Speaking Freely In the Soviet Union's Autocratic Government

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Author:Mollie S. MacAdams, Southern Middle, Anne Arundel County Public Schools

Grade Level:Middle/High

Duration:Two class periods


The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees the freedom of speech can often be taken for granted. As American citizens we have the right to speak freely without the fear of censorship. Around the world, and certainly throughout history, this has not always been the case. In this lesson students will specifically examine portions of the constitutions of the United States and former Soviet Union to identify what each says about the freedom of speech. The two countries make for an interesting comparison since each experienced similar formative events in their histories, but ultimately ended up with vastly dissimilar effects on the rights and privileges of its citizens. At the core of this lesson students will have to investigate what were the stated purposes and structures of the two governments? How do these affect how much control the government needs to exert over its citizens, especially pertaining to the freedom of speech? Primary source documents presenting real-life examples of issues surrounding the freedom of speech in both countries will be examined and analyzed by the students.

Related National History Standards

Content Standards:

Era 9: Postwar United States (1945 to early 1970s)

Standard 2: How the Cold War and conflicts in Korea and Vietnam influenced domestic and international politics

Historical Thinking Standards:

Standard 3: Historical Analysis and Interpretation

A. Compare and contrast differing sets of ideas.
B. Consider multiple perspectives.
C. Analyze cause-and-effect relationships and multiple causation, including the importance of the individual, the influence of ideas.
D. Draw comparisons across eras and regions in order to define enduring issues.


· Students will be able to show why freedom of speech was not protected by the government of the Soviet Union.

Topic Background

    The people of America were engaged in a revolutionary war in 1776 against a monarch.  The people of Russia were engaged in a revolutionary war in 1917 against a monarch. The victorious leaders of both countries established plans for new governments that they hoped would correct problems of the past.   In 1789 the leaders of the American colonies constructed a constitution, stating a purpose for government, providing for checks and balances, plus voting rights limited to property owners.  Freedom of speech was included, which was an individual right that had been previously trampled by the king.  The Russian leaders also constructed a constitution following their revolution and stated a purpose for government and provided limited voting rights.  The Soviet government included no checks on central power.  The Soviet government did promise freedom of speech to individual citizens and gave the organs of the press and media “to the people” (articles 2.14 and 2.15). 1

Purpose of government.  

    The authors of new government in America and in Russia had to determine why they needed government and who it should serve.  The U.S. Constitution states the purpose of government as follows.

We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution  for the United State of America. 2
    The authors of the U.S. Constitution described ideals to be achieved:  a more perfect Union, justice, domestic tranquility, and the blessings of liberty.  They mentioned the need to achieve common goods such as defense and general welfare. Citizenship, however, was only indirectly referred to in the original U.S. Constitution.  The Constitution gave states the right to fix voting laws.  During the first 75 years, the states typically gave white male property-holders over the age of 21 the right to vote.  By the 1850s most white men could vote regardless of property ownership.  With no protections guaranteed in the Constitution, African Americans, whether slaves or not, immigrants, and women did not have the right to vote.  In 1857, the Supreme Court ruled in the Dread-Scott Decision that African Americans, enslaved or not, could never be U.S. citizens. 

    Only after the violent Civil War and the subjugation of the South, did the 14th Amendment, passed in 1866, define a more or less universal citizenship:  "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."  A few years later, the 15th Amendment gave African American males the right to vote.  American women, however, would have to wait four decades to receive that right to vote, guaranteed in the passage of the 19th Amendment in1920.

    For African Americans, however, despite Constitutional amendments, their ability to exercise their full citizenship was still a long way off.  Jim Crow laws in many parts of the country denied African Americans access to schools, parks, jobs and housing because of local laws, rules and regulations that discriminated based on race.  Jim Crow laws were backed up by local law enforcement, social practice and vigilante organizations such as the Klu Klux Klan which used violence to ensure the segregation of African Americans from white society.  After a vigorous and at times violent struggle for full rights in the 1950s and 1960s, African Americans won a clear Constitutional mandate for equal citizenship with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  In short, it took a hundred years after the passage of the 14th Amendment and nearly two centuries after the founding Constitution, for U.S. law to guarantee full and equal citizenship to the nation’s inhabitants regardless of gender, race and ethnicity.

