MIKHAIL GORBACHEV 1931-
|"I can't believe my eyes" cartoon; Marx, Lenin, Stalin looking down on Gorbachev (Library of Congress)|
Gorbachev joined the Soviet Communist Party in 1952. He was a protégé of Yuri Andropov, the former head of KGB turned head-of-state. Within a year both Andropov and his successor Konstantin Chernyenko died, leaving Gorbachev to become General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1985. He faced a Soviet Union that was in the depths of economic stagnation. Overwhelming bureaucracy paralyzed production. In 1986 he launched his campaign for glasnost or “openness” and perestroika or “restructuring.” Gorbachev hoped that he could breath new life into socialism by loosening the state’s control over the economy. But instead of improving gradually, the country rapidly unraveled.
In March 1989, the Soviet Union held the first free parliamentary elections in its history. Two years later, during an attempted coup, Gorbachev was placed under house-arrest. Amid public protest the coup collapsed and Boris Yeltsin, the newly elected President of the Russian Federation took control. On December 25, 1991 Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as leader of the Soviet Union, marking the end of Lenin’s revolution.
For more information, read interviews with:
Moscow Bureau Chief, BBC Russian Service
Author, Communism, A History
Author, Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime