Communism and the Russian Revolution

Lesson Plans by John Gillis

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Communism and the Russian Revolution Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Communism and the Russian Revolution Include:

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Russia and China faced a number of internal struggles. Dissatisfaction with leadership and a large, unhappy peasant class created instability in both regions. A European ideology developed by Karl Marx, the Communist Manifesto, offered a solution for both societies. Communist revolutions eventually developed in China and Russia. Unfortunately, the ideals of Karl Marx were corrupted by leaders like Mao Ze Dong and Joseph Stalin, and totalitarian regimes became the reality in China and Russia by the late 20th century.

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Communism and the Russian Revolution Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Assessing Other Communist States - Graphic Organizer

Communism and the Russian Revolution - Other Communist States
Communism and the Russian Revolution - Other Communist States


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Communism was not limited to China and Russia. Dozens of other nations have experimented with communism. In fact, five nations still identify themselves as Marxist/Leninist today. Despite the similarity in ideology, each of these nations had very different experiences with this political structure.

Five communist regimes are included on the spider map example below. Students will analyze how and why different nations adopted communism. Students will also assess how well nations did under a communist regime.

See the example with Mozambique in the storyboard below!

For each nation, students must:

  • Research the nation's history during communism.
  • Provide a storyboard graphic that depicts some part of the nation’s experience with communism.
  • Provide a caption at the bottom of the cell that provides an assessment/overview of the nation’s experience with communism.

People's Republic of Mozambique: 1975 - 1990

Despite a great start that included literacy programs and improved health care, economic issues, political chaos, and the collapse of the USSR doomed this government.

Extended Activity

  • Add other communist regimes for assessment.
  • Focus on a specific geographic region like the Caribbean
  • Focus on a single nation, and using a six cell spider chart. This spider chart would analyze the impact of communism on politics, economics, religion, society, intellectual development, and the arts.

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Communism in Russia: Theory and Practice Comparison

Communism and the Russian Revolution - Communism in Russia
Communism and the Russian Revolution - Communism in Russia


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The Russian Revolution was inspired by the Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx in 1848. Marx was writing in response to the social injustices that he witnessed as a result of the Industrial Revolution. When Lenin and the Bolsheviks began their revolution in 1917, they were unable to follow the blueprint described by Marx 70 years earlier.

Students will analyze how and why ideologies change when they are put into practice in a T-Chart. The left column identifies elements of a communist society the way Marx envisioned them. The right hand column will be student-created. This column will show how closely Stalin followed the original intent of Marx’s Communist Manifesto. In most cases, the theory and the practice were far apart.

Ideologies to Analyze

  • Society Without Classes
  • Private Property is Eliminated
  • Equality Between Genders
  • Social Ownership of Production
  • Role of Government

Extended Activity

This activity can be extended in a number of ways. Students could create a third column of cells about the realities of China under Mao. Students could also assess whether or not the changes that Lenin, Stalin, and Mao made to Marx’s original ideology were justified.

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Debunking Rasputin History Activity

Communism and the Russian Revolution - Debunking Rasputin
Communism and the Russian Revolution - Debunking Rasputin


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Grigori Rasputin called himself a “holy man”. He managed to gain access to Czar Nicholas II and Czarina Alexandra by being able to manage their son Prince Alexis’s hemophilia. His presence also contributed to the downfall of the Romanov Dynasty. Much has been written about the alleged magical powers of Rasputin. Students will take as critical look at these claims of mystical powers.

Students will challenge four of the mystical qualities of Rasputin. The legendary qualities and stories attributed to Rasputin are in the first column of the storyboard. The second column of the storyboard will be student-created. Each cell should show student research into a logical explanation for Rasputin’s alleged “mystical powers”.

Research Links:

The Legend of Rasputin Rasputin Debunked?
Rasputin could ease Prince Alexis' hemophilia. Was Rasputin using hypnosis?
Czar Nicholas' son had severe hemophilia. Rasputin was able to ease the Prince's suffering when he had an attack. The University of Maryland Medical Center conducted a study on the effectiveness of hypnosis on hemophilia. Researchers found it was an effective way to slow bleeding.
Poison had no effect on Rasputin. Did the assassins provide the antidote with the poison?
The decision was made to kill Rasputin. One of the alleged assassins, Prince Yusupov, invited Rasputin to his palace for an evening of drinking. Yusupov poisoned the wine and cakes with potassium cyanide - but they had no effect on Rasputin. The antidote for potassium cyanide is glucose. Poisoning sweet wine and pastries may have made the poison ineffective.
Bullets had no effect on Rasputin. Was Rasputin killed with a single bullet?
The five assassins shot Rasputin several times - once in the torso from point blank range. He survived multiple shots before being fatally shot. Autopsies show that Rasputin was the victim of a gunshot wound to the head - the assassins did not disclose this. Some say his wounds were added posthumously to make the assassins seem heroic.
Rasputin could not be drowned. Was Rasputin dead before he ever hit the water?
The assassins bound up Rasputin's dead body and threw him into the frozen Malaya Nevka river. When his body was found the next day, evidence showed that Rasputin struggled in the water and was still alive after poisoning and multiple gunshots. Autopsies showed that Rasputin had no water in his lungs. This indicates that he never struggled in the water.

