1931-, Soviet political leader, last president of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), member of the Politburo.

He became General secretary of the Communist party in 1985, he was elected president of the USSR in 1988 and to a new, more powerful presidency in 1989. Confronted with deteriorating economic conditions, Gorbachev introduced policies glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). Vastly improved relations with the West. Ended interference in East European nations. His final stroke was to move the USSR from Socialism to a sort of fledgling Democracy. In the end, one of the greatest leaders this century.

In 1987 he was declared Time Magazine Man of the Year. Then in 1989, he was declared Time Magazine's Person of the Decade.

In November 1989, The Velvet Revolution took place in Czechoslovakia. In December, he took part in the "Yalta Summit". You can read the results of this by going to Transcript of the Malta Summit: U.S. and U.S.S.R.

In 1990 he won the Nobel Prize in Peace for his role in ending the Cold War, Everything Quests: The Nobel Prize winners.

In July of 1991, he signed Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START I) along with George Bush, Sr.

On Christmas, 1991, he dissolved the USSR and gave Gorbachev's 'Address to the Soviet Citizens' and resigned as leader of the Russian Communist Party.

Source: http://www.mikhailgorbachev.org/ Last Updated 01.15.03

General secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev accomplished the domestic goal of repairing the damage dealt by Brezhnev to the Soviet economy. He increased technology and productivity and cut down on bureaucracy. Deeper reforms included the policy of glasnot, in which freedoms of expression and information were greatly expanded. The press was granted a much better capacity for accuracy and governmental criticism. Eventually, this freedom led to a criticism of Stalinist totalitarianism and, through the policy of perestroika, the first attempts to make the Soviet Union democratic. Secret ballots and some capitalistic enterprises began to exist in the USSR. He followed policies of détente and agreed with Ronald Reagan to decrease medium range nuclear arsenals.

Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for his tolerance of the manner in which Eastern European states finally ceased to be communist. He allowed Germany to be re-unified and even tolerated its entrance into NATO.

The superb manner in which he handled the dismantling of the Soviet sphere of influence denotes him as a diplomat of the highest esteem. He was the architect for an elegant demise to communism, and was succeeded by Yeltsin, after having depended on him to escape an armed coup that started while has was on vacation.

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev

1987 Man of the Year

Born: March 2, 1931--Died: Not Yet.

Visit http://www.mikhailgorbachev.org/

Born during the peak of Josef Stalin's horrors of mass murder and of collectivization in Privol'noye in the Krasnogvadeisk district of the Stavropol krai. His Maternal grandfather, Pantelei, joined the Communist Party in 1928 and was chairman of the first collective farm in Privol'noye in 1931, where Gorby would later be a machine operator. His father, Sergei Andreevich, prior to the war, was also a machine operator in a local Machine-Tractor Station. After WWII, dad worked as economist and was a prominant local party official. His mother is Maria Panteleyvna.

In 1932 and 33, the Stavropol area was stricken by an extreme famine. His grandfather Andrei was sent to Irkutsk, Siberia because he couldn't harvest enough crops, despite the fact that he didn't have enough seed. He returns in 35.

In 1937, his grandfather Pantelei was accused of being part of a "counter-revolutionary right-wing Trotskyite organization." Say that three times fast. Then, the next year, grandpa is convicted of impeding harvest, causing loss of grain, livestock death, plow meadows and repressing the Stakhovites at the kolkhoz. The next year, a purge leads to Grandfather being released, charges dismissed. and there was much rejoycing. Then grandpa was elected as chairman of the kolkhoz.

WWII brought the need for millions of Russians to die. To help with this effort, Gorby's father, Sergei was conscripted (drafted) into the Soviet Army in 1941. From 1942 until January 1943, the German Army occupied Stavropol. 1944 brought another famine.

For four years, 45-49, during the summer, Gorby works as an assistant combine operator while attending schools. In 1949, the harvest plan is surpassed, and awards are handed out. Sergei Gorbachev gets an Order of Lenin and little Mikhail gets an Order of the Red Banner of Labor, both high honors, and all before Mikhail finishes secondary school in Krasnogvardeisk.

