Leonid Brezhnev joined the Communist Party in 1931 and rose steadily in its hierarchy. In 1952 he became a secretary of the Party's Central Committee.
After suffering a slight political setback following Stalin's death (1953), Brezhnev filled a number of party posts. In 1957, as protege of Nikita Khrushchev, he became a member of the presidium of the Party's Central Committee.
He was (1960-64) chairman of the presidium of the Supreme Soviet, or titular head of state. Following Nikita Khrushchev's fall from power in 1964, which Brezhnev helped to engineer, he was named first secretary (later general secretary) of the Communist party.
Although sharing power with Alexei Kosygin, Brezhnev emerged as the chief figure in Soviet politics. In 1968, in support of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, he enunciated the "Brezhnev doctrine," asserting that the USSR could intervene in the domestic affairs of any Soviet bloc nation if Communist rule were threatened. While maintaining a tight rein in Eastern Europe, he favoured closer relations with the Western powers, and he helped bring about a detente with the United States.
In 1977 he assumed the presidency of the USSR, thereby becoming head of state and head of the party.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, cold war tensions returned with an acceleration in the arms race, the Afghanistan war, and the continued intransigence toward political and economic reform within the Soviet bloc, such as the imposition of martial law in Poland.
Following his death, he was succeeded by Yuri Andropov.
Under Mikhail Gorbachev, Brezhnev's regime was criticised for its corruption and failed economic policies.