“Religion is the opium of the people: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about religion. All modern religions and churches, all and of every kind of religious organizations are always considered by Marxism as the organs of bourgeois reaction, used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class.” -Lenin
The official Soviet policy toward religion was that is must be under a controlled setting. But why were the Communists so afraid of religion, if you think about their past they do have a “justification.” The Tsar’s claimed that they had blessed and given divine authority over the people. This “authority” was then sanctioned by the church, who were able to influence not just the settings of people in the village but the course of national policy. The communists took an extreme policy toward religion, since the establishment of the Catholic Church and that of the Pope has had power over nations, and regions changing history and toppling governments. Marx believed that religion “Like Engels and Marx, Lenin believed that religion was an historical phenomenon, tied to the oppressive structures of human history such as feudalism and capitalism.”(1)
So once the revolution had completed its course and the government had established as the authority in the country they began to evoke changes in the structure of the church and the power it could claim.
“The decree of January 20, 1918 that disestablished the Orthodox Church and consigned the clergy of all faiths to second-class citizenship (along with capitalists, merchants, former members of the police, criminals, and “imbeciles”) set the stage for years of bitter and often violent struggle that included the closing of many churches, the confiscation of church valuables, the arrest of the Patriarch Tikhon, and the execution of priests suspected of aiding the counter-revolutionary Whites.”
In the East this and many degrees of limited religious expression, assigned clergy, and the limitation of places of worship led to many uprisings in the Eastern provinces. The Basmachi movement was such a revolt by the Muslims against the Soviet oppression. The overall uprising would be put down with extreme force and many its leaders executed, but interestingly enough Russia would never have full control of the Islam there and there would always be a constant struggle for control.
In the East the Russians met the most opposition to their new religious laws in terms of rebellion and secret practices and because of this they would become a vocal point of Russian Control. By the mid-1920smost of the Islamic courts became irrelevant to criminal or civil suits, instead many such suits were taken from the courts and given to, by the replaced Soviet courts. Islamic courts were stripped of their authority and eliminated, Islamic studies were removed from education, along with other religious teaching throughout the country. About 8000 Islamic schools existed in Central Asia prior to the revolution, and by 1928 all of them had been shut down. This would hurt these countries for years to come for the language and alphabet reforms cut off the people of Central Asia from Arabic literature.
Not only were the people set-back culturally, but in terms of resources the provinces in the East became stripped economically and of their resources. If one were to look at Uzbekistan for example one can see how the country has been stripped-Areal Sea. If your interested in this look at this journal article- Islam in the Former Soviet Union.
Why do you think Islam became the vocal point of Russian anti-religious campaign? Or do you think other religious sectors were persecuted more?
I personally think that Russia put more emphasis on these Eastern provinces in order to gain more control in the Middle East which was a valuable for its resources.
1) Siegelbaum, Lewis. “1921: The Muslim East.” 17 Moments in Russian History. National Endowment for Humanities, n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2013. <http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1921muslim&Year=1921>.
2) Felix Corley, ed., Religion in the Soviet Union: an Archival Reader (New York: New York University Press, 1996), Doc. 06.
3) Kalaam, Dr. A. “Lenin on Religion.” Lenin on Religion. N.p., 1991. Web. 21 Sept. 2013. <http://sfr-21.org/lenin-religion.html>.