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Gorbachev was the son of Russian peasants in Stavropol territory (kray) in southwestern Russia. He joined the Komsomol (Young Communist League) in 1946 and drove a combine harvester at a state farm in Stavropol for the next four years. He proved a promising Komsomol member, and in 1952 he entered the law school of Moscow State University and became a member of the Communist Party. He graduated with a degree in law in 1955 and went on to hold a number of posts in the Komsomol and regular party organizations in Stavropol, rising to become first secretary of the regional party committee in 1970.
Gorbachev was named a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1971, and he was appointed a party secretary of agriculture in 1978. He became a candidate member of the Politburo in 1979 and a full member in 1980. He owed a great deal of his steady rise in the party to the patronage of Mikhail Suslov, the leading party ideologue. Over the course of Yury Andropov's 15-month tenure (1982–84) as general secretary of the Communist Party, Gorbachev became one of the Politburo's most highly active and visible members; and, after Andropov died and Konstantin Chernenko became general secretary in February 1984, Gorbachev became a likely successor to the latter. Chernenko died on March 10, 1985, and the following day the Politburo elected Gorbachev general secretary of the CPSU. Upon his accession, he was still the youngest member of the Politburo.
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