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.