was abundant at the recent Brezhnev birthday celebrations.

More of this can be expected as the power of Brezhnev and of his closest followers increases, and Kremlin patience with ''comradely'' dissent and polycentrism decreases.

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