    In the Soviet Union, the new Soviet Constitution of 1918 also did not guarantee full citizenship to all inhabitants of the former Russian Empire.  Instead of discrimination based on gender, race and ethnicity, the Soviet Constitution denied citizenship based on class.  The reason for this discrimination was justified in founding mission of the Constitution:
Russia is declared to be a republic of the Soviets of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies. All the central and local power belongs to these soviets.  The Russian Soviet Republic is organized on the basis of a free union of free nations, as a federation of soviet national republics.

    The purpose of the Constitution was to establish a socialist state that ensured a radical redistribution of power and economic resources from the wealthy to the working classes. 3

    With this passage, the authors of the Soviet constitution abolished private property and gave to peasant farmers, free of payment, land they had farmed for generations.  The authors of the Soviet constitution of 1918 determined that establishing socialism would not be possible immediately and they declared a transition period that required a "dictatorship" to work toward abolishing the economic power of wealthy and propertied classes.  The mission of the dictatorship was to introduce socialism in order to eliminate the exploitation of people under the capitalist system.  The end objective of the government would be to eliminate class divisions in society.

    Communism, in Marx’s view, provided for the means of production to be owned by all of the community.  There would be no class divisions; no ruling class presiding over the workers.  People would contribute to society according to their own ability.  They would be provided for according to their own individual needs. 4 Marx wrote that capitalism supported an economically dominant social class.  He saw this as an evil in society and in government and believed that no economically dominant class should control the state. 5  Marx wrote that a communist revolution was needed in urban, industrialized areas.  Lenin was highly influenced by Marx, but did not think a communist revolution should be limited to the cities.  Though Russia was largely agrarian, Lenin, together with a small group of revolutionaries, went forward to seize power and organize the entire country to achieve the Marxist vision. 6

    In sum, the revolution responded to the call of Karl Marx in his Communist Manifesto of 1848 that "Workers of all countries, unite." 7 Following Marx, the Russian Bolsheviks expected that other industrialized nations of Europe would join the revolution.  The Russian revolutionaries understood that communism in one country would fail because that country would be economically isolated and because communism as a theory was based on the assumption of surpluses from industrial production that could be shared out to all working people equally across nations.  The mission of the new government was to encourage communist revolutions throughout Europe.  Thus, the dictatorship was established as a waiting period until the rest of the workers of Europe rose up in revolution.

    In order to establish a socialist government and socialist economy, Lenin and his Bolshevik Party outlined in the Constitution who could participate in the society and how they would participate.  The Bolsheviks did not accept the idea that individual rights were more important than those of the group.  Workers would only be successful if they worked together, not for their own individual interests but as part of a collective, the great army of free labor.  The 1918 constitution included workers and peasants, men and women, as full citizens.  It excluded the "former capitalist classes," those who employed hired labor to make a profit, persons living on non-laboring income such as interest from capitalist investments or returns from property, private traders and commercial middle men, monks and clerics, employees and agents of the former police corps, or Okhrana, members of the Tsar’s family; the mentally ill, the insane, persons under guardianship and persons convicted for crimes of greed and immorality. 8  These classes made up about 20% of the population.  The remaining 80% were given full rights as citizens.  This was a higher percentage of the population that could vote than in the United States at the same time.

    Provisions for voting were included in the Soviet constitution, but there would not be free elections.  Bertrand Russell inspected voting activities in the early Soviet Union at Lenin’s invitation.  In the city, voting was by a show of hands, so that all who voted against the government were marked men. There was only one party, the Communist Party.  Typically, there was only one candidate for which to vote.  Russell asked people in the countryside how elections occurred.  People responded that if they elected a non-communist representative he would not be able to get a pass on the railway so could not attend the county or provincial ugerniya council or "soviet" in Russian. 9  Despite Constitutional guarantees, most of the formal power to pass laws and select leaders was held by the Communist Party.

Distribution of Power.

