I read polls suggesting that 70% of Russians today support Joseph Stalin's actions when he was in charge of the Soviet Union as its Premier. Why is his approval rating so high in Russia despite of all the atrocities he completed when he was leader of the USSR?

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    None of the existing answers cite actual research on the question.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 8:07
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    Comments deleted. This is a Q&A site, not a discussion forum. Comments should be used to debate how the question could be improved, not to debate whether the nazis or the soviets were the worse human rights violators.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 9:45
  • More comments deleted. Please don't use comments to answer the question. If you would like to answer, please write a proper answer which adheres to our quality standards.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 11:46
  • Related question: What % of Russians were not alive during Stalin's regime? Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 21:29
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    Glances at the confederate flags people fly in the United States of America Gee can't imagine.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Sep 14, 2020 at 16:03

5 Answers 5


I'm not sure there's anything more than expert opinion as an answer:

Levada sociologist Karina Pipiya told BBC Russian: "There is growing nostalgia for the Soviet period and Stalin as a leader. Stalin is seen as the main figure who defeated fascism, who gets the honours for victory in the Great Patriotic War. And that war victory is a symbol of national pride for all Russians, even for those born in the post-Soviet period."

That positive opinion is boosted by current frustration over social policy and economic hardship, she said. Reform of the pension system ran into much opposition and "many felt the state was neglecting its social responsibilities".

The sharpest rise in support for Stalin is among the youngest group - those aged 18-30, she noted.

"Their perception of Stalin is based on myth, fed by older generations," she said.

The fact that Russia has been increasingly confronting the West, annexation of Crimea etc., is probably correlated with that as is state propaganda and the "rally around the flag" effect.

Both men promised to bring stability after a period of war and social chaos. They both promoted the same historical narrative: Russia requires a “strong hand” to prevent internal disorder and protect against external aggression. This narrative enabled both men to forge political systems that allowed for no challenge to their personal authority. Both leaders saw the outside world as a hostile and threatening place — while much of the outside world in turn saw Russia as a source of instability and a threat to its neighbors.

The core principle underlying both men’s ruling philosophy was patriotism, meaning protecting the long-term security of the Russian/Soviet state above all else. That meant valuing collective duties above individual rights. It also meant using military force to expand the reach of the Russian state [...]

Protecting the popularity of his authoritarian brand is what drives Putin to work to safeguard Stalin's reputation. Putin seems to perceive attacks on Stalin as threats to his own legitimacy. [...]

Putin’s most direct discussion of Stalin came in a 2017 interview with filmmaker Oliver Stone. Putin compared Stalin to Oliver Cromwell and Napoleon Bonaparte, saying that “Stalin was a product of his time,” which can be understood as excusing his flaws. Putin complained that “excessively demonizing Stalin is a means to attack Soviet Union and Russia” — though he did go on to say “that does not mean that we should forget the horrors of Stalinism.”

This answer illuminates how Putin aims to position himself: as Stalin-lite, with all of the virtues and none of the vices. The patriotism and strong leadership without the paranoia.

It is the Russian version of MAGA, if you like...

when Russians think of Stalin, more and more of them are nostalgic for the days when Russia was “great,” in the sense of big and strong and able to dominate others. Part of Putin’s popularity (to the degree that it can be honestly measured in the current Russia) is similar.

Our own dear nation is currently presided over by a politician who was able to capture a feeling, hard perhaps to justify logically, that something great about a former version of America had been lost and that he, without being coherent about how, knew how to get it back.

Somewhere on the more factual side:

ratings for Stalin have been rising across the board, and they have directly correlated with rising approval ratings for Putin. [...]

Why do so many people continue to admire a tyrant who stood above the law and literally slaughtered thousands of their own relatives? Perhaps Russians refuse to believe in the repressions? A closer look denies us that caveat: the number of Russians who know about Stalin’s repressions has remained steady at a little over 50 percent and the number of Russians who believe the repressions to be a crime has gone down from 51 percent in 2012 to 39 percent in 2017. But here is another interesting nugget - the same poll found that 49 percent of respondents said they believed that nothing justified the human sacrifices made during the Stalin era.

The data is alarming and, above all, contradictory and confusing. But so is the collective id, and not just for Russians. Warm sentiments towards Stalin are primarily about power [...]

