William Henry Chamberlin | Soviet Russia: A Living Record and a History
ATHEISM has become almost a state creed in the "Holy Russia" of the Tsars. Under the Constitution the Soviet Government recognizes the two principles of freedom for all forms of religious faith and complete separation of church and state. But renunciation of religious faith is a condition of membership in the ruling Communist Party and in its junior organization, the Union of Communist Youth; and no effort of agitation and propaganda is spared to wean away the peoples of the Soviet Union from all forms of religious practice. The uncompromising hostility of Communism toward religion was expressed by Lenin in the following terms: -
"Religion is one of the forms of spiritual oppression, lying everywhere on the masses of the people, who are oppressed by eternal work for others, need and isolation. The helplessness of the exploited classes in their struggle with the exploiters just as inevitably generates faith in a better life beyond the grave as the helplessness of the savage in his struggle with nature produces faith in gods, devils, miracles, etc. To him who works and is poor all his life religion teaches passivity and patience in earthly life, consoling him with the hope of a heavenly reward. To those who live on the labor of others religion teaches benevolence in earthly life, offering them a very cheap justification for all their exploiting existence and selling tickets to heavenly happiness at a reduced price. Religion is opium for the people."(1)
Apart from this conception that religion serves to divert the masses from class war and class struggle, Communist opposition to it rests upon the unquestioned acceptance of Marxist materialism, which excludes the possibility of any supernatural or idealistic interpretation of the phenomena of life and nature. It should be emphasized that Communist hostility is directed impartially against all religions and not solely, or necessarily chiefly, against the Russian Orthodox Church. Lenin's widow, Nadyezhda Krupskaya, who is a prominent figure in the Soviet Commissariat for Education, once declared that the sectarians (as dissenters from the Orthodox Church are called in Russia), by disregarding superstitious practice and "attempting to smuggle in the idea of God by contraband means," represented a greater menace than the Orthodox believers. And this idea of Krupskaya's, voiced several years ago, is finding more and more support in Communist anti-religious circles to-day.
This struggle for the Russian soul between the Communists, with their goal of a new society in which religion shall have no place, and the Orthodox Church, the sectarians, Orthodox Jews, and Mohammedans, each group offering some special appeal to its own worshipers, is one of the most complicated and interesting of the psychological dramas which are being enacted in the Soviet Union to-day. The struggle is symbolized in one of the main squares of Moscow, where, on a brick building, opposite the famous