I still have family who remember Stalin's purges, starvation and WW2. The same people say life in the USSR was only reasonable under the later leaders like Brezhnev. Nobody likes Gorbachev, but they would be first to admit that the differences in their lives in the 1940s and 1980s were vast.
As recently as 2009, 60% of Russians preferred the Soviet days (with older citizens that number is as high as 80%). And even for eastern bloc states like the Ukraine, 46% of the population regrets the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
That matters in Russia worsened after the fall of Communism is separated by decades from the nadir of Stalinist violence.
So it depends on how you count (is famine murder?), but the number intentionally killed by Stalin is much closer to 6 million. And again, this was not primarily a worker phenomenon, but was centered more towards specific peasant classes ("kulaks") and nationalist separatist movements (particularly in the Ukraine). It was also something that wasn't totally known, until Khrushchev's "revelations" (which were also largely dishonest themselves).
Since you're comparing me to a Holocaust Denier, I'll refer you to Timothy Snyder (a member of the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and a history professor at Yale)'s article which summarizes a lot of the current thinking:
But again, I think what's perhaps most important, was that at the height of the purges, from 1934 to 1936, the absolute most dangerous place to be was in the central committee. During that period, 80% of the central committee members were killed. That's significant because the Stalinist nightmare is often explained as a willingness to sacrifice living humans for ideology, which I think is much too simple. It wasn't the obvious power relationship seen in Facism throughout that period of an elite group killing a subservient population, but of those in power actually killing each-other.
It's like saying 'the most dangerous (deadly)' place in a prison is the execution room on execution day. For most of the population the most dangerous place was elsewhere.
> As recently as 2009, 60% of Russians preferred the Soviet days
Nostalgia is distorting and dangerous. It's like Western baby boomers who think wistfully about the old days. There was more pollution, there was more disease, there was less questioning of authority, there was more injustice, there was more impending doom. Another analogy is how some people sometimes perceive past relationships (ie. none of the troubles).
That's one explanation. Another is that things didn't actually change the way people wanted them to. Where as Perestroika was supposed to be a transition from authoritarian communism to democratic communism, the dissolution of the Soviet Union resulted in a transition from authoritarian communism to authoritarian capitalism.
State industries were basically given away to a small oligarchy through the "loans for shares" program, which resulted in a virtually identical experience for the average Russian, only without the nice state provided pension and benefits.
Russia also has an enormous rural population, which was celebrated and idolized through Soviet ideology. The transition to authoritarian capitalism was accompanied by a cultural shift that portrays rural Russia as being composed of stupid poor people.
The result is a lot of unhappy people.
Many people didn't even really believe that the West Germans had ideals much different from theirs: they thought the idea that Wessis were really "capitalists" was Soviet propaganda trying to scare them away from reunification, and assumed West Germany was probably, in reality, just full of sensible social democrats. So it was a rude shock when they found out that Frankfurt bankers were more like American bankers than like Swedish social democrats.
The end result can be seen pretty clearly in the map of Left Party election figures: http://welections.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/germany-2009-d...
It's interesting to see the contrast btwn the Soviet transition and the Chinese transitions away from core communism -forgetting that the SU had numerous other things to contend with (viz the delayed collapse of their late colonialist empire --the 'republics').
While the Chinese have moved away from the state as a direct employer and divested their enterprises and have moved away from providing pensions and benefits, the economic growth caused by their policies made those things a non-issue. That is, while the state retreated (and thus provided the same nothing to people) The SEZs and then then state-turned private and new private enterprise filled the void granting people hope and a vision of a future. People felt (and still feel, altho it might be on the descent) that if not they, their heirs have a chance at the future which they did not. On the other hand China is relatively natural resource poor and Russia is NR rich.
It would seem the transition was handled better by China than their fraternal twin, the SU. The unhurried transition probably helped, as well as culture (a Chinese family is willing to sacrifice a generation, if it has a promise of hope for the next -long view).
That was primarily because the previous regime was terribly bad, not because the new one was terribly good.