Born: 2 March 1931
Birth Place: Privolnoye near Stavropol
He was born into a peasant family in Privolnoye near Stavropol. He graduated from Moscow University in 1955 with a degree in law.
He had joined the Communist Party (CPSU) in 1952 and after graduation he moved back to his home region of Stavropol. In 1966 he obtained another degree; this time in Agriculture.
In 1970 he was appointed First Secretary for Agriculture. A year later he became a member of the Central Committee. By 1974 he had been made a Representative of the Supreme Soviet and Chairman of the Standing Commission on Youth Affairs. In 1979 he was elevated to the Politburo.
By now he was under the patronage of Yuri Andropov, another native of Stavropol, and was promoted. He took over reponsibility for personnel. The two worked together to remove some of the older government ministers and regional officials and replace them with younger more dynamic men. When Andropov died he was also close to his successor Konstantin Chernenko.
During this period he and his wife, Raisa Gorbacheva, travelled widely in the West. It was this that profoundly affected his political and social views. In 1985 he met Margaret Thatcher who was impressed by the rising star.
When Chernenko died Gorbachev, at the comparatively young age of 54, was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party on 11 Marxch 1985.
He realised that the Soviet Union needed significant reforms both in politics and in economics if it was to survive. At the 27th Congress of the CPSU in February 1986 he launched:
Glasnost - openness
Perestroika - restructuring
Uskorenie - acceleration (of economic development)
On the domestic front he introduced radical economic reforms. He hoped these would improve the living standards of the population and raise productivity. Unfortunately these reforms were opposed by many in the Soviet government who saw them as a betrayal of previously held ideology. His May 1987 Law on Cooperatives was particularly radical. This for the first time since the early 1920s permitted private ownership of businesses in the services, manufacturing, and foreign-trade sectors.
If Perestroika changed the economy then glasnost was almost as big a shock to the Soviet system. This gave a new freedom to the people. They were now encouraged to discuss and hold the state to account. This greater freedom of speech was a major shock to a political system where the control of speech, suppression of criticism of government shortcomings had been the norm. Control of the press was loosened and many political prisoners were released.
By 1987 he was also calling for multi-candidate elections in the Soviet political process. Eighteen months later he launched radical reforms which were meant to reduce party control of the government. In December 1988 the Supreme Soviet agreed to the establishment of a Congress of People’s Deputies.
On the international scene he attempted to both improve relations and trade with the West. In international relations he met US President Ronald Reagan in October 1986 at Reykjavik, Iceland. Their discussions centred on reducing intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe and led to the signing of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
In February 1988 he announced the Soviet Union’s intention to withdraw from Afghanistan and this was completed the following year.
However the most radical announcement came , again in 1988, when he proposed that the Soviet Union would abandon the Brezhnev Doctrine and allow its Eastern Bloc satellites to decide their own internal affairs. He jokingly called this his Sinatra Doctrine (My Way). With the knowledge that the Soviet Union would not intervene to support a communist regime there was a series of revolutions throughout Eastern Europe in 1989. All were peaceful overthrows of the communist government except in Romania. With the loss of control over Eastern Europe the Cold War was effectively brought to an end.
Unfortunately his policy of relaxation of control and censorship destroyed the very cement that held the Soviet Union itself together. There was an upsurge of anti-Russian feeling in many of the Soviet Republics. This feeling was particularly strong in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and in the southern republics of Ukraine, Georgia and Kazakhstan.
Gorbachev attempted to hold the Soviet Union together by suggesting a new treaty of union however the reformers led by Boris Yeltsin were more than happy to see the end of the USSR. They hoped for a rapid transition to a market based economy after the disintigration. In marked contrast to their radical views there were many in the CPSU and the military who completely opposed the whole thrust of Gorbachev’s reforms.
In August 1991 the conservatives struck with a coup. Gorbachev was put under house arrest at a dacha in the Crimea. The coup however was not strongly led
Certain people in the United States are driving nails into this structure of our relationship, then cutting off the heads. So the Soviets must use their teeth to pull them out.
Democracy is the wholesome and pure air without which a socialist public organization cannot live a full-blooded life.
I am a Communist, a convinced Communist! For some that may be a fantasy. But to me it is my main goal.
If people don't like Marxism, they should blame the British Museum.
It is better to discuss things, to argue and engage in polemics than make perfidious plans of mutual destruction.
Jesus was the first socialist, the first to seek a better life for mankind.
More socialism means more democracy, openness and collectivism in everyday life.
My life's work has been accomplished. I did all that I could.
Our enemy sees us clearly. They will not start a war. They're worried about one thing: If democracy develops here, if we succeed, we will win.
Sometimes when you stand face to face with someone, you cannot see his face.
Surely, God on high has not refused to give us enough wisdom to find ways to bring us an improvement in relations between the two great nations on earth.
The market came with the dawn of civilization and it is not an invention of capitalism. If it leads to improving the well-being of the people there is no contradiction with socialism.
The market is not an invention of capitalism. It has existed for centuries. It is an invention of civilization.
The Soviet people want full-blooded and unconditional democracy.
We are not abandoning our convictions, our philosophy or traditions, nor do we urge anyone to abandon theirs.
What we need is Star Peace and not Star Wars.
America must be the teacher of democracy, not the advertiser of the consumer society. It is unrealistic for the rest of the world to reach the American living standard.
Without glasnost there is not, and there cannot be, democratisation, the political creativity of the masses and their participation in management.
If not me, who? And if not now, when?"