After he graduates, he becomes a candidate member of the Party and enters Moscow State University, to study law and then becomes Komsomol secretary. In 1952, he becomes full Party member. He will graduate in 1955.

Personally, on September 25, 1953, he marries Raisa Maksimovna Titorenko and buys his first suit for the occasion. In January of 1957, his daughter Irina Gorbachev is born.

From 55 until 1962, Gorby works and is promoted quickly through the Komsomol ranks until in 1962, he volunteers to be a Party Organizer for one of 16 territorial-production agricultural units in Stavropol krai. Some would see this as a demotion, but it is actually closer to a lateral transfer. It's Party work, which is more emportant. To help with this work, he enrolls in department of agricultural economy at the Stavropol Agricultural Institute on a correspondence course. He is promoted even faster, and with is boss, a guy named Kulakov trusting him, there is nowhere to go but up.

October, 1964, Khrushchev removed from office.

In 1966, gorby visits East Germany. Then he is elected First Secretary of Stavrolpol Gorkom (aka city council).

After 5 years, 1967, the correspondence course pays off, he graduates the Stavropol Agricultural Institute as an agronomist-economist, with his dissertion topic being milk production.

Even more promotions and elections follow him up the ranks. He travels throughout the communist world, becoming very popular. He is even sent to West Germany in 1975 as head of an official delegation. How much further could the son of a pair of pesants go?

But, in Febuary of 1976, Sergei, Mikhail's father dies.

To add to his fame, in 1977, his boss's, Kulakov, "Ipatovsky method" experiment in harvesting at Stavropol krai is declared complete success because it over produces. A major step was Mikhail Gorbachev being interviewed on Page 1 of Pravda.

Then, in 1978, Irina, his daughter, marries.

On his 47th birthday, given Hero of Socialist Labor award. Then on March 1, 1978, he is given Order of the October Revolution.

July 17, 1978, boss and mentor Kulakov dies. No medical explanation given beyond "His heart stopped beating."

More tours and promotions follow, good harvests (he's in agriculture, remember), speeches given and text in newspapers, and in 1979 his granddaughter, Ksenia is born. He also decides to represent Ipatovsky district in Supreme Soviet elections. In list of Kremlin leaders and the districts they choose to represent in Supreme Soviet, Gorbachev listed last, making him 28th in Party hierarchy. This may not seem important, but it is.

A possible blow is delivered when in 1979 a bad harvest threatens food supplies. Only Kazakhstan does well, and Kunayev gets credit for that. However, Gorbachev is not blamed because it was situation he inherited. Then, on November 17, 1979, he is named Candidate Member of Politburo.

More work agriculturally. In 1980, he publiishes in Kommunist, the Party's theoretical journal detailing agro-industrial linkage. Another bad harvest, but is still promoted to Full Member of Politburo.

81 and 82 both bring bad harvests. In November 10, 1982 Brezhnev dies from a heart attack, then a man named Andropov takes over as General Secretary, he gets ill pretty much after taking office, and when he takes a vacation in August, leaves Gorby with the keys to the kingdom. However, in May, Gorby heads to Canada to meet with members of the House of Commons and the Senate.

1983 brings the fifth poor harvest in a row. This is not good. What is good is that in Dec., he's given the task to recommend new Party officials in areas where economic conditions were poor or where corruption was evident.

Expectedly, almost, Febuary 9, 1984, Andropov dies. A few days later Chernenko is elected General Secretary, thus placing Gorbachev 2nd-in-command.

1984 gives another bad harvest.

December 15, 1984 he heads for England. In '85 Chernenko dies and Gorbachev is elected General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He was nominated by Gromyko while Chernenko's preferred succesor was Victor Grishin, Moscow Party Secretary.