    American revolutionary leaders agreed to a balance of power.  The Constitution distributed power across three parts of the U.S. government.  Article l of the Constitution assigned legislative powers to Congress, consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives.  Article 2 vested executive power in the president of the United States.  Judicial power was assigned to the Supreme Court and other inferior courts, according to Article 3.  In this way, there were checks on the power of each part of government and no single part held all of the power.10

    This system of checks and balances was not a new idea.  John Locke presented a theory of government in 1690 showing a way to avoid the increasingly centralized power of monarchs in his era.11   A letter from his friend Lady Mordaunt captured the scene for Locke.   She wrote to him following the English revolution of 1688.  She wished he was in England as the old government collapsed.  She enthusiastically described this as a time not for just mending the old, but of creating a totally new government.  She wanted Locke to give them a "right scheme of government" to replace the old. 12  Distributing power was an innovative idea that Locke shared.  He observed that humanity was frail and apt to grab power.  For this reason, it was a problem if a government allowed the same people to make laws who also had the power to enforce them.  For example, they may be tempted to exempt themselves from the laws they made.  Or, they may write the laws to suit their own private advantage. 13  While the Americans picked up this idea in the late 1700’s, as a way to combat the centralized power they saw in the English monarchy, it did not serve the needs of the Soviet revolutionaries in the early 1900s.

    In creating their new government, the Soviet revolutionary leaders chose to concentrate power in the hands of one part of government, the Communist Party.  They rationalized this imbalance of power as a temporary measure and led by workers, "the dictatorship of the proletariat."

    The all Russian Central Executive committee was the supreme legislative, executive, and controlling organ of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic.14   A visitor to the Soviet Union in 1920, Bertrand Russell describes a system of voting for various representatives.  These would serve on groups where all candidates would have to support the goals of the revolution, communism.   They also must defer to the "presidium" consisting of nine men who had all of the power. 15

    Lenin, the leader of the Soviets’ all-powerful Soviet Council of Workers and Soldiers’ Deputies, was no admirer of western-style democracy.  The purpose of his dictatorship was to introduce socialism using the theories of Karl Marx.  The long-range strategy of the Bolsheviks was to have a small group overthrow the government in order to get rid of capitalism and implement the communist system.  At this point they would control the resources of the government.  They would use education and propaganda to teach the people about communism and they would nationalize every part of the economy as a way of bringing about communism.  Eventually, all signs of capitalism and private property would be gone.  At that point, there would be no more need for government because the workers would be in complete control. The state would then, in theory, dissolve.  There would be perfect liberty. 16

    The Soviet Union’s original constitution was rewritten several times, each to reflect the progress toward total socialism.  The so-called “Stalin Constitution” of 1936 abolished the limitations on citizenship established in the 1918 Constitution.  This new Constitution gave universal citizenship to all inhabitants of the nation, regardless of class, economic position, ethnicity, religion and gender.  Legal guarantees, however, mattered little in the face of major economic and political changes that were occurring in the 1930s.  In the late 1920s Stalin initiated state-led industrialization and collectivization drives, both of which increased central and dictatorial power.17   Stalin forced farmers to join collective farms in 1929. 

    He then stepped up state intervention in the economy through central planning in order to ratchet up industrialization to build up Soviet defenses.  Stalin and other Soviet leaders greatly feared invasion from capitalist countries.  The fear was grounded.  In Germany, Adolf Hitler was openly talking about taking over the Soviet Union.  Stalin used ideology and state-led fear campaigns to justify cultural isolation from the West.  None of these steps were decided on in the Central Executive Committee, but in the much smaller body called the Politburo which was the supreme body of the Communist Party.  Stalin’s became the chief leader of the Politburo.  This move marked a shift from oligarchy to dictatorship, not by the proletariat, but by one man. 18
    The Soviet Union was not genuinely Marxist.  Marx and Engels proposed that workers would run the society.  However, in the Soviet Union, the state owned the economy and a small group of privileged people controlled surplus wealth that came from the labor of workers.19   Instead of socialism, Stalin guided the country to a state-led capitalism. The Soviet Union Constitution of 1977 announced that in the USSR "a developed socialist society has been built."20   Was this the point at which the Bolshevik plans to eliminate central power was realized?  Apparently not.

