Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was a Russian politician and the only General Secretary of the party that was born while the Communist Party was in power. He served as the last head of state for the Soviet Union which dissolved in 1991.
He was born on March 2, 1931 in Stavropol, Russian SFSR (Soviet Union). His family was not well off growing up. When he was a teenager he worked with combine harvesters on a collective farm.
Eventually he went to school in Moscow at the State University (starting in 1955) where he earned a degree in law. Over a decade later he would earn a master's degree via a correspondence course at the Stavropol Institute of Agriculture.
During his time in school he was exposed to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of which he quickly became an active member. In the 1960s he gradually worked his way up the Party hierarchy. It paid off in 1971 when he was made a member of the Communist Party Central Committee.
Gorbachev became a part of the Politburo in 1979, and made a full member in the following year. Over the next few years he became one of the most active and visible members of the Politburo. He would be elected General Secretary on March 11, 1985, in an effort to get younger leadership in charge.
As the head of the country, Gorbachev worked diligently to reform the Party and economy. He quickly realized that some systematic changes were necessary if the country was going to get out of the economic doldrums it was in, hence his policies known as perestroika (restructuring) in 1986 and demokratizatsiya (democratization).
He instituted his policy of glasnost, or openness, in 1988. Through it he instituted some radical changes that gave the people more freedom than they had ever had. One of the most radical changes he made was the Law on Cooperatives in May 1988 that allowed for private ownership of many types of businesses.
Gorbachev was elected the nation's first President in 1990 by garnering 59 percent of the vote. He was presiding as President when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.