How are the historical roles of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin portrayed officially, for example in schoolbooks?

I can imagine the spectrum on answers is, indeed, broad? But the question on current 'official' perception of historical figures is legit and pretty straightforward, I'd say.

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    Can you at least split the question between Lenin and Stalin? I think Putin has somewhat different opinions on these two. I don't know if the Russian education systems reflects Putin's views on these matters though. Jun 2, 2019 at 23:50
  • If the sentiments towards these two are different and their historical roles are perceived / taught differently, I'll be happy to get two different answers for one single question concerning both historical figures. Posting two different questions or diving into semantics of the current one is probably unnecessary. I think it is clear what I'm asking..
    – marko-36
    Jun 3, 2019 at 9:26
  • Mkay, I've voted to reopen See eurozine.com/rewriting-russian-history Hopefully someone can summarize that here. Jun 3, 2019 at 11:29

1 Answer 1


Vladimir Putin's personal opinion of Lenin seems overwhelmingly negative. It is often alleged this is owing to a personal desire to avoid stoking revolutionary sentiment. The national holiday observed during Soviet times in honour of the revolution was rebranded in 1996, and then discontinued in 2004. The 2017 centenary of the revolution was celebrated only by Russia's Communist party. The Kremlin ignored it.

Both Yeltsin and Putin governments regarded the revolution as something of a national tragedy. Putin seems to downplay the significance of revolution and the fall, instead emphasising a continuity of Russian history and thus legitimacy.

In particular, Putin played down the major upheavals of the twentieth century, from the collapse of Russian statehood, in 1917, to the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991. Instead, he tried to create a more expansive view of history, minimizing the turmoil of revolutionary Russia. “Russia,” he said, “did not begin either in 1917, or in 1991. We have a single, uninterrupted history spanning over a thousand years.”

Putin has blamed Lenin and the Bolsheviks for butchering opponents, and establishing a federal rather than unitary model of government in which states had a right to secede. He has referred to this policy as a 'time bomb', responsible for the break up of the USSR, as well as the secessionist trouble in Ukraine's east. Curiously he does not recognise pro-Russian secessionists as the very thing he discourages, instead thinking them merely as people returning to an indivisible Russia.

However, it's odd that Putin blames Lenin for this. Lenin argued for world revolution, and against both nationalism and federalism; as he insisted they were both bourgeois concepts. Stalin however was of the opinion that Socialism in One Country was possible and necessary, in which case he insisted on a federal structure for the Soviet Union. This is apparently an inconvenient truth.

In recent years Putin and the Russian people have warmed to Stalin, with opinion polls finding consistent sympathy. Stalin is widely regarded as a leader whose personal strength helped transform Russia into a superpower. The Kremlin has remarked that Stalin is "demonised", while sometimes recognising that perhaps his purges went too far, and represent one of Russia's darkest moments.

The Russian government seems to be encouraging a very particular view of Stalin. Official teaching material from 2008 instructed history teachers that Stalin was an effective manager, rational in his modernisation methods, and whose violence was defensive.

New textbooks produced in 2016 provided less nuance, claiming the Second World War began in 1941 when the USSR was invaded by Nazi Germany. Analysis of prior aggression in Eastern Europe and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact is muted (ignoring the Nazi-Soviet conspiracy to destroy Poland, culminating in the Katyn Massacre in the Soviet zone). The seizure of the Baltic states, like the division of Poland, is said to be an act of democratic liberation. Stalin's purges are mentioned, but less and less time has been given to them, downplaying Stalin's violence in favour of a more sympathetic portrayal.

In 2013 Putin had a unique response to questions about a new monument to Stalin in Moscow.

“What’s the real difference between Cromwell and Stalin? None whatsoever,” Mr Putin said on Thursday, according to news service RIA Novosti. Mr Putin made the comments at a press conference after he was asked about a monument to Stalin being put up in Moscow. The city said recently that it planned to commemorate all Soviet leaders who had lived there.

The president said that Stalin was just as deserving of a statue in his honour as that “cunning fellow” Cromwell who “played a very ambiguous role in Britain’s history”. However Mr Putin also added a note of caution. “We must treat all periods of our history with care. It’s better not to stir things up… with premature actions,” he said.

A statue to Cromwell was put up outside the House of Commons in 1899, although it has occasionally attracted controversy due to his actions in Ireland and his opposition to the monarchy.

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    What is there to discuss about Molotov-Ribbentrop? It was pretty much last in the series of non-aggression pacts with Germany, much after most of Europe already made their own pacts, despite Stalin urging them to stand against Germany. May 8, 2020 at 14:11
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    @OlegV.Volkov The Nazi-Soviet conspiracy to destroy poland and the Katyn Massacre.
    – user8398
    May 8, 2020 at 18:38
  • @inappropriateCode But other non-aggression pacts with Germany had similar results.
    – convert
    May 14, 2022 at 21:22

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