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Unformatted text preview: Mikhail Gorbachev Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev (born 2 March 1931) is a Russian and former Soviet politician. The eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union, he was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991. He was also the country's head of state from 1988 until 1991, serving as the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet from 1988 to 1989, chairman of the Supreme Soviet from 1989 to 1990, and president of the Soviet Union from 1990 to 1991. Ideologically, Gorbachev initially adhered to Marxism–Leninism, although he had moved towards social democracy by the early 1990s. Of Russian and Ukrainian heritage, Gorbachev was born in Privolnoye, Stavropol Krai, to a poor peasant family. Growing up under the rule of Joseph Stalin, in his youth he operated combine harvesters on a collective farm before joining the Communist Party, which then governed the Soviet Union as a one-party state according to Marxist–Leninist doctrine. While studying at Moscow State University, he married fellow student Raisa Titarenko in 1953 prior to receiving his law degree in 1955. Moving to Stavropol, he worked for the Komsomol youth organization and, after Stalin's death, became a keen proponent of the de-Stalinization reforms of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. He was appointed the First Party Secretary of the Stavropol Regional Committee in 1970, in which position he oversaw construction of the Great Stavropol Canal. In 1978, he returned to Moscow to become a Secretary of the party's Central Committee, and in 1979 joined its governing Politburo. Within three years of the death of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, following the brief regimes of Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, the Politburo elected Gorbachev as General Secretary, the de facto head of government, in 1985. Although committed to preserving the Soviet state and to its socialist ideals, Gorbachev believed significant reform was necessary, particularly after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. He withdrew from the Soviet–Afghan War and embarked on summits with United States president Ronald Reagan to limit nuclear weapons and end the Cold War. Domestically, his policy of glasnost ("openness") allowed for enhanced freedom of speech and press, while his perestroika ("restructuring") sought to decentralize economic decision making to improve efficiency. His democratization measures and formation of the elected Congress of People's Deputies undermined the one-party state. Gorbachev declined to intervene militarily when various Eastern Bloc countries abandoned Marxist–Leninist governance in 1989–90. Internally, growing nationalist sentiment threatened to break up the Soviet Union, leading Marxist–Leninist hardliners to launch the unsuccessful August Coup against Gorbachev in 1991. In the wake of this, the Soviet Union dissolved against Gorbachev's wishes and he resigned. After leaving office, he launched his Gorbachev Foundation, became a vocal critic of Russian Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin, and campaigned for Russia's socialdemocratic movement. Widely considered one of the most significant figures of the second half of the 20th century, Gorbachev remains the subject of controversy. The recipient of a wide range of awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize, he was widely praised for his pivotal role in ending the Cold War, introducing new political freedoms in the Soviet Union, and tolerating both the fall of Marxist–Leninist administrations in eastern and central Europe and the reunification of Germany. Conversely, he is often derided in Russia for not stopping the Soviet collapse, an event which brought a decline in Russia's global influence and precipitated an economic crisis. Early life Childhood: 1931–1950 Gorbachev was born on 2 March 1931 in the village of Privolnoye, Stavropol Krai, then in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, one of the constituent republics of the Soviet Union. At the time, Privolnoye was divided almost evenly between ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians. Gorbachev's paternal family were ethnic Russians and had moved to the region from Voronezh several generations before; his maternal family were of ethnic Ukrainian heritage and had migrated from Chernigov. His parents named him Victor, but at the insistence of his mother—a devout Orthodox Christian—he had a secret baptism, where his grandfather christened him Mikhail. His relationship with his father, Sergey Andreyevich Gorbachev, was close; his mother, Maria Panteleyevna Gorbacheva (née Gopkalo), was colder and punitive. His parents were poor, and lived as peasants. They had married as teenagers in 1928, and in keeping with local tradition had initially resided in Sergei's father's house, an adobe-walled hut, before a hut of their own could be built. The Soviet Union was a