Russia’s Religion…or Lack Thereof 5

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The Bolsheviks viewed religion as Marx did, as the “opiate of the masses.” When they rose to power in 1917, they wanted to free all citizens from this “drug.” Under the previous regime, Church and state were closely tied, and because the Bolsheviks wanted to wipe the slate clean, they decided to go to rather extreme measures, starting with an anti-religious propaganda campaign.

He who lives and works in need his entire life is taught by religion to be meek and patient in this world, offering the comfort of hope for heavenly reward. And they who live on the labor of others are taught by religion to be charitable in this world, offering them a cheap justification for their whole exploiting existence.

He who lives and works in need his entire life is taught by religion to be meek and patient in this world, offering the comfort of hope for heavenly reward. And they who live on the labor of others are taught by religion to be charitable in this world, offering them a cheap justification for their whole exploiting existence.

On January 18, 1918, a decree was issued that made all clergy (of any religion) second-class citizens and renounced the longstanding Orthodox Church. Furthermore, it established formal separation of Church and State and nationalized church land. This decree also set into motion years of conflict between the Bolsheviks and churches, including the confiscation of church valuables, particularly gold.The caption reads: “What could the church gold give us? Russia could be fed for this year and the next!”

The Bolsheviks created an entire campaign centered on blaming the church for essentially hoarding their gold and wealth instead of giving it to the poor who were starving due to the famine of 1921-1922. While the Bolsheviks might have actually shouldered more blame for the famine and all-around lack of food than the church did, their anti-religious campaign was still very effective. They believed it was cynical for the church to collect and keep money from its believers when many of them were starving and could have used that money elsewhere. Some clergy complied with their demands, giving the people money and valuables, but others did not. This only infuriated the Bolsheviks more, and the ransacking continued, along with executions of priests and bishops. According to Freeze, the Bolsheviks closed “thousands of churches, synagogues, and mosques” and sometimes “converted [them] into meeting-halls, cinemas, cowsheds, and the like” (350-351). Certainly the Bolsheviks wanted to rid the Russian people of what they saw was their “opium,” but perhaps their measures were too extreme.

Sources:

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Marx, Karl. “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.” marxists.org. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm

Von Geldern, James. “Antireligious Propaganda.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. 2014. http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1924antireligion&Year=1924&navi=byYear

Von Geldern, James. “Confiscating Church Gold.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. 2014. http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1921church&Year=1921&navi=byYear

Photos from:

http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=subject&show=images&SubjectID=1924antireligion&Year=1924&navi=byYear

http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=subject&show=images&SubjectID=1921church&Year=1921&navi=byYear

 

5 thoughts on “Russia’s Religion…or Lack Thereof

  1. jenniferh Sep 22,2014 7:28 pm

    The violent deaths of the clergy and denoting them second class citizens definitely seem like extreme measures to rid Russia of religion. Additionally, taking everything from churches seems a bit excessive and the rules placed on religious groups are burdensome.

  2. Jimmy Jewett Sep 23,2014 1:34 am

    I find this personally to be one of the most interesting aspects of the Bolshevik
    Revolution and the Soviet Union. It seems startling that a new revolutionary government was able to bring down an entire religious order. This movement against religion must have had some sort of negative impact on a large population, and was certainly a bold move on the part of the Bolsheviks. The success of the campaign shows how effective Soviet propaganda was, being able to turn the poor against the church was key to the new leaders maintaining their power of the people.

  3. oliva2015 Sep 23,2014 11:50 am

    I still wonder what the Soviet’s true goal was, whether they really hoped to end the peoples addiction to religion which told they to accept the way things were, or whether their goal was really to seize religious funds and lands for the state’s use. It is difficult to tell, either way the violence which came with this drive against religion definitely displays a continuing anger the Russian people held against their old government and anything associated with it.

  4. mikegancio Sep 23,2014 1:39 pm

    It’s wild to think this happened not too long ago. I feel like the anti-religious campaign was geared towards monopolizing power over the masses and religion just happened to be in the way of that. Nice post.

  5. ryandellinger Sep 23,2014 2:24 pm

    Were their measures too extreme? Or simply what was necessary? If they had slowly edged out religion through gradual reforms, a greater percentage of people may have turned from their religious ways, however, their revolution would not have succeeded. Gradual reform gives time for people to think about what is happening and how to resist it if it turns out to be something undesirable. People would have time to analyze what the Bolsheviks were doing and set up underground religious movements, which would prevent the people from putting their faith in the government instead of their god. The Bolsheviks had to take out religion in one clean sweep, making those “extreme” measures, absolutely necessary.

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