The Role of Religion


The Bolshevik revolution aimed to create a new social ethos that redefined the political, social, and economic systems in Soviet Russia. In order to alter the popular consciousness the regime needed to transform the values and norms of people in society. Indoctrination through education and redefining families were important parts in changing popular consciousness. However, the changing role of religion in the new Soviet State was vital to creating a new social ethos. The period from 1918 to 1921 heavily regulated religion in order to change the popular consciousness of the state. After 1921, the government relaxed the anti-religious movement just slightly in order to deal with some of the hostility from the peasants.

According to Marxist principles “knowledge is derived from observed reality, without the intercession of any external force or move” (Freeze, 335). In order for the citizens to accept the new system, they needed to be divorced from religion. Once the Bolsheviks started to take over they aimed “to emancipate Soviet Citizens from the scourge (or as Karl Marx put it, the “opiate”) of religion” (Geldern). They needed to separate religion from people’s lives and forced the clergy’s of any religion into second-class citizenship.

Through anti-religious propaganda and the passing of laws and decrees the state was able to take control of religion and separate it from the lives of citizens. The above photo depicts some of the anti-religious propaganda spread while building the Soviet State. An example of anti-relgious decree is the government passed a law forcing all religious groups with more than fifty members to register which, “deprived of the right to congregate without registration, which could be denied at the discretion of the authorities, the church was placed fully under the power of the state.” (Geldern). Additionally, the government nationalized church property without compensation and militants killed many members of the clergy.

Controlling religion and separating it from the lives of citizens made it easier for the state to force people into a different mindset. They needed to focus on creating a progressive, scientific state and religion got in the way of that. The role that religion played in the new regime was one of superstition, which needed to be done away with.


Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

Von Geldern, James. “1924: Antireligious Propaganda.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. Macalester College, n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2014. <>.

Von Geldern, James. “1924: Living Church.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. Macalester College, n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2014. <>.

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3 Responses to The Role of Religion

  1. leahw93 says:

    Love the propaganda graphic you used! It really shows how ruthless the Bolsheviks could be in persuading Russians to abolish their traditional religious norms. Your post also pairs well with Kelly’s on the Bolsheviks campaign against the church by obtaining their gold and jewels –

  2. Kelly Cooper says:

    This was a great post on how the Bolsheviks wanted to dispose of the church, so that the citizens would regard the Bolsheviks as the sole leader of the state. I agree with leahw93 that your post compliments my research well, as I focused more on the Bolshevik attacks against the church. In my research, I noted that the Bolsheviks were attempting to make themselves a religion. However, in a state that had a deep history of religion, this was not an easy attempt and it was rather controversial, especially among the peasant classes, like you mentioned, that were wary of the Bolsheviks. It appears to me that a lot of people blogged about religion in some fashion; I think this topic is of such great interest because the attempted change in religion was a bold move in a deeply religious country. All in all, this was an excellent read.

  3. Caitlin Rose says:

    This post is great for explaining the Bolsheviks reasoning behind taking the church’s power. They went to great lengths to remove religion from society and I’m kind of surprised how well it worked for them in the end.

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