Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev
Михаил Горбачёв
Gorbachev (cropped).png
President of the Soviet Union
In office
15 March 1990 – 25 December 1991
Vice PresidentGennady Yanayev
Preceded byOffice established
(partly himself as Chairman of the Supreme Soviet)
Succeeded by
General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
In office
11 March 1985 – 24 August 1991
Prime Minister
DeputyVladimir Ivashko
Preceded byKonstantin Chernenko
Succeeded byVladimir Ivashko (acting)
Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union
In office
25 May 1989 – 15 March 1990
DeputyAnatoly Lukyanov
Preceded byHimself as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet
Succeeded byAnatoly Lukyanov
Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union
In office
1 October 1988 – 25 May 1989
Preceded byAndrei Gromyko
Succeeded byHimself as Chairman of the Supreme Soviet
Additional positions
Co-Chairman of the Union of Social Democrats
Assumed office
11 March 2000[note 1]
Preceded byOffice established
Second Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
In office
9 February 1984 – 10 March 1985
Preceded byKonstantin Chernenko
Succeeded byYegor Ligachev
Personal details
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev

(1931-03-02) 2 March 1931 (age 88)
Privolnoye, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
  • Soviet (1931–1991)
  • Russian (since 1991)
Political partyUnion of Social Democrats (2007–present)
Other political
Raisa Gorbacheva
(m. 1953; died 1999)
Alma materMoscow State University
AwardsNobel Peace Prize
SignatureOfficial website

Leader of the Soviet Union

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev[note 2] (born 2 March 1931) is a Russian and formerly Soviet politician. The eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union, he was the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991. He was also the country's head of state from 1988 until 1991, serving as the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet from 1988 to 1989, chairman of the Supreme Soviet from 1989 to 1990, and president of the Soviet Union from 1990 to 1991. Ideologically, he initially adhered to Marxism-Leninism although by the early 1990s had moved toward social democracy.

Of mixed Russian and Ukrainian heritage, Gorbachev was born in Privolnoye, Stavropol Krai to a poor peasant family. Growing up under the rule of Joseph Stalin, in his youth he operated combine harvesters on a collective farm before joining the Communist Party, which then governed the Soviet Union as a one-party state according to Marxist-Leninist doctrine. While studying at Moscow State University, he married fellow student Raisa Titarenko in 1953 prior to receiving his law degree in 1955. Moving to Stavropol, he worked for the Komsomol youth organisation and, after Stalin's death, became a keen proponent of the de-Stalinization reforms of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. He was appointed the First Party Secretary of the Stavropol Regional Committee in 1970, in which position he oversaw construction of the Great Stavropol Canal. In 1978 he returned to Moscow to become a Secretary of the party's Central Committee and in 1979 joined its governing Politburo. Within three years of the death of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, following the brief regimes of Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, the Politburo elected Gorbachev as General Secretary, the de facto head of government, in 1985.

Although committed to preserving the Soviet state and to its socialist ideals, Gorbachev believed significant reform was necessary, particularly after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. He withdrew from the Soviet–Afghan War and embarked on summits with United States President Ronald Reagan to limit nuclear weapons and end the Cold War. Domestically, his policy of glasnost ("openness") allowed for enhanced freedom of speech and press, while his perestroika ("restructuring") sought to decentralise economic decision making to improve efficiency. His democratisation measures and formation of the elected Congress of People's Deputies undermined the one-party state. Gorbachev declined to intervene militarily when various Eastern Bloc countries abandoned Marxist-Leninist governance in 1989–90. Internally, growing nationalist sentiment threatened to break up the Soviet Union, leading Marxist-Leninist hardliners to launch the unsuccessful August Coup against Gorbachev in 1991. In the wake of this, the Soviet Union dissolved against Gorbachev's wishes and he resigned. After leaving office, he launched his Gorbachev Foundation, became a vocal critic of Russian Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin, and campaigned for Russia's social-democratic movement.

Widely considered one of the most significant figures of the second half of the 20th century, Gorbachev remains the subject of controversy. The recipient of a wide range of awards—including the Nobel Peace Prize—he was widely praised for his pivotal role in ending the Cold War, curtailing human rights abuses in the Soviet Union, and tolerating both the fall of Marxist–Leninist administrations in eastern and central Europe and the reunification of Germany. Conversely, in Russia he is often derided for not stopping the Soviet collapse, an event which brought a decline in Russia's global influence and precipitated an economic crisis.

