[Note to teacher: This assignment is intended as an exercise to simplify various political ideologies so that students can compare them to one another. Its purpose is to help students first understand some of the ideals of communism in relation to other political and economic systems.]
1. Ask students to research the following four terms: capitalism, socialism, communism, and totalitarianism (remind students to use reputable sources for their references). In a separate session preceding the lesson, each student should bring to class a short definition (about two sentences) for each of these terms. Definitions should be written in the student’s own words.
2. Display four large sheets of poster paper, each labeled with one of the terms above. Instruct a few students at a time to come up and to write any part of their definitions on the corresponding posters. If any students find a definition previously written by a classmate that sufficiently reflects his/her own ideas, that student should add a checkmark next to the preexisting definition.
3. Once everyone has added his/her comments, briefly analyze each poster with the class to explore recurring themes and to help clarify any information about that political ideology.
4. Discuss as a class:
- Why is it difficult to describe a political ideology using only two sentences? Which terms were the most difficult to define, and why?
- In a capitalist system, what is the individual’s relationship to his/her personal property? How does this compare with the individual’s relationship to property under socialism? Under totalitarianism?
- What is communism? How are communism and these other ideologies similar, and how are they different?
5. As needed, help students to understand that these political ideas are complex. While the government of a country such as the United States is founded on the principles of capitalism, some elements of socialism have also appeared in American domestic policy, such as welfare, social security, police and fire departments, and public education.
1. Play audio clip of the Hip Hop group Public Enemy performing “,” a song released in 1989. As they listen, students should write down any words that reflect the tone of the song.
2. Next, play a clip of Folk singer Pete Seeger performing “,” a song he originally recorded in 1949 and performed here in 1963. Once again, students should write down any words that reflect the tone of the song.
3. Discuss as a class:
- In terms of message, what do these two songs have in common with each other?
- What issues do you think each of these songs is criticizing?
- Why do you think some people might have considered these songs threatening when they were first released? How can music be used to challenge a social or political injustice?
1. Play montage of clips from , a film about the Cold War and the ideological battle between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Students should take notes on how the film depicts life in the United States versus life in the Soviet Union, and any ideological differences between the two nations.
Discuss as a class:
- What are some images from the film that illustrate a contrast between life in the United States and life in the Soviet Union in the 1950s?
- Compare the music used in the scenes featuring the U.S. with the music used in the scenes featuring the Soviet Union. How is music used as a propaganda device to make the viewer take a specific position?
- Does this version of communism look closer to capitalism, socialism, or totalitarianism? Why do you think the filmmakers wanted to portray communism this way?
- Why do you think some Americans feared the ideas of communism as much as they feared the military power of the Soviet Union?
2. Ask students: if a so-called “hot war” is defined as a battle between nations using combat and weaponry, discuss how we might define a “cold war.” Why might a cold war have conveyed as much a sense of fear and danger in the United States as a war involving armed conflict?
3. Play a newsreel clip documenting an in the 1950s. Students should take notes on how the film presents the threat of nuclear war to American audiences.
- What kinds of emotions do you think people who participated in this air raid drill felt, knowing that nuclear war with the Soviet Union was a possibility?
- How might newsreel stories such as this have promoted a sense of fear among Americans?
4. Play a clip from , a film produced by the U.S. Armed Forces in the early 1950s. Students should take notes on how a person might recognize a communist, as according to the film.
- How does this film define communist activities?
- Notice the sign that reads “down with the imperialists.” What does it mean to oppose imperialism, and why might many Americans have supported an anti-imperialist organization in the years immediately after World War II? Do you think opposing imperialism automatically makes a person a communist? Explain your answer.
- What do you think was the purpose of this film, and what might have been its consequences at a time when many Americans were worried about the growing influence of the communist Soviet Union?
5. Explain that in the early years of the Cold War, the hysteria over the perceived threat of communists living in the U.S. became known as “The Red Scare” — “Reds” being a term used to describe communists, due to their allegiance to the red Soviet flag.
- During the “Red Scare,” why do you think many Americans became suspicious and began to look for communists living in the United States?
- Why might a person who publicly supported causes such as labor unions or social security have been labeled a communist during the Red Scare? Do we think of these things as being communist today? Explain.