Extended Activity

After students create storyboard cells that present reasonable explanations for Rasputin's mystical attributes, they could be asked to provide their own explanations for what happened on the night Rasputin was killed in a storyboard. Prompts for this activity could include: motives, timelines, identity of the assassins, etc.

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Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky “Cloze” Timeline

Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin's Influence on Communism
Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin's Influence on Communism


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The development of communism in Russia was heavily influenced by the ideas and actions of three men: Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Leon Trotsky. The complex personal and political tensions that existed between these three men guided the development of communism in Russia.

Students will complete a timeline that highlights the actions of Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky in a traditional storyboard. Create a blank template using the example storyboard below. The opening cell asks the essential question for this activity. Students must:

  • provide a storyboard graphic that captures the action described at the top of the cell
  • provide a more detailed overview of the action in the caption at the bottom of the cell
Be sure to check out our lesson plans on George Orwell's Animal Farm!

Development of Communism in Russia

Early Soviet Union Communist Leaders

How did these three men transform Russia from a monarchy to a communist dictatorship?

WWI was disastrous for Russia.

Russian soldiers were ill-equipped. Soldiers often shared rifles or lacked ammunition. Frustration with Czar Nicholas II reached a boiling point.

The German government smuggled Lenin into Russia.

Lenin's arrival in Russia by train had almost mythological status. The German plan worked. Russia ended its involvement in WWI in March of 1918.

Red Army against the White Army.

A bloody civil war between the Reds (The Communists) and the Whites (Czarists and allies) ended with a victory for Lenin and the Bolshevik party.

Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky developed a communist Russia.

With Lenin leading, the three men made progress. Unfortunately, conflicting interpretations of what the ideal communist state should look like led to trouble.

Death of Lenin

After suffering a number of strokes, Lenin died in 1924. Two potential successors, Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin, had very different characteristics.

Stalin sent agents to kill Trotsky in Mexico.

Stalin maneuvered to strip Trotsky of his communist party membership. Fearing for his life, Trotsky fled into exile. Stalin sent his agents after Trotsky while he was in exile in Mexico. They killed him with an ice pick at the home of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

Stalin's Industrial Plans

Stalin's five-year industrial plans produced real results, but put workers under tremendous stress.

Stalin's Agricultural Plans

Collective, state-owned farms replaced privately owned farms. Wealthy peasant landowners resisted and were killed. Wheat production doubled in 10 years!

Totalitarian Government

Stalin's totalitarian government featured total control over all aspects of individuals' lives. Neither Lenin nor Trotsky envisioned this kind of state. Stalin periodically removed any potential threats to his power. Thousands of loyal communist party members were executed or sent to labor camps during these purges.

Extended Activity

This activity can be extended by:

  • having students create a storyboard analysis of Diego Rivera’s murals
  • having students students investigate dystopian or totalitarian themes in literature and movies

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The Road to Communism in China

Communism and the Russian Revolution - Road to Communism in China
Communism and the Russian Revolution - Road to Communism in China


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The story of communism developing in China is complicated. It involved domestic struggle and international conflict. Creating a chronology of these events will help students understand why communism was initially so appealing to many Chinese citizens.

Create a storyboard timeline of the development of communism in China in the 20th century. The timeline should include 8-10 cells and must include:

  • The role of Sun Yixian, Mao Ze Dong, and Jiang Jieshi

  • The role that both WWI and WWII played in creating circumstances for political change in China

  • The tensions between the Nationalists and the Communists

  • The Long March

  • The Great Leap Forward

  • The Cultural Revolution

  • The harm and benefits of Mao’s implementation of communism

Example Timeline of Communism in China


Sun Yixian Overthrows the Last Chinese Emperor

The Qing dynasty had ruled China for nearly 270 years. Sun wanted a new government based on "three principles of the people". Unfortunately, powerful warlords undermined his vision, and chaos ensued.