    This more recent constitution offered more rights and privileges for citizens.  But, it still included a primary, controlling power.  Article six provides that the nucleus of the political system is the communist party.21    "Power is sweet and few men surrender it voluntarily," observed Bertrand Russell.22   He did not believe that the Bolshevik plan to eliminate governmental power, once all signs of capitalism were gone, would ever occur.  He was right.  Eventually, in 1991, the conservative communists were discredited.  The Soviet Union collapsed and a new constitution for the Russian Federation was approved in 1993.23

Freedom of Speech 

    Given the purpose and structure of governments designed by the revolutionary leaders in these two countries, how did they view personal freedoms such as freedom of speech?  The Americans did not include freedom of speech in the body of their constitution.  As the leaders debated on the constitution, many feared that this omission would allow tyranny by the central government.  They remembered how their rights were trampled by the British.
    Early Americans wanted a "bill of rights" that would protect individual citizens.  Some states asked for such amendments.  Others ratified the Constitution, while making it clear that they expected the amendments to be proposed.  The First Amendment (1791) provided for freedom of speech.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.24

    The statement of rights for individual citizens is consistent with the purpose of government stated in the constitution, particularly in providing the blessings of liberty.  John Locke’s view of the purpose of government was to defend the natural rights of individuals in society.  According to Locke, citizens have an agreement with their rulers, or a "social contract," providing that they give up part of their natural rights but keep the basic rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of property.  If the ruler tries to remove those rights the citizens could remove him.25  

    These rights would be protected by the structure of government’s balance in power.  The U.S. Constitution provided for judicial power to be vested in the court system, including lower courts and one Supreme Court.  Decisions of that court concerning matters of the constitution and law would be final, and not subject to the review of any other part of government.  Even the justices serving on the Supreme Court would be independent from outside pressures on their job, leaving them free to make unpopular decisions without fear of loosing their livelihood.  They would hold their office during "good Behaviour" and would receive compensation, which would not be reduced during their period in office.26
    The Soviet Constitution of 1918 also promised freedom of the press and assembly.  The Soviet Constitution viewed, however, the mere guarantee of free speech as falling short.  They considered that a press in the hands of the wealthy classes would not guarantee the free speech of the poorer classes.  So, rather than merely specifying these freedoms as individual rights, the 1918 constitution states that the print shops, meeting halls and other technical resources would be no longer in the hands of the capitalists.  These were to be transferred to the working class and the poorest of peasants to guarantee free circulation of newspapers, pamphlets and books throughout the country.27   This transference never occurred.   Ever the observer, Bertrand Russell noted that the printing works were actually held by the state, so no political candidate could have any printing done without the state’s permission.  Likewise, the halls belonged to the state and no candidate could give a speech in them without the state’s permission.28   In short, the state stepped in to act in a similar fashion as capitalist owners of media and the press did in capitalist countries.

    The authors of the Soviet constitution make it clear that the Socialist Revolution was the most important goal of this government.  "The Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic deprives all individuals and groups of rights which could be utilized by them to the detriment of the Socialist Revolution." 29 This was consistent with the purpose of this government.  The power of government was determined to control the press.   In December 1917, on the verge of a civil war, a revolutionary tribunal of the press was established to deal with crimes and offences committed by the press.  These included publication and distribution of any false or misleading reports and information about public events, particularly if they interfered with the interests of the revolution.  In the 1920s, restrictions on the press were greatly reduced. These earlier provisions, however, foreshadowed the repression of free speech instituted by Stalin that resulted in the persecution of hundreds of writers.

    Despite constitutional guarantees, the power to deny individual rights, such as freedom of the press, was appropriated by the Soviet government’s structure.  For example, because supreme power was held by an oligarchy, it could appoint a revolutionary tribunal of the press.  Members would serve for three months.  They would conduct both the investigations and the trials. Decisions of this tribunal were final and not subject to appeal.30   Consequently, the central government could completely control the tribunal members and squelch those who spoke out against any aspect of the socialist revolution.