Now, unlike Boris Yeltsin, Gorbachev is anti-alchohol, he published new laws creating long lines at alcohol shops called "Gorbachev's nooses." Getting ballsy, he then gives an improvised, televised speech in Leningrad being overtly critical of Party (Romanov) excesses and industrial failures. Also in 1985, he orders that embassy receptions and parties should be alcohol-free.

The whole year of 1985 was filled with Gorbachev exercising his authority. Rural migration to cities was halted, economic plans outlined, scientists salaries were increased 50% to stimulate growth, an almost crazy amount of growth. Then, in November, he meets Ronald Regan. We begin to see a new up and comer in Boris Yeltsin, who is Moscow Party Boss at this time.

Perestroika began in 1986. This begins a series of changes, from annoucing that nuclear weapons should be eliminated from Europe after visiting Prague in 1987 to the first multi-canidate elections in 1989 along with finishing the Pull out from Afghanistan. Lithuania declares itself independant, and the USSR strikes back. But, in November of 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, signaling the beginning of the end for communism. It was just a matter of time until it was all over. However, acknowledging his anti-nuclear actions, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.

In August 18, 1991, Gorbachev was kidnapped by coup leaders and held captive for three days. Three days later, Gorbachev resigns from the Party, and then, a Christmas Gift to the west, December 25, 1991, he resigns as president and dissolves the USSR.

In 1995, his mother died. When he ran for Russian president in 1996, he got less than 1% of the vote

Since the collapse of the last second superpower, Gorbachev has been speaking all over the country, giving lectures and making snotballs worth of money. Currently, though, and since 1993, he actually is president of Green Cross International. (http://www.gci.ch/GreenCrossFamily/gorby/activities.html).



Origins of Gorbachev's reformism and its radicalization

The ascent of Mikhail Gorbachev to the Politburo and to the leadership of the Soviet Union from his beginnings in the rural region of Privolnoye is only slightly less remarkable than the speed with which his actions in the 1980s led to the ultimate dissolution of the largest country in the world and the end of an era of world politics. His ideological and work experiences were those of a new generation of well-educated products of the Soviet system. When placed at the levers of power, the MGU law graduate attempted to turn around the country and system in which he believed. The reforms of 1985-1989 were implemented with the intent of achieving change without eliminating the Party's leading role. Only in response to the ineffectiveness of his attempts did Gorbachev move toward what might be characterized as radical reform, such that only the net effort could really be called radical, while each step is only the next on an inexorable path to the radical outcome.

The stable period in Soviet life through the 1970s under the remarkably boring and eventually incapacitated Brezhnev, appropriately termed zastoi, was perhaps most interesting in how little Brezhnev and his aging government attempted to improve the country. After 18 years of rule, Brezhnev died in 1982. In his time, there had been very little turnover in the Soviet bureaucracy, establishing a very comfortable position for the nomenklatura, which now was highly resistant to reforms which might disturb its privileged status.

The first threat to this entrenched class was Andropov, Brezhnev's successor. For most of Brezhnev's tenure, Andropov was head of the KGB (1967-1982), a time when the security service was actively deployed against dissidents. Unlike Stalin's repression, Andropov's was “not bloodthirsty,” opting to exile, deport, or commit dissidents, rather than kill (Kaiser 58). In the last years before Brezhnev's death, Andropov actively took on corruption, ousting a number of close Brezhnev compatriots (Kaiser 58). Upon taking office, Andropov accomplished little, at least in part due to his ill health and death after eighteen months. In Kaiser's assessment, Andropov was a relatively intelligent man who kept company with an eclectic group of highly-educated and free-thinking intellectuals, something of an anomaly in the highest echelon of Soviet officials (Kaiser 54). Kenez is less flattering, noting only: “He stayed in office too short a time to realize how profound the problems were… It is at least conceivable, though unlikely, that had he stayed in office he might have followed the same path as Gorbachev.” (Kenez 244) Whether we take Kaiser's or Kenez's assessment of his policy trajectory, Andropov's short tenure certainly prevented the institution of meaningful change. It may, however, still inform the debate to see the juxtaposition of Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko as a series of leaders that made the necessity for fundamental change clear, at least within the party. The common characteristics of Andropov and Gorbachev that Kaiser posits may have strengthened the political tide that enabled Gorbachev's reforms when he finally acceded in March 1985. Apart from highlighting his predecessor's and successor's reformist agendas by contrast to his own retrogression, Chernenko is most relevant to the current debate insofar as his conservatism let Gorbachev, then a Politburo member, position himself as a reformer, establishing “working groups” to examine the problems facing the Soviet Union, which drew support of the most intelligent, if not the most powerful, members of the Party (Kaiser 73). The return to stagnation left an air of uncertainty; Kaiser quotes an editor at the time, “You know, I have no idea what may happen. Maybe I'll be visiting you in America in five years. And maybe I'll be shot.” (Kaiser 72). This is resignation to an unknowable future which would be soon in coming. Chernenko died in March 1985, and Gorbachev took over.

