Mikhail Gorbachev, full name Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, Soviet politician, general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) from 1985 to 1991, and president of the Soviet Union in 1990–91 (born March 2, 1931, Privolnoye, Stavropol Kray, Russia, USSR). His attempts to decentralize his country’s economy and democratize its political system resulted in the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 as well as the fall of communism. Gorbachev received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1990 because he helped end the Soviet Union’s postwar dominance over eastern Europe.
Gorbachev was born in the Stavropol area (Kray) in southern Russia to Russian peasants. In 1946, he joined the Komsomol (Young Communist League) and spent the next four years working as a combine harvester driver on a state farm in Stavropol. Gorbachev was a talented Komsomol member, and in 1952, enrolled at Moscow State University’s law department and joined the Communist Party. In 1955, he earned a law degree. He then pursued various positions in the Komsomol and regular party organizations in Stavropol, eventually rising to become the first secretary of the regional party committee in 1970.
Perestroika to the Fall of the Soviet Union
In 1971, Gorbachev got elected to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s Central Committee, and in 1978, he was designated party secretary of agriculture. In 1979, he was elected as a candidate member of the Politburo. In 1980, he was elected as a full member. He owed a large part of his steady rise to Mikhail Suslov, the party’s primary ideologue. Gorbachev became one of Politburo’s most active and visible members during Yury Andropov’s 15-month tenure as general secretary of the Communist Party (1982–84). Gorbachev became a potential successor to Andropov after the latter died, and Konstantin Chernenko became general secretary in February 1984. Chernenko died on March 10, 1985, and Gorbachev was chosen general secretary of the CPSU the next day by the Politburo. He was still Politburo’s youngest member at the time of his election.
In 1996 Gorbachev ran for President of Russia but received less than 1% of the vote. Despite this, he remained engaged in public life as a speaker and a member of several international and Russian think tanks. In 2006, he teamed up with Aleksandr Lebedev, a Russian millionaire and former legislator, to buy almost half of the independent daily Novaya Gazeta, known for its openness to question Kremlin policies. Gorbachev and Lebedev declared a new political party on September 30, 2008, but it never materialized. Despite his criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin at times, Gorbachev backed Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 amid the Ukraine crisis.