Life in Former Soviet States: What Are They Like Today?


Lesson Overview                                                                                                      

     I have taught World History for several years now. A challenge that frequently arises in my classes centers on the students being unable to grasp the key differences in today’s Russian economic and political activities.  In my class, we end our class with a unit called, “Russia Today.”  We look at the collapse of the Soviet Union and the factors contributing to the collapse.  By doing this, we attempt to understand how the current situation in Russia arose and recognize why the study of Russia is relevant to the students today.  After this unit, we jump back to the beginning of Russian History and follow the normal sequence. 

     This opening unit also allows the students more easily to understand current events, and we require a weekly current events assignment throughout the term.  We discuss the current events and determine what factors have contributed to the current situation.

     One current event that is of great concern to the world community is the current state of Russia’s nuclear wastes.  Russia and the former republics of the Soviet Union have had a terrible history of nuclear-related mishaps.  In spite of this, Russia is proposing that it will now begin accepting nuclear wastes from around the world for long-term storage and reprocessing in Siberia.  By doing so, Russia is hoping to earn up to $25 billion in foreign revenues.



Lesson Author


Patrick Farley


East Marshall


Lesson Audience

Grade Level

High School (Best for 11-12 Grade)

# of Class Periods



World History, Ethnic Studies/Cultures

Length of Period

50 Minutes








Objectives                                                                                                                  Back to Navigation Bar

Student will understand:

1.     That one of the keys to the success of market-based economies is the right to own, control, and receive the benefits from private property. The existence of clearly defined and well-secured property rights creates incentives for owners to direct their property to its highest valued use. This, of necessity, includes consideration of the value of conserving the resource for future use. It also encourages the owner to ensure that the value of his property doesn’t deteriorate – for example, through pollution.

2.     In market based economies, private ownership confers two types of rights: control rights – the right to control the use of property or transfer the control to someone else, and benefit rights – the right to any value that may be created from the property. For instance, the owner of a home near a large sports stadium can control the use of his property. He decides whether or not other people may park their cars on his lawn, and if he chooses to allow parking during sporting events, he receives the benefits – in the form of money – from using his property in this way.

3.     In the former Soviet Union, in theory, the people owned everything because the state owned everything.

In reality, control rights and benefits rights were separated. Ministry officials and plant and farm managers exercised control rights. Benefit rights belonged to “the people,” to everyone, and were to flow to workers through improved standards of living. Both in the factory and on the farm, this situation created a moral hazard – incentives for abuses of power. The government officials and plant and farm managers often used their control to try to create personal benefits. Taking bribes and/or using “the people’s” resources for their own benefit was endemic, expected, and at least tolerated if not actually condoned by the citizenry. On the other hand there were no incentives to end this corruption. The benefit rights were so diffuse – spread out among so many people, that no one could claim a direct payment from production or farming, and no one was directly responsible for losses.

On the Soviet collective, workers had no incentive to work harder; many to most shirked work whenever possible. The result was a heavy emphasis on output with little or no concern for: production costs, or

the best uses of land. Another consequence of the “shared by all” property rights was that the Soviet Union experienced problems traditionally known by economists as the “tragedy of the commons.”

4.     Economists have long recognized that when “the people” or “everyone” owns something, the incentives are the same as when no one owns it.

5.     The peasant drove a tractor that everyone owned, out to till a field that everyone owned, to spread seed and fertilizer that everyone owned, to raise a crop that everyone owned! The problems arising from an individual’s sense of non-ownership include:

-overuse and depletion of farm lands;

-deterioration of capital equipment;

-pollution and disregard for the total environment.

6.     More generally, with private property for each, any change in output from more effort goes to the person extending the extra effort. With common property, the gain is not in the change in output, but the change in output divided by the number in the group.

7.     The larger the group, the less the gain from working harder and the less the loss from working less – from the individual’s perspective. In other words, the larger the group, the greater the incentive to free-ride. In contrast to their approach to the common property, peasants improved their private plots and took care to preserve or build up their fertility.

8.     The collective farm household eked out a living, supporting itself by pilfering grain and provisions from the collective farm to feed a milk cow and a few chickens and by selling the produce from its private plot in a nearby town.










Materials                                                                                                                   Back to Navigation Bar


  • PC, Mac, or laptop
  • Microsoft PowerPoint software
  • Projector
  • Construction Paper (Various colors and size)
  • Scissors
  • Markers and other writing materials
  • Library, media center research materials



Online Resources (hyperlink)

  1. http://www.pbs.org/weta/faceofrussia/intro.html
  2. http://www.coldwar.org/articles/90s/fall_of_the_soviet_union.asp
  3. http://www.russiablog.org/
  4. http://www.aei.org/article/foreign-and-defense-policy/regional/europe/the-strange-case-of-russian-capitalism/
  5. http://www.worldsocialism.org/articles/russian_capitalism_in_crisis.php
  6. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/country_profiles/1102275.stm
  7. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qra0hlO6hZk&noredirect=1
  8. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_DaMKUP3Og
  9. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuvHBgHyHh0&feature=related