As previously noted, Gorbachev grew up in agriculture and in the Party. He worked at a machine tractor station, an institution that represented the influence of central government on village life. He led his school Komsomol organization and was invited to join the Party as a “candidate member” (Kaiser 25). Gorbachev enrolled in Moscow State University (MGU) in the law faculty. Kaiser notes that law training was regarded as fairly useless in the 1950s Soviet Union, in no small part because there was no rule of law. A Czech classmate and roommate, Zdenek Mlynar, recalled that Gorbachev questioned the Stalinist interpretation of history and its absolute terminology of enemies and allies (Kaiser 27). After graduation, Gorbachev returned to rural Russia, working in the Stavropol region.

In 1977 and 1978, Gorbachev worked with the party head of the Stavropol region, Fyodor Kulakov, on what amounted to a Stakhanovite harvesting operation, which doubled the winter wheat output of one area in two years. Their success brought Gorbachev national attention, including front page mention in Pravda. After the second harvest, Kulakov died abruptly – officially, “his heart stopped beating.” Kaiser suggests that in fact Kulakov committed suicide after the rejection of radical economic reforms that he had put forth that summer. Whether we accept Kaiser's implication that Kulakov's reformism influenced Gorbachev's formulation of perestroika, it definitely presaged it. After meeting with Brezhnev and Chernenko in September and October 1978, Gorbachev was promoted to the Central Committee as secretary for agriculture (Kaiser 41-46). Altogether, Kaiser clearly depicts the man as one of the most intelligent leaders in the country, and one of the few intelligent men of his generation to tolerate the Party apparatus enough to rise through it into the corridors of power. In 1979, Gorbachev became of an alternate member of the Politburo and in 1980 a full member.

Kenez sees Gorbachev's reforms as a well-intended solution to problems the depth of which he did not understand, a description only slightly less damning than his assessment of Andropov's solutions as superficial. Despite having personally worked in agriculture for much of his career, the Stakhanovite achievements that catapulted Gorbachev into the secretariat are examples of perhaps the least effective aspects of economic policy in the Soviet era, wherein sustainable returns are politically less desirable than short-term record results. Gorbachev's first calls for increased discipline and quality met with opposition from a working-class that saw no incentive to work harder, and his call for decentralization was doomed to be ineffective so long as the local incentive was not coincidental with national objective, as it still favored immediate results over long-term improvements. These calls for sacrifice in the name of good times ahead rang hollow after proving false for seventy years.

The premier reform summarized glasnost', in Kenez's understanding, is consciously constructed to be not freedom of press, speech, or assembly in the Western meaning, but a return to “openness in discussing public affairs”, a position of 19th century Slavophiles (Kenez 253). By deferring to “Leninist norms”, Gorbachev echoed a position that he had confided to Mlynar in their MGU days, that the Stalinist oppression was not Lenin's legacy (Kaiser 27). It is irrelevant whether or not this characterization is historically accurate, as the position is most informative insofar as it frames the reform as a return to the proper road to communism. Kenez sees glasnost' as effecting nothing short of freedom of speech, marked by the release of long-banned books and films, an outpouring that recalls Hungary and Czechoslovakia in 1956 and 1968; while Gorbachev could not help but see the parallels, there is not evidence that he intended to replicate their loss of control. Working in this theoretical framework, however, Kenez argues that Gorbachev's most significant action in precipitating the dissolution of the Soviet Union was his failure to use force to counteract the growing momentum of reform. Instead, the debate over glasnost' encouraged the development of an empowered civil society (Kenez 256). Thus, the beginning of the end was at hand.

