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The Fall of Communism: New Directions for Politics, Social Conditions, and the Economy

Produced by Virginia D. Pranik, Arch Diocese Bishop Amat High School


I teach in a high school where the student population of 1650 is majority minority with Hispanic students more than 52% followed by Asian, European ancestry and African American. The sophomore students take a year-long chronological world history survey course using the textbook History and Life published by Scott Foresman. This course begins with early humans and concludes with the 1990s; therefore, the students will be involved in this unit from June 3rd to 9th. Previously, they would be exposed to early Russia in a chapter on the Byzantine Empire, to Peter and Catherine in a chapter on absolute monarchies, to 19th century conditions such as the Napoleonic invasion and the freeing of the serfs in two chapters, and the Bolshevik Revolution and Stalinism. The study of Russia is always interspersed with other regional/cultural areas so that the students have not had the experience of a "unit" on Russia. However, they will be familiar with the concept of identifying the political, social, and economic aspects of a topic because that is a unifying theme of the course.

This unit will consist of a simulation in which the students will use their knowledge of their own environment (California) to imagine a totally different environment (the former USSR/Russia). The situations and roles they will be given in the simulation parallel situations and roles in the collapsing USSR/ emerging Russia. As an introduction the students will be assigned the reading of Chapter 35 of their textbook and a xeroxed copy of reportage of the coup (RFE/RL Research Institute: Report on Eastern Europe.. vol. 2,, number 44, 1991). The teacher will present a lecture of introductory information and a chronology of events.


  1. The students will be able to give reasons for the failure of Gorbachev's policies, why communism failed to evolve in the current technological environment.
  2. The students will be able to explain why Glasnost was more effective than Perestroika, why the Soviet citizens were more able to respond to a freeing of the political system than to a restructuring of the economy.
  3. The students will be able to describe the reasons for the Coup in August, 1991 and give reasons for its failure.
  4. The students will be able to give reasons for the breakup of the Soviet empire and the rise of nationalism in Russia and other republics.
  5. The students will be able to describe the difficulties of converting the economy from communism to capitalism and explain why some people prospered while others suffered.


The procedure will involve a three-day simulation during which the students will set up a new government and political system, revise their society on the basis of a new or revised nationalism, and change the economy. The simulation will be based on the premise that California has "broken off" from the rest of the United States and that they as the citizens must adapt to their changed environment. California is a good model because the students are aware of local conditions and problems, both economic and social. Each student will be given a role card and will be responsible for making decisions based on that role. Each day there will be new situation report and task cards: politics, social conditions, economic decisions; the students will have to debate their goals and options and resolve their conflicts as much as they can so that their new "nation" succeeds.

The goal of day one is to appreciate the frightening but exciting challenges of independence and relate them to the experience of the fourteen non-Russian republics, especially the Baltic states, as the Soviet Union collapsed. Day two will focus on the rise of nationalism based on the historic relationships of conquest and control that change as the new state realizes that its historic population is now at least a plurality if not a majority and must decide issues of citizenship and participation. On day three the students will come to grips with maintaining or reinventing an economy that has lost its previous production and trade situation and must try to change jobs and technology in a short period of time.

The students will work on their tasks for half or more of the class period followed by a sharing by the groups of their progress or lack of success. The teacher will then debrief the students by describing the situation as it occurred in Russia and the former Soviet empire.


  1. Copy of the reading from "Report on Eastern Europe: Reportage on the Coup: Three Days in August: on-the Spot Impressions" by Iain Elliot.
  2. Sample of role and situation cards to be used during the simulation.


On the fifth day of the unit there will be a class discussion on the following broad questions:

1. How did you and your group members decide on the balance of personal freedom and social control that your new government would permit? What arguments did your group have to contend with as you made your new system? Were there any hard feelings and resentments over past treatment and conflicts among the various ethnic, religious, political, economic or social subgroups in your society?

2. Why do you think that members of a new nation return to earlier national and/or religious traditions? Is there a need to fill a vacuum created by the collapse of the old order? How did your group deal with the problems of nationalism and the rights of minority groups? How did subgroups relate to one another now that percentages and power bases had changed?

3. Did your group find that loss of the old economic system led to fear and uncertainty as you tried to set up a new system? Which subgroups were more likely to be risk-takers and which were more security-dependent? Were there any conflicts between richer and poorer subgroups? What values motivated your group?

4. Did this simulation give you a better sense of the problems that the peoples of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have had to contend with since the fall of communism? Why do you think that the transition to democracy and capitalism during the 1990s has been so difficult for these peoples?


The debriefing process, both on a daily basis and at the end of the simulation, will be the first strategy to assess the success in meeting the objectives of the unit. The teacher will be able to make adjustments during the simulation as needed and the students will receive feedback as they progress through the simulation.

When the students are tested on the post-World War II chapter they will be required to write an essay answer to the question addressed in number 4 of the debriefing process, so that, in addition to class discussion, each student will respond formally with his/her perspective on the new Russia/Eastern Europe. Each student will be expected to identify both positive and negative changes in the former Soviet empire in regard to the complexities of changing a system that has existed for 50 to 70 or more years especially implementing democracy and market reforms, addressing nationalism and anti-semitism, and moderating the growing gap between the rich and poor.

Center for European and Eurasian Studies