one-party state governed by the Communist Party, and during Gorbachev's childhood was under the leadership of Joseph Stalin. Stalin had initiated a project of mass rural collectivization which, in keeping with his Marxist–Leninist ideas, he believed would help convert the country into a socialist society. Gorbachev's maternal grandfather joined the Communist Party and helped form the village's first kolkhoz (collective farm) in 1929, becoming its chair. This farm was 19 kilometres (12 mi) outside Privolnoye village and when he was three years old, Gorbachev left his parental home and moved into the kolkhoz with his maternal grandparents.The country was then experiencing the famine of 1932–33, in which two of Gorbachev's paternal uncles and an aunt died. This was followed by the Great Purge, in which individuals accused of being "enemies of the people", including those sympathetic to rival interpretations of Marxism like Trotskyism, were arrested and interned in labor camps, if not executed. Both of Gorbachev's grandfathers were arrested (his maternal in 1934 and his paternal in 1937) and spent time in Gulag labor camps prior to being released. After his December 1938 release, Gorbachev's maternal grandfather discussed having been tortured by the secret police, an account that influenced the young boy.Following on from the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, in June 1941 the German Army invaded the Soviet Union. German forces occupied Privolnoye for four and a half months in 1942. Gorbachev's father had joined the Red Army and fought on the frontlines; he was wrongly declared dead during the conflict and fought in the Battle of Kursk before returning to his family, injured. After Germany was defeated, Gorbachev's parents had their second son, Aleksandr, in 1947; he and Mikhail would be their only children.The village school had closed during much of the war but re-opened in autumn 1944. Gorbachev did not want to return but when he did he excelled academically. He read voraciously, moving from the Western novels of Thomas Mayne Reid to the work of Vissarion Belinsky, Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, and Mikhail Lermontov. In 1946, he joined Komsomol, the Soviet political youth organization, becoming leader of his local group and then being elected to the Komsomol committee for the district. From primary school he moved to the high school in Molotovskeye; he stayed there during the week while walking the 19 km (12 mi) home during weekends. As well as being a member of the school's drama society, he organized sporting and social activities and led the school's morning exercise class. Over the course of five consecutive summers from 1946 onward he returned home to assist his father operate a combine harvester, during which they sometimes worked 20-hour days. In 1948, they harvested over 8,000 centners of grain, a feat for which Sergey was awarded the Order of Lenin and his son the Order of the Red Banner of Labour. University: 1950–1955 In June 1950, Gorbachev became a candidate member of the Communist Party. He also applied to study at the law school of Moscow State University (MSU), then the most prestigious university in the country. They accepted without asking for an exam, likely because of his worker-peasant origins and his possession of the Order of the Red Banner of Labour. His choice of law was unusual; it was not a well-regarded subject in Soviet society at that time. Aged 19, he traveled by train to Moscow, the first time he had left his home region.In the city, he resided with fellow MSU students at a dormitory in Sokolniki District. He and other rural students felt at odds with their Muscovite counterparts but he soon came to fit in. Fellow students recall him working especially hard, often late into the night. He gained a reputation as a mediator during disputes, and was also known for being outspoken in class, although would only reveal a number of his views privately; for instance he confided in some students his opposition to the Soviet jurisprudential norm that a confession proved guilt, noting that confessions could have been forced. During his studies, an anti-semitic campaign spread through the Soviet Union, culminating in the Doctors' plot; Gorbachev publicly defended a Jewish student who was accused of disloyalty to the country by one of their fellows.At MSU, he became the Komsomol head of his entering class, and then Komsomol's deputy secretary for agitation and propaganda at the law school. One of his first Komsomol assignments in Moscow was to monitor the election polling in Krasnopresnenskaya district to ensure the government's desire for near total turnout; Gorbachev found that most of those who voted did so "out of fear". In 1952, he was appointed a full member of the Communist Party. As a party and Komsomol member he was tasked with monitoring fellow students for potential subversion; some of his fellow students said that he did so only minimally and that they trusted him to keep confidential information secret from the