Enemy or Ally: America's Response to the Russian Revolution
Zachary D. Cain
Columbia Center, Champaign, IL

This lesson continues the students' examination of World War 1, with specific emphasis directed towards the Russian Revolution of 1917, and President Wilson's concerns about the possible spread of communist beliefs into the war torn nations of Europe. Moreover, this lesson also aims to develop a link between the Wilson Administration, and the initial origins of the Cold War. Following this lesson, students will examine the end of World War I, and the Treaty of Versailles.

Vital Theme and Narrative:
Conflict and Cooperation: Students will examine the many and various causes of war, and of approaches to peacemaking and war prevention. Relations between domestic affairs and ways of dealing with the outside world. Contrasts between international conflict and cooperation, between isolation and interdependence. The consequences
of war and peace for societies and their cultures.

History's Habits of Mind:
Students will be able to grasp the complexity of historical causation, respect particularity, and avoid excessively abstract generalizations.

Students will be able to:

1.) Identify and describe three initial problems faced by the Bolshevik government.

2.) Describe the differences between communism and America's Democratic-Republicanism.

3.) Describe how the Wilson Administration responded to the Russian Revolution,
and explain how that response may have helped to begin the Cold War.


1.) Begin with a short review of last lesson involving the problems faced by Russia during the beginning of World War I, and the events leading up to the Russian Revolution and the execution of the Royal family.

2.) Ask students to briefly list some problems faced by the new communist government.

3.) Have students share their lists with the entire class, and write some of them on the board.

4.) Begin a short discussion about the early domestic and foreign problems faced by the Communists during 1917-1918, and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

5.) Ask students to list the possible differences between communism and a democratic-republic.

6.) Have students share their lists with the entire class, and write some of them on the board.

7.) Briefly discuss President Wilson's concern with communism, and have students begin Handout #1.

8.) Have students share their responses to Handout #1, and begin a short discussion and guided reading of America's response to the Russian Revolution (The Specter of Communism, p. 4-32).

9.) Have students re-assess their initial responses to Handout #1, and have them explain why they did or did not change their response.

10.) Have students share their responses, and then discuss whether they believe that Wilson made the proper decision and why they believe he did or did not.


Leffler, Melvyn P., The Specter of Communism. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1994), pp. 4-32.

Ideas for Assessment of Student Learning

Students will be responding to the following prompt, with an initial pre?reading response, and then a re-assessed response that will incorporate what they have learned after reading Leffler's, The Specter of Communism.

What Would You Do?

Imagine that it is March 1918, and you are Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States. The First World War is well underway in Europe, and things are not looking good for the Allied forces. During November 1917, a revolution began in Russia that caused you much concern. In that month, the Bolsheviks, a communist group led by Vladimir Ilich Lenin, took power. Communism is a political system in which the government owns key parts of the economy, and there is no private property. This type of government is completely opposite of the American system of democracy and a free-market economy. While you do not believe that this new communist government is a threat to America, you are concerned about its possible spread into other war-torn European nations. Your task is to decide how America should respond to this communist government. Do you:

a.) Do nothing and ignore Russia completely.

b.) Recognize the new government immediately.

c.) Send monetary aid and supplies to help this new government establish itself.

d.) Oppose the communist government with direct military support for the opposition forces.

e.) Send military and financial aid to indirectly help the opposition forces.

f.) Some other possiblily: ___________________________________

Explain why you made the decision you did:

After our discussion, has your decision changed? Why or why not?

Do you believe that President Wilson made the correct decision?
Why or why not?

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