Why Starve When You Can Steal From the Church?

During the famine that plagued Russia during the early 1920s, the relationship between the Church and state was deteriorating. The Bolsheviks hatched a plan to defeat the Orthodox Church in one decisive blow.

With the state in a famine, Lenin needed something to help gain support of the peasants that were struggling through this time. The Bolsheviks, realizing that the Orthodox Church had a vast amount of wealth, ordered them to turn over all their riches in order to help the state provide food for those suffering. Until this point, the Bolsheviks were hesitant to attack the Church since the working class relied on the Church and the Bolsheviks did not want to lose the support of the people. But in a letter from Lenin to the Politiburo, he realized something that could solve his dilemma: with the people suffering and some members of the Church refusing to comply with the order, he could turn the Church into an enemy of the people. Yes, he is going to paint the Church as hoarding riches while the peasantry starves to death. He wrote in his letter that the peasants will have no choice but to side with the Bolsheviks if the Church is seen as not even caring for its flock. Lenin was very serious about this, and wrote later in the letter that they should take any means necessary to get the wealth from the Church.

By July of 1922, only a few months after the order came out, the Russians had collected a vast amount of wealth. In a telegraph from the Finance Department describing the goods taken throughout the RSFSR, the Bolsheviks had managed to confiscate enough gold, silver, precious stones, and other riches to rival the ancient Emperors of Rome.

These actions against the Church helped solidify the relationship between the new government in power and the peasantry.

4 Replies to “Why Starve When You Can Steal From the Church?”

  1. That letter from Lenin to the Politburo is wild! What was the incident in Shuia that he refers to? What do you think those “Black Hundreds” clergy were up to? I bet confiscating the church’s gold was pretty controversial on the ground. Even during a famine…

  2. As we discussed in the first weeks of class, the Church was a symbolic and influential part of society. Though the Bolsheviks targeted the church for its wealth, I think Lenin also understood that wealth bought political power and social influence. In confiscating the gold, he was able to fulfill promises to the people while turning them against a present threat. Thanks for including those letters!

  3. Wow.. this is a crazy topic, especially Lenin’s letter. You did a great job explaining how the actions against the church tied into the lives of the peasantry. It becomes so clear how the Soviets experienced so many consecutive years of unrest, etc. when we compare all of these different events. I wrote about the Kronstadt rebellion which was in March of 1921 and to think that more than a year later during the Summer of 1922 they still had such conflict in the country is wild.

  4. Reading this made me question what Lenin’s stance on religion was, regardless of his tactic to turn the starving peasant class against the church, I wonder if there was any ounce of Lenin that was religious or if he considered himself and atheist. It would be super interesting to find out. Was it power or faith for him or was it just power? You did an awesome job explaining the situation that Russia was in and why Lenin wanted the peasants to turn against the wealthy church. Great job!

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