HEAVEN ON EARTH: THE RISE AND FALL OF SOCIALISM
Grade Level 9-12
Critical Thinking Skills: History and Perspective
The history of socialism continues to polarize commentators and participants in ways that
make a clear discussion of its history challenging. Students should understand that these
clashing ideas and interpretations are both part of the history of socialism and fundamental
to understanding its impact on the world.
This lesson uses three examples to make this point: Socialism in Tanzania, the transformation
of the British Labour Party under Tony Blair,
and contemporary scholars’ views on the future of socialism. Each example uses interviews with
participants who have directly opposing points of view.
In this set of exercises, students will examine historical events through the words of participants
with very different perspectives. Students should gain an understanding of the events described
but also begin to see how the respective biases of the participants shape their recollection and
interpretation of events. These exercises could be used in units focusing on the specific historic
periods described or as a way of discussing general historical analysis, bias and perspective.
This lesson meets the following standards set by the Mid-Continent Research for
Education and Learning (http://www.mcrel.org/compendium/search.asp):
Understands how post-World War II reconstruction occurred, new international power relations
took shape, and colonial empires broke up.
5. Understands reasons for the shift in government in Africa and how Africans responded
(e.g. reasons for the replacement of parliamentary-style governments with military regimes
and one-party states in much of Africa, how Africans survived and resisted apartheid).
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.
Thinking and Reasoning
Understands and applies basic principles of logic and reasoning.
11. Understands that once a person believes a general rule, he or she may be more likely to notice things that agree with that rule and not notice things that do not; to avoid this “confirmatory bias,” scientific studies sometimes use observers who do not know what the results are supposed to be.
Print out or have students read the interviews online. Watch the video segments in Heaven On Earth
focusing on Tony Blair, Julius Nyerere and Tanzania, and the two conferences looking at the future of
socialism. Students can also read the profiles in the Leaders and Thinkers
section and refer to the Timeline for additional information. The relevant DVD
chapters of the film are listed below under the "Teaching Strategy" section. The links will take you to that chapter's
location within the program transcript.
Estimated Lesson Time
3x60 minute lessons. Each lesson can be done independently or in conjunction with other segments from the
program. Students should read the interviews outside of class after they have viewed the relevant section
of the video.
The Tanzania segments combined take 17.5 minutes.
Tony Blair: 14 minutes
Future of Socialism: 7 minutes
Background for Teachers
1. Julius Nyerere and Tanzania
Heaven On Earth follows the story of Julius Nyerere’s experiment with African socialism in Tanzania from 1960 up to
Nyerere’s retirement in the 1980s. In the program, this story is broken up into two separate chapters. At the time of gaining
independence from Britain, Tanzania was held up by the international community as a development model for other African nations
to follow. Nyerere was lauded by the west as an innovator for blending western ideas of socialism with African traditions of
community ownership and cooperation. Tanzania received large amounts of economic aid from Europe, the US, and especially
Scandinavian nations like Sweden. By the late 1960s, Tanzania was not making the economic progress that Nyerere had hoped for,
nor were the people embracing his socialist philosophy to the degree that he had expected. Nyerere increasingly turned to
Maoist China for aid and as a model for centralizing economic and social planning. The combination of Nyerere’s forced
re-villagization policies, natural disasters and a war with Uganda ultimately crippled Tanzania’s economy. On his retirement,
Nyerere admitted that some of his policies were a mistake and since that time Tanzania has gradually begun the transition to
a more transparent, market based economy. Paul Sozigwa was a close aid to
Nyerere throughout the period discussed in the film. Christopher Mtikila is
the leader of an opposition party who has been jailed several times for speaking out against the government. Even in the current
political atmosphere of increased openness, Mtikila is a controversial political figure in Tanzania.
2. Tony Blair and New Labour
This story is covered in two basic segments in Heaven On Earth. Blair’s story begins with the events that led to Britain’s
“Winter of Discontent” in 1978, Margaret Thatcher’s victory over labor, and then returns to the story with Tony Blair’s defeat of
John Major in 1997. For more background it may be helpful to also show the segment on Clement Attlee. The central argument within
the British Labour party revolves around what is known as Clause IV in the Labour Party’s constitution. The section (originally
adopted in 1918) stresses the importance of “common ownership,” essentially defining the party as a socialist party. Blair’s
innovation was to distance the party from the core tenets of socialism while stressing the success of the popular social welfare
programs created under Attlee. Blair called this “New Labour,” though his critics feel it is Labour in name only. Blair’s supporters
say the party’s guiding principal should be an emphasis on equality of opportunities within a democratic free market system, not
government-dictated equality of outcomes. Blair’s critics describe this as a rejection of the party’s central beliefs and an
effective nullification of the party as an alternative to conservatism. Blair’s political success is complicated by his decision to
support the United States in Iraq - a subject the program does not directly address. Most analysts believe that despite his
unpopularity within his own party and public opposition to the war in Iraq, that his continued success is due largely to this
balancing act of Labour’s socialist ideals with market friendly policies. Tony Wright
is a Labour MP, an historian, and a vocal supporter of Tony Blair’s “New Labour.”