WWl Ends:
The May 4th Movement Begins

China expected to regain lost territories from a defeated Germany after WWI. Instead, they were given to Japan. Student protesters, called the May 4th movement, created further turmoil.


Communists vs. Nationalists

Sun Yixian's nationalist group was taken over by Jiang Jieshi. They began to struggle for power against the emerging Communists and their new leader, Mao Ze Dong.


Japan Invades China

As part of their empire building process, Japan launched a devastating invasion of Northern China. The Nationalist and Communists joined forces to fight the Japanese.


WWII Ends and Mao Defeats Jieshi

With great local support from a peasant class that wanted land reform, Mao defeated Jieshi. Two Chinas now existed: The Communist mainland and the Nationalist island of Taiwan.


Mao Brings Agrarian and Industrial Improvements

The costs for these changes were high: over 1,000,000 landlords were killed during the agricultural reorganization.


The Great Leap Forward

Mao created massive "communes" of 25,000 people. They ate, worked, slept, and raised children together, but owned nothing. Ineffective management led to massive famines in 1961 that killed millions.


The Cultural Revolution

Mao encouraged young people to "make revolution". Millions of youth formed the Red Guard. They attacked intellectuals in the hopes of making a society of farmers and workers. Instead, they totally destabilized society.

Extended Activity

This lesson can be extended by asking students to analyze their finished timelines. The following questions could be used to help with this analysis:

  1. What mistakes did Mao make? What triumphs did he have?
  2. How did China’s relationship with the Western world influence its decision to adopt Communism?
  3. Did China ever accomplish the “Three Principles of the People” outlined by Sun Yixian?

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Communism is a political theory based on the sharing of resources “communally”. All resources are shared among all of the people within the state and all people contribute to the welfare of the state. Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto famously laid out communism as an ideology in 1848. Marx and his co-writer Friedrich Engels theorized about the nature of government, society, and the problems and injustices of capitalism.

Great disparity between the classes in many societies during the Industrial Revolution left the lower classes feeling oppressed. Communism rose in Russia as the Bolsheviks, a revolutionary political group made up of the working class, toppled the Romanov Dynasty during World War I. The Soviet Union later developed into a totalitarian state under Stalin, but the Bolshevik Revolution empowered the rise of Mao Ze Dong in China and the development of communist states in other regions.

These activities offer an in-depth understanding of global communism for students. They are designed to help students understand the links between history and our world today.

Essential Questions for Communism and the Russian Revolution

  1. How did communist states develop in The People's Republic of China and the USSR?
  2. What were the benefits provided by communist governments?
  3. What damage was done by the two major communist states in the 20th century?
  4. What was the nature of the revolutions in China and Russia?
  5. How did other nations decide to adopt communism? What successes and struggles did they face?
  6. What roles did individuals play in the development and implementation of communism in The People's Republic of China and the USSR?

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•   (English) Communism and the Russian Revolution   •   (Español) El Comunismo y la Revolución Rusa   •   (Français) Le Communisme et la Révolution Russe   •   (Deutsch) Kommunismus und die Russische Revolution   •   (Italiana) Il Comunismo e la Rivoluzione Russa   •   (Nederlands) Communisme en de Russische Revolutie   •   (Português) Comunismo e Revolução Russa   •   (עברית) הקומוניזם ואת המהפכה הרוסית   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) الشيوعية والثورة الروسية   •   (हिन्दी) साम्यवाद और रूसी क्रांति   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Коммунизм и Русская Революция   •   (Dansk) Kommunisme og den Russiske Revolution   •   (Svenska) Kommunismen och den Ryska Revolutionen   •   (Suomi) Kommunismi ja Venäjän Vallankumous   •   (Norsk) Kommunismen og den Russiske Revolusjon   •   (Türkçe) Komünizm ve Rus Devrimi   •   (Polski) Komunizm i Rewolucja Rosyjska   •   (Româna) Comunismul și Revoluția Rusă   •   (Ceština) Komunismus a Ruská Revoluce   •   (Slovenský) Komunizmus a Ruská Revolúcia   •   (Magyar) A Kommunizmus és az Orosz Forradalom   •   (Hrvatski) Komunizma i Ruske Revolucije   •   (български) Комунизма и Руската Революция   •   (Lietuvos) Komunizmas ir Rusijos Revoliucija   •   (Slovenščina) Komunizem in Ruska Revolucija   •   (Latvijas) Komunisms un Krievijas Revolūcija   •   (eesti) Kommunismi ja Vene Revolutsioon