The Stalin Question
When polling on the topic first began in 1989, Stalin was ranked bottom of the list of the most important Russians, scoring 12 per cent. The same survey, by the independent Levada Centre, placed him at the top in 2017, with an approval rating of 38 per cent.1 The intervening period has witnessed the publication of numerous studies of aspects of the Stalinist state and society, of Stalin’s colleagues, and of Stalin himself. Some of the biographies, aimed principally at Russians, are intent on depicting him as a hero. Ever since his death in March 1953 he has had his Russian champions, and not merely among those who deny the scale of the violence associated with his rule. Stalin’s role in the Great Patriotic War, his industrialisation of the Soviet Union, his guidance of the country to super-power status – even his treatment of nationalists, dissidents, rivals and criminals – continue to find apologists both erudite and crude. Pro-Stalin sentiment was already associated with the resurgence of Russian nationalism by the mid-1980s, as was contemporary discontent with the weaknesses of the state in the face of mounting social problems.2 But a growing list of scholarly studies have taken advantage of post-1991 access to the archives to examine the Soviet dictator objectively.
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