Mikhail Gorbachev Biography
Europe Since 1815
The death of Konstantin Chernenko caught the old Brezhnev faction completely off guard. He had only been in office less than a year. They weren’t prepared to replace him with someone of quality. As they were scrambling Mikhail Gorbachev and a new generation of Communist leaders rose to the occasion and took the power role. This new generation didn’t experience the same level of suffering and fear as those before them. This was an absolutely crucial part in trying to explain some of their policies, both foreign and abroad. For the first time a leader of the Soviet Union was a product of the system itself instead of that of one on its leaders. Mikhail Gorbachev became the youngest leader of the USSR since Stalin.
Mikhail Gorbachev was born on March 2, 1931 in Stavropol, Russia. His family was a Ukrainian-Russian mix, with his parents immigrating to Russia from Voronezh and Chernigov governorates. Gorbachev grew up during the great Soviet famine of 1932-1933. He was extremely young but in a memoir he recalls, "In that terrible year [in 1933] nearly half the population of my native village, Privolnoye, starved to death, including two sisters and one brother of my father."1 His father’s name was Sergey Adreyevich Gorbachev. He was a combine harvester operator and was a veteran of World War II. Mikhail’s mother’s name was Maria Panteleyevna Gorbachev. She worked long hours as a kolkhoz worker. The term, “kolkhoz” implies that she worked on the collective farms. As a teenager Mikhail started doing the family’s work. He began to help his father as a combine harvester. In 1948, Mikhail and his father brought in a record breaking harvest. For this Mikhail was given the Order of the red banner of Labor and his father was given an even higher medal called the Order of Lenin.2 This would have had to be a great morale boost to just a young peasant boy.3
In 1950, Mikhail Gorbachev applied to become a full time member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, also known as the CPSU. Joining the CPSU was a two-step process. The first step in the process is a one year probationary term. In this term joining members are eligible to attend party only meetings and are subject to party discipline but they cannot vote. After the year is up each candidate member is evaluated and if they pass then they can become a full time member. Gorbachev, as history tells us very clearly, passed and became an official member in 1952.
Gorbachev’s political career starts as he goes to the University of Moscow. He enrolls as a law student. It’s there that he meets someone that is very influential in his political life, his wife. Raisa Maximovna Titorenko was a student in the field of philosophy. In 1999, Gorbachev told a US reporter that he discussed everything with his wife, including the most important matters of state policy. As Gorbachev graduated he began to become more and more involved in the CPSU. Between the years of 1955 and 1960, he was appointed as the First Secretary of the Komsomol Territorial Committee. Within those years he moved higher and higher up the ranks. Finally in 1960 he became the top Komsomol official in Stavropol. In 1961 he was elected to the 22nd Communist Party Congress in Moscow. For the next 8 years, he was then appointed to a key, high ranking position in which he was responsible for the personnel in administration, farms and industry. Finally in 1970, Mikhail Gorbachev was named the First Secretary of the Stavropol territory. This was a position that made him responsible and governing 2.4 million people. Gorbachev was only 39 years old. This position also granted him the ability to be a member on the CPSU central committee. This was the big time. For Gorbachev, even this would have been considered a success. He came from a starving hard working peasant family in which he worked 20 hour days when it...
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