The Emancipation of Soviet Citizens from Religion

Religion is the Opiate of the People.

After coming to power in 1917, the Bolsheviks made it their duty to “emancipate Soviet citizens from the scourge (or as Karl Marx put it, the “opiate”) of religion” (“Antireligious Propaganda”). Along with the literacy campaign, the attempt to dismantle religion also played a large role in the cultural front of the 1920s. With the decree of January 20, 1918, the Bolsheviks successfully disestablished the Orthodox Church. In addition to the dismantling of the church, this decree also “consigned the clergy of all faiths to second-class citizenship” (“Antireligious Propaganda”). The decree showed how extreme the Bolsheviks were about implementing their ideals into every avenue of the public sphere. However, these measures were not peaceful by any means; they sent society into years of bitter and violent struggles, where church valuables were confiscated, churches closed down, and Patriarch Tikhon was arrested.

The picture above is an example of one of the posters used for Antireligious propaganda. In the poster, a man is shown “carrying religion,” while another man is just leading him along. The text under the photo says, “He who lives and works in need his entire life is taught by religion to be meek and patient in this world, offering the comfort of hope for heavenly reward. And they who live on the labor of others are taught by religion to be charitable in this world, offering them a cheap justification for their whole exploiting existence” (Religion is the Opiate of the People). This propaganda shows how Bolsheviks viewed religion as negative towards the lower class, while it allowed the upper-class to live off of the efforts of those below them.

Other non-Russian populations often saw no difference in the policies of the Bolsheviks compared to the tsarist regime, “who had been hostile to their churches for very different reasons” (“Antireligious Propaganda”). However, the propaganda proved to be very inappropriate towards the Islamic communities in the Republic and Central Asia.

An essential component of the Bolshevik movement was to split the clergy of the Orthodox Church (“Living Church”). Because of the cracks already forming in the church prior to the revolution, this task was much easier. The divisions between young and old within the clergy helped form schisms in the foundation of the church, leading to the creation of the new “Living Church”. After Patriarch Tikhon was arrested and put into prison, the government went ahead with laws targeted at the church. An instruction that required all religious groups that had more than fifty members to register was passed, where any organization could be denied and shot down by the government. At this point “the church was placed fully under the power of the state” (“Living Church”).

The Bolsheviks actions towards religion and those that wished to follow them, alienated and offended many individuals across the state. Not only were people of the Orthodox Church hurt, but Islamic and Jewish individuals as well. As part of their antireligious propaganda, the Bolsheviks enacted many rules and regulations that would keep religion from interfering with their policy and societal preferences.



11 thoughts on “The Emancipation of Soviet Citizens from Religion

  1. Bree, I really enjoyed your post and your focus on religion. I always find it so interesting that this old institution that colored so much of Russian society for hundreds of years was so completely erased from society. I like how you also chose to talk about how Judaism and Islam were persecuted against, perhaps even more so than Orthodox Christianity. Great work!!


  2. I also focused on the relationship between the church and the state in my blogpost. The Bolsheviks waged a rough war on the church and seemed to paint a bad picture of it throughout Russia. The Bolsheviks did this both as a way of eliminating opposition in the church and cementing their position in society.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s really great how often the Bolsheviks resort to propaganda as a solution to any problem. Don’t like religion having political power or dictating how people live their lives? Make a propaganda poster. Want other proletariats to start revolting against capitalistic governments? Make a propaganda poster. It’s just the perfect solution to any problem.


  4. The whole idea of the Church being controlled by the state is foreign to me as we, in the United States, are so adamant about their separation. As I was reading your post I kept thinking to myself “this can’t be going well..people can’t be okay with this.” As I reached the end of your post I saw that they indeed, were not. The Bolshevik’s takeover of the Church just looks to me like a power grab, they didn’t want anyone else swaying the ideas of the populace, and thus decided to control anyone and anything with the ability to do so.


  5. Very interesting post! I find religion very fascinating and I find it interesting on how the Soviets were very against it. I wish this was emphasized more when learning about the Soviet Union in schools because religion played such a big role in imperial Russia, and the complete switch would’ve disrupted the population tremendously. Thank you for a great post!


  6. The Bolsheviks’ crackdown on religion is really fascinating. What’s especially interesting to me is how much of a resurgence the Orthodox Church made after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Even though many in Russia don’t attend church regularly, somewhere around 70% consider themselves members of the Orthodox Church. It’s become a kind of nationalistic symbol in Russia.


  7. This post was a very informative and interesting read. It’s truly intriguing that the Bolsheviks were able to take what was once such a large part of Russian culture and dismantle it so quickly- I think this attests to the power of propaganda and its influence on the public majority. In regards to the persecution of other religions in Russia, this was something advanced greatly under Alexander III- so in some regard, the Tsarist Regime(s) and the Bolsheviks had overlapping actions and ideas.


  8. Bree, I really like your post! I like the picture you included and the description you included was very interesting. I like how you considered the perspectives of Muslim and Jewish people in addition to orthodox Christians.


  9. Wow, the lengths the Bolsheviks went to in their quest to destroy the influence of the Orthodox Church just shows how drastically they intended to shift the society and the culture. They framed nearly every part of society in a us against them, class warfare light in order to gain the favor of the masses.


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