Early life

Childhood: 1931–1950

Gorbachev was born on 2 March 1931 in the village of Privolnoye, Stavropol Krai, then in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, one of the constituent republics of the Soviet Union.[4] At the time, Privolnoye was divided almost evenly between ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians.[5] Gorbachev's paternal family were ethnic Russians and had moved to the region from Voronezh several generations before; his maternal family were of ethnic Ukrainian heritage and had migrated from Chernigov.[6] His parents named him Victor, but at the insistence of his mother—a devout Orthodox Christian—he had a secret baptism, where his grandfather christened him Mikhail.[7] His relationship with his father, Sergey Andreyevich Gorbachev, was close; his mother, Maria Panteleyevna Gorbacheva (née Gopkalo), was colder and punitive.[8] His parents were poor,[9] and lived as peasants.[10] They had married as teenagers in 1928,[11] and in keeping with local tradition had initially resided in Sergei's father's house, an adobe-walled hut, before a hut of their own could be built.[12]

Gorbachev and his Ukrainian maternal grandparents, late 1930s

The Soviet Union was a one-party state governed by the Communist Party, and during Gorbachev's childhood was under the leadership of Joseph Stalin. Stalin had initiated a project of mass rural collectivisation which, in keeping with his Marxist-Leninist ideas, he believed would help convert the country into a socialist society.[13] Gorbachev's maternal grandfather joined the Communist Party and helped form the village's first kolkhoz (collective farm) in 1929, becoming its chair.[14] This farm was 19 kilometres (12 mi) outside Privolnoye village and when he was three years old, Gorbachev left his parental home and moved into the kolkhoz with his maternal grandparents.[15]

The country was then experiencing the famine of 1932–33, in which two of Gorbachev's paternal uncles and an aunt died.[16] This was followed by the Great Purge, in which individuals accused of being "enemies of the people"—including those sympathetic to rival interpretations of Marxism like Trotskyism—were arrested and interned in labour camps, if not executed. Both of Gorbachev's grandfathers were arrested—his maternal in 1934 and his paternal in 1937—and both spent time in Gulag labour camps prior to being released.[17] After his December 1938 release, Gorbachev's maternal grandfather discussed having been tortured by the secret police, an account that influenced the young boy.[18]

Following on from the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, in June 1941 the German Army invaded the Soviet Union. German forces occupied Privolnoe for four and a half months in 1942.[19] Gorbachev's father had joined the Soviet Red Army and fought on the frontlines; he was wrongly declared dead during the conflict and fought in the Battle of Kursk before returning to his family, injured.[20] After Germany was defeated, Gorbachev's parents had their second son, Aleksandr, in 1947; he and Mikhail would be their only children.[11]

The village school had closed during much of the war but re-opened in autumn 1944.[21] Gorbachev did not want to return but when he did he excelled academically.[22] He read voraciously, moving from the Western novels of Thomas Mayne Reid to the work of Vissarion Belinsky, Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, and Mikhail Lermontov.[23] In 1946, he joined Komsomol, the Soviet political youth organisation, becoming leader of his local group and then being elected to the Komsomol committee for the district.[24] From primary school he moved to the high school in Molotovskeye; he stayed there during the week while walking the 19 km (12 mi) home during weekends.[25] As well as being a member of the school's drama society,[26] he organised sporting and social activities and led the school's morning exercise class.[27] Over the course of five consecutive summers from 1946 onward he returned home to assist his father operate a combine harvester, during which they sometimes worked 20-hour days.[28] In 1948, they harvested over 8000 centners of grain, a feat for which Sergey was awarded the Order of Lenin and his son the Order of the Red Banner of Labour.[29]

University: 1950–1955

I would consider it a high honor to be a member of the highly advanced, genuinely revolutionary Communist party of Bolsheviks. I promise to be faithful to the great cause of Lenin and Stalin, to devote my entire life to the party's struggle for Communism.

