The Secularization of Society

Destruction of church bells for industrialization purposes. Source: Corley, Felix, ed.: Religion in the Soviet Union: an Archival Reader. New York: New York University Press. 1996.


Along with the Bolshevik rise to power came the restructuring of societal norms. The Bolsheviks sought to delegitimize the power that the church had in Russia, and instead turned to secularizing traditional Russian society. As Freeze says, “…the Bolsheviks also devoted special energy to redefining the family and the individual” (p.331).

During the period after the Bolsheviks rose to power, the churches saw a renewed hostility from the government. Stiffer restrictions were placed on organized religion, imposing penalties on non-compliant churches and “…giving the church little room to act” (von Geldern). The attack on church property was especially vicious, as buildings were turned into warehouses and precious objects, such as metals, were melted down to assist the Bolsheviks with their goal towards industrialization.

Coupled along with delegitimization of the church, measures were taken to purge religion out of society and to create a more secular state. The Bolsheviks saw the present family structure as a, “…patriarchal, religiously sanctioned family as tsarist society in microcosm” (Freeze, p. 331). In turn, the government enacted laws that made divorces readily available, and accorded equality to women. Under the tsarist regime, the law of churches made divorce almost impossible to obtain. Allowing divorce to be easily obtained created a social revolution in Russian society. The Bolsheviks sought to rid Russian society of the patriarchal norms that had defined society for so long. Adultery was dropped from the list of criminal offenses and laws took away legal authority that men had over their wives and children. Legal abortions were also introduced into society. The Family Code of 1926 also further helped to afford more rights to women and secularize family and society.


Churches Closed

“Russia: A History” Gregory L. Freeze



6 thoughts on “The Secularization of Society

  1. I like how you linked the initial Bolshevik efforts to dismantle the church with the repurposing of church buildings as factories and the stricter policies on religion as part of the late 1920s cultural revolution. The legality and encouragement of divorce and adultery were particularly interesting ways to combat and ultimately rid Russia of the patriarchal system.

  2. This was an interesting post. I find it hard to believe that the Bolsheviks really needed the metal of the bells. There was definitely a power play there. Also, it seems to me that the Bolsheviks gave the people some good things almost as a distractions for their other motives and actions. They seemed to want to be sneaky and keep their violence and oppression in the dark. Nice job!

  3. Noting the connections between the campaign against the church and efforts to reform family law and legislate more equality between men and women makes for some interesting perspectives!

  4. I think your post notes something really important about the secularization process, especially in terms of making things like divorce completely civil in nature under the new government. It seemed like the government did a good job at de-stigmatizing divorce in Russia, while in other countries it was/could have been more scandalous at the time. It reminds me of the end of the movie we watched in class, ‘Bed and Sofa’. Though it was a melodrama, it did show the stunning causality of divorce and abortion in society, contrary to my thoughts about them during that time period.

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