The structural reform, perestroika, was to be democratization paired with a guiding role for the Party, the “regime's last attempt to realize a utopian theory” (Kenez 258). The Party's internal debates on the merits of Gorbachev's reforms took place in the openness of glasnost', a definite break from the illusion of a monolithic party that had been promulgated since the 1920s (Kenez 258). Gorbachev felt ineffectual, noting in June 1986, “Every day that goes by brings new facts, one worse than the other, that demonstrate the difficulties facing those trying to implement his reforms” (as quoted in Kaiser 131). In July, he admitted what ultimately came to be, “If we do not involve the people, nothing will come out of this” (Kaiser 131). Kaiser argues that Gorbachev had assumed that the Party could survive the reforms and maintain an active and guiding role, but the Party proved incapable and “the old system did crumble under the pressures Gorbachev's candor had created” (Kaiser 135).

At the October 1987 plenum of the Central Committee, Yeltsin (a Gorbachev appointee) attacked Gorbachev and the conservative KGB head, Ligachev, for failing to realize the promises of perestroika, and tendered his resignation from his posts. In the ensuing months, the Party apparatus pressured Yeltsin to back down, prompting Muscovites to petition on his behalf (Kaiser 179-193). Kaiser notes the whole affair as proof that civil society was extant and that the Party did not know how to act in such an environment. This was the end, in Kaiser's eyes, of Gorbachev's hopes for reform within the Party.

In the Theses of May 1988, it was resolved that “all Party organizations must act within the framework of the USSR constitution and state laws” and “full restoration of the role and authority of the Soviets of People's Deputies as sovereign bodies of popular representation” (as quoted in Kaiser 225-226). Thus, it was on the agenda of the 28th party congress to separate the party from the government. In December 1988, the USSR Supreme Soviet established the tricameral Congress of People's Deputies, which would elect a Supreme Soviet to conduct ordinary parliamentary business. In March 1989, competitive elections were held for the CPD, the first since November 1917 (Kenez 259-260). This was an attempt at one-party democracy, the last attempt by Gorbachev to legitimize the Party and maintain its primacy without authoritarianism. The CPD elected Gorbachev to President of the Republic (May 1989), but there was no popular election – Kenez sees this as a crucial error, undermining the legitimacy of Gorbachev's rule (Kenez 260).

As the newly constituted CPD and Supreme Soviet still failed to accomplish reform, Gorbachev lost any semblance of control over perestroika. With miners' strikes in 1989, New Year's riots in 1990, and the revolutions in the satellite states in 1989, the guiding role sought by Gorbachev was no longer feasible. As the populace polarized into hard-line conservatives eager to return to Brezhnev's era, and the democratic and liberal contingents eager for the dissolution of the Party and the end of the Soviet Union, Sakwa argues that Gorbachev was left without a power base. From this point on, Gorbachev could no longer control the reform, now a revolution.

Gorbachev was not afraid to sacrifice for his goals; he opened up the legislative process with a degree of freedom in elections, he at least presented the extrication of the party from government, but the truly radical outcome of 1991 was not his intent. Gorbachev was driven by a belief in the Party and a vision of a better society, and the ultimate sacrifice of the former in pursuit of the latter was not by choice, per se, but rather by his acquiescence to the political powers that he brought into being. His tenure was reformist in intent, but predicated on an overestimation of the Party's capacity for reform.

  • Kaiser, Robert G., Why Gorbachev happened, New York, Simon & Schuster, 1991.
  • Kenez, Peter, A history of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to the End, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999.
  • LSakwa, Richard, Russian politics and society, London: Routledge, 2002.

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