Handouts (Handouts embedded in Appendix)

  1. http://facweb.northseattle.edu/erolguin/graphics/European-political-spectrum.png


Classroom Procedures                                                                                             Back to Navigation Bar

Prior Learning (background information, vocabulary)

The student will need to know:

  1. Understand why studying Russia is relevant and important to us today.
  2. Basic understanding of the former Soviet union and its downfall.
  3. A general proficiency with the Cold War and its powerful influence on American foreign policy.
  4. Experience necessary to collect and discuss current events in Russia and to put these events in historical, geographical and political context.
  5. Understand why it is in the self-interest of the U.S. to try to help Russia develop into a flourishing democratic state.
  6. To compare problems and issues at nuclear weapon/waste sites in Russia and in the U.S.



Day 1-2:

  • Discuss background of former Soviet Union outlining basic principles. Show web videos Smurfs & Communism, Make Mine Freedom, Red Nightmare  regarding Soviet and anti-Soviet Propaganda.
  • Divide the class into three groups: Information, Advantages, Disadvantages (see descriptions below).
  • Each group will do research on one aspect of a “true communist society” to be followed by an oral presentation accompanied with visuals.
  • Pass out political spectrum and have students identify communism on the matrix.
  • Each student will prepare an individual written report dealing with his/her topic.
    NOTE: On the days of the presentations, students should listen, take notes and ask questions of the presenters.
  • Time allocation:
    1. 1 day in library for research
    2. 1-2 class periods for additional research using library materials, websites, and all three episodes of The Face of Russia.


Day 2-3:

 Information Group
Students will explain what a Communist government is and look at the role of the former Soviet Union as a leader of world Communism. They will examine what life was like in pre-communist times in Russia and compare it to life in post-communist Russia. Students should be reminded to stick to facts, be objective and use unemotional vocabulary.

Advantages Group
This group will talk about the advantages of living in a communist society. In order to do this, the group should be divided into “mini-groups” to present the information. Students are not limited to the former Soviet Union, and are encouraged to include some other (former) communist countries. Suggested sub-topics to consider are:

  • equality for all
  • health care
  • no unemployment

Disadvantages Group
This group will talk about the problems and disadvantages of living in a communist society. The group should follow the same procedures as the Advantages group above. Suggested sub-topics are:

  • abusive power
  • restrictions
  • censorship

*Assign The Strange Case of Russian Capitalism  website for research and discussion the next day.



Day 3-5

Days 3 into day 4 we take a closer look at modern Russia by discussing The Strange Case of Russian Capitalism  website and then exploring a number of different sources on the internet while also watching and taking notes of the PBS documentary Face of Russia. The following concepts are explained to the students and discussed in a large group learning discussion at first. Later we break up into small groups and designate deeper discussion on assigned concepts.

  • Each student will prepare a written and oral presentation about a well-known person from Russian history or from present-day Russia. Students may choose from those featured in The Face of Russia or from another source.
  • Students spend 1-2 class periods doing research in the library.
  • A written report is due from each student 1 week after doing the research. This report should include everything that will be said in the oral presentation.
  • The teacher will evaluate the reports and give them back to the students before the oral presentation.
  • One day prior to the oral presentation, students turn in a summary. The teacher makes enough copies for the entire class.
  • In the oral presentation students should focus on the characteristics and accomplishments that make their “personas” outstanding. Students are encouraged to use props or support materials such as visuals, costumes, maps, timelines, or dramatizations in their presentations. The class is permitted to ask questions of the presenter.
  • Below rubric will be used to grade presentations.



Extension                                                                                                                   Back to Navigation Bar

Š       http://quizlet.com/1728445/government-and-politics-in-russia-packet-vocab-flash-cards/

Š       http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MaNTAUc-3tk&feature=related

Š       http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w86QhV7whjs&feature=related




Evaluation                                                                                                                 Back to Navigation Bar



The rubric below may be used to…..





More Effort Needed


25 pts

18 pts

14 pts


Totally on topic; all parts of the assignment are fully addressed

Mostly on topic; all parts of the assignment are generally addressed OR one aspect of the assignment is not addressed

Vaguely or not at all on topic; many parts of the assignment are not addressed or are only superficially addressed


25 pts

18 pts

14 pts


Fully developed ideas with coherent reasoning and/or supporting examples

Ideas not completely developed; some sloppy reasoning or poorly selected examples

Ideas not developed; lacking sufficient detail to understand the thoughts behind the words


25 pts

18 pts

14 pts


Logical organization of ideas; complete sentences; very few spelling and grammar errors

Somewhat logical sequence of ideas; mostly complete sentences; some spelling and grammar errors

Disorganized thoughts; multiple sentence fragments or spelling and grammar errors that distract from the ideas being expressed


Creativity Bonus – You may earn up to 3 extra credit points for taking an exceptionally creative approach to the assignment or for being particularly insightful. 


Appendix                                                                                                                    Back to Navigation Bar