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Once among the three superpowers during World War II, and arguably the most powerful land-based military at the time, the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) is largely attributed to one man: Mikhail Gorbachev. Being its eighth and last leader, his policies strayed from orthodox communist ideals the farthest, compared to his predecessors. On Christmas day of 1991, the USSR collapsed alongside Gorbachev’s resignation, concluding the history of the most powerful communist state that ever existed.
See the fact file below for more information on the Mikhail Gorbachev or alternatively, you can download our 26-page Mikhail Gorbachev worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- Born in the rural area of Privolnoye on March 2, 1931, Gorbachev lived his childhood under the rule of Joseph Stalin, who succeeded the USSR’s first leader, Vladimir Lenin. Although his parents worked as peasants, his maternal grandmother was part of the Communist Party that helped build their area’s kolkhoz, or collective farm, two years before he was born.
- The Soviet famine of 1932 to 1933 killed two of his uncles and one of his aunts. A few years later, two of his grandfathers were then arrested during the Great Purge from 1936 to 1938, one of which told him about torture experiences in the Gulag labor camps.
- In high school, he had already been a candidate member of the Communist Party.
- He was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor after harvesting a great deal of grain with his father in 1948; a recognition that helped his admission to the most prestigious university of USSR, Moscow State University, without taking an exam. The university provided him free housing as well.
- Gorbachev became a full-fledged member of the Communist Party in 1952, and graduated three years later.
RISE TO POWER
- Gorbachev’s path to presidency was laborious, but steady. He spent decades in the Communist Party and steadily climbed the ranks.
- 1955: After graduating cum laude with a law degree in 1955, he returned to Stavropol and worked at the local territorial prosecutor’s office. The shifting political climate brought by Stalin’s death two years prior, however, had him resigning after just ten days to transfer to Stavropol’s Komsomol as the deputy director of its agitation and propaganda department.
- 1956: First Secretary of Stavropol’s Komsomol.
- 1958: Deputy head for the entire region.
- 1961: First Secretary for the region’s Komsomol. During this time, Gorbachev also took a second degree on agricultural production and a correspondence course at the Stavropol Agricultural Institute.
- 1963: Agricultural Committee Personnel Chief.
- 1966: First Secretary of the Stavropol City Party Organization, Gorkom.
- 1969: Deputy to the USSR’s legislative body, the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, and part of its Standing Commission for the Protection of the Environment.
- 1970 – 1977: By 1970, Gorbachev became the First Secretary of the Stavropol Kraikom—a position that granted him automatic membership to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union a year after. After a multitude of successful jobs, he was appointed chair to the Standing Commission on Youth Affairs in 1977.
- 1978 – 1985: Through another appointment, Gorbachev became a Secretary of the Central Committee, and Secretariat for Agriculture, both in 1978. He eventually became the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Soviet legislature, which largely influenced his future policies of USSR-United States relations. By 1985, Gorbachev was the General Secretary of the Communist Party.
GORBACHEV’S LEADERSHIP AND THE COLLAPSE OF THE USSR
- Konstantin Chernenko, then leader of the USSR, died in the same year Gorbachev became General Secretary—Gorbachev was unanimously elected to power as Chernenko’s successor. He changed various policies, but glasnost and perestroika are the most prominent, as they played the largest role in the USSR’s collapse.
- Glasnost meant political openness, and it allowed more freedoms to Soviet citizens. Repressive Stalinist policies such as bans on certain books, the imprisonment of potential enemies of the USSR through the presence of secret police forces, and the like, had been eliminated. The citizens were provided freedom to criticize their government, but more especially, allowed to participate in elections, regardless of membership to the Communist Party.
- Perestroika meant restructuring, and it brought various political and economic reforms to the USSR. Straying from the formerly centralized control of businesses, Gorbachev allowed manufacturers to make their own decisions—he believed that privatization would create innovation for the state. Foreign investment was also made possible.
- Gorbachev’s implementation of sudden reforms eventually brought the downfall of the USSR. The former Soviet republics such as Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and many others, finally announced that they will be splitting from the Soviet Union. Although Gorbachev sought to kickstart the USSR’s socioeconomic and political stagnancy, his policies did the opposite.
- When he resigned, and the USSR had completely fallen, he said: “We’re now living in a new world. An end has been put to the Cold War and to the arms race, as well as to the mad militarization of the country, which has crippled our economy, public attitudes and morals.”
- Despite being the primary force to the USSR’s collapse in 1991, Gorbachev is well-recognized in the international arena. He was awarded the prestigious Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development by India in 1988, and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.
- Even after his resignation, he was given the first-ever Ronald Reagan Freedom Award in 1992. Gorbachev has countless awards and recognitions up his sleeve, but the places he used to lead now strongly reject him—he received only 0.5% of votes when he ran in the Russian presidential elections of 1996.
- Nevertheless, Gorbachev is still an active critic of leaders all over the world; one whose reputation is extremely divided. On one hand, he’s one of the greatest statesmen of all time, but on the other, a disastrous leader that befell an entire state with his policies.
Mikhail Gorbachev Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about Mikhail Gorbachev across 26 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Mikhail Gorbachev worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) which is largely attributed to one man: Mikhail Gorbachev. Being its eighth and last leader, his policies strayed from orthodox communist ideals the farthest, compared to his predecessors. On Christmas day of 1991, the USSR collapsed alongside Gorbachev’s resignation, concluding the history of the most powerful communist state that ever existed.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Mikhail Gorbachev Fact File
- Road to Glory
- Alpha and Omega
- Life Under Communism
- A Deadly Voice
- Hunt for History
- Depict the Leader
- Away from the Current
- Through a Child’s Eyes
- A Leader’s Journey
- Credit Where It’s Due
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