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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chernenko, the 'Unsung' Reformer

NOVOSIBIRSK, Western Siberia - Former Soviet leader Michael Gorbachev stole his reform ideas from his predecessor, Konstantin Chernenko, according to the son of the late Kremlin leader, who died in 1985.


"Chernenko was one of the sources of these perestroika ideas of Gorbachev", said Albert Chernenko, 58, the leader's eldest son. "Then Gorbachev used these ideas, not mentioning whose ideas they were, not knowing how to realize them".


Historians generally regard Chernenko, Leonid Brezhnev's former chief of staff, as a last gasp of the old guard before his death in 1985 brought Gorbachev to power.


He suffered illness throughout his short rule between February 1984 and March 1985, and showed few traits of leadership or new ideas. Georgy Arbatov, head of the USA and Canada Institute, was publicly quoted at the time as saying that Chernenko was "an ignorant peasant".


By his son's account, Chernenko received a historical bum rap.


"His strategy was to divide the party from the Soviets, and he was the first to give the party a real political sense and distance it from being the government party", said Chernenko, a philosophy professor who lives in the Siberian capital.


Such democratic ideas from the lifelong Communist were announced at the Communist party congress in February 1985, but came too late in his life to have impact on the tradition-bound Communist leadership, Chernenko said.


"Chernenko arrived late into this, and he could not act with all his strength and health", the son said.


If his father had not died at age 74, history might have turned out rather differently, he added.


"If his ideas were implemented as he pronounced from the beginning in a sufficiently democratic way, I suppose the cataclysm that happened to us would never have been seen", Chernenko said.


A product of his father's first marriage, Albert Chernenko also does not pull punches in criticizing his father's mentor Brezhnev, the Soviet leader from 1964-1982.


"He lacked both the intellectual and physical strength to make the break in the historical development of Russia which was necessary", Chernenko said of Brezhnev.


"He was a compromise from the beginning, between different political movements and the Politburo, and he was a person led by history, rather than a shaper of history".