As the Bolsheviks rose to power after prevailing in the Russian Civil War, The new ruling class was quick to seek a way to dispose of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Bolsheviks were quite obsessive in “their feverish attempt to construct a new symbolic world-with new icons, new language, new festivals-to bestow legitimacy on the new order” (Freeze, 305). The regime adopted new forms of culture such as embracing the Gregorian calendar, [and modernizing] the alphabet,” but there was on very controversial symbol that the Bolsheviks adopted (Freeze, 306). The Bolshevik name began to become synonymous with “God-Builder” as they became their own religion and a “a cult of Lenin” (Freeze, 306).
When Lenin and the Bolsheviks introduced the New Economic Policy in the 1920’s, it was deemed an “evolutionary, gradualist plan” (Freeze, 301). However, when it came to the church, the the Bolsheviks were excessively harsh. This could be related to the aspect that the Russian Orthodox Church enjoyed a high position of authority in the autocratic state when the 1917 Russian Revolution rolled around. Therefore, the party likely wanted to get rid of any power that could threaten their own.
The Russian Famine of 1921-22 was the result of a perfect storm due to World War I, the 1917 Russian Revolution, and the Russian Civil War. Therefore, when the Bolsheviks rose to power and were looking for a way to rid themselves of the Russian Orthodox Church, they used the famine to their own advantage. When Lenin introduced a new food policy that “turned into a full-scale food supply dictatorship,” the Bolsheviks turned to the Church in order to pay for the grain that they could only buy abroad (Freeze, 301). The Bolsheviks demanded the gold, jewels, and other metals that made up religious and holy objects to be handed over, so they could buy the supplies needed to aid the famine. The Bolsheviks also cast sole blame on the Russian Orthodox Church. By throwing the Church into more than an unfavorable light, the Bolsheviks caused the Church to fall from its pedestal and alter church-state relations for decades to come.
By July 1, 1922, the Bolsheviks had confiscated “26 poods, 38 pounds, and 8 zolotinks” of gold; “33,456 stones weighing 10 zolotinks and 1,313 karats” of diamonds; “21,137 poods, 11 pounds, 85 zolotinks” of silver; the list goes on. In 1922, in a “Protocol of the Meeting of the Politbiuro,” one can understand the hostility towards the Church as a harsh remark was made accusing the clergy of behaving with a “criminal, stingy attitude to the valuables.” All in all, the Bolsheviks set out on a campaign to knock the Church down, and they succeeded. The Bolsheviks painted the Russian Orthodox Church with the blame for the famine and seized their holy valuables for economic purposes so as the stop the 1921-1922 famine.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
“1921: Confiscating Church Gold.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. Accessed September 21, 2014. http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1921church&Year=1921&navi=byYear.
“Russian Famine of 1921.” Wikipedia. Accessed September 21, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_famine_of_1921#Political_uses.
“Anti-Religious Campaign during the Russian Civil War.” Wikipedia. Accessed September 21, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-religious_campaign_during_the_Russian_Civil_War.
“Religion in the Soviet Union.” Wikipedia. Accessed September 21, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_the_Soviet_Union.
Church Headgear Image retrieved from: http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=subject&show=images&SubjectID=1921church&Year=1921&navi=byYear.
Political Poster Image retrieved from: http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=subject&show=images&SubjectID=1921church&Year=1921&navi=byYear.