He had the blood of millions on his hands, yet Joseph Stalin has escaped Hitler-style demonisation, and even become a trendy pin-up. Why has history been so kind to this murderous leader, asks Laurence Rees.
A few months ago, when I was visiting one of our leading universities, I happened to see a poster prominently displayed in one of the students' halls of residence. It was of Joseph Stalin.
Perhaps it was meant as a kind of ironic reference to something. Perhaps it was simply covering a damp patch on the wall. But, in any event, no one seemed to take much notice of it.
But imagine if instead of a picture of Stalin, there had been a picture of that other horrendous tyrant of the 20th Century, Adolf Hitler, hanging there? Think of the outcry.
Nor do most people in this country seem concerned that Stalin is currently on the shortlist to be named "Greatest Russian in History" in a Russian TV version of the BBC's Great Britons. The final vote takes place in December. But once again, imagine if in Germany Adolf Hitler was in with a chance of winning the equivalent competition? The British press would be full of outrage.
It's all symptomatic of a broader point. Which is that Stalin appears to have got off more lightly from the judgement of history - or at least the judgement of the British man or woman in the street - than he deserves. Stalin, after all, was responsible for the destruction of millions of people. His suspicion and paranoia condemned many wholly innocent individuals to torture and death.
Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Stalin will be in little doubt about his monstrous nature. But there's a logical explanation at the heart of why the Soviet ruler is still not seen as darkly as he should be; which is that we still exist, to some extent, in the long shadow of the rosy-eyed material about the USSR churned out by the Western Allies during World War II.
In Britain, many newspapers, notably Lord Beaverbrook's Daily Express, were hugely supportive of the Soviet war effort, and the fact that George Orwell could not get his brilliant satire on the Soviet state, Animal Farm, published during the war suggests that there was little appetite - to say the least - for balancing material about the horrors of life under Stalin.
One publisher during the war, who had initially accepted Animal Farm, subsequently turned it down after an official at the British Ministry of Information warned him off. The publisher then wrote to Orwell, saying: "If the fable were addressed generally to dictators and dictatorships at large then publication would be all right, but the fable does follow, as I see now, so completely the progress of the Russian Soviets and their two dictators [Lenin and Stalin], that it can apply only to Russia, to the exclusion of the other dictatorships.
"Another thing: it would be less offensive if the predominant caste in the fable were not pigs. I think the choice of pigs as the ruling caste will no doubt give offence to many people, and particularly to anyone who is a bit touchy, as undoubtedly the Russians are."
In the United States, the January 1943 edition of Time magazine put Stalin on the cover as "man of the year" for 1942.
"The year 1942 was a year of blood and strength," reported Time. "The man whose name means steel in Russian, whose few words of English include the American expression 'tough guy' was the man of 1942... Stalin's methods were tough, but they paid off."
And in an even more positive article in Life magazine in March 1943, the Soviet Union was painted as almost a quasi America, with the Soviets portrayed as "one hell of a people... [who] to a remarkable degree... look like Americans, dress like Americans and think like Americans." Whilst Stalin's infamous Secret Police, the NKVD (predecessor of the KGB), was described as "a national police similar to the FBI."
But the prize for the greatest white-washing of Stalin goes to a film made in 1943 by Warner Brothers called Mission to Moscow, based on a book written by the former US ambassador to the Soviet Union, Joseph Davies.
In both book and film, Stalin is portrayed as the father figure of the Soviet Union - a giant of a man responsible for massive projects of industrialisation. And the Stalinist purges, when tens of thousands of innocent people suffered, are glossed over as implicitly necessary for the security of the state.
Robert Buckner, the producer of Mission to Moscow, later described the film as an "expedient lie for political purposes".
Mission to Moscow was condemned as crass pro-Soviet propaganda in the 1950s, but during the war it was a hugely influential piece of work.
And it isn't as if the British and American governments didn't know the truth about Stalin's murderous regime.
Not only did they learn how brutally Stalin's forces were behaving in occupied territory as early as 1940, but the US president at the time, Franklin Roosevelt, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, even went so far as to suppress information which pointed to the fact that Stalin and his secret police had orchestrated a mass murder - the killing of thousands of Polish officers in the forest of Katyn.
But, of course, it's not hard to understand why the political leaders in Britain and the US felt they had to paint a positive picture of Stalin and the Soviet Union. The reality was that the Soviet Union was a vital ally and the West needed to keep the Red Army fighting the Germans.
The trouble is that the legacy of these "expedient lies" has still not entirely left us. Which is why I hope people will come to realise just how appalling Stalin was, and students might think twice before hanging pictures of Stalin on their walls.