« Deutsche Wiedervereinigung: The German Reunification | Main | Lech Walesa »

Mikhail Sergeyovich Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev (born March 2, 1931), is known to most as having been both the last General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and the first (and only ) President of the Soviet Union. His liberal policy-making during the 1980s is credited for precipating the end of the Cold War. He currently serves as the leader of the ‘Union of Social Democrats’, a Russian political party founded after the official dissolution of the Soviet Democratic Party of Russia in 2007.
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was born in Stavropol, an agriculture village in Southern Russia. Occupied during World War II by the Soviet troops, the young Gorbachev slaved away along with his father on the family farm, and helped out on other farms in the surrounding area. He felt a grave empathy for fellow peasants, of who’s oppression Gorbachev experienced firsthand. He eventually took a great interest in peasant labor rights, as well as agriculture, and along with his inherent intellect, took to Moscow State University in 1950 to study law. From his academic beginnings, he was bent on working within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and upon his graduation in 1955, returned home to Stavropol with his new wife, Raisa Tintarenko. It was here that he started his foray into politics.
First working with the Communist Union of Youth as an organiser, he would continue to work in his home area until 1961. His attendance at the 22nd Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) Party Congress would prove entirely important to his political career. Here, Khrushchev announced his plan to move the communist society forward and progressively so, with hopes to surprass the U.S. in per capita production. With his extensive knowledge, Gorbachev was promoted to Head of the Department of Party Organs in the Stavropol Agricultural Kraikom. He would continue climbing up the political ladder throughout the 1960s, as an agronomist-economist. In his position he reorganized collective farming plots and helped to improve the peasant working conditions and the expectations for them. Eventually he would be appointed the First Party Secretary for Stavropol, becoming the youngest provincial party chief in the USSR.
His swift climb up the ladder would eventually lead him to become the Secretariat for Agriculture in 1978, and then finally to the Politburo in 1979. Working alongside his mentors Mikhail Suslov and Yuri Andropov (the head of the KGB), the three banded together to re-work the idea of “socialism with a human face? (Dubcek ideology). They would replace ministers of the ‘old school’ way of thinking with younger, progressive faces. With his new position, Gorbachev had an opportunity to do much more traveling and representation, and his benevolent, liberal stance began to make the USSR seem approachable. He would be elected the General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1985, upon Konstantin Chernenko’s death. He immediately began discussing his ideas for reform of the Communist party and Soviet ideology.
Perestroika ( restructuring) and glastnost (openness; liberalization) are the hallmark of Gorbachev’s approach to the change he sought in the Soviet system. His general plan for reform called on more openness with trade and imports, more rights for the workers, a plan to fight the widespread alcoholism plaguing the workforce; and politically, open, free elections, appointment of non-Party members to government positions, and the rehabilitation of the opponents of Stalin. During Gorbachev’s time, important agreements between Regan and Gorbachev regarding nuclear stockpiling were also reached, leading to disarmament and agreements on ditching their respective stockpiles.
However, probably the most important reform of Gorbachev’s time would be Glastnost, which opened up the media and the freedom of speech and of the people. This would lead to the accessibility of critique on the Soviet situation. Certain events occuring in the republics were leading to nationalist sentiments. One by one, aided by the transparency in media Glastnost allowed, the republics of the USSR were calling for independence of some sort. Gorbachev, with his desire to create an elastic Soviet Union, did what would be the unraveling of the Soviet Union at its core: revoked the Brezhnev Doctrine, which bound the Soviet satellite republics together. One by one each republic fell out of USSR, and with all of the economic and political unrest coming from all sides—bloody revolution in Lithuania, civil unrest in the Nagoro-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan between the Armenians and Azeris, the downfall of the Soviet leader in Kazahkstan, and complicated desires of the Baltic states…. It was time to allow for all of the republics to be allowed to go their own way. In late 1991, Gorbachev would meet with the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus in the Belovezh Forest in Brest, Belarus, where they’d hash out the ideas for the founding of the Commonwealth of Independent States- declaring an end of the Soviet Union in the Belavezah Accords. By December 27, 1991, the Soviet Union was officially dissolved.
Although it’s argued that much of the USSR lived in oppressive economic conditions during much of Gorbachev’s tenure—this was due to strict rationing, and complications regarding the privatization of collective agricultural land—and some corruption amongst some in his ranks (most notably, how Conservatives that he’d managed to get on his side during the revolution crises of 1989-1990 managed to turn on him in a very public manner), Gorbachev’s tenure in office was what would finally lead the USSR to democratic reform, breaking the Communist system, and ending the Cold War. Because it was Russia’s doing, and not any sort of Western influence, that led Gorbachev to implementing certain policy, it’s hard to say whether there was a ‘loser’ in the Cold War. Gorbachev’s solution to the Cold War problem was the most benevolent solution, comparatively, and that approach is a ‘win’ in and of itself.
For his efforts, Gorbachev received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. Outed from his post in December 1991 (mainly for allowing the dissolve of the Soviet Union) Boris Yeltsin would replace him, leading to years of minimal reform and blatant corruption within the new ‘democratic’ framework. He would go on to remain a ‘Communist’ leader, and would run for President again in 1996 (receiving 1.5% of the vote). At the age of 76 he still remains a political agent, who’s outwardly critized both current American and Russian regimes for their unprogressive, totalitarian stances on certain issues.