General

Born: March 2, 1931.

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was born on March 2, 1931 in Privolye, Stavropol, U.S.S.R. He was general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 - 1991 and president of the Soviet Union from 1990 - 1991.

Early Political Years

1952 Entered law school of the Moscow State University and became a member of the Communist Party.
1955 Graduated with a degree on law and went on to hold several posts in Komsomol and regular party organizations in Stavropol.
1970 Became the first secretary of the regional party.
1971 Member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1971.
1978 Became party secretary of agriculture.
1979 Candidate of the Politburo (in 1980 he became a full member of the Politburo).

Gorbachev's Rise

He owed much of his steady rise in the party to the patronage of Mikhail Suslov, the leading party ideologue. During Andropov's 15 month tenure from 1982 - 1984 as a secretary general of the Communist Party, Gorbachev became a highly active and above all visible member. After Andropov's death in February 1984, Konstatin Chernenko became secretary general and it was likely that Gorbachev would be his successor. However, on March 10, 1985, Chernenko died, resulting in the election of Gorbachev as general secretary by the Politburo the following day.

Introducing Glasnost

During Leonid Brezhnev's tenure (1964 - 1982) the Soviet Union's economic growth was almost absent. Gorbachev called for rapid technological modernization and increased worker productivity. He tried to turn the Soviet bureaucracy into a more efficient and more responsive organization.

Direct results failed to materialize and Gorbachev proceeded with more drastic reforms of the Soviet economic and political system. He announced a period of glasnost or openness which would result in freedom of expression and freedom of information and the media were allowed to put forward their criticism. The era of Stalinist totalitarian rule had completely changed.

Introducing Perestroika

Another important policy of Gorbachev was the perestroika or restructuring, the attempts to democratize the Soviet political system, of which the most striking fact was the introduction of multiple candidates during elections. Free market mechanisms were introduced, first on a moderate level. But serious resistance was encountered from both party and government politicians who were unwilling to give up the control they had in the pre-Gorbachev era.

Improving Relations Between East And West

Apart from the changes on national level, Gorbachev tried to improve relations between East and West. In December 1987 and agreement between Gorbachev and U.S. president Ronald Reagan was signed in which they agreed to abandon all existing stocks of intermediate-range nuclear missiles. In 1988 and 1989 Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan after an occupation of nine years.

Because of the Communist Party's serious resistance against the reforms, Gorbachev tried to reorganize the government's legislative and in December 1988 a new parliament was introduced. Deputies were introduced, with some of its members directly elected by the people in multiple candidate elections. In May 1989 Gorbachev was elected chairman of the Supreme Soviet (parliament) and retained the national presidency.

From 1989 on, the Soviet influence on the Soviet-bloc countries in eastern Europe decreased, a process which was supported by Gorbachev. Rapidly, democratically elected government came to power in East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia and Soviet troops withdrew from these countries shortly afterwards.

In 1990 West and East Germany unified. In the same year, Gorbachev received the Nobel Prize for Peace for his attempts and achievements in international relationships.

National Political Changes

As a result from the new freedoms from the democratization and decentralization, civil unrest grew in several Soviet republics, like Azerbaijan, Georgia and Uzbekistan. Other republics attempted to achieve independence, like Lithuania. Gorbachev used military force in several of the Central Asian republics, while constitutional mechanisms were devised that could provide for the succession of a republic.

In 1990, Gorbachev accelerated the transfer of power from the party to elected institutions. In March 1990, the Congress of People's Deputies elected him to the president of the U.S.S.R. with extensive powers. Gorbachev had moved his country towards a true representative democracy.

The End Of Gorbachev'S Politcial Career

Gorbachev proved less willing to release the economy from the grip of centralized state direction. He was refrained from using the totalitarian power that had kept the economy functioning traditionally, but at the same time he resisted any shift to private ownership and the use of free-market mechanisms.

His attempts to compromise between those two alternatives were not successful and his government's authority and effectiveness began to decline. The economy was collapsing, public frustration increased and power continued to shift toward the republics. From August 19 to 21, 1991, Gorbachev was even held under house arrest during a coup by Gorbachev's political opponents. After this unsuccessful coup, Gorbachev's position had weakened considerably. Gorbachev quit the Communist Party, disbanded the Central Committee and supported the decreasing control over the KGB and the armed forces.

On December 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned the presidency of the Soviet Union, which ceased to exist the same day.

[Sources: Encyclopædia Britannica]