Communism and religion have always been at odds with one another. This antagonistic relationship started with Karl Marx when he famously wrote, “It [Religion] is the opium of the people” (Marx 1844). Religion was seen as a tool with which the ruling class used to suppress and control the working class. However, with the seizure of the state apparatus by the Communist Party, the working class was emancipated from religion. Decrees against religion soon followed, such as in 1918 when church property was nationalized by the state without compensation (Freeze, pg. 335). By 1923, the criminal code of the RSFSR included penalties against such things as “Imparting religious instruction in state or private educational institutions to children or minors” and “Fraudulent actions performed for the purpose of rousing superstition among the masses…” (From the Criminal Code). While religion was being accosted on the legal front, anti-religious propaganda was used to push religion from the cultural side.
Anti-religious propaganda, which was included in the New Soviet Man campaigns, was spouted from many sources, including government organizations and the media. As Freeze writes, “Even in national publications such as Bebozhnik (The Godless), anti-religious tracts and caricatures of priests shared space with articles on popular science, public health, the eradication of illiteracy, the evils of anti-Semitism, and even the improvement of personal hygiene” (pg. 336). News articles praised stories of citizens voting to convert churches into clubs for the Communist Youth, as with the case of a church in Petropavlovsk (End of a Church). One notable article, published in Moskovskaia Pravda, excitingly tells the story of “Baptists” being driven out by a local man, who in a fiery speech says, “Drive them away, rather; they prevent us from living sensibly. Let them work, these preachers, these popes and all that sort of people. Close up the chapels, the churches, the synagogues! It was time long ago.” (Religious Foolishness).
Despite the Bolsheviks’ best attempts, religion was not completely erased from the lives of Soviet citizens. However, religiosity declined sharply with urban dwellers and the youth. As Freeze summarizes, “In sum, formal religion loosened its hold on Soviet society during NEP, especially among the younger and urban segments. Since thing drop was both incomplete and not accompanied by the eradication of Russian belief in supernatural intervention in human affairs…the most important anti-religious work still lay ahead” (p. 337).
This post was featured on Comrade’s Corner
“End of a Church”, Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1924-2/antireligious-propaganda/antireligious-propaganda-texts/end-of-a-church/. Accessed on 12 February, 2017.
Freeze, Gregory L. “Russia A History”. 3rd edition. Oxford University Press. 2009.
“From the Criminal Code of the RSFSR”, Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1924-2/antireligious-propaganda/antireligious-propaganda-texts/from-the-criminal-code-of-the-rsfsr/. Accessed on 12 February, 2017.
Marx, Karl. “Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”. Cambridge University Press. 1970. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm. Accessed on 12 February, 2017.
“Religious Foolishness”, Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1924-2/antireligious-propaganda/antireligious-propaganda-texts/religious-foolishness/. Accessed on 12 February, 2017.