Teacher's Guide: Red Flag

Bolsheviks storm the Tsar's Winter Palace in 1917, igniting the Communist Revolution. Citizens dream of the equality and freedom communism promises; but the initial successes are soon overwhelmed by terror under the dictatorial rule of Lenin and Stalin.

Unit Themes and Topics:
the Communist Revolution
human rights and endurance
ideology of mass movements

Connections Across History
connection: when: where: program:
the Great Leap 1934-1976 China "Great Leap"
postwar economies 1945-1973 United States, Western Europe "Boomtime"
the Cold War 1945-1961 Soviet Union, United States "Brave New World"
Japan's and Korea's rise to economic prominence 1951-1988 Japan, Korea "Asia Rising"
fall of communism in Eastern Europe 1971-1991 Soviet Union "People Power"

Tatiana Fedorova
(laborer, Russia)

"Remember, this is a country where people were illiterate, lived in virtual darkness, wore birch-bark shoes. Even now, I think it's [achievements under Stalin] like something out of a fairy tale."
photographic portrait of Tatiana Fedorova


Before Watching

1. Define socialism and communism. Are the terms interchangeable? What are the goals of each? What images do you associate with each?

2. What does Tatiana Fedorova's quotation imply about how citizens were affected by communism? Why might the Russian people have supported a Communist Revolution?

After Watching

1. Do you think the Communist Revolution fulfilled the hopes of its supporters? Explain.

2. Do you agree or disagree with Fedorova view of the initial accomplishments of socialism? Why or why not?

3. How did Soviet leaders change the story of the Bolshevik attack on the Tsar's Winter Palace? How did the changes reflect the Soviet leaders' goals? Give examples of how the stories of other historical events and figures have been changed. What is gained or lost by such revisions?


Have students examine American society from a communist perspective. First, read them Charlie Nusser's quotation from the program:

"I became a communist . . . because of what I saw around me here in the United States of America. There was misery, there were children going to bed hungry, there was poverty, and there was no reason for it. We were the richest country in the world."
Ask students to write an outline of solutions communists might propose to end poverty, hunger, and homelessness in the United States today, and the negative and positive consequences of those solutions.

FOCUS: Communism under Lenin and Stalin

The following lesson focuses on two program segments. The first segment presents the accomplishments of communism under Lenin and the early years of Stalin. Citizens recall their goals in building a socialist society. The second segment presents communism under Stalin in the late 1930s. The same people recall the changes in society, including the purges and prison camps.

Program Segment I
approximately 14 minutes

The communists use propaganda after the civil war

Valentina Mikova explains how they dug a trench for the foundation of a blast furnace building site.

Program Segment II
approximately 20 minutes

Stalin gives a speech in 1937.

The end of the program


Before Watching

1. Divide the class into four groups to follow one of these speakers as they watch both segments: Mikhail Mindlin, Anastasia Denisova, Ella Shistyer, or Tatiana Fedorova. Have each group take notes on how the speaker supported the revolution and communism in the first segment and how the speaker was affected by the events in the second segment.

After Watching

Segment I

1. How did each of the four speakers help build communism in the Soviet Union? How did their actions reflect the values of socialism and the goals of Soviet leaders?

2. Based on the speakers' stories, how would you describe the mood of the period? How did propaganda posters, slogans, and events promote that mood?

Segment I

1. How does the mood in the second segment compare to the mood in the first segment? What were the speakers' responses to Stalin's policies and actions? Whose stories did you find most powerful and why?

2. Why was it easy for Boris Yefimov to believe Nicholai Bukharin's confession? Why was it difficult for Ella Shistyer to question Stalin's actions? How did their perceptions reflect what Stalin represented for them? Describe other historical periods when a leader's actions contradicted the ideas he or she espoused or represented. In each case, how did citizens respond and why?


Ask students to use newspaper and magazine articles to find out how Lenin and Stalin are viewed today in the former Soviet Union. Have them choose one of these leaders and, using students' findings, create two entries for a Soviet "encyclopedia" -- one written before the dissolution of the Soviet Union and one written after. How do the two portrayals compare?

Program Summary

Use the following information to assist in finding specific segments within the program. The times listed on the left indicate minutes into the program.

00:00 Introduction -- Current Conditions in Russia under Tsar Nicholas II. Society heavily stratified, army demoralized.

02:30 February Revolution. Provisional Government takes over.

03:30 Lenin builds support, launches October Revolution. Bolsheviks take control of the government.

08:00 Capital of Russia moved to Moscow, Tsar and family executed. Message sent to workers of the world.

10:00 Russian Civil War. Bolsheviks fight to retain power. Use propaganda to drive will of the people to their side.

13:28 Condition of life for the Russian peasants. Government creates initiatives for education, mass literacy, raise standard of living.

15:00 Need for engineers and other professionals to build the new society. Women's equality in education a result. Drastic changes in other aspects of society, such as orchestras with no conductor.

18:30 Lenin in complete, absolute control of Russia. Stalin inherits control. Parts of society still unchanged by communist reforms. Stalin launches "5 Year plan" to assume total control of economy.

20:00 Enthusiasm for communism clashes with Stalin's forced labor camps.

24:00 Depression hits U.S. and Europe. Meanwhile Russia launches huge construction projects. Appeals to western communists. George Bernard Shaw and others visit and praise efforts in Russia.

26:00 Stalin moves to eliminate any and all rivals to power, such as religion.

29:00 Stalin launches purges against Kulaks.

31:00 Mass famine strikes many parts of Russia; unseen by the west.

33:30 Stalin begins to purge potential Bolshevik rivals such as Bukharin. Everyone is taken up in the staged drama, even the accused.

38:30 Stalin's paranoia grows and he orders random purges of populations. Even ardent supporters are arrested and imprisoned.

43:00 Life in the prison camps.

48:00 Soviet Propaganda. Hollywood-style musicals produced. Meanwhile, results of Lenin and Stalin's rule are evident. Mass literacy, modernization have been achieved, but millions killed. Proletariat still not in control.

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