authorities. Gorbachev became close friends with Zdeněk Mlynář, a Czechoslovak student who later became a primary ideologist of the 1968 Prague Spring. Mlynář recalled that the duo remained committed Marxist–Leninists despite their growing concerns about the Stalinist system. After Stalin died in March 1953, Gorbachev and Mlynář joined the crowds amassing to see Stalin's body lying in state. At MSU, Gorbachev met Raisa Titarenko, a Ukrainian studying in the university's philosophy department. She was engaged to another man but after that engagement fell apart, she began a relationship with Gorbachev; together they went to bookstores, museums, and art exhibits. In early 1953, he took an internship at the procurator's office in Molotovskoye district, but was angered by the incompetence and arrogance of those working there. That summer, he returned to Privolnoe to work with his father on the harvest; the money earned allowed him to pay for a wedding. On 25 September 1953 he and Raisa registered their marriage at Sokolniki Registry Office; and in October moved in together at the Lenin Hills dormitory. Raisa discovered that she was pregnant and although the couple wanted to keep the child she fell ill and required a life-saving abortion.In June 1955, Gorbachev graduated with a distinction; his final paper had been on the advantages of "socialist democracy" (the Soviet political system) over "bourgeois democracy" (liberal democracy). He was subsequently assigned to the Soviet Procurator's office, which was then focusing on the rehabilitation of the innocent victims of Stalin's purges, but found that they had no work for him. He was then offered a place on an MSU graduate course specializing in kolkhoz law, but declined. He had wanted to remain in Moscow, where Raisa was enrolled on a PhD program, but instead gained employment in Stavropol; Raisa abandoned her studies to join him there. Rise in the Communist Party Stavropol Komsomol: 1955–1969 In August 1955, Gorbachev started work at the Stavropol regional procurator's office, but disliked the job and used his contacts to get a transfer to work for Komsomol, becoming deputy director of Komsomol's agitation and propaganda department for that region. In this position, he visited villages in the area and tried to improve the lives of their inhabitants; he established a discussion circle in Gorkaya Balka village to help its peasant residents gain social contacts.Gorbachev and his wife initially rented a small room in Stavropol, taking daily evening walks around the city and on weekends hiking in the countryside. In January 1957, Raisa gave birth to a daughter, Irina, and in 1958 they moved into two rooms in a communal apartment. In 1961, Gorbachev pursued a second degree, on agricultural production; he took a correspondence course from the local Stavropol Agricultural Institute, receiving his diploma in 1967. His wife had also pursued a second degree, attaining a PhD in sociology in 1967 from the Moscow Pedagogical Institute; while in Stavropol she too joined the Communist Party.Stalin was ultimately succeeded as Soviet leader by Nikita Khrushchev, who denounced Stalin and his cult of personality in a speech given in February 1956, after which he launched a de-Stalinization process throughout Soviet society. Later biographer William Taubman suggested that Gorbachev "embodied" the "reformist spirit" of the Khrushchev era. Gorbachev was among those who saw themselves as "genuine Marxists" or "genuine Leninists" in contrast to what they regarded as the perversions of Stalin. He helped spread Khrushchev's anti-Stalinist message in Stavropol, but encountered many who continued to regard Stalin as a hero or who praised the Stalinist purges as just.Gorbachev rose steadily through the ranks of the local administration. The authorities regarded him as politically reliable, and he would flatter his superiors, for instance gaining favor with prominent local politician Fyodor Kulakov. With an ability to outmanoeuvre rivals, some colleagues resented his success. In September 1956, he was promoted First Secretary of the Stavropol city's Komsomol, placing him in charge of it; in April 1958 he was made deputy head of the Komsomol for the entire region. At this point he was given better accommodation: a two-room flat with its own private kitchen, toilet, and bathroom. In Stavropol, he formed a discussion club for youths, and helped mobilize local young people to take part in Khrushchev's agricultural and development campaigns. In March 1961, Gorbachev became First Secretary of the regional Komsomol, in which position he went out of his way to appoint women as city and district leaders. In 1961, Gorbachev played host to the Italian delegation for the World Youth Festival in Moscow; that October, he also attended the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In January 1963, Gorbachev was promoted to personnel chief for the regional party's agricultural committee, and in September 1966 became First Secretary of the Stavropol City Party Organization ("Gorkom"). By 