Religion in the Soviet State

This post earned a “red star” award from the editorial team.

By Anonymous – http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&show=essay&SubjectID=1924antireligion&Year=1924&navi=byYear, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7695788

Translation of Poster: Ban religious holidays!

With the formation of the Soviet State, religion was involved a lot. The Soviets wanted to have complete authority over the people and wanted people to look to them, not religion, as saviors. The Soviet state took property and valuables from the churches, killed followers of religions, and promoted atheism in the state. Clearly, the Soviet state did not tolerate religion.

The Soviets wanted to eliminate religion. The Library of Congress talks about how “The Soviet Union was the first state to have as an ideological objective the elimination of religion. Toward that end, the Communist regime confiscated church property, ridiculed religion, harassed believers, and propagated atheism in the schools” (Anti-religious Campaigns, par. 1). In the 1920s, the Russian Orthodox Church was the main target of the Soviet anti-religious movement. Most of the clergy and believers were either shot or sent to labor camps (Anti-religious Campaigns, par. 2). The Soviets did not want any authority to conflict with their interests. Another example is the Soviets not wanting the Catholic Church in the Soviet Union. The Soviets campaigned against religions that had a foreign religious authority such as the Catholic Church with the Pope. According to the Library of Congress, “By 1926, the Roman Catholic Church had no bishops left in the Soviet Union” (Anti-religious Campaigns, par. 4).

The Soviets did not believe that religion would benefit the Soviet State but only hinder progress. Gregory Freeze writes about how “if religion had been ‘the opiate of the masses’ under the old order, religious belief in the new world constituted superstition and, as such, an impediment to creating progressive, scientific society” (pg. 335). The Soviets wanted to advance in industry, technology, and power, not in religion. To the Soviets, religion focused on the spiritual world while the Soviets were focused on the material world.

The Soviets also wanted to take the Orthodox Church’s wealth. One method that the Soviets did was to confiscate the Church’s gold. Due to the famine of 1921-1922, there was a need to purchase grain from other countries. Lenin suggested the idea of confiscating the gems and precious metals owned by the Church. If the Church refused, the blame of people starving would be placed on them (Seventeen Moments in Soviet History). Another example is how the Soviet State took Church Property. Freeze writes about how “The Soviet state decreed a separation of Church and state that nationalized church land and property without compensation” (pg. 335). Finally, “local soviets utilized existing laws to confiscate places of worship for use as workers’ clubs, cinemas, and libraries” (Freeze, 336). The Soviet state was clearly taking advantage of and hurting organized religions in the Soviet Union.

From a translated letter that Lenin wrote, one can see the hostility between the state and Church. The letter is written by Lenin to members of the Politburo and outlines a brutal plan against the Black Hundreds clergy and its followers. The clergy and followers refused to follow the government decree of giving up church valuables (Anti-religious Campaigns, par. 6). Lenin’s letter says “the announcement that the Black Hundreds in Petrograd were preparing to defy the decree on the removal of property of value from the churches… it becomes perfectly clear that the Black Hundreds clergy, headed by its leader, with full deliberation is carrying out a plan at this very moment to destroy us decisively” (Letter from Lenin, par. 2). The letter continues saying “I think that here our opponent is making a huge strategic error… when we can in 99 out of 100 chances utterly defeat our enemy with complete success” (Letter from Lenin, par. 4). This is very extreme and seems very unnecessary. Lenin sounds like he is preparing for war or dealing with an enemy at war. This shows how much the state and Church were in conflict with each other.

To the Soviet Union, the only way to progress was to advance in industry and technology. Religion could not help the Soviet’s goal so the Soviet state sought ways to make the Church help, even if the methods were cruel and malicious. The Soviet state took property from the churches, stole church valuables, and killed clergy and followers if they resisted. Soviet leaders such as Lenin viewed the church as a hostile enemy based off of a letter he wrote. The Soviet Union did not care for religion but only cared for what the state could take from the church physically. The Soviet Union promoted atheism and did not want people to have a conflict of interests between the state and Church. Overall, with the rise of the Soviet Union, the Church fell.

Sources:

“Confiscating Church Gold.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 4 Jan. 2016,        soviethistory.msu.edu/1921-2/confiscating-church-gold/.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Third ed., Oxford University Press, 2009.

Anti-Religious Campaigns, 16 Aug. 2016, www.loc.gov/exhibits/archives/anti.html.

Letter from Lenin, www.loc.gov/exhibits/archives/ae2bkhun.html.