Inside the Kremlin: Soviet and Russian Leaders from Lenin to Putin
Grade Level: High School
Includes curriculum unit + 2 DVDs
One cannot begin to understand modern world history and the 20th century without first understanding the far-reaching impact of the Soviet Union along with its ideology, policies, and actions vis-à-vis the non-communist world.
The Soviet Union's past aggressive military and ideological expansion efforts spurred numerous proxy wars between East and West, as the West struggled to keep the spread of communism at bay. Now with the Cold War in the past and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, attention turns toward the future and what it holds for this massive region in transition. Inside the Kremlin introduces students to key elements of Soviet and Russian history through the philosophies and legacies of six of its leaders—Vladimir Lenin, Iosif (Joseph) Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and Vladimir Putin.
Lesson One invites students to take a closer look at the life, career, and legacy of Vladimir Lenin, the first leader of the Soviet Union. In this lesson, students view a lecture on Lenin by Norman M. Naimark, Robert and Florence McDonnell Professor of Eastern European History, Stanford University and Senior Fellow, Stanford Institute for International Studies (SIIS). Then students complete a collaborative timeline activity designed to give them a better grasp of the sequence of events that led to the downfall of the Imperial Russian regime and the rise of the Bolshevik revolutionaries. The bulk of the lesson, however, is devoted to the analysis of primary source materials, both written and visual. Students read and analyze excerpts from Lenin's political speeches and writings to better understand his motivations and intended goals. They also examine the iconography of the revolution by looking at political posters from the early years of the Soviet Union. By studying the visual images associated with the establishment of Bolshevik authority, students come to a better understanding of how the new regime justified its rise to power over the ruins of the Imperial autocracy.
Lesson Two encourages students to take a closer look at the life, career, and legacy of Iosif (Joseph) Stalin, one of the most infamous political leaders of the 20th century. In this lesson, students view a lecture on Stalin by David J. Holloway, Professor of History and Political Science, Stanford University and Senior Fellow, SIIS. The bulk of the lesson is devoted to the analysis of primary source materials, both written and visual. Students examine Stalin's reasons for launching the industrialization campaign. They also consider how the ruthlessly implemented policy of collectivization affected the party members who were expected to carry it out. An inside look at Stalin's relationship with other top Communist Party officials provides students with a sense of how political decisions were made in Stalin's Soviet Union as well as the difficulties of using memoirs as historical sources. Finally, students examine a collection of political posters in order to acquire a better understanding of how Stalin's cult of personality became part of the Communist iconography.
Lesson Three introduces students to Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Communist Party from 1953 to 1964 and premier of the Soviet Union from 1958 to 1964. In this lesson, students view a lecture on Khrushchev by Amir Weiner, Associate Professor of History, Stanford University. Through the lecture, content handout, and excerpts of Khrushchev's famous "Secret Speech," students learn about Khrushchev's strengths, weaknesses, and goals as a leader. They also become familiar with key historic events that occurred during the Khrushchev era, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the building of the Berlin Wall. In the main activity of this lesson, students work in small groups to analyze selected excerpts of Khrushchev's speech and evaluate its impact on various interest groups. Students also discuss Khrushchev's legacy.
Lesson Four introduces students to Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union before it dissolved in 1991. In this lesson, students view a lecture on Gorbachev by Coit D. Blacker, Director and Senior Fellow, SIIS. Through the lecture, reading materials, and individual and group activities, students examine Gorbachev's leadership practices, his policies, and his goals before and during his years in office and compare his policies and goals with those of his successor, Boris Yeltsin.
Lesson Five introduces students to the presidency of Boris Yeltsin and the changes that occurred in Russia under his tenure, which traversed the entire decade of the 1990s. In this lesson, students view a lecture on Yeltsin by Gail Lapidus, Professor of Political Science, Stanford University and Senior Fellow, SIIS. Students assess the legacy of Yeltsin by debating whether the direction Yeltsin took Russia in the 1990s was beneficial to the country. In preparing for and engaging in the debate, students identify Yeltsin's accomplishments and weaknesses and examine the profound changes that Russia experienced during the Yeltsin years.
Lesson Six introduces students to Vladimir Putin, who assumed the presidency of Russia on the first day of 2000, charged with leading a weakened Russia into the new millennium. A relative unknown when he entered the presidency, Putin has turned out to be a strong, forceful president who has put into motion profound changes in Russia and earned widespread domestic popularity. In this lesson, students view a lecture on Putin by Michael A. McFaul, Associate Professor of Political Science, Stanford University and Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution. Using information from the lecture and five provided sources, students then compose a newspaper article analyzing the impact of Putin's policies on the Russian public.
The lessons in this curriculum have specific learning objectives listed. The following are larger goals for the curriculum unit as a whole:
- learn about contemporary world and Soviet history;
- understand the tension between East and West during the Cold War; and
- recognize the importance of legacies and the enduring impact that a leader can have on a country.