N.I. Bukharin and E. Preobrazhensky: The ABC of Communism


Chapter 11: Communism and Religion

§ 89. Why religion and communism are incompatible

'Religion is the opium of the people,' said Karl Marx. It is the task of the Communist Party to make this truth comprehensible to the widest possible circles of the labouring masses. It is the task of the party to impress firmly upon the minds of the workers, even upon the most backward, that religion has been in the past and still is today one of the most powerful means at the disposal of the oppressors for the maintenance of inequality, exploitation, and slavish obedience on the part of the toilers.

Many weak-kneed communists reason as follows: 'Religion does not prevent my being a communist. I believe both in God and in communism. My faith in God does not hinder me from fighting for the cause of the proletarian revolution.'

This train of thought is radically false. Religion and communism are incompatible, both theoretically and practically.

Every communist must regard social phenomena (the relationships between human beings, revolutions, wars, etc.) as processes which occur in accordance with definite laws. The laws of social development have been fully established by scientific communism on the basis of the theory of historical materialism which we owe to our great teachers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. This theory explains that social development is not brought about by any kind of supernatural forces. Nay more. The same theory has demonstrated that the very idea of God and of supernatural powers arises at a definite stage in human history, and at another definite stage begins to disappear as a childish notion which finds no confirmation in practical life and in the struggle between man and nature. But it is profitable to the predatory class to maintain the ignorance of the people and to maintain the people's childish belief in miracles (the key to the riddle really lies in the exploiters' pockets), and this is why religious prejudices are so tenacious, and why they confuse the minds even of persons who are in other respects able.

The general happenings throughout nature are, moreover, in no wise dependent upon supernatural causes. Man has been extremely successful in the struggle with nature. He influences nature in his own interests, and controls natural forces, achieving these conquests, not thanks to his faith in God and in divine assistance, but in spite of this faith. He achieves his conquests thanks to the fact that in practical life and in all serious matters he invariably conducts himself as an atheist. Scientific communism, in its judgements concerning natural phenomena, is guided by the data of the natural sciences, which are in irreconcilable conflict with all religious imaginings.

In practice, no less than in theory, communism is incompatible with religious faith. The tactic of the Communist Party prescribes for the members of the party definite lines of conduct. The moral code of every religion in like manner prescribes for the faithful some definite line of conduct. For example, the Christian code runs: 'Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.' In most cases there is an irreconcilable conflict between the principles of communist tactics and the commandments of religion. A communist who rejects the commandments of religion and acts in accordance with the directions of the party, ceases to be one of the faithful. On the other hand, one who, while calling himself a communist, continues to cling to his religious faith, one who in the name of religious commandments infringes the prescriptions of the party, ceases thereby to be a communist.

The struggle with religion has two sides, and every communist must distinguish clearly between them. On the one hand we have the struggle with the church, as a special organization existing for religious propaganda, materially interested in the maintenance of popular ignorance and religious enslavement. On the other hand we have the struggle with the widely diffused and deeply ingrained prejudices of the majority of the working population.

§ 90. Separation of the church from the state

The Christian catechism teaches that the church is a society of the faithful who are united by a common creed, by the sacraments, etc. For the communist, the church is a society of persons who are united by definite sources of income at the cost of the faithful, at the cost of their ignorance and lack of true culture. It is a society united with the society of other exploiters such as the landlords and the capitalists, united with their State, assisting that State in the oppression of the workers, and reciprocally receiving from the State help in the business of oppression. The union between church and State is of great antiquity. The association between the church and the feudalist State of the landowners was exceedingly intimate. This becomes clear when we remember that the autocratic-aristocratic State was sustained by the landed interest. The church was itself a landlord on the grand scale, owning millions upon millions of acres. These two powers were inevitably compelled to join forces against the labouring masses, and their alliance served to strengthen their dominion over the workers. During the period in which the urban bourgeoisie was in conflict with the feudal nobility, the bourgeoisie fiercely attacked the church, because the church owned territories which the bourgeoisie wanted for itself. The church, as landowner, was in receipt of revenues extracted from the workers - revenues which the bourgeoisie coveted. In some countries (France for instance), the struggle was extremely embittered; in other countries (England, Germany, and Russia), it was less fierce. But this conflict explains why the demand for the separation of church and State was made by the liberal bourgeoisie and the bourgeois democracy. The real basis of the demand was a desire for the transfer to the bourgeoisie of the revenues allotted by the State to the church. But the demand for the separation of the church from the State was nowhere fully realized by the bourgeoisie. The reason is that everywhere the struggle carried on by the working class against the capitalists was growing more intense, and it seemed inexpedient to the bourgeoisie to break up the alliance between State and church. The capitalists thought it would be more advantageous to come to terms with the church, to buy its prayers on behalf of the struggle with socialism, to utilize its influence over the uncultured masses in order to keep alive in their minds the sentiment of slavish submissiveness to the exploiting State. ('All power comes from God.')