1968 he was increasingly frustrated with his job—in large part because Khrushchev's reforms were stalling or being reversed—and he contemplated leaving politics to work in academia. However, in August 1968, he was named Second Secretary of the Stavropol Kraikom, making him the deputy of First Secretary Leonid Yefremov and the second most senior figure in the Stavrapol region. In 1969, he was elected as a deputy to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union and made a member of its Standing Commission for the Protection of the Environment.Cleared for travel to Eastern Bloc countries, in 1966 he was part of a delegation visiting East Germany, and in 1969 and 1974 visited Bulgaria. In August 1968 the Soviet Union led an invasion of Czechoslovakia to put an end to the Prague Spring, a period of political liberalization in the Marxist–Leninist country. Although Gorbachev later stated that he had had private concerns about the invasion, he publicly supported it. In September 1969 he was part of a Soviet delegation sent to Czechoslovakia, where he found the Czechoslovak people largely unwelcoming to them. That year, the Soviet authorities ordered him to punish Fagien B. Sadykov, a Stavropol-based agronomist whose ideas were regarded as critical of Soviet agricultural policy; Gorbachev ensured that Sadykov was fired from teaching but ignored calls for him to face tougher punishment. Gorbachev later related that he was "deeply affected" by the incident; "my conscience tormented me" for overseeing Sadykov's persecution. Heading the Stavropol Region: 1970–1977 In April 1970, Yefremov was promoted to a higher position in Moscow and Gorbachev succeeded him as the First Secretary of the Stavropol kraikom. This granted Gorbachev significant power over the Stavropol region. He had been personally vetted for the position by senior Kremlin leaders and was informed of their decision by the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev. Aged 39, he was considerably younger than his predecessors in the position. As head of the Stavropol region, he automatically became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1971. According to biographer Zhores Medvedev, Gorbachev "had now joined the Party's super-elite". As regional leader, Gorbachev initially attributed economic and other failures to "the inefficiency and incompetence of cadres, flaws in management structure or gaps in legislation", but eventually concluded that they were caused by an excessive centralization of decision making in Moscow. He began reading translations of restricted texts by Western Marxist authors like Antonio Gramsci, Louis Aragon, Roger Garaudy, and Giuseppe Boffa, and came under their influence. Gorbachev's main task as regional leader was to raise agricultural production levels, something hampered by severe droughts in 1975 and 1976. He oversaw the expansion of irrigation systems through construction of the Great Stavropol Canal. For overseeing a record grain harvest in Ipatovsky district, in March 1972 he was awarded by Order of the October Revolution by Brezhnev in a Moscow ceremony. Gorbachev always sought to maintain Brezhnev's trust; as regional leader, he repeatedly praised Brezhnev in his speeches, for instance referring to him as "the outstanding statesman of our time". Gorbachev and his wife holidayed in Moscow, Leningrad, Uzbekistan, and resorts in the North Caucusus; he holidayed with the head of the KGB, Yuri Andropov, who was favorable towards him and who became an important patron. Gorbachev also developed good relationships with senior figures like the Soviet Prime Minister, Alexei Kosygin, and the longstanding senior party member Mikhail Suslov.The government considered Gorbachev sufficiently reliable that he was sent as part of Soviet delegations to Western Europe; he made five trips there between 1970 and 1977. In September 1971 he was part of a delegation who traveled to Italy, where they met with representatives of the Italian Communist Party; Gorbachev loved Italian culture but was struck by the poverty and inequality he saw in the country. In 1972, he visited Belgium and the Netherlands, and in 1973 West Germany. Gorbachev and his wife visited France in 1976 and 1977, on the latter occasion touring the country with a guide from the French Communist Party. He was surprised by how openly West Europeans offered their opinions and criticized their political leaders, something absent from the Soviet Union, where most people did not feel safe speaking so openly. He later related that for him and his wife, these visits "shook our a priori belief in the superiority of socialist over bourgeois democracy".Gorbachev had remained close to his parents; after his father became terminally ill in 1974, Gorbachev traveled to be with him in Privolnoe shortly before his death. His daughter, Irina, married fellow student Anatoly Virgansky in April 1978. In 1977, the Supreme Soviet appointed Gorbachev to chair the Standing Commission on Youth Aff...
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