We can blame these numbers on some nebulous idea of the masochistic Russian soul, or we can look at the conundrum presented by World War II from the Russian perspective to try to find actual reasons why so many people feel this way. Stalin (and Stalinism by extension) repressed its own population, but in the popular imagination it also defeated pure evil. It would be demanding a lot of the popular imagination to accept that, in the case of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, pure evil was defeated, to a great degree, by pure evil, even if that is, to an extent, exactly what happened.

One important factor motivating this sentiment is top-down validation of pro-Stalin sentiment that would otherwise have largely remained latent. During his third presidential term, Vladimir Putin has overseen a campaign to whitewash Soviet history and promote a positive view of Russia’s past – all of which has spread to education and propaganda. Concrete government-sponsored efforts to rehabilitate Stalin have become the norm today. Lawyer Henri Reznik has just resigned his position in protest over a plaque commemorating Stalin in the central Hall of the Moscow State Judicial Academy. [...]

But sentiment about Stalin in the populace is also genuine, and, latent or not, exists for a number of complex reasons. For instance, a great deal of Russians wish to let sleeping dogs lie (50 percent believe those who took part in repressions should be left alone, and 47 percent of people believe that repressions shouldn’t be discussed so much), but 52 percent of respondents also remain in favour of keeping archives open.

See also some related questions here

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    "It would be demanding a lot of the popular imagination to accept that, in the case of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, pure evil was defeated, to a great degree, by pure evil, even if that is, to an extent, exactly what happened." Why would that stretch the imagination? That's always been the most common way it happens... Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 15:09
  • "During his third presidential term, Vladimir Putin has overseen a campaign to whitewash Soviet history". Citation please. From what I hear here in Russia Putin's stance on Stalin and many other USSR subjects is "many accusations are valid, but they did what has to be done" at BEST. Commented Sep 23, 2020 at 13:22
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    The analogy with MAGA is very tenuous (and I'm being generous). America never killed 20 million of their own citizens. Commented Oct 25, 2020 at 18:12

Probably because his reign brought them into the position of 'world power'. The USSR may have fell apart, but that happened well after Stalin was no longer on charge. The USSR was a force to be reckoned with, but now, Russia has fallen off to the sidelines. They probably want their country to be the powerhouse it used to be. I'm not an expert, and this is largely just my thoughts on the matter, so take it with a grain of salt.

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    In the novel "Aurora" by Robert Harris, which loosely deals with Stalin's time, I read the quite lucid line, that Stalin inherited a country with wooden ploughs and left a country with nuclear weapons to his successor.
    – Dohn Joe
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 9:08
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    @DohnJoe The history of that phrase, often attributed to Churchill, is fascinating. See fat-yankey.livejournal.com/69167.html (in Russian). TLDR version: it’s Isaac Deutscher who wrote in 1953 that Stalin “had found Russia working with wooden ploughs and is leaving her equipped with atomic piles” (piles = reactors). Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 17:30

You are coming at this from the wrong angle. Ask yourself: why do the French approve of Napoleon?

They actually have extremely similar histories: A revolution happens, overthrowing the ancient monarchy -> in the course of it, some hick from a far-away mountain region of the empire, not of the native stock (Corsican/Georgian), seizes the reins of the revolution, despite never learning to speak the country's language (French/Russian) without a heavy accent, but becoming an avid proponent of it's culture -> purges the most ardent revolutionaries who want to spread the revolution to the 4 corners of the world, undoes their dumbest "reforms" and focuses on developing the country. The difference being that Napoleon lost, after ~30% of France's menfolk perished in his wars and ended up in prison in St Helena, with Paris under foreign occupation.

People naturally admire "our guy" who was strong and accomplished a lot and emphasize the good bits (Civil Law and the metric system/Taking a devastated agrarian country and leaving it an industrial superpower with nukes), while overlooking the bad bits.

It's the same for many other national heroes, e.g. King Shaka is the national hero of the Zulu nation, despite objectively being a ruthless, bloodthirsty tyrant whose short reign killed over a million out of a small population. It's the same with Italian Americans and Columbus: he was objectively cruel, despotic, killed tens of thousands of natives, and only got lucky due to a mistake in his calculations, but he's "our guy" and they will balk at the suggestion of cancelling Columbus Day.

