“Religion is the opiate of the people” – Karl Marx
Beginning prior to the 1917 Revolution and lasting well beyond, several internal factions and ideological differences manifested themselves within Russia. For example, Bolshevik officials agreed with the moderate socialist’s whom endorsed bourgeois rule, while many radical underground activists rejected the bourgeois provisional government (Freeze, 280). Ultimately, Lenin’s motivation for revolution trumped the various factional differences and boosted the Bolshevik Party in the political sphere, due in part to his ‘April Theses’, which called for peace and an end to various continuous issues.
Another element of the Bolshevik strategy was its opposition of the Orthodox Church and intentions of breaking up the church into schisms. According to James Von Geldern, “among the most important tasks that the Bolsheviks set themselves upon coming to power in 1917 was to emancipate Soviet citizens from the scourge of religion”. Starting in 1920, the Orthodox Church was disestablished and members of the clergy were demoted to second-class citizenship. Additionally, the Patriarch Tikhon was arrested and thrown in jail, several priests were executed, and various church items were seized. Furthermore, the Komsomol, essentially an organization of Communist youth, put forth an especially distasteful mockery of religion during the Christmas of 1923.
The culmination of these events predictably exacerbated tensions between the Church and state. Divides within the Church already existed around this time. There were obvious breaks between the more conservative and liberal folks, as well as with the younger members. Such chaos ultimately gave birth to the “Living Church” in 1922. Existing internal factions, exacerbated by attack from the Bolshevik’s spelled severe problems for the Orthodox Church, which was eventually undertaken by members of the Living Church and staggered on until 1946.
The fiasco of the church during this timeframe is relevant because it touches on two of the four post questions. (1) For one, the motion to initiate anti-religious propaganda was one of several aspects of the Bolshevik Party’s shift from revolutionaries to rulers. Following the Civil War, the Bolshevik Party initiated a “broad, systematic propaganda campaign that targeted popular religious belief” (James won Geldern). Such attacks were not directed solely towards Christians, either. Jews and Muslims were also on the receiving end of the Bolshevik’s anti-religion propaganda. (2) The anti-religious propaganda also highlights that in many ways religion played the role of the victim in the initial formation of the Soviet state.
Freeze, L. Gregory. Russia: A History.