6. Arguably the most high-profile anti-communist of the late 1940s and 1950s was Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, a Republican from Wisconsin. Due to his frequent appearances on television and radio, McCarthy’s public campaign to expose communists in the U.S. came to be known as “McCarthyism.” Play clip of a from 1952. Students should take notes on McCarthy’s position about the government’s role in identifying communists.
- What is McCarthy’s position on the government’s role in identifying communists living in the U.S.?
- McCarthy claims that “treason isn’t like top seed, it doesn’t just grow. It’s created by men with faces and men with names.” Why do you think McCarthy believes it is critical to publicize the names of suspected communists?
- Why is it critical that McCarthy portrays communism as being one monolithic entity, as opposed to a complex set of ideals with multiple variations?
7. Play clip of an from the same television program as the McCarthy interview. Tell students that Lamont was a leader in the American Civil Liberties Union who also ran for the New York State Senate in 1952. Students should take notes on Lamont’s opinions regarding Senator McCarthy.
- What does Lamont believe to be the two most important issues before the American people? How does he believe these two issues are “tied up together”?
- What does Lamont criticize McCarthy for having done to the American public?
- Lamont believes that civil liberties are particularly at risk in the field of entertainment. Why might McCarthy and those who aligned themselves with his views have wanted to silence outspoken popular entertainers?
8. Distribute Handout 1: “If I Had a Hammer” Lyrics. Once again, play a video clip of Pete Seeger performing “,” a song he co-wrote with Lee Hays. Both Seeger and Hays were members of the Weavers, a popular folk music quartet during the late 1940s-early 1950s. They were also both outspoken artists who lent their musical talents to a support a variety of causes, including organized labor, African-American civil rights, and disarmament. Students should examine the entire lyric sheet and the quote from Pete Seeger at the bottom of the page.
- Rolling Stone magazine has referred to “If I Had a Hammer” as “a labor movement anthem-cum-all-purpose activist hymn.” Why do you think this song lends itself so well to a variety of causes related to social change?
- How does the song comment on idea of power? How might it be viewed as a challenge to authority?
- What are your immediate impressions of Pete Seeger’s worldview based on his quote? How does might the quote support or dispute someone accusing Pete Seeger of being an enemy to America? Explain your answer.
9. Tell students that Seeger and Hays first performed “If I Had a Hammer” in 1949 at a dinner supporting members of the American Communist Party.
- Knowing where “If I Had a Hammer” was first performed, how might someone like Senator McCarthy have been able to label Seeger and Hays as being communists?
- How do you think the climate of fear that existed in 1950s America aided McCarthy in his mission to entrap and bring down those he believed to be enemies of the United States?
10. Distribute Handout 2: Red Channels. Explain that Red Channels was a right-wing newsletter published in 1950 that listed 151 entertainers in television and radio who its publishers accused of associating with the communist party. Among the figures listed were composer Leonard Bernstein, writer Langston Hughes, playwright Henry Miller, and Pete Seeger. Students should examine the excerpted pages from Red Channels and read the descriptions of the organizations it cited as being “communist.”
- Why do you think many liberal Americans, including people like Pete Seeger or Lee Hays, might have chosen to support causes promoted by organizations such as People’s Songs, the Progressive Citizens of America, and the Wallace for President Campaign?
- What is Pete Seeger’s reported role in said groups? Based on the information provided in Red Channels, can you make the conclusion that Seeger’s activities with these organizations were communist in nature? Explain why or why not.
11. Explain that Red Channels is an example of a “blacklist.” People who were blacklisted were publicly identified as “subversives,” or troublemakers. Many of those who were blacklisted lost their jobs or were unable to get hired, ruining their careers and reputations.
- If you were a professional musician like Pete Seeger or Lee Hays, how do you think being named as a traitor by Senator McCarthy, or having your name listed in a publication such as Red Channels, might have affected your artistic career?
(Note to teacher: blacklisted musicians were generally not able to perform in the nation’s most prestigious or lucrative concert halls, they could not appear on network television, they could not release music on major record labels, etc.)
12. People who were suspected “subversives” were also subject to being subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), an investigative committee of the U.S. House of Representatives that interrogated hundreds of Americans accused of treasonous activities during the era of McCarthyism. Those who refused to cooperate with the committee faced the possibility of prison time.
