Before taking a first degree in Classics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Michael Waller spent two years learning Russian in the Royal Navy to Interpreter standard, and afterwards studied at the universities of London, Manchester and St Petersburg (at the time Leningrad). He taught at the University of Lancaster and in the Government Department of Manchester University before taking up a Chair in Politics at Keele University in 1993. There, as Director of European Studies he was instrumental in founding the Keele European Research Centre and a Southeast European Unit within it.
The centre of his research has been the study of communism, which resulted in a trilogy of books dealing with the rhetoric and organisation of communist parties and with their decline and fall in Europe: The Language of Communism (Bodley Head, 1972); Democratic Centralism: an Historical Commentary (Manchester University Press, 1981); and The End of the Communist Power Monopoly (Manchester University Press, 1993). After a period of research into the move from red to green on the European left, he edited a series of works on party formation in the former communist countries of East Central Europe.
Editing has always been a prominent occupation. He was instrumental in the creation in 1984 of The Journal of Communist Studies (later renamed The Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics and again, more recently, East European Politics); and in 1992 of Environmental Politics. He was co-Editor of both throughout their formative years. He remains Convenor of Lorton House, a charitable association devoted to the study of communism and movements that share its original emancipatory mission, through the promotion of publications and conferences.