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    A big difference between Stalin and Napoleon is that the latter never started any wars of aggression. He always reacted to other powers declaring war on France. Furthermore, he didn't intentionally kill millions of people by starvation, Gulag and similar. Finally, he also reformed and modernized the French society with Code Napoleon, metric system and so on. Comparing Napoleon to Stalin is just stupidl. And I am not French.
    – d-b
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 13:48
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    @d-b Stalin didn't kill people intentionally by starvation.That's a myth. Stalin collectivized peasants to get resources for industrialization. The famine was a result of that by it was not his intent. By the way collectivization in China also resulted in a great famine
    – CITBL
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 16:30
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    @CITBL These countries are reputable because research and science are free there and a lot of opinions are allowed. With time, the science community reach an agreement or common understanding of a certain topic. Basic Popperian scientific method. And that common understanding is that Stalin intentionally induced starvation to get rid of the threat from the "kulaks".
    – d-b
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 21:52
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    @CITBL No, there are not. Besides, in free countries, it is not the country itself that recognize anything as being scientific.
    – d-b
    Commented Jan 29, 2020 at 6:45
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    Interestingly the comparison of Stalin with Napoleon was also made by Putin (according to a quote in my answer). So presumably it has some broader traction in Russia. @d-b: you may think the comparison "is just stupid", as you put it, but the question here is if it something that Russians would think or deem valid (in some non-negligible proportion.) Arguably, though, this answer would be better if tried to show that Russians deem the comparison valid, rather than argue for it just on historical grounds, as it does. Commented May 13, 2020 at 16:15

If you're interested in an opinion from Russia, I'd say that:

  • part of that approval is the rise of USSR indeed;
  • part of that is neocommunist propaganda;
  • part of that is forgetting those murdered ca. 1937/38;
  • still another part migh be remembering Jugashvili ("Jewson" in Georgian) ousting Trotskists.

For an average American to understand the last item more easily, Trotsky was considering Russia to be just a fuel for the "World Revolution" -- that's basically what Soros and neocons like that consider USA now too.

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    All of us should always interested in an opinion from any country, including Russia. I would argue that there is probably more you could probably say about general human nostalgia toward the past and how it affects human perception. It would be good if you could link to some articles demonstrating where people express or imply these concepts about Stalin and his times.
    – Karlomanio
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 19:56
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    "Jugashvili ("Jewson" in Georgian)" Say what? Are you messing three languages with an intended letter replacement to meet the goal? ჯუღაშვილი Where is the "jew" here?
    – Michael A.
    Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 21:02
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    If the translation of Jugashvili is questionable, an incorrect translation would still be relevant to the question if it can be documented what Russians commonly believe the translation to be. Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 21:44
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    "Soros and the neocons sounds" like the OP doesn't know how Soros is a bugbear to the extreme right. Mind you, not all Soros has been doing is laudable - I seem to remember he had a big role in ejecting the UK pound from the EU stabilized exchange rates in the early 90s. Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 8:17
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    @Karlomanio regarding nostalgia, it does have its place indeed; I forgot another part: "democratic" demonization of Stalin in 1990s here -- looks like there's a sort of just a backlash either; see also vz.ru/politics/2019/12/21/1014192.print.html (the article's in Russian; note that the author is a journalist from Kremlin pool, some folks here use to discard any of his articles as propaganda and I just deploy internal bias correction, sort of :-) -- knowing that even my own eyes can feed some well-cooked propaganda into me, especially when greased with turbulent emotions). Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 21:05

High Ratings of Stalin are due to state Propaganda set by the Russian Federation by which he's seen as someone who defeated National Socialism and Fascism as he defeated Adolf Hitler in World War II. He's thereby seen as someone who secured Russian sovereignty and Security of Russia's civilians. He's not only seen as someone who had militaristic successes but also economic successes. From a Western point of view, Stalin ran a totalitarian Regime, which is the highest form of authoritarianism , by which he killed 20 million of his own people, even lesser than Hitler did and from western view not good at all, since dictatorships are seen very critical in Western Sovereignties. The Point is that the Western World doesn't suppress medias but rather is consistent of independent media, while today's Russia in an authoritarian Regime suppresses medias, which causes these casualties (Russia likes Stalin).

The Reason why the Russian Federation runs such propaganda is to protect its interests over the West. The Propaganda is meant for the unification of Russia (since many are fleeing Russia and Russia's economic situation) and to get back to something like the USSR. You could say the reestablishment of the USSR and it's also a symbol to show that Russia wants to become the new global power as it has lost influence over time, because Stalin is one of the Reasons why the USSR became a global power during the 20th Century and the USSR was a global Power. Since Stalin won World War II, this Propaganda is to show the Western World that no matter what happens that Russia is able to dominate and will always win every war, even if the West places sanctions... Even Stalin's military successes works as Propaganda to show the West and the World Russia as a strong even strongest military power and to place and underplay NATO as not military strong but also the US.


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