Monthly Archives: November 2013

No More Opium for the People

 

The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow
The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow

 

Marxism famously claims that “religion is the opiate of the people”. Communism was to have no religion. But while bringing Marxist theory into practice in Russia, Soviet leaders knew that the thin ice they walked on could break if they forced Soviet citizens to give up religion. Prior to the Soviet Union, Orthodox Christianity was an important part of Russian life. But by 1957, Khrushchev felt that the USSR was stable enough to take another step toward true communism.

The new policy, approved by Orthodox Patriarch Aleksii, attempted to merge existing monasteries together to bring the total number down, limiting their affect on surrounding regions. By 1959, 33 monasteries had been eliminated through mergers and another 29 were to be merged into other monasteries. During the second push of mergers, five Moldavian monasteries were to be eliminated. The first four were successfully closed, but when people in Rechulskii heard that the nuns were being forced out of the local monastery they revolted and prevented Soviet officials from transferring the nuns and closing the church for 11 days by surrounding the church armed with pitchforks. Eventually the monastery was closed and Soviet officials cited miscommunication for the holdup. But it showed that Khrushchev’s policy was not easy to enforce (Council for the Affairs)

Fears of increasing faith led to the 1961 law that took control of churches from priests and gave them to councils. The council were packed with communists who were able to force about 10,000 of the churches to close, about half of all existing Orthodox churches in the USSR. The campaign against religion heated up with the Party forcing priests to renounce their faith and made churches into museums and schools without warning. They also tried to replace the traditions and rituals of religion with “Soviet ritualism” and science. They replaced religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter with a celebration of Russian winter and Spring Day, respectfully. They also had picked certain personal milestones–such as first day of school, being drafted by the army, returning from the army, marriage, birthdays, funerals–to be celebrated in a Soviet way. Policy makers knew that these new traditions would not be accepted overnight, but by using new technology such as phonographs and TV, they could make these holidays and rites tradition for Soviet citizens in a few years.

 

 

Seventeen Moments: Fight Against Superstition. http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1961antireligion&Year=1961&navi=byYear

Council for the Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church, Report of mistakes committed in conducting measures to close monasteries. http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1961monastery1&SubjectID=1961antireligion&Year=1961

Executive Committee of the Kostroma Regional Soviet, Secret. To all Chairmen of Town District Executive Committees. http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1961kostroma1&SubjectID=1961antireligion&Year=1961

Aleksandr Osipov, Letter to the Editor: A Rejection of Religion Is the Only True Path. http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1961osipov2&SubjectID=1961antireligion&Year=1961

I. Kryvelev, An Important Side of Everyday Life. http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1961ritual1&SubjectID=1961antireligion&Year=1961

The Arms Sprint

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On August 29th, 1949 an explosion was watched by Lavrentii Beria and scientist Igor Kurchatov . The explosion, that of a Soviet engineered atomic bomb shocked the United States. Only four years before had the Americans revealed the results of the secret Manhattan Project. There was no way that the Soviets could have created a similar weapon so soon. In 1950, the trials of Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg,  David Greenglass, Harry Gold, and Morton Sobell began. The Soviet spy ring had given secrets of the Manhattan project to the Soviets allowing them to make themselves a nuclear power.

On August 12, 1953, just months after Stalin’s death, another massive explosion occurred watched by Kurchatov, Beria having headed the project before being removed from his post by Khrushchev and Malenkov. This explosion was 30 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. And although the U.S. had tested a more powerful hydrogen bomb a year earlier, the Soviet bomb was of the original Soviet design of scientist Andrei Sakharov and Kurchatov. Known as the “Layer-Cake Bomb” it alternated layers of uranium and nuclear material to create an explosion much like the nuclear fusion that occurs inside stars.

The Soviet bomb was smaller than the American one and the U.S. answered it with more nuclear tests eventually dropping a H-bomb from an airplane over the Pacific in 1956. The nuclear arms race was in full sprint and the two superpowers could destroy human kind in a series of attacks. For the remainder of the Cold War, and most likely human history, nuclear proliferation remained, and will remain, a supreme diplomatic importance. Khrushchev conducted international affairs in this new world order and would put the world on the the brink of annihilation in the Berlin Crisis of 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The threat of a nuclear attack and the arms race would be defining parts of the Cold War.

 

Sources:

Seventeen Moments in Soviet History: http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1954bomb&Year=1954&navi=byYear

PBS–Citizen Kurchatov Stalin’s Bomb Maker: http://www.pbs.org/opb/citizenk/index.html

FBI–The Atom Spy Case: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/history/famous-cases/the-atom-spy-case

History.com–This Day in History–Soviets Test “Layer-Cake Bomb”: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/soviets-test-layer-cake-bomb –United States tests first hydrogen bomb http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/united-states-tests-first-hydrogen-bomb –United States drops hydrogen bomb over Bikini Atoll http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/united-states-drops-hydrogen-bomb-over-bikini-atoll