Film: Gorbachev - Early life and influences

Film Series: Power and authority in Russia and the Soviet Union

By Emeritus Professor Archie Brown, published 19th January 2024

From peasant farmer to President of the USSR

Emeritus Professor Archie Brown of the University of Oxford discusses Mikhail Gorbachev's early life and the influence it had on his later life and thinking. Mikhail Gorbachev was born to a poor peasant family of Russian and Ukrainian heritage in 1931. Badly affected by both the famine of 1930-33 and the Great Purge, his family would also endure severe hardship during World War II. 

A voracious reader with a precocious intellect, Gorbachev would win the Order of the Red Banner of Labour in 1948, helping him obtain a place at Moscow State University, the most prestigious university in the country. Here he met his future wife, Raisa Titarenko, and here he developed his ideas and his reputation.

Professor Brown takes us through Gorbachev's early life and explains how he was able to navigate his career in the 60s and 70s, eventually putting himself in the position to become the leader of the Soviet Union in 1985.

This film is part of our series that looks at Russian history through the lens of leadership from Alexander II to Yeltsin. New films will be published throughout 2024.

(This film is open access).

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View the other films in this series here:

1. Gorbachev - Early life and influences

2. Gorbachev - Domestic Reform

3. Gorbachev - Foreign Relations

4. Gorbachev - Downfall

5. Gorbachev - Interpretations