Roy Hattersley is a major figure within the party and an outspoken critic of
Blair’s attempts to reshape Labour.
3. The Future of Socialism
The program Heaven On Earth presents the thesis that socialism as a working philosophy has largely been abandoned, that today
even nations that claim a socialist political heritage have turned to market-oriented principals and policies. Experts disagree
over the reasons for socialism’s decline, what it means for the future, and even the definition of socialism. This exercise pairs a
series of short interviews gathered at two scholarly conferences in 2003. Free Market advocates met at “The 1st Annual
Capitalist’s Ball” in Belgium to discuss “Is Socialism Dead?” Pro-socialist scholars met in New York to discuss the future of
socialism. Although the two groups are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, their predictions and analysis converge and
diverge in interesting ways. On the left, the socialist movement has in many cases merged with the anti-globalization movement and
the anti-war movements. One area of contention is the role of Marxist-Leninism in socialist history and the future of economies based
on central planning. Supporters of socialism believe that the fall of communism clarifies the distinction between social democracies
and Marxist-Leninist states. Critics of socialism see communist states as a central part of the socialist legacy and their downfall
as proof that socialism does not work.
Another argument revolves around the question of the welfare state in democracies. Socialists claim the success of the “social safety
net” in America and Europe as a direct result of socialism and proof of its contemporary relevance, where critics attempt to distance
these popular programs from their socialist heritage.
Each example below pairs two interviews with historical participants and links to the interview on the website. Play the segments from the film. Guide students through a discussion of the key issues raised by each. Between lessons, have students take home and read interview transcripts for additional perspectives. Students should write a short paper comparing the two interviews. Using quotes from the articles they should address the basic discussion questions listed below.
1. Tanzania and Julius Nyerere
Compare interviews with Paul Sozigwa, President Julius Nyerere’s press secretary with
Christopher Mtikila, the leader of a political opposition party. Most Tanzanians still
revere Nyerere and credit him with Tanzania’s strong sense of national identity. Mtikila is unusual in his outspoken criticism of Nyerere’s
Focus on Africa in the 20th Century with a look at Tanzania’s socialist experiment.
Watch the following segments in the film:
2. Tony Blair and New Labour
For additional background on the rise of the Labour party and the creation of many of its popular social welfare programs by Clement Attlee watch:
Tony Blair led a campaign to change the British Labour Party’s constitution. As Prime Minister he has successfully won reelection several
times with his “New Labour” platform. Roy Hattersley, the Deputy Leader of the Labour
Party (1983-1992) believes that the changes are a betrayal of the party’s socialist principals.
Tony Wright, Labour MP and a historian, believes that Blair’s reshaping of the party’s identity
brings Labour into the 21st century.
Watch the following segments in the film:
3. The Future of Socialism
Free Market advocates met at “The 1st Annual Capitalist’s Ball” in Belgium to discuss “Is Socialism Dead?”
Pro-socialist scholars met in New York
to discuss the future of socialism. Although the two groups are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, their predictions and analysis
converge and diverge in interesting ways. Discuss the biases reflected in their respective rhetoric.
Watch the following segment in the film:
- In what ways do the two sets of participants disagree about socialism?
- In what ways do they agree?
- Do they use different phrases or vocabulary to describe the same ideas?
- How do their word-choices reflect their respective point-of-view?
- What does each side have at stake that might influence their perspective?
- Do they disagree on facts or interpretations of the meaning of events?
- For any of the participants, do their roles as subjective observers undermine their credibility as sources of historical information?
- Is their interpretation more persuasive because of their involvement or in spite of it?
- How do you reconcile the differences between the two perspectives?
Divide the class into 6 groups. Have each group take the side of one interviewee or the other in each of the debate topics listed below. Students should discuss the central debate question for their issue with their group and brainstorm a list of at least three key points to support their side of the argument. Each group should appoint one person to present the primary argument, a second for the first rebuttal, and a third for closing remarks. After separate discussion have the students come back together with the group on the opposite side of their issue. In front of the other groups, have each side argue its points. Toss a coin to see which side goes first. Have a student keep time and give a 30 second warning before each speaker's time is up. The representative from each group should speak to the class uninterrupted, with each group taking turns. Allow 3 minutes for each side's main argument, two minutes apiece for each side's rebuttal and two minutes apiece for final comments. The teacher can appoint judges or have the class as a whole give a score to each team in the following categories: clarity of reasoning, presentation, and overall persuasiveness.
Was the failure of socialism in Tanzania due to the way Nyerere implemented his policies or due to a problem in socialism itself?
- Tony Blair and New Labour
Is "New Labour" a version of socialism or a rejection of the fundamental essence of socialism?
- The Future of Socialism
Is socialism defunct as a practical theory of governance?