Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev was born in the village of Privolnoye near Stavropol, Russia. From the age of 13 he worked on a collective farm, where his father was a mechanic. He was an exceptional student and earned a law degree at Moscow University where he joined the Communist party and became Secretary of the law department´s Young Communist League. After returning to the Stavropol area he rose in the League hierarchy to become Regional Secretary of the League, and in 1961 first became a delegate to the Party Congress. He spent the 1960s working his way up through the territorial bodies of the Party and continuing his education in agronomy and economics.
As an agricultural administrator and party leader in his native region, he acquired a reputation for innovation and incorruptible honesty, and he soon rose in the Party hierarchy. He was first elected to the Supreme Soviet in 1970, and served on commissions dealing with conservation, youth policy, and foreign affairs. In 1971 he was elected to the Central Committee. In 1978 he became First Secretary of the Stavropol territorial committee and by 1980 was a full member of the Politburo.
The death of the long-time General Secretary of the Communist Party, Leonid Brezhnev, presented a brief opportunity for change in the Soviet Union. Brezhnev´s successor, Yuri Andropov, appeared to be grooming Gorbachev as his own successor, but after Andropov´s unexpected death, Gorbachev was passed over for the top spot and the aged Konstantin Chernenko came. to power. When Chernenko too died barely a year after taking power, it was at last clear to the Party hierarchy that younger leadership was needed and Gorbachev became General Secretary. He was ready to make long overdue reforms in the Soviet system.
For six years Gorbachev carried off a delicate balancing act, forcing reforms on a recalcitrant old guard, while trying to contain the demand for change from radical reformers within and without the Communist Party. He permitted an unprecedented freedom of expression in the USSR and ended the disastrous Soviet military involvement in Afghanistan.
By 1989 the demand for reform had spread to the Soviet satellite states of Central Europe. Gorbachev notified the Communist leaders of those coutries that he would not intervene militarily to keep them in power as his predecessors had done. Without the support of the Red Army, these dictatorships were quickly forced to yield to their democratic opposition, and Gorbachev began the withdrawal of the remaining Soviet forces from Central Europe. In 1990 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his foreign policy initiatives.
Gorbachev continued to press for democratization in the Soviet Union and permitted free elections in Russia and the other republics of the Soviet Union. He survived an attempted coup by Communist hardliners in 1991 but relinquished office after the elected presidents of the constituent republics undertook to replace the old Soviet Union with a Confederation of Independent States.
Since leaving office, he has continued to advocate the development of private ownership in a market economy, and the non-violent resolution of conflicts in a democratic society. He is President of the International Foundation for Socio-Economic and Political Studies, known as the Gorbachev Foundation, which conducts political and economic research, and promotes international exchange. He is recognized around the world as one of the most influential statesman of the 20th century.
Mikhail Gorbachev has been voted Time Magazine Man of the Year and Man of the Decade but in terms of his achievements and fascinating keynote delivery he is a living legend of the 20th Century!