Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev (Russian: Михаи́л Серге́евич Горбачёв; Pronunciation: mih-kha-ILL ser-GHE-ye-vich gor-bah-CHOFF) (born March 2, 1931), was leader of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991. His attempts at reform led to the end of the Cold War, but also inadvertently caused the end of the political supremacy of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Early Life & Political Career
Mikhail Gorbachev was born into a peasant family on March 2, 1931, in the village of Privolnoye near Stavropol. He studied law at Moscow University, where he met his future wife, Raisa. They were married in September 1953 and moved to Mr. Gorbachev's home region of Stavropol in southern Russia when he graduated in 1955.
Gorbachev joined the CPSU in 1952 at the age of 21. In 1966, at age 35, he graduated from the Agricultural Institute as an agronomist-economist. His career moved forward rapidly, and in 1970 he was appointed First Secretary for Agriculture and the following year made a member of the Central Committee. In 1972, he headed a Soviet delegation to Belgium and two years later, in 1974, he was made a Representative to the Supreme Soviet, and Chairman of the Standing Commission on Youth Affairs. He was elevated to the Politburo in 1979. There, he received the patronage of Yuri Andropov, head of the KGB and also a native of Stavropol, and was promoted during Andropov's brief time as leader of the Party before his death in 1984. With responsiblity over personnel, working together with Andropov, 20% of the top echelon of government ministers and regional governors were replaced, often with younger men. During this time Grigory Romanov, Nikolai Ryzhkov and Yegor Ligachev were elevated, the latter two working closely with Gorbachev, Ryzhkov on economics, Ligachev on personnel. He was also close to Konstantin Chernenko, Andropov's successor, serving as second secretary.
His positions within the CPSU created more opportunities to travel abroad that would profoundly affect his political and social views in the future as leader of the country. In 1975, he led a delegation to West Germany and in 1983 he headed a Soviet delegation to Canada to meet with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and members of the Canadian House of Commons and Senate. In 1985, he traveled to the United Kingdom, where he met with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
General Secretary of the CPSU
Upon the death of Konstantin Chernenko, Mikhail Gorbachev, at age 54, was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party on March 11, 1985. He became the Party's first leader to have been born after the Russian Revolution of 1917.
As the de facto ruler of the Soviet Union, he tried to reform the stagnating Communist Party rule and the state economy by introducing glasnost ("openness"), perestroika ("restructuring") and uskorenie ("acceleration", of economic development) which were launched at the 27th Congress of the CPSU in February 1986.
Domestically, Gorbachev implemented economic reforms that he hoped would improve living standards and worker productivity as part of his perestroika program. The Law on Cooperatives, enacted in May 1987, was perhaps the most radical of the economic reforms during the early part of the Gorbachev era. For the first time since Vladimir Lenin's New Economic Policy, the law permitted private ownership of businesses in the services, manufacturing, and foreign-trade sectors. The law initially imposed high taxes and employment restrictions, but it later revised these to avoid discouraging private-sector activity. Under this provision, cooperative restaurants, shops, and manufacturers became part of the Soviet scene.
Gorbachev's introduction of glasnost gave new freedoms to the people, such as a greater freedom of speech; a radical change as control of speech and suppression of government criticism had previously been a central part of the Soviet system. The press became far less controlled and thousands of political prisoners and many dissidents were released in the spirit of glasnost.
In January 1987, Gorbachev called for demokratizatsiya ("democratization") — the infusion of democratic elements such as multicandidate elections into the Soviet political process. In June 1988, at the CPSU's Nineteenth Party Conference, Gorbachev launched radical reforms meant to reduce party control of the government apparatus. In December 1988, the Supreme Soviet approved the formation of a Congress of People's Deputies, which constitutional amendments had established as the Soviet Union's new legislative body.
Gorbachev in one-on-one discussions with U.S. President Ronald Reagan
In international affairs, Gorbachev sought to improve relations and trade with the West. On October 11 1986, Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan met in Reykjavik, Iceland, to discuss reducing intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe. This led to the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty in 1987. In February 1988, Gorbachev announced the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, which was completed the following year.
Also during 1988, Gorbachev announced that the Soviet Union would abandon the Brezhnev Doctrine, and allow the Eastern bloc nations to determine their own internal affairs. His Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov jokingly called his new doctrine the Sinatra Doctrine. This led to the string of revolutions in Eastern Europe throughout 1989 in which communism collapsed. With the exception of Romania, the democratic revolutions against the pro-Soviet communist regimes were all peaceful ones. The loosening of Soviet hegemony over Eastern Europe effectively ended the Cold War, and for this Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on October 15, 1990.