The work which the bourgeoisie in its struggle with the church had left unfinished was carried to an end by the proletarian State. One of the first decrees of the Soviet Power in Russia was the decree concerning the separation of the church from the State. All its landed estates were taken away from the church and handed over to the working population. All the capital of the church became the property of the workers. The endowments which had been assigned to the church under the tsarist régime were confiscated, although these endowments had been cheerfully continued under the administration of the 'socialist' Kerensky. Religion has become the private affair of every citizen. The Soviet Power rejects all thoughts of using the church in any way whatever as a means for strengthening the proletarian State.

§ 91. Separation of the school from the church

The association of religious propaganda with scholastic instruction is the second powerful weapon employed by the clergy for the strengthening of the ecclesiastical régime and for increasing the influence of the church over the masses. The future of the human race, its youth, is entrusted to the priests. Under the tsars, the maintenance of religious fanaticism, the maintenance of stupidity and ignorance, was regarded as a matter of great importance to the State. Religion was the leading subject of instruction in the schools. In the schools, moreover, the autocracy supported the church, and the church supported the autocracy. In addition to compulsory religious teaching in the schools and compulsory attendance at religious services, the church had other weapons. It began to take charge of the whole of popular education, and for this purpose Russia was covered with a network of church schools.

Thanks to the union of school and church, our young people were from their earliest years thralls to religious superstition, this making it practically impossible to convey to their minds any integral outlook upon the universe. To one and the same question (for instance concerning the origin of the world) religion and science give conflicting answers, so that the impressionable mind of the pupil becomes a battle ground between exact knowledge and the gross errors of obscurantists.

In many countries, young people are trained, not only in a spirit of submissiveness towards the dominant régime, but also in a spirit of submissiveness towards the overthrown autocratic, ecclesiastico-feudal order. This happens in France. Even from the outlook of the bourgeois State, propaganda of such a kind is reactionary.

The programme of bourgeois liberalism used to contain a demand for the separation of the school from the church. The liberals fought for the replacement of religious instruction in the schools by instruction in bourgeois morality; and they demanded the closing of schools organized by religious associations and by monasteries. Nowhere, however, was this struggle carried through to an end. In France, for instance, where for two decades all the bourgeois ministries had solemnly pledged themselves to dissolve the religious orders, to confiscate their property, and to forbid their educational activities, there has been one compromise after another with the Catholic clergy. An excellent example of such a compromise between State and church was the recent action of Clemenceau. This minister in his day had been fiercely opposed to the church. In the end, however, he forgot his hostility, and personally distributed orders of distinction among the Catholic clergy as a reward for their patriotic services. In the struggle for the exploitation of other lands (the war with Germany), and in the domestic struggle with the working class, the bourgeois State and the church have entered into an alliance, and give one another mutual support.

This reconciliation of the bourgeoisie with the church finds expression, not merely in the abandonment by the bourgeoisie of its old anti-religious watchwords and of its campaign against religion, but in something more significant. To an increasing extent, the bourgeoisie is now becoming a 'believing class'. The forerunners of the contemporary European bourgeoisie were atheists, were freethinkers, were fiercely antagonistic to priests and priestdom. Their successors have taken a step back- wards. A generation ago, the bourgeois, though they were them- selves still atheistically inclined, though they did not believe in religious fairy tales, and though they laughed covertly at religion, nevertheless considered that the fables must be treated with respect in public, since religion was a useful restraint for the common people. Today, the scions of the bourgeoisie are not content with looking upon religion as providing useful fetters for the people, but they have themselves begun to wear the chains. Under our very eyes, after the November revolution, the liberal bourgeois and the members of the professional classes crowded into the churches and prayed fervently to that which in happier days they had regarded with contempt. Such is the fate of all dying classes, whose last resource it is to seek 'consolation' in religion.

Among the bourgeoisies of Central and Western Europe, which still hold the reins of power, a similar movement in favour of religion is observable. But if the bourgeois class begins to believe in God and the heavenly life, this merely means it has realized that its life here below is drawing to a close!

