Mikhail Gorbachev was born into a peasant family in the Stavropol region in the southern Soviet Union on March 2 1931.
Throughout his youth he was closely aware of many deficiencies in the Soviet agricultural and industrial systems as
they were organised under Joseph Stalin before, during, and after the Second World War. He joined the Communist Party
Joseph Stalin died in 1953 leading to a period of uncertainty about the future leadership of the Soviet Union.
In the event Nikita Kruschev became leader and encouraged an open criticism of the deficiencies and brutalities
of the Stalinist Era.
Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded a law degree from the University of Moscow in 1955. He returned to Stavropol
where he worked for the Young Communist League, the Komsomol. Kruschev was deposed as leader in 1964 and
replaced by Leonid Brezhnev who tended to sponsor policies that acted to reverse the modest political, social
and economic reforms that had been authorised under Krushchev. Gorbachev was personally disappointed by this
reversal of policy but nonetheless, with Yuri Andropov's sponsorship, rose to become secretary of the regional
Central Committee of the Communist Party in 1966. In 1978 he was appointed party secretary for agricultural
administration. This was a key appointment as the Soviet Union often experienced dire crises arising out of
deficiencies in its agricultural and food distribution systems. In the event Gorbachev's reputation was enhanced
by the successes of the Soviet agricultural system during this period.
In 1980 Gorbachev and Andropov were both appointed to the Politburo - this being the Soviets Union's most
authoritative political body. Andropov became the leader of the Soviet Union on Brezhnev's death. During
these times the Politburo sought to address a perceived lack of vibrancy in the Soviet economic system by
following policies that sought an adaptation of the economy towards something more closely resembling the
It happened that Andropov did not long survive his appointment as leader - there was a return to traditional
Communism under Chernenko for several years thereafter. In 1985, however, Chernenko himself died in office
leaving another decision to be made as to the leadership of Soviet Russia. Gorbachev in these years had become
quite prominent in affairs on several occasions he and his attractive wife Raisa had been warmly received by
western leaders and western peoples during state visits. In the event Gorbachev was recognised as the new
leader of the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev hoped to maintain good relations with the West and to secure transformations of the Soviet system
through policies of glasnost (Open-ness) and perestroika (Restructuring).
The loosening of official restrictions on the expression of opinion by individuals and the media led to an
increasing challenge to the maintenance of the Soviet traditions of authority. Ethnic tensions and anti-semitism,
both of which had been relatively dormant in Russian life, began to re-appear. Gorbachev pulled Soviet armies out
of Afghanistan where they had been attempting to establish Communist rule, he also suggested that Soviet Russia
would no longer insist on its eastern European satellite states conforming to Communist models of political organisation.
In 1989 the Soviet Bloc of states experienced an unprecedented fracturing which featured establishments of democratic
politics and the distancing of several states from Soviet Russian control. In 1990 the Russian dominated Union of
Soviet Socialist Republics itself was distressed by the rival policies of Gorbachev, of traditionalists who blamed
him for importing destabilising foreign ideas without producing any real benefits, of Boris Yeltsin who held that
yet more changes were needed to move Russia towards becoming a democracy, and of diverse (and often competing)
nationalisms that hoped to exploit the new political climate in their efforts to secure localised nationalist objectives.
In 1990 that the Nobel prize committee decided to award Gorbachev their Peace Prize for his efforts at improving
relations between the Soviet and Western blocs. Despite this international recognition rivalries between
traditionalists and reformists in Russia seriously threatened Gorbachev's leadership in August 1991.
The Russian Council of People's Deputies voted to abolish the Soviet Union. On 21st December 1991 Russia and
several other Soviet Republics joined together in a Commonwealth of Independent States - Gorbachev himself resigned
from office on 26th December 1991.