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Chernenko, General Secretary February 13th, 1984 to March 10th, 1985

Beyond his birth to a peasant labor on September 24th, 1911 in Bolshaya Tes in the Krasnoyarsk Territory of Siberia, little is known of Cherneko’s youth. At the age of fifteen (15) he joined the Komsomol, the Communist Party’s youth organization. Three years later, at the age of eighteen (18) Cherneko was appointed to head the Department of Propaganda and Agitation in Novoselsky Raion Komsomol. The following year, Cherneko enlisted in the Frontier Guard and spent the next three (3) years serving on the Soviet-Chinese border. However, in 1931, Cherneko joined the Communist Party and spent the remainder of his time in the border guard as the Party secretary of his Border Guard outpost.

For the next eight years, until the outbreak of World War Two with the Germans, Cherneko floated around the Soviet Union performing a verity of roles for the Party including head of the Department of Propaganda and Agitation in Novoselsky and Uiarski Raions, Director of Krasnayarsky Krai House of Party Education, and deputy head of the Dept of Propaganda and Agitation, Krasnoyarsky Krai. In 1941, however, Cherneko was appointed Secretary of Krasnoyarsk kraikom. From 1943 to 1945, Cherneko attended the Higher School of Party Organizers in Moscow, after which he was appointed Secretary of the Penza regional committee (Obkom) and was placed in charge of propaganda and agitation. In 1948, he headed the Department of Propaganda and Agitation in Moldavia. While in Moldavia, Cherneko graduated from Kishinev Pedagogical Institute. Cherneko stagnated in Moldavia until 1956 when he was brought to Moscow by Brezhnev to head the Mass Agitation section of the Agitation and Propaganda Department and to become editor of the magazine “Agitator.” Four years later, in 1960 he was appointed Chief of the Chancellery of the Supreme Soviet.

Following his appointment as Chief of the Chancellery, Cherneko spent the next twenty-two (22) years working his way up the ranks of the party; in 1965 he became head of the Personnel Division of the CC General Department, in 1966 he was elected candidate member of Central Committee, in 1971 he was elected Full Member of Central Committee, in 1975 he attended an international conference in Helsinki, Sweden, in 1976 he was elected Central Committee Secretary, also in 1976 he was elected to Secretariat of Presidium of Supreme Soviet, in 1977 he was made candidate member of Politburo, in 1978 he was made a full member of Politburo, and in 1979 he attended SALT II talks in Vienna. However, in 1982, at the age of 71 Chernenko saw his first, and maybe final, chance to assume the position of General Secretary materialize when Brezhnev died. However these dreams were dashed when the Politburo elected Andropov General Secretary on November 10th, 1982. Two days later, before the Central Committee Plenum, Chernenko nominated Andropov for General Secretary saying “He will continue the Brezhnev style of leadership, Brezhnev’s care for the interests of the people, Brezhnev’s comradely relations with the party cadres.”

Chernenko’s ambitions for the General Secretary were, however, revived on February 9th 1984, when Andropov died. Four days after Andropov’s death, on February 13th, 1984, Chernenko was elected General Secretary; two months later, on April 11th 1984 was elected Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet after he was nominated for the position by Gorbachev. Chernenko’s reign would, however, come to an end after little more than a year with his death on March 10th, 1985.

Chernenko’s administration was, despite its extreme brevity, marked with numerous significant events that shaped the remainder of the Cold War. The most significant of these actions came on June 4, 1984, when he met with Ceaucesceau and ordered what came to be known as the October Revolution. Chernenko also negotiated and signed treaties with Poland concerning economic and scientific cooperation, and with China concerning commercial, scientific and technologic matters. The most famous, or infamous, act of the Chernenko administration was the decision to boycott the Los Angeles Olympic Games scheduled for later that year.

By Daniel L. Gordon
Volunteer for the Cold War Museum

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