— Gorbachev's letter requesting membership of the Communist Party, 1950[30]

In June 1950, Gorbachev became a candidate member of the Communist Party.[30] He also applied to study at the law school of Moscow State University (MSU), then the most prestigious university in the country. They accepted without asking for an exam, likely because of his worker-peasant origins and his possession of the Order of the Red Banner of Labour.[31] His choice of law was unusual; it was not a well-regarded subject in Soviet society at that time.[32] Aged 19, he travelled by train to Moscow, the first time he had left his home region.[33]

In the city, he resided with fellow MSU students at a dormitory in Sokolniki District.[34] He and other rural students felt at odds with their Muscovite counterparts but he soon came to fit in.[35] Fellow students recall him working especially hard, often late into the night.[36] He gained a reputation as a mediator during disputes,[37] and was also known for being outspoken in class, although would only reveal a number of his views privately; for instance he confided in some students his opposition to the Soviet jurisprudential norm that a confession proved guilt, noting that confessions could have been forced.[38] During his studies, an anti-semitic campaign spread through the Soviet Union, culminating in the Doctors' plot; Gorbachev publicly defended a Jewish student who was accused of disloyalty to the country by one of their fellows.[39]

At MSU, he became the Komsomol head of his entering class, and then Komsomol's deputy secretary for agitation and propaganda at the law school.[40] One of his first Komsomol assignments in Moscow was to monitor the election polling in Krasnopresnenskaya district to ensure the government's desire for near total turnout; Gorbachev found that most of those who voted did so "out of fear".[41] In 1952, he was appointed a full member of the Communist Party.[42] As a party and Komsomol member he was tasked with monitoring fellow students for potential subversion; some of his fellow students said that he did so only minimally and that they trusted him to keep confidential information secret from the authorities.[43] Gorbachev became close friends with Zdeněk Mlynář, a Czechoslovak student who later became a primary ideologist of the 1968 Prague Spring. Mlynář recalled that the duo remained committed Marxist-Leninists despite their growing concerns about the Stalinist system.[44] After Stalin died in March 1953, Gorbachev and Mlynář joined the crowds amassing to see Stalin's body laying in state.[45]

Gorbachev studied at Moscow State University from 1950 to 1955

At MSU, Gorbachev met Raisa Titarenko, a Ukrainian studying in the university's philosophy department.[46] She was engaged to another man but after that engagement fell apart, she began a relationship with Gorbachev;[47] together they went to bookstores, museums, and art exhibits.[48] In early 1953, he took an internship at the procurator's office in Molotovskoye district, but was angered by the incompetence and arrogance of those working there.[49] That summer, he returned to Privolnoe to work with his father on the harvest; the money earned allowed him to pay for a wedding.[50] On 25 September 1953 he and Raisa registered their marriage at Sokolniki Registry Office;[50] and in October moved in together at the Lenin Hills dormitory.[51] Raisa discovered that she was pregnant and although the couple wanted to keep the child she fell ill and required a life-saving abortion.[52]

In June 1955, Gorbachev graduated with a distinction;[53] his final paper had been on the advantages of "socialist democracy" (the Soviet political system) over "bourgeois democracy" (liberal democracy).[54] He was subsequently assigned to the Soviet Procurator's office, which was then focusing on the rehabilitation of the innocent victims of Stalin's purges, but found that they had no work for him.[55] He was then offered a place on an MSU graduate course specialising in kolkhoz law, but declined.[56] He had wanted to remain in Moscow, where Raisa was enrolled on a PhD program, but instead gained employment in Stavropol; Raisa abandoned her studies to join him there.[57]

Other Languages
Alemannisch: Michail Gorbatschow
azərbaycanca: Mixail Qorbaçov
Bân-lâm-gú: Mikhail Gorbachyov
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Міхаіл Гарбачоў
Bikol Central: Mikhail Gorbachev
български: Михаил Горбачов
客家語/Hak-kâ-ngî: Mikhail Gorbachev
Bahasa Indonesia: Mikhail Gorbachev
لۊری شومالی: میخایل گۊرباچوف
Lingua Franca Nova: Mihail Gorbatxov
македонски: Михаил Горбачов
Bahasa Melayu: Mikhail Gorbachev
Mìng-dĕ̤ng-ngṳ̄: Mikhail Gorbachev
Nederlands: Michail Gorbatsjov
norsk nynorsk: Mikhail Gorbatsjov
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Mixail Gorbachyov
português: Mikhail Gorbatchov
qırımtatarca: Mihail Gorbaçöv
Simple English: Mikhail Gorbachev
српски / srpski: Михаил Горбачов
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Mihail Gorbačov
татарча/tatarça: Михаил Горбачёв
粵語: 戈巴卓夫