Terror Against the Men of God

The Bolsheviks did all that they could to seize power, even if that meant killing thousands to get what they wanted.  The Bolsheviks conducted the Red Terror, a campaign of mass arrests and executions. The Red Terror resulted in tens of thousands of deaths among ‘enemies of the people’.  Grigory Zinoviev, the Bolshevik leader, seemed to really advocate for such genocide. In 1918 he said:

“To overcome of our enemies we must have our own socialist militarism. We must carry along with us 90 million out of the 100 million of Soviet Russia’s population. As for the rest, we have nothing to say to them. They must be annihilated.

Zinoviev’s attitude for mass murders did not leave any group safe, not even those that chose to dedicate their lives to faith.  The political police Cheka did ungodly things to those that preached his word.  The clergy in Russia at this time were subject to particularly horrifying acts of violence. According to documents cited by the late Alexander Yakovlev, then head of the Presidential Committee for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression, “priests, monks and nuns were crucified, thrown into cauldrons of boiling tar, scalped, strangled, given Communion with melted lead and drowned in holes in the ice. An estimated 3,000 were put to death in 1918 alone.”

“What can the church give us? Russia could be fed for this year and the next!” –Hoover Political Poster Database. 2007.

Torturing and killing the clergy was not enough however.  The Bolsheviks also sought to smear the name of the church. Patriarch Tikhon condemned the Bolsheviks in 1918, putting strain on the church-state relationship. The famine of 1921-22 caused the Bolsheviks a lot of stress and starting putting doubt into the minds of the people on their ability to rule.  They were in need of money and a scapegoat to blame for lack of funds.  Gold and gems were in abundance in churches for ceremonial practices.  The government was in dire need of the ability to buy grain abroad.  This need allowed the proposition to demand the church to surrender all their precious metals and gems while blaming the church for the starvation of the people.  The VTsIK issued a decree on 23 Feburary 1922 ordering the church to hand over any objects containing jewels and other valuables.  Some Orthodox clergy complied but other resisted, resulting in the ransacking of churches and ultimately trials and executions of priests.

The demonstrations and murders against the church had radicalized the church-state relation in a way that lasted for decades.  The Red Terror and the militarization of the Bolsheviks seemed to be the only way for them to stay in power since their public support became dismal. They did not campaign on anti-religion because they knew that it would impact their popularity, negatively affecting their newly formed regime. The Bolsheviks had to tread a fine line between diminishing the power of the church and trying to seize even more power.


12 thoughts on “Terror Against the Men of God

  • February 13, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    The way the Bolsheviks brought the church into their conquest for power is really interesting. While the churches did have all of these jewels, they were for religious purposes. It seemed like an opportunity for the Bolsheviks to gain the following of the people of the church even more. This is a really interesting topic, very well written!

  • February 13, 2017 at 4:17 pm

    Wow this is a great post. I love your images and your wording throughout (did ungodly things to those that preached His word). Usually when a government runs short of money in history they go to the church and I think you did a great job of examining that aspect of this relationship.

  • February 13, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    I thought this was an extremely riveting post and I really enjoyed your analysis of the hardships that those pursuing their faiths under Bolshevik rule faced. Further, I am not surprised that clergy and other like-minded groups were persecuted under Communist rule because as we know, religion is “the opiate of the masses” so it needed to be eliminated in order for full Soviet propaganda to be implemented and to be the new guiding doctrine of the Russian population.

  • February 13, 2017 at 7:09 pm

    I thought it was interesting that you mentioned the gold and gems were used in the Church while the people were starving. It sounds like the Bolsheviks did awful things to the Church and the clergy, and the fact that the Church was so opulent in the middle of all the suffering and starvation must have made them natural enemies of the Bolsheviks.

  • February 13, 2017 at 7:44 pm

    This really shows to me how much the Bolshevicks veered from Russias historical actions. Perhaps I am forgetting something, but while there had been tensions before between the church and state I never remember it leading to massacres such as you talked about. Russia had embraced Orthodox Christianity since 988, it’s hard to believe things went this far south. I suppose it came with the extinction of the Romonov line.

  • February 13, 2017 at 10:25 pm

    Very well written post. This shows the severity that the Bolshevicks would go to seize more and more power. I wonder if the clergy had any specific background that would also apply to the need for acts of violence against them. It seems that the church has no other choice but to tow the line and follow the Bolshevicks orders.

  • February 13, 2017 at 11:02 pm

    You’ve really struck a chord here! Lots of people wrote about the campaign against the church this week, and your post fits in really well with them. Since the church was such an important part of social life, why would the Bolsheviks persecute it so mercilessly? Check out Anna’s post for a slightly different take on the same topic: https://blogs.lt.vt.edu/soviethistory3644/2017/02/12/church-of-gold/
    Also, that inset quote looks really nice, and you did a good job of identifying the image you used from 17 Moments (The Hoover Institution)

  • February 14, 2017 at 12:40 am

    I thought this was a really great post! The political image that you included is so telling and perfect for your blog. For me, your blog raises the question of why? What would the Bolsheviks gain from the violences against the church, and was their reasoning helpful?

  • February 14, 2017 at 2:51 am

    I think that it is interesting how the methods of repression from the Russian Empire continued and were enhanced by the Bolsheviks in order to maintain control. A revolution of the people now needed them to stay in line or face the consequences never really bodes too well for the people. The Red Terror is interesting in how they campaigned against the traditional power base of the government to create Bolshevik designed institutions.

  • February 14, 2017 at 3:17 am

    This was a really cool post! Its interesting to see how the Church was persecuted and now has made a resurgence in the Russian Federation. What I also found interesting was the fact that these horrid punishments on clergy were not exclusive to Russian Orthodox churches. While the Tsar was despised for his treatment of Jews, the Bolsheviks were none too different.

  • February 15, 2017 at 6:00 am

    Great post! It’s interesting to see the lengths the Bolsheviks would go to achieve their goals. It could be that the church’s gold was a symbol of its power, but as it was taken away from them, they weakened.

  • February 16, 2017 at 1:33 am

    I talked about the Church as well and used the same poster! I thought it really showed how determined the Bolsheviks were to ousting their competition. Blaming the church for the famine caused a lot of people to turn away from the church and critically damaged the church’s power. I think you did a great job explaining how the Bolsheviks tried to get rid of their enemies! Great post!

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