    Both the United States and the Soviet Union were founded as revolutions against repressive monarchies.  In both countries, revolutionaries sought to establish founding constitutions that would secure rights, both legal and economic, that they felt had been deprived them under the monarchies.  In both countries, legal guarantees were at first limited and large segments of the population were denied basic rights, as well as equality and protection under the law.  In both countries, only gradually was the notion of citizenship broadened to include all native-born and some naturalized citizens.  The United States and Soviet Union shared much in common in their legal histories, but the political histories of these countries differ greatly.

    In seeking to eradicate the economic power of the land-owning and finance classes, the Soviet revolutionaries sought to centralize as much power as they could in the central government.  The U.S. Constitution’s framers, on the other hand, established provisions to combat centralized power that had oppressed them under the King of England. They set up a structure to balance power, assigning no part of government with a monopoly on power.  They built a system of checks and balances, so that legislative, judicial and executive branches acted as brakes for each other. The state constitutional debates showed how important the protection of individual rights was to the people, resulting in the immediate inclusion of these rights in the Bill of Rights that followed by a few decades the Constitution. 

    The Soviet authors had a very different purpose for designing a new government.  They intended to solve the problems posed by capitalism by imposing communism on the nations of Russia.  To do so, the Soviet revolutionaries and leaders in the Stalinist government sought to control not just the political, but the economic, levers of governance.  State ownership of most of the country’s industrial and cultural facilities led to tremendous power that overrode the legal guarantees in the Soviet Constitutions.   For example, the Constitution guaranteed freedom of speech, but it was greatly restricted through government ownership of presses and meeting halls.  Voting was unrestricted and available to all who met the age requirement, but it voters were limited to a single candidate from the Communist Party.  All individual rights could be denied if they were seen to endanger the revolution.  Early leaders such as Lenin hoped that some day the power could completely return to the people, after communism was completely realized.  Despite the fact that several constitutions replaced that of 1918, the Soviet Union was never able to realize the goal where the workers would completely rule themselves.

 U.S. National Archives & Records Administration (NARA), U.S. Constitution (1787)   2<http://www.archives.gov/national-archives-experience/charters/constitutiontranscript.html> {accessed August 1, 2007}.
3Decrees And Constitution Of Soviet Russia, ( New York: The Nation Press, Inc., 1918), p.6.<http://www.marxists.org/history/ussr/government/constitution/1918/index.htm> {accessed August 17, 2007}
4Ibid, p. 208.
5Ibid, p. 212.
6Philip W. Cannistraro and John J. Reich, The Western Perspective:  A History Of Civilization In The West  (Fort Worth:  Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999), p. 1031.
7Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto:  A Road Map To History’s Most Important Political Document, ed. Phil Gasper (Chicago:  Haymarket Books: 2005), p. 89.
8Decrees And Constitution Of Soviet Russia  ( New York: The Nation Press, Inc., 1918), p. 14-15.
9Bertrand Russell, The Practice And Theory Of Bolshevism (New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1964).p.40.
10U.S. National Archives & Records Administration (NARA), U.S. Constitution (1787),  <http://www.archives.gov/national-archives-experience/charters/constitutiontranscript.html> {accessed August 1, 2007}.
11John Locke, “The Second  Treatise,” in Two Treatises Of John Locke, ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge: University Press, 1966), p. 285.
12Lady Mordaunt Letter To John Locke, January 31, 1689 in Two Treatises Of John Locke, ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge: University Press, 1966), p. 45.
13John Locke, “The Second  Treatise,” in Two Treatises Of John Locke, ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge: University Press, 1966), paragraph 143-144, p. 382.
14Decrees And Constitution Of Soviet Russia  ( New York: The Nation Press, Inc., 1918), p. 8.
15Bertrand Russell, The Practice And Theory Of Bolshevism (New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1964).p. 40.
16Ibid, p. 95
17Johan P. Arnason, The Future that Failed:  Origins And Destinies Of The Soviet Model  (London:  Routledge, 1993), p. 95.
18Ibid, p. 97-98.
19Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto:  A road Map To History’s Most Important Political Document, ed. Phil Gasper (Chicago:  Haymarket Books: 2005), p. 27.
20World Factbook,  Soviet Union Constitution Adopted on: 7 Oct 1977 <http://www.servat.unibe.ch/law/icl/r100000_.html > {accessed August 2, 2007}.
22 22Bertrand Russell, The Practice And Theory Of Bolshevism (New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1964).p. 40.
22Ibid, p.100.
23Robert L. Maddes, Constitutions Of The World  (Washington:  CQPress, 2001), p. 292.
24U.S. National Archives & Records Administration (NARA), ”Bill Of  Rights” < http://www.archives.gov/national-archives-experience/charters/bill_of_rights.html > {accessed August 3, 2007}
25Philip W. Cannistraro and John J. Reich, The Western Perspective:  A History Of Civilization In The West ( Fort Worth:  Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999), p. 618.
26U.S. National Archives & Records Administration (NARA), ” U.S. Constitution (1787),”    <http://www.archives.gov/national-archives-experience/charters/constitutiontranscript.html> {accessed August 1, 2007}.
27Decrees And Constitution Of Soviet Russia  ( New York: The Nation Press, Inc., 1918), p. 6.
28Bertrand Russell, The Practice And Theory Of Bolshevism (New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1964).p.39-40.
29Decrees And Constitution Of Soviet Russia, ( New York: The Nation Press, Inc., 1918), p.8.
30Ibid, p. 54


