DP History students study Independence Movements and the Cold War
to news overview

DP History students study Independence Movements and the Cold War

By Nell Crawford, history teacher

In DP1 History, students are beginning the study of our Paper 2 topics and skills. Paper 2 is core content for both SL and HL History, the focus of which are two World History units. At ISU, we have selected to follow topics: Independence Movements (1800-2000), with case studies of Vietnam and Algeria, and The Cold War: Superpower tensions and rivalries (20th century).

-by Nell Crawford, history teacher

These units dovetail nicely because of the historical links between struggles for independence and Marxist inspired nationalist movements, and the international context in which the Vietnamese and Algerian struggles took place, which was in many ways shaped by the Cold War.

Political ideas lie at the heart of both these units. Thus, we begin the first Paper 2 topic, The Cold War, with a brief orientation on political ideology. These beliefs are often represented on a simplified spectrum, from complete anarchy (which is how Marx described his idealised communism) to complete government control (Fascism). This spectrum traditionally also represents economic philosophies, with a communist style command economy on the left and free market capitalism on the right, and also social perspectives on the importance of “traditional” values (valued on the right) and more openness to change and difference (valued on the left).

Political Compass

This spectrum, however, elides contradictions. How, for example, do we account for French President Macron’s championing of neoliberalism (a form of free-market capitalism), which places him on the far right despite his socially liberal ideas, with Le Pen’s protectionism for French workers, which places her, economically at least, closer to the middle of the political spectrum despite her “far right” label? How do we account for the authoritarian nature of Stalin and Hitler’s governments whilst acknowledging their different approaches to economic organisation?  As I write these words, I can hear the objections from many corners: Communism is Fascism! The Soviet economy was more Capitalist than Communist! All authoritarian leaders are the same! There is no room for those debates here. But the people at the Political Compass have devised a new test that attempts to tease apart the economic and social spectrums.

We begin the unit with students taking the test and identifying where they stand. It’s a nice place to start because it reveals both common and divergent views in the class, which provide a baseline for friendly discussion about politics and perspectives on history. I always like to see outliers as they ensure more perspectives are represented in our discussions.

Popular Media

From the political spectrum, we move into identifying core features of Soviet (Communist) and American (capitalist) ideology, using popular media from the early Cold War. An understanding of ideology helps students later assess its relative importance in the origins of the Cold War. Here are two examples of student work that reveal interesting commonalities between the two superpowers pitted against one another in the Cold War: essentially, that both ideologies promised to deliver peace, progress, and plenty to their citizens, projecting themselves as model societies for others seeking modernisation and development.

Student Work

Poster from the Cold War by Viktor Govorkov, 1950

This image is an idealist commentary on the idea of “plenty” as depicted by the communist USSR and how capitalist Americans had to work in order to make a meager sum of money to afford basic amenities, while the communist USSR provides their people their needs without worrying about their abilities. This image insinuates that the government of America takes money from their people while the USSR gives their money back, which also is a reference to the free market of America and how it benefits one power over all, while communist markets benefits the people. This image by the USSR is their aim to represent themselves as the more beneficial ideology to other people.’

– Logan and Zoe

Picture of an American housewife in the 50’s showing off her new refrigerator

‘This image depicts many of the American values. First of all it depicts plenty as the fridge is completely stocked full showing that the American citizens have plenty of food. It also depicts the free market as there is a wide array of products which can only be achieved within a complete free market. Furthermore, this image argues that America is making significant progress in terms of technological advancements, as the fridge is NEW, being able to effectively cool progress in an organised manner.’

– Jules, Morris, and Aryan

Interesting in taking the Political Spectrum test yourself or discussing it around the dinner table? www.politicalcompass.org