Boris Yeltsin was born in a Severdlovsk village on February 1, 1931. He lost two fingers of his right hand while playing with a live grenade as a child. In 1955, he graduated from Ural Polytechnic Institute, majoring in construction engineering. He joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1961, and by 1963 he was the director of a housing construction plant. He gradually advanced in the ranks of the CPSU, and in 1985 was named vice-chairman of the Construction Department of the Central Committee of the CPSU. In the same year he was elected First Secretary of the Moscow City Commune, which is analogous to the western position of mayor. The election also automatically made him an alternate member of the Politburo, which greatly enhanced his political power. Two years later, he sharply criticized the CPSU for its slow pace in enacting reforms. In 1989, he was elected speaker of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and became an outspoken critic of Gorbachov. In 1991, he was elected president of Russia in the first election after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. As president, he successfully thwarted a military coup in 1991 and engaged in widespread economic reforms as well as the creation of a constitution. Plagued by ill health and a reputation as an alcoholic, he resigned as president in 1999.
Prior to 1985, Yeltsin was a strong supporter of communism and central control of the economy. This is demonstrated by his rapid rise within the ranks of the CPSU and his election to lead the Russian Soviet Republic. To accomplish this, he had to at least appear to embrace the authoritarian governing paradigms of the CPSU, which in large measure were based on the historical beliefs of Russians that only a strong and authoritarian government could rule effectively. Yet implicit in communist theory are elements of democracy in which leaders are elected by the individual soviets. Such elections were permitted in the Soviet Union, but candidates could only be trusted members of the CPSU.
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