Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev (born 2 March 1931) is a Russian and formerly Soviet politician. He was the eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union, having been General Secretary of the governing Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991. He was the country's head of state from 1988 until 1991, serving as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet from 1988 to 1989, Chairman of the Supreme Soviet from 1989 to 1990, and President of the Soviet Union from 1990 to 1991. Ideologically a socialist, he initially adhered to Marxism-Leninism although following the Soviet collapse moved toward social democracy.
Of mixed Russian and Ukrainian heritage, Gorbachev was born in Privolnoye, Stavropol Krai to a poor peasant family. Growing up under the rule of Joseph Stalin, in his youth he operated combine harvesters on a collective farm before joining the Communist Party, which then governed the Soviet Union as a one-party state. While studying at Moscow State University, he married fellow student Raisa Gorbacheva in 1953 prior to receiving his law degree in 1955. Moving to Stavropol, he worked for the Komsomol youth organisation and became a keen proponent of the de-Stalinization reforms of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. He was appointed the First Party Secretary of the Stavropol Regional Committee in 1970, in which position he oversaw construction of the Great Stavropol Canal. In 1974 he moved to Moscow to become First Secretary to the Supreme Soviet and in 1979 became a candidate member of the governing Politburo. Within three years of the death of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, following the brief regimes of Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, Gorbachev was elected General Secretary by the Politburo in 1985.
Although committed to preserving the Soviet state and to its socialist ideals, Gorbachev believed significant reform was necessary, particularly after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. He withdrew from the Soviet–Afghan War and embarked on summits with U.S. President Ronald Reagan to end the Cold War. Domestically, his policy of glasnost ("openness") allowed for enhanced freedom of speech and press, while his perestroika ("restructuring") sought to decentralise economic decision making to improve efficiency. Party hardliners unsuccessfully tried to oust him in a 1991 coup. The Communist Party's role in governing the state was removed from the constitution, which inadvertently led to crisis-level political instability with a surge of regional nationalist and anti-communist activism culminating in the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev regretted his failure to save the Soviet state, insisting his policies were necessary reforms exploited by opportunists. In the 21st century he became a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and unsuccessfully promoted social-democratic politics through the Social Democratic Party of Russia and then the Union of Social Democrats.
Widely considered one of the most significant figures of the second half of the 20th century, Gorbachev remains the subject of controversy. The recipient of a wide range of awards—including the Nobel Peace Prize—he was widely praised for his pivotal role in ending the Cold War, curtailing human rights abuses in the Soviet Union, and tolerating the fall of Marxist–Leninist administrations in eastern and central Europe. Conversely, in Russia he is often derided for not stopping the Soviet collapse, an event which brought economic crisis and a decline in Russia's global influence.
He is also known as Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, Михаил Горбачёв, Gorbachev and Gorby.