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La greve au Creusot (1899), Jules Adler
Teachers Main Page Lesson One Lesson Two Lesson Three Lesson Four


Grade Level 9-12


Capitalism vs. Communism
The Russian Revolution, American Labor at the beginning of the 20th century and Socialism in Canada: Vladimir Lenin and Samuel Gompers

Familiarize students with the ideas that continued to shape socialism and Marxism in the 19th century. Show how those ideas were implemented in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Contrast reactions to socialism in America and Russia.

Relevant Standards
This lesson meets the following standards set by the Mid-Continent Research for
Education and Learning (http://www.mcrel.org/compendium/search.asp):

World History

Standard 35
Understands patterns of nationalism, state-building, and social reform in Europe and the Americas from 1830 to 1914.
3. Understands factors that led to social and political change in 19th century Europe (e.g. the interconnections between labor movements, various forms of socialism, and political or social changes in Europe; the influence of industrialization, democratization, and nationalism on popular 19th century reform movements; the extent to which Britain, France, and Italy become broadly liberal and democratic societies in the 19th century; the broad beneficial and detrimental effects of the industrial revolution on specific European countries).

Standard 37
Understand major global trends from 1750 to 1914.
1. Understands the importance of ideas associated with republicanism, liberalism, socialism, and constitutionalism on 19th century political life in such states as Great Britain, France, the United States, Germany, Russia, Mexico, Argentina, the Ottoman Empire, China, or Japan (e.g. how these movements were tied to new or old-class interests).

Standard 42
Understands major global trends from 1900 to the end of World War II.
1. Understands how revolutionary movements in such countries as Mexico, Russia, and China either drew upon or rejected liberal, republican, and constitutional ideals of 18th and 19th century revolutions.

Historical Understanding
  Standard 2
Understands the historical perspective
1. Analyzes the values held by specific people who influenced history and the role their values played in influencing history.
2. Analyzes the influences specific ideas and beliefs had on a period of history and specifies how events might have been different in the absence of those ideas and beliefs.
3. Analyzes the effects that specific “chance events” had on history and specifies how things might have been different in the absence of those events.
4. Analyzes the effects specific decisions had on history and studies how things might have been different in the absence of those decisions.
5. Understands that the consequences of human intentions are influenced by the means of carrying them out.
7. Knows how to avoid seizing upon particular lessons of history as cures for present ills.

Print out or have students read online the interviews with scholars on the website. For this lesson, have students read the interviews with Nina Tumarkin, Richard Pipes and Michael Kazin. Watch the video segments in Heaven On Earth focusing on Lenin, Gompers, and the spread of socialism in Canada. Students can also read the profiles in the Leaders and Thinkers section.

Estimated Lesson Time
2x60 minute lessons. Teachers may choose to show the segments all together or split them up and pause for discussion after each. Play the DVD chapters listed below. The links will take you to that chapter's location within the program transcript.

Background for Teachers
The period during which Eduard Bernstein rejected Marxism’s prediction of an inevitable revolution and endorsed incremental change through democratic means was also the point at which historical forces in Russia gave rise to violent upheaval. Although Marx expected that industrial Britain would be the most logical place to give rise to the first socialist revolution, it was the predominately agricultural monarchy of Russia to become the first socialist state. Lenin’s interpretation of Marxism rejected the middle stage of socialism and proceeded directly to “communism.” Lenin believed that history could not wait for workers to transform themselves, but instead they must be led by a “vanguard of the people” meaning Lenin and his followers. The devastating consequences of Lenin’s policies are well documented, but scholars continue to debate whether Marxist-Leninism was an aberration or the inevitable result of a socialist philosophy.

In America, the story of Samuel Gompers asks the central question, “At a time when socialism was sweeping across Europe, why did it fail to become an active political force in America?” This is still a heavily debated point, but there is a general consensus that Samuel Gompers was instrumental in divesting the American labor movement of an overt political association with socialism as in Europe. Socialism’s main support in America came from farmers. These same organizations eventually moved north to influence the growth of socialism in Canada. It is also generally agreed on that Eugene Debs anti-war stance during World War I marked a breaking point in popular support for the American Socialist Party. The interview with Michael Kazin is an excellent resource for the discussion of the labor movement’s relationship with socialism.

Teaching Strategy
Play the segments from the film. Guide students through a discussion of the key issues raised by each using the questions below. These lessons expect that students are familiar with the issues and content raised in Lesson One. If necessary, incorporate a review of Marxism by referring students to the Leaders and Thinkers profile on Karl Marx or re-read the interview with Manfred Steger.

Discussion Questions

    A.   Lenin and the Russian Revolution

    1. How did the ideas of Marx and Engels influence Lenin?
    2. Why do you think revolution took hold in Russia first instead of a more industrialized nation as Marx expected?
    3. Do you think Lenin faithfully enacted Marx’s philosophy or was it something different?
    4. What are the possible negative human consequences of a command economy vs. a free market economy?
    5. What was the importance of World War I in the timing of the Russian revolution?
    6. How did the history of events in Europe during the 19th century lead up to Lenin’s actions?
    7. Why do you think Lenin’s actions were inspirational for socialist movements of the time?
    8. Were the negative consequences of Lenin’s policies due to the ideas of socialism or the way that Lenin enacted them?
    9. How might the Russian Revolution been different if a person like Eduard Bernstein had been in charge?

    B.   Samuel Gompers, American Labor movements, socialism in Canada

    1. What are the differences between unions, a labor movement and a socialist political party?
    2. Why do you think the American Federation of Labor was popular?
    3. Why do you think Gompers rejected associations between the union movement and socialism?
    4. Why do you think socialism in America was more popular in rural areas among farmers than among union workers in big cities?
    5. The peak of the Socialist Party’s popularity was prior to World War I and fell off following the war. Do you think the Socialists’ anti-war stance hurt their popularity? Why?
    6. The Socialist Party’s presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs was imprisoned for sedition with the support of President Woodrow Wilson. Why do you think the President chose this position and do you agree with his decision?
    7. Do you think a non-violent anti-war protestor could be imprisoned today?
    8. Why do you think farmers’ political organizations moved north to Canada?

After the students are familiar with the central issues, divide the class into small groups. Each group should choose to focus on either the Russian revolution or the American Federation of Labor, then brainstorm together reasons why an average person involved in those events would:

  1. Choose to join or resist Lenin's revolution
  2. Join Samuel Gompers American Federation of Labor or join the American Socialist Party.

After class, students should write a short diary entry from the point of view of an average American or Russian witnessing the events depicted in the film. In the diary explain why your character will support one side or the other.


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