The separation of the school from the church aroused and continues to arouse protest from the backward elements among the workers and peasants. Many of the older generation persist in demanding that religion should still be taught in the schools as an optional subject. The Communist Party fights resolutely against all such attempts to turn back. The teaching of ecclesias- tical obscurantism in the schools, even though the instruction should be merely optional, would imply the giving of State aid to the maintenance of religious prejudices. In that case the church would be provided with a ready-made audience of children - of children who are assembled in school for purposes which are the very opposite of those contemplated by religion. The church would have at its disposal schoolrooms belonging to the State, and would thereby be enabled to diffuse religious poison among our young people almost as freely as it could before the separation of the school from the church.

The decree whereby the school is separated from the church must be rigidly enforced, and the proletarian State must not make the slightest concession to medievalism. What has already been done to throw off the yoke of religion is all too little, for it still remains within the power of ignorant parents to cripple the minds of their children by teaching them religious fables. Under the Soviet Power there is freedom of conscience for adults. But this freedom of conscience for parents is tantamount to a freedom for them to poison the minds of their children with the opium which when they were young was poured into their own minds by the church. The parents force upon the children their own dullness, their own ignorance; they proclaim as truth all sorts of nonsense; and they thus greatly increase the difficulties which the unified labour school has to encounter. One of the most important tasks of the proletarian State is to liberate children from the reactionary influence exercised by their parents. The really radical way of doing this is the social education of the children, carried to its logical conclusion. As far as the immediate future is concerned, we must not rest content with the expulsion of religious propaganda from the school. We must see to it that the school assumes the offensive against religious propaganda in the home, so that from the very outset the children's minds shall be rendered immune to all those religious fairy tales which many grown-ups continue to regard as truth.

§ 92. Struggle with the religious prejudice of the masses

It has been comparatively easy for the proletarian authority to effect the separation of the church from the State and of the school from the church, and these changes have been almost painlessly achieved. It is enormously more difficult to fight the religious prejudices which are already deeply rooted in the consciousness of the masses, and which cling so stubbornly to life. The struggle will be a long one, demanding much steadfastness and great patience. Upon this matter we read in our programme: 'The Russian Communist Party is guided by the conviction that nothing but the realization of purposiveness and full awareness in all the social and economic activities of the masses can lead to the complete disappearance of religious prejudices.' What do these words signify?

Religious propaganda, belief in God and in all kinds of supernatural powers, find their most grateful soil where the institutions of social life are such as to incline the consciousness of the masses towards supernatural explanations of the phenomena of nature and society. The environment created by capitalist methods of production has a strong tendency in this direction. In capitalist society, production, and the exchange of products, are not effected with full consciousness and in accordance with a preconceived plan; they proceed as if they were the outcome of elemental forces. The market controls the producer. No one knows whether commodities are being produced in excess or in deficiency. The producer does not fully understand how the great and complicated mechanism of capitalist production works; why crises occur and unemployment suddenly becomes rife; why prices rise at one time and fall at another; and so on. The ordinary worker, knowing nothing of the real causes of the social happenings amid which his life takes place, readily inclines to accept the 'will of God' as a universal explanation.

In organized communist society, on the other hand, the realms of production and distribution will no longer contain any mysteries for the worker. Every worker will not merely perform his allotted portion of social work. He will in addition participate in the elaboration of the general plan of production, and will at least have clear ideas upon the matter. Throughout the entire mechanism of social production there will no longer be anything mysterious, incomprehensible, or unexpected, and there will therefore be no further place for mystical explanations or for superstition. Just as the joiner who has made a table knows perfectly well how the table came to exist and that he need not lift his eyes towards heaven in order to find its creator, so in communist society all the workers will clearly understand what they have produced with their collective energies and how they have produced it.


But this must by no means be taken to imply that we can sit down at our ease, satisfied with having prophesied the decay of religion at some future date.

It is essential at the present time to wage with the utmost vigour the war against religious prejudices, for the church has now definitely become a counter-revolutionary organization, and endeavours to use its religious influence over the masses in order to marshal them for the political struggle against the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Orthodox faith which is defended by the priests aims at an alliance with the monarchy. This is why the Soviet Power finds it necessary to engage at this juncture in widespread anti-religious propaganda. Our aims can be secured by the delivery of special lectures, by the holding of debates, and by the publication of suitable literature; also by the general diffusion of scientific knowledge, which slowly but surely undermines the authority of religion. An excellent weapon in the fight with the church was used recently in many parts of the republic when the shrines were opened to show the 'incorruptible' relics. This served to prove to the wide masses of the people, and precisely to those in whom religious faith was strongest, the base trickery upon which religion in general, and the creed of the Russian Orthodox church in particular, are grounded.