Division, Coup and Collapse
However, the democratization of the USSR and Eastern Europe tore away the power of the CPSU and Gorbachev himself. Gorbachev's relaxation of censorship and attempts to create more political openness had the unintended effect of re-awakening long suppressed nationalist and anti-Russian feelings in the Soviet republics. Calls for greater independence from Moscow's rule grew louder, especially in the Baltic republics of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, which had been annexed into the Soviet Union by Stalin in 1940. Nationalist feeling also took hold in the Soviet republics of Georgia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Gorbachev had accidentally unleashed a force that would ultimately destroy the Soviet Union.
Conservatives in the Soviet leadership launched the August Coup in 1991 in an attempt to remove Gorbachev from power. During this time, he spent three days (August 19 to 21) under house arrest at a dacha in the Crimea before being freed and restored to power. Upon his return, Gorbachev found that support had swung over to his nationalist rival, Boris Yeltsin. Furthermore, Gorbachev was forced to sack large numbers of his Politburo and in several cases, arrest them. Those arrested for high treason include the "Gang of Eight" that had led the coup.
Gorbachev has accused Boris Yeltsin, his old rival and Russia's first post-Soviet president, of tearing the country apart out of a desire to advance his own personal interests.
Gorbachev was elected as the first executive president of the Soviet Union on March 15, 1990 but would later resign on December 25, 1991. Gorbachev is generally well regarded in the West for having ended the Cold War. However in Russia, his reputation is very low because it is perceived that he brought about the collapse of the country and is responsible for the misery that followed. Nevertheless polls indicate that a majority of Russians are pleased with the result of the individual aims of perestroika, Gorbachev's chief legislative legacy.
Political activity after resignation
Gorbachev founded the Gorbachev Foundation in 1992. In 1993, he also founded Green Cross International, in which role he was one of three major sponsors of the Earth Charter in 1994. He also became a member of the Club of Rome.
In 1996, Gorbachev ran for re-election in Russia but received only about one percent of the vote.
In 1997, Gorbachev starred in a Pizza Hut commercial made for the USA to raise money for the Perestroika Archives.
On November 26, 2001 Gorbachev also founded the Social Democratic Party of Russia—which is a union between several Russian social democrat parties. He resigned as party leader in May 2004 over a disagreement with the party's chairman over the direction taken in the December 2003 election campaign.
In early 2004, Gorbachev moved to trademark his famous port wine birthmark after a vodka company featured the mark on labels of one of their drinks in order to capitalize on its fame. The company now no longer uses the trademark as Gorbachev takes it very seriously. Gorbachev to Trademark his Forehead (http://www.newsmax.com/archives/ic/2004/2/2/171247.shtml)
In May 2004, Gorbachev presented Bee Gees singer Robin Gibb with a Lifetime Achievement Award. The next month, he attended the funeral of Ronald Reagan.
In September 2004, following Chechen terrorist attacks across Russia, President Vladimir Putin launched an initiative to replace the election of regional governors with a system whereby they would be directly appointed by the President and approved by regional legislatures. Gorbachev, together with Boris Yeltsin, criticized Putin's actions as a step away from democracy.
Baptized in the Russian Orthodox church as a child, Gorbachev is an atheist. Nevertheless, he maintains respect for the faiths of people of all religions, as evidenced by his leading role in the establishment of freedom of religion laws in the former Soviet Union.
- Mikhailgorbachev.org (http://www.mikhailgorbachev.org/)
- Gorby.ru (http://www.gorby.ru/) The Gorbachev Foundation (in the West, Gorbachev was colloquially known as 'Gorby', in part because of a perception that he was less austere than his predecessors).
- The Encyclopedia of Marxism (http://marxists.org/glossary/), from which parts of this article have been taken.
- Green Cross International Homepage (http://www.greencrossinternational.net/)
- Mikhail S. Gorbachev Biography, in Russian (http://sodin-mail.com/homepages/~natalia/nobel_russians/gorbachev/mikhail.htm)
- CNN Cold War - Profile: Mikhail Gorbachev (http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cold.war/kbank/profiles/gorbachev/)
- TIME 100: Mikhail Gorbachev (http://www.time.com/time/time100/leaders/profile/gorbachev.html)
- Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World, Mikhail Gorbachev, Perennial Library, Harper & Row, 1988, trade paperback, 297 pages, ISBN 0-06-091528-5
- The Gorbachev Factor, Archie Brown, Oxford University Press, 1997, paperback, 444 pages, ISBN 0-19-288052-7