Ranking leaders is almost never a simple task. This is made more difficult when the list of leaders are usually bad, brutal or plain evil. It also depends on how one looks at a leader or how they’d define their list. Below Just About History has constructed a list of 8 Soviet Union leaders ranked from the worst to the best. When looking at leaders we’ve removed troikas or other such momentary entities and instead focused on the heads.

How is the list constructed? Well, when constructing a list of leaders of any nation one discovers that merely being average or forgettable will likely send a leader to the top of the list. In histories of many nations, bad leaders are much more common than good, let alone great ones. So much so in fact that if a nation has a few good leaders within a few hundred years, it can propel a nation to success even if a serious of past blunders had been committed.

The list below is based largely on how each leader benefited the people of the Soviet Union overall and prepared them for the future. At the same time, what leaders did before or after their leadership roles will not be counted; this list is merely the citing of their reign. Just as ranking US Presidents is difficult due to the changing power of the presidency over time, so too is this true for the Soviet leadership and thus adjustments to expectations and power have been made. Without going further, we’ll begin this list.

8. Vladimir Lenin

Lenin technically ruled a very short time and generally this would likely land a leader somewhere in the middle due to the lack of time and the inability to put their thoughts and ideas to use. While Lenin was successful in steering the Bolshevik Communists to power through a bloody civil war, he was essentially the leader and is the one to blame for inflicting Communism on the Soviet people which would introduce terrors that hadn’t even been seen under the Tsars.

7. Josef Stalin

Stalin’s reign was absolutely brutal but showed incredible industrialization. While considering Stalin’s position within this ranking, one could feasibly place him virtually anywhere. But after considering his work in detail, Stalin definitely deserves his low ranking. Giving Stalin credit for further industrializing Russia is much akin to the old adage of giving Mussolini credit for making the trains run on time. Stalin also committed genocide against various peoples, famously against Ukrainians. But he was an equal-opportunity genocidal fiend. Should he also be given credit for World War II, or the Great Patriotic War? Well, Stalin certainly diluted the power of the people and manpower by exterminating people from the 1920s and the lead up to the war. Purging his generals right before the war in the 1930s likely lead to other needless catastrophes. Between the persecution of the Soviet people and hampering the Soviet Union’s ability to be as battle-ready as it could be, it’s difficult to place Josef Stalin higher on this list.

6. Leonid Brezhnev

Unlike Stalin and Lenin, Brezhnev was an authentic failure. Brezhnev sought the oppression of the people which had relaxed under Khrushchev, returning the empire to deeper authoritarianism. While he wasn’t as overt as Stalin had been, Brezhnev still abused Soviet intelligence. Additionally the Soviet economy dwindled and continued to fall almost every five year period it’s been tracked under Brezhnev. At the same time he was weak on foreign policy with North Korea pushing him around over the USS Pueblo contest and being leader while Afghanistan blew up in the early 1980s. Brezhnev was a disaster as a leader for the Soviet Union and was the set-up man for the Soviet Union’s ultimate failure roughly a decade after his leaving.

5. Konstantin Chernenko

Chernenko was more or less a transition between Andropov and Gorbachev. His leadership was incredibly short, too short for any great accomplishments or great failures. His famed action was to refuse to attend the 1984 Olympics along with a number of Soviet satellites. A forgettable leader if only because of the short-life span however it may be adequate to assume he may have continued some of Brezhnev’s policies.

4. Georgy Malenkov

Malenkov’s position was brief at the head. The projects he had hoped to achieve didn’t have nearly enough time to come to fruition. He seemed to be against nuclearization and denounced “modern weapons.” He also seemed to be more for the raising up of the Soviet people rather than heavy armaments. While we can’t speculate on what would arise out of this, Malenkov’s policies had no time to take real effect. And the limiting of the military would’ve likely affected the Soviet Union’s soft power which may have shifted the effectiveness of the Empire in Europe and around the world if he would’ve been able to hold onto his position. At the same time, he was very much a Stalinist so while speculating on Malenkov’s potential What If?, we can only judge him based on what he did or didn’t do.

3. Yuri Andropov

Like a few others, Andropov didn’t have much time to effect the direction of the Soviet Union and considering his deep ties with the KGB, the Soviet people were likely saved by Andropov’s sudden end. However, some policies were relaxed and some private enterprise control had been cooled. It had also been revealed that the Soviet Union was stagnating and failing with their economy. This became even more troubling as Reagan ramped up his efforts against the “Evil Empire” and the cost of the Soviet military’s budget and select states was raised to 70% of the Soviet Union’s budget. During his reign the airliner Korean Air Flight KAL-007 was shot down. Andropov’s success was middling and short; it’s unlikely he would’ve been placed so high in this list if he had lived longer.

2. Nikita Khrushchev

While the Cold War never got as hot as it did under Stalin and the Korean War, it did raise to a dangerous level a few times under Nikita Khrushchev. He had a number of blunders and embarrassments, most notably that of the Cuban Missile Crisis. While he had made a bold gamble, it didn’t pay off and time has shown that the Soviets retracted in weakness, although, they would later try to return. Khrushchev was also brutal but wasn’t nearly as severe as when compared to Stalin. Many prisoners in the gulags were allowed to return home and many of Stalin’s crimes were revealed; defaming a previous popular leader is a great tool for enhancing one’s own popularity. However, he retained his own brutality in putting down revolts, uprisings and imprisoning entire nations.

1. Mikhail Gorbachev

Gorbachev is famous for being at the head of the nation as it fell apart. While he is the one to be blamed, as cited earlier, the real decline began with Brezhnev. The direction of the state could’ve been altered but by the time Gorbachev had arrived, there was little for him to do. Quite naturally trying to hide Chernobyl or other disasters and letting the war in Afghanistan linger did little to strengthen the power of the Soviet Union. But he was able to open it up, he didn’t violently crackdown against Poland and their Solidarity movement nor was he nearly as brutal against his people as his predecessors. While Gorbachev may be at the bottom of some lists, he sits at the top of this list if only because he wasn’t nearly as demented as those who came before him, he was able to open the Soviet society a little further and he did end, whether with intent or otherwise, the destruction of Communism within the Soviet Union. The fall of the Soviet Union wasn’t bloodless, but it certainly wasn’t Tiananmen Square.

In a way, Gorbachev reaches this pristine position if only because he was largely not like the others.