But the campaign against the backwardness of the masses in this matter of religion, must be conducted with patience and considerateness, as well as with energy and perseverance. The credulous crowd is extremely sensitive to anything which hurts its feelings. To thrust atheism upon the masses, and in conjunction therewith to interfere forcibly with religious practices and to make mock of the objects of popular reverence, would not assist but would hinder the campaign against religion. If the church were to be persecuted, it would win sympathy among the masses, for persecution would remind them of the almost forgotten days when there was an association between religion and the defence of national freedom; it would strengthen the antisemitic movement; and in general it would mobilize all the vestiges of an ideology which is already beginning to die out.

We propose to append a few figures, showing how the tsarist régime paid over the people's money to the church; how the church was directly supported by the common people, who drained their slender purses to this end; and how wealth accumulated in the hands of the servants of Christ.

Through the synods and in other ways the tsarist government annually supplied the church with the average amount of 50,000,000 roubles (at a time when the rouble was worth one hundred times as much as today). The synods had 70,000,000 roubles to their credit in the banks. The churches and the monasteries owned vast areas of land. In the year 7905 the churches owned 1,872,000 desyatinas, and the monasteries owned 740,000 desyatinas. Six of the largest monasteries owned 782,000 desyatinas. The Solovyetsky monastery owned 66,000 desyatinas; the Sarovskaya, 26,000; the Alexandro-Nevskaya, 25,000; and so on. In 7903, the churches and monasteries of Petrograd owned 266 rent-producing properties in the form of houses, shops, building sites, etc. In Moscow, they owned 1,054 rent-paying houses, not to mention 32 hotels. In Kiev, the churches owned 114 houses. Here are the stipends of the metropolitans and the archbishops. The metropolitan of Petrograd received 300,000 roubles per annum; the metropolitans of Moscow and of Kiev were paid 100,000 roubles per annum each; the stipend of the archbishop of Novgorod was 370,000 roubles.

There were about 30,000 church schools, and these were attended by 1,000,000 pupils. More than 20,000 teachers of religion were 'at work' in the elementary schools of the Ministry for Education.

Everyone knows that the autocracy supported the Orthodox church as the dominant and only true church. Many millions of roubles were raised by taxing Musulmans (Tartars and Bashkirs), Catholics (Poles), and Jews. This money was used by the Orthodox clergy to demonstrate that all other faiths were false. Under the tsarist régime, religious persecution attained unprecedented proportions. In the population of Russia, for every hundred inhabitants there were (besides the 70 Orthodox), 9 Catholics, 11 Mohammedans, 9 Protestants, 4 Jews, and 7 of various creeds. As for the number of the Orthodox clergy, the following were the figures for the year 1909:

The 52,869 churches of Russia were served by  
  Archpriests 2,912
  Priests 46,730
  Deacons 14,670
  Readers 43,518
In the 455 monastries were  
  Monks 9,987
  Lay-brethren 9,582
In the 418 nunneries were  
  Nuns 14,008
  Lay-sisters 46,811

The figures relate exclusively to the Orthodox church. A similar parasitic caste is found in every nation, though of course, professing some other religion. These masses of people, instead of extracting vast sums of money from the population in order to promote popular ignorance, would have been able, had they been engaged in manual work, to produce immense quantities of values. The socialist State, when its economic apparatus has been perfected, will introduce labour service for the clergy as for all unproductive classes, so that they will have to become workers or peasants. Of the State revenues paid to the church under the tsarist régime, more than 12,000,000 roubles went every year to the urban and rural clergy. It is plain enough why the reverend fathers were opposed to the separation of the church from the State, since this implied the separation of a dozen million roubles from their pockets. This sum, however, was but a fraction of the clerical incomes, which for the most part were derived from professional fees, land rents, and interest upon the capital of the church. No one has been able to ascertain the precise amount of the revenues of the Russian church. Approximately the sum may be considered to have been 150,000,000 roubles - at a time (we repeat) when the rouble was worth one hundred of our present roubles. A considerable proportion of this income is still paid by the people to the clergy.


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