Break students into small groups, and distribute Handout 3: HUAC Trial Transcripts. Groups will perform a dramatic readthrough of excerpts from the 1955 HUAC testimonies of folk singers Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, who had both been accused of being communists.
Students should decide who will read for each role and arrange their desks so that the students representing the HUAC congressmen are facing the defendant (Seeger or Hays).
13. As students finish the role-playing exercise, groups should discuss the questions:
- How would you describe the way that Hays and Seeger addressed the committee in their respective testimonies? What emotions did you feel while performing these transcripts?
- Did any of Hays’s or Seeger’s statements stand out to you as particularly powerful and persuasive? Which ones, and why?
- Why did Hays employ the Fifth Amendment during his testimony? How was Seeger’s testimony supported by the First Amendment?
- If you were subpoenaed to appear before HUAC, what do you think you would do, and why?
When groups have finished their discussions, ask volunteers to share out their observations with the class.
Display the following two quotes:
“I think those of us who have been elected by the American people to man the watchtowers. Unless we have the intelligence to recognize the traitors, and…unless we have the guts to name them, we should be taken down from those watchtowers and should not be representing the American people.”
— Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy, September 29, 1952
“I decline to discuss, under compulsion, where I have sung, and who has sung my songs, and who else has sung with me, and the people I have known. I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known and some of my opinions make me any less of an American.”
— Pete Seeger, August 18, 1955
Ask students to write a paragraph comparing these two quotes. Why does McCarthy believe it is the government’s duty to recognize and name traitors? Why does Seeger “decline to discuss” the people he has known and sung with? Who do you think makes a more persuasive argument, and why?
1. Show students a clip of Bob Marley & the Wailers performing “” live in 1980. Students should conduct independent research into Bob Marley, focusing on his career as a Reggae musician and an activist.
Ask students to imagine that they attended both the Pete Seeger concert in 1963 (where he performed “If I Had a Hammer”) and the Bob Marley concert in 1980. Write a one-page review of the 1980 concert, commenting on how Marley compares to Pete Seeger as an activist, and how Marley’s performance of “Get Up, Stand Up” compares to Seeger’s performance of “.” Be sure to address any changes in the musical style and audience reception in addition to the song lyrics and message.
2. Assign students to watch a 1963 with Pete Seeger, in which he discusses why he believes that folk music “has a certain kind of teeth in it.” Have students conduct independent internet research into Seeger’s biography and career between 1955, when he testified before HUAC, and 1963, when this television interview occurred. Point out to the students that as a result of Pete Seeger being blacklisted in the U.S., this appearance was on Australian television – not American television.
Write a 1-2 page report focusing on how being blacklisted shaped Seeger’s career during the 1950s and 1960s. Be sure to discuss the records and songs Seeger recorded, the venues in which he appeared, the kinds of audiences for whom he performed, and how he interacted with those audiences.
3. Research and write a 1-2 page report on Paul Robeson, an African-American actor, singer, and left-wing activist who, like Pete Seeger, was also subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee and blacklisted during the height of the McCarthy era.
Students should locate the transcript for Robeson’s HUAC testimony, delivered on June 12, 1956. Reports should provide background on Robeson’s political and artistic life both before and after his appearance before HUAC. Students must also compare Robeson’s testimony to the testimonies of Lee Hays and Pete Seeger, using direct quotes when necessary. Possible areas of comparison include: tone of delivery, race politics, references to the U.S. Bill of Rights, etc.
Imagine that you are an outspoken filmmaker, playwright, or songwriter in the 1940s and 50s. Suddenly, your name has been published in Red Channels as a suspected “subversive.” You have been called before HUAC to testify and to give names of others in your industry who may be communists. Using the testimonies of Pete Seeger and Lee Hays as your guide, write a one-page prepared response to read during your HUAC trial. In your testimony, include the following:
- Your thoughts on being called before HUAC to testify
- Whether or not you will share your political affiliation with the committee
- Whether or not you will identify others within your industry that you suspect are communist
As a follow-up activity, set up a mock HUAC trial and invite students to come forward and “testify” before the committee. Afterwards, discuss as a class:
- What were common themes in prepared responses?
- Did anyone comply with the committee’s requests, if so, what were his or her reasons for doing so?