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.”
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.