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Monday, 12 October 2009 19:25

Lesson 2: The Russian Revolution and Totalitarianism

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(Lesson source: California History-Social Science Course Models,


  1. Students analyze the rise of totalitarian governments after World War I, in terms of the causes and consequences of the Russian Revolution, including Lenin’s use of totalitarian means to seize and maintain control.
  2. Students will research and present on Stalin’s rise to power in the Soviet Union and the connection between economic policies, political policies, the absence of a free press, and systematic violations of human rights (e.g., the Terror Famine in Ukraine)
  3. Students will respond to what they have learned through the presentations and readings by writing an essay that requires them to take a position and defend it.


(This lesson takes 2 – 3 class periods)

Step 1:

  1. Begin the study of Stalin by having students read as a class and discuss in small groups, William Safire's essay entitled "The Odd Façade.” (Student Handout 9.2.1) Consider such questions as:
    1. What contrasting buildings reflect the "new Russia" and the "old Soviet Union"? How?
    2. What aspect of the design of the Hotel Moscow illustrates the totalitarian authority of Joseph Stalin? What other examples are given of the "terrible past" that Safire says Russians have escaped from?
    3. What, according to Safire, are the current realities in Russia, and what role should the U.S. play in helping the country?
    4. Why does Safire believe that outsiders, such as the American teen-ager, have a hard time understanding the present--and the past--situation in Russia?
  2. For Homework: Have students read from their textbooks, Modern World History, McDougal & Littell, chapter 14; sections 1 & 2 for background on Stalin’s rise to power. Have students create a timeline of events for those sections.

Step 2:

  1. Distribute Student Handout 9.2.2 and put students into 4 groups of 6 to research and present on the various topics. After reviewing Stalin’s ascension to absolute power in 1929, students should work in groups to devote special attention to Stalin’s reign of terror.
    1. One group should prepare a report on the results of the Collectivization farming program (Student Resource 9.2.1) and the dire effects of it, including the relocation of the kulaks (when over 14 million farmers died), and the terrible famine that ensued (such as the demise of 5 million Ukrainian peasants, out of a farm population of twenty to twenty-five million, in 1932-33).
    2. Another group should research and prepare materials on the results of the successive Five-Year Plans for industry (Student Resource 9.2.2) including the dire effects of the plans on the Soviet people.
    3. The development and use of the Gulag prison/work camps, should be the focus of another group who will find examples in the A & E Biography series entitled, Joseph Stalin: Red Terror, film such as the following: "The prisons were full of people who were ten minutes late for work," said Gulag survivor Janusz Bardach, citing the case of a seventeen year old girl. Historians have noted that some Soviets received 3-5 years in the gulag for stealing a sack of potatoes. (Student Resource 9.2.3)
    4. Finally, the incessant purges of anyone who challenged aspects of the Soviet system should be presented by a final group of students. For example,  (Student Resource 9.2.4) features a poem written by a Soviet poet, for which he was sentenced to a labor camp, and where he ultimately died.
  2. Once students have been grouped and given a topic for research, pass out the student resources to the respective groups.  Give students time to research and plan their presentations. See Student Handout 9.2.2 for requirements.  Students should use their timelines from the homework to help with the visual.
  3. You may also show excerpts from the  A & E Biography series entitled, Joseph Stalin: Red Terror, (available from Netflix) to give students more background.

Step 3:

  1. Have students present their information to the class.  Before the students present, give them the essay question that they will have to write on based on the information being presented.
  2. After students have presented have a quick brainstorming question to help students organize their thoughts for the essay. Essays are due the following day in class.

Essay Question:

Write a one page essay in response to Soviet historian Edward Radzinsky's judgment that, "He (Stalin) was a devil . . . a genius, but a devil."


Students will be evaluated based on the discussion to the questions from the reading “The Old Façade” In addition to the presentations and the essay.

Last modified on Tuesday, 13 October 2009 06:26

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