It is often asserted that the values and attitudes of Homo Sovieticus, marked in the rising “popularity” of Stalin, live on in contemporary Russia, acting as a negative factor in social and political development. This article critiques the argument that attitudes to Stalin reflect unreformed Soviet values and explain Russia’s authoritarian regression and failed modernization. Our critique of this legacy argument has three parts. First, after examining the problematic elements of the Levada Center approach, we offer alternative explanations for understanding quantitative data on Stalin and the repressions. Second, we examine interview data showing that, for those with a pro-Stalin position, “defending Stalin” is only a small part of a broader worldview that is not obviously part of a “Soviet legacy.” Third, we consider survey data from the trudnaia-pamiat’ project and find common reluctance to discuss much of the Stalinist past, which we argue represents an agonistic stance. Thus, we interpret attitudes to Stalin within a broader context of complex social and cultural transformation where the anomie of the 1990s has been replaced with dynamics toward a more positive identity construct. On the one hand, the antagonistic mode of memory is visible in statist and patriotic discourses, which do not seriously revolve around Stalin but do resist strong criticism of him. On the other hand, we find many more in Russia avoid the Stalin question and adopt an agonistic mode, avoiding conflict through a “de-politicized” version of history.

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