Laws for Religion

Stalin’s main area of focus was collectivization of farms and his Five Year Plan. However, the focus on churches and religion surfaced once again. In the early 1920’s, particularly 1923, churches were under fire. With Stalin in power now, the churches were once again under fire from the government, but this time with restrictions and more willingly to regulate the churches. There was attack against churches for their property led by the state. Many churches lacked their infamous church bells from the state seizing them for the industrial project underway. Also, the nepreryvka, an uninterrupted work week, was introduced in 1929. This hurt the church sector because people were not meant to focus on their religious lives; instead, people were supposed to focus on work lives and production. This meant that no religious holidays were to be celebrated (including a day of rest on Sundays), only state celebrations were allow for workers to have the days off. The year of 1929, led to the government having increasing control over church life and this is clearly seen in the Laws on Religious Organizations. 

After reading the Laws on Religious Organizations, it seems that one of the main issues of religious organizations being addressed is meeting places and membership. One of the things harped on is the idea that there can be these organizations only if they are reported to the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs. The religious group must have a minimum of twenty people and all must 18 years old or older. The members of the groups must be reported as well to the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs. To me, this was all a way for the government to gain control and access over religious practices. If the groups are known by the government and have certain guidelines then there is less possibility of the organization stepping out of line. The members having to be at least 18 years old also shows that there is still a strive to keep younger kids out of the religious sector. Once becoming adults they may make the choice of entering into one of this organizations but never before then can they be introduced into this sphere. Knowing that children are very influenced, it appears to me that the government felt if they kept kids away from religious aspects then they would have little interest in joining these religious organizations.

Another area of the Laws on Religious Organizations was religious and state education being separate entities. In the schools and any other educational sector for kids there was to be no mention of religious teachings. There was no toleration for such teachings in public or private schools at the time. The only way religious teachings could be taught is if it was approved by the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs as being part of teachings for theology.  Along with having state education and religion being separated, the government also did not want the church or organization to be able to provide any aid to the members. This is important because if the members of these groups could turn to the organization itself for material aid, then members rely less and less on the government. A centralized government as in the USSR under Stalin at the time would have found this to be threatening state power given that the state was meant to be seen as the provider.

Overall, the Laws on Religious Organizations, laid out the rules and regulations that religious organizations had to follow in order to even exist. I believe that was a way for Stalin’s administration to appease his people by allowing for religious organization, but ultimately still controlling the religious sector to avoid any conflict of power. The rules that organizations had to abide by limited their power. The People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs had the authority to recognize the existence of organizations and be the ones who confiscated churches. Religious organizations had a narrow path to walk.



Law on Religious Organizations

Churches Closed


Corley, Felix, ed.; Religion in the Soviet Union: an Archival Reader. New York: New York University Press, 1996.

Churches Closed Images


  1. As Karl Marx said, “religion is an opiate for the masses.” You touch on that mindset here and explore the lengths to which communist Russia went to ensure the masses did not have access to their drug. I liked how you pointed out the impressionable nature of children as a reason why the Bolsheviks tried to keep them out of the church through adolescence. You also do a good job pointing out how this all served to draw more power towards the central government and eliminate and crutch the people may find that is not a governmental institution. I found a thesis by a student at Ohio State that goes into some pretty good detail about the Bolshevik’s relationship with the church.

  2. Wow this was a really interesting post. You did a really good job of explaining the Laws on Religious Organizations, especially pointing out some big aspects like not celebrating certain holidays, parameters of having a group, and teaching religion in schools. This was a really good overview of these laws as well as how Stalin was benefitting from them.

  3. It seems like you are using some important primary sources for this post, but I don’t think they are displaying properly. Can you check and see if there’s a formatting issue, or even add them as a “comment” to this post? Thanks!

  4. It continues to surprise me how intensely the soviet regime attacked religion. While your post doesn’t describe brutal persecution, the sly methods employed to suppress religion were intellectually dangerous and effective. People weren’t given time for religious practices and during their childhood, a vital formative time, they weren’t given any exposure to religion. The soviets weren’t giving the people any time to think or devote to religion. Perhaps this was to make the people more dependent on the state. However, religion, especially Christianity, makes its adherents happier and more ethical. Taking away the freedom of religion reduces the quality of one’s life.

  5. It’s fascinating how the Soviet war against the Church started off slowly, with little changes such as an uninterrupted work week. It was also smart on their part to not allow children to join these organizations because I grew up going to church with my parents and was influenced by them to go and would have done the same then. Lenin’s quote that Sean stated really gives a good representation to Soviet fear of religion during this time. Thanks for sharing!

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