requiring absolute obedience to authority.

a social plan where all means of production are jointly owned by all citizens.  Citizens share labor and the products of labor.

the act or plan for setting up (constituting) something, such as a new government.

a ruler having absolute authority  and supreme jurisdiction over the government of a state.

Freedom of Speech-
Freedom of expression, such as spoken, written, artistic, or musical forms of expression.

a small group of people having absolute authority and supreme jurisdiction over the government of a state.

the poorest class of working people.  In the time of Karl Marx, this was the class of people who worked in factories or otherwise survived by selling their own labor.

Teaching Procedures


Distribute “Freedom of Speech” (RS #1) for student completion.  Review student examples with the class to develop a common understanding of the freedom of speech (10-15 minutes).


1. Hand out  “Purpose of Government” (RS #2).  Review background statement and directions.  Working in small groups (3-4 students per group) have students read the quotes on the handout and restate the main ideas in their own words (10-15 minutes).
2. Distribute “Structure of Government” (RS #3) and review background statement and directions.  Tell groups to read the statements and complete (10-15 minutes).

3. Give out “Power of Government” instructions for foldable organizers (RS #4).  Model the beginning steps for completing each.  This will organize student notes and become the basis for a writing activity at the end of the lesson (20 minutes).

4. Have Students create 1 three flap foldable organizer and 1 one flap foldable organizer from the directions in RS #4 (20 minutes).

Day Two

5. Regroup students into their same groups as the previous day and ask students to review the work they have completed, including the two organizers and foldables.  

6. Distribute “Compare personal freedoms” (RS #5).  Review background information from anticipation guide on meaning of freedom of speech.  Working in their groups, students will read the quotes on the handout and answer the questions (10-15minutes).   

7. Hand out “Freedom of Speech Case:  Minersville School District v. Gobitis” (RS #6).  Explain that the letter they see was written by a school child, who did not think he should be required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  Ask students to guess how old they think the boy was as the time. (Don’t tell them the answer.  They will discover this in their reading). In groups, have students read Billy’s letter and answer the questions.  Review the responses (10-15 minutes).

8. Give out “Billy’s Story” (RS #7) and handout of “Questions for freedom of speech cases” (RS #8).  Instruct students to only complete the questions related to Billy’s story at this time.  Ask students to quietly read the handout and answer the related questions on the inside of their three-flap organizer, from the day before (Students may compare answers).  Review responses (25 minutes).

9. Distribute political cartoons (RS #9 and RS #10).  These give insight into free speech in the Soviet Union.  Ask that students answer the questions at the bottom of each picture. Review responses (15 Minutes).

10. Tell students to answer the related questions about the political cartoons found on RS #8.  Students should record answers on their one flap organizer - USSR Authoritarian Government from Day 1  (15 minutes).

11. Homework:  Distribute “Somebody Wanted In” (RS #11) and have students complete this using their class work and readings from RS #6, #7, #9 and #10.    Model the first entry.  Explain that there can be more than one “somebody” in a conflict so they may find more than one person or group to talk about. (10 minutes)


Students share answers to their “Questions for Freedom of Speech Cases” from their completed foldables organizers.  


