No God but the State?

On Easter Day Nobody Skips Work! (1929)
On Easter Day Nobody Skips Work! (1929)

Religious persecution reached new levels in the 1920s culminating with the passage of the Law on Religious Organizations in 1929. The goal of the Soviet government was the removal of religious influences from society. These influences were seen as a leftover from tsarist rule and as a threat to the authority of the new regime. It was the government’s goal to undermine the importance of religion as well as create a state focused on scientific development and advancement, but the anti-religious movement did not completely suppress religion.

Even before 1920, the Bolsheviks took action to remove religious influences from the home. Bolsheviks saw the “patriarchal, religiously sanctioned family as tsarist society in microcosm” (331). Abortions were legalized, women were given equal rights under the law, and restrictions on divorce were relaxed.

By 1929, religious buildings, lands, and other assets were nationalized without compensation and the Law on Religious Organizations required congregations to register with the state in order to legally worship. The state established the Commission on Religious Questions to advocate “the eradication of religion only through agitation and education” (335). The state did not sponsor violence against religion. Instead, the Commission on Religious Questions sponsored anti-religious propaganda in publications such as Bezbozhnik. 

The Law on Religious Organizations only restricted the practice of religion and never fully banned it. Religion was still tolerated in the early Soviet Russia only if it was beneath the state.



Freeze, Gregory L.. Russia: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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4 Responses to No God but the State?

  1. leahw93 says:

    It’s interesting how you point out that religion was still tolerated as long as it was underneath the state. Because religion was so important to the Russian people during the autocracy, I’m sure many of them still practiced it once the Bolsheviks came to power, perhaps not as openly though. I think we discussed in class recently how people would put Stalin icons right next to their Christian icons – in a way this shows how integrated the state was into people’s personal lives.

  2. sean5221 says:

    I found this post extremely interesting because until now I didn’t know that religion was still tolerated within the state. However, the thing that drew me into your post is the discussion of the Commission on Religious Questions sponsored anti-religious propaganda in publications such as Bezbozhnik. I had no idea the Soviet state enacted a commission directly responsible for anti-religious propaganda.

  3. hgiannoni says:

    The fact that restrictions on divorces were relaxed and abortions were made legal went to show how much the new government was willing to change its society. Not only did these things empower women and give them more rights and an equal footing in society, but they also undermined what was left of the religious dogma. Such policies went opposite to church teachings, and perhaps that was the goal of the government when implementing the new laws. It could be equally possible however that the policies were implemented as a part of the creation of the new Soviet persona. I liked this post.

  4. A. Nelson says:

    Haydn makes some good points about how broader goals of social change (emancipating women), dovetailed with the campaign against religion. Love the poster in this post!

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