Kalinin finished his education at a local school in 1889.
Kalinin worked as a servant in the house of a local landowner, who took him to St. Petersburg (later Leningrad) in 1889. In 1893 he became an apprentice in a munitions factory, thus starting his long career as an industrial worker. However, Kalinin never abandoned his small village plot, which he continued to cultivate. In 1898 he joined the RSDLP (Russian Social Democratic Labor Party) and after the split of 1903 became a member of the Bolshevik faction. His first arrest, in 1899, led to ten months' imprisonment, and was followed by many others. In 1912 he started contributing to Pravda. In 1917 he was elected a member of the central committee of the RSDLP (Bolshevik). Two years later he was appointed chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, a post equivalent to that of president of a republic, which he held for 27 years. In 1922 the name of his office was changed to chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the U. S. S. R. , and in 1936 to chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. In 1926 he was made a member of the Politburo and in 1935 received the Order of Lenin. He was supposedly the peasants' representative in the Soviet government, but his support of Stalin in 1929 was crucial to the forcible collectivization that ruined the peasantry. Although head of state, he was a mere tool of Stalin thereafter. In March 1946 he retired because of ill health and died in Moscow, June 3, 1946.
Founder of "Pravda" periodical, Full member of the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th Politburo (1926-1946), Member of the Orgburo (1921-1924), Candidate member of the 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th Politburo (1919-1926)
In 1906, Kalinin married the ethnic Estonian Ekaterina Lorberg (1882-1960). The Kalinins had four children, two sons and two daughters.