The completed foldable organizers will serve as an assessment for this lesson.   


Primary Source Annotaions



This is the first constitution of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic, 1918, in the early days of communist rule.  This document defines the government's purpose, and how that purpose will be carried out.  Students should focus on the government's purpose.  It was to make the transition from the old regime to a powerful, all –Russian Soviet that was to eliminate the exploitation of men by men and ensure that the society was not divided into social classes.  The purpose of this government was to change the way society was organized.  Students should notice that the transitional government leaders were to be chosen through and by the communist party, alone.  Power is concentrated in one, supreme body controlled by the communist party.  There was no separation of powers within the government.  Students should also note the restrictions on political opposition, particularly with regard to freedom of the speech.    Power continued to be held by the communist party in the several constitutions which followed this one.  


Access it here

The Constitution of the United States, 1789,  defines the government's purpose and how that purpose will be carried out.  Students should notice that the Constitution states that its purpose is to form a more perfect union, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for common defense of the people, and their welfare, and to ensure that the people enjoy the benefits of liberty.  The purpose of this government is to serve the people.  Students should notice that this is not a transitional or temporary constitution.  Rather, it is meant to be a permanent statement.  This constitution continues to be in effect, today.  It is amended from time to time. Power continues to be separated among the three main branches of government.  Freedom of Speech is specifically protected in the First Amendment.

Minersville School District v. Gobitis (sic)


This document is the handwritten letter sent by Billy Gobitas to the Minersville School District in 1935 to explain why he refuses to salute the American flag.  Gobitas, who was ten years old at the time, states that he does "not salute the flag because I have promised to do the will of God."  Students should carefully read Billy's argument that he is acting on his religious belief.   He states that the salute and pledge ceremony violate an instruction from the Bible.  Students should also notice details that provide some clues about Billy's age and education.  For example, he writes in cursive without the benefit of lined paper, so the sentences slope slightly.  It appears that the comma after the salutation is missing, but the letter is carefully correct in most regards.  Students might speculate as to whether a parent helped Billy complete this task.

Billy’s Story


This summary of Billy's story tells the details of the famous free speech case, Minersville School District v. Gobitis (sic),  launched by a ten year old school boy.  Students should focus on the incident that launched this case, on Billy's reasons for refusing to participate in the salute to the American flag and the pledge, and on how his case was decided at various levels of government.  Students should reflect on the reasons behind the Supreme Court's decision in 1943 to reverse a previous decision and finally decide in favor of Billy.  Students should  analyze how separation of powers among the executive, legislative and judicial branches contributed to Billy's eventual victory.  Students should also recognize the role of the First Amendment in the final decision.

Now He Tells Us (1961)

Access it here

This political cartoon pokes fun at the Soviet government's famous lack of tolerance for criticism.  The figures on the park bench, dressed in tatters amid the weather, are voices from the early days of communist rule commenting on the traditional lack of tolerance for dissent.  Students should connect this theme to the original Soviet constitution which clearly places all power in the hands of a single, supreme Soviet authority. Freedom of speech was not provided for.  These men considered themselves patriots but suffered because they criticized the government.

Stalin as a book critic (1953)

Access it here

This political cartoon shows the approaching execution of Professor Yaroshenko, as he walks up steps of stacked, written documents to the scaffold.  A soldier urges him on with a bayonet.  The case of Professor Yaroshenko represents those of many authors who did not follow the strict instructions of Stalin, the powerful Russian leader, to teach complete obedience to the supreme Soviet leader.  The artist shows that Stalin executed the writer because Stalin did not like what Yaroshenko had to say.  The soldier seems to have his eyes covered, blindly following orders.  Students should note that the soldier forces the condemned man to walk on the documents which may represent "truth."  Students should connect this cartoon to the provisions of the Constitution of 1918 specifically placing all power in the hands of the communist party and in a single supreme power within the government. Without the separation of powers, as provided for in the U.S. Constitution, there was no limit to the power that Stalin wielded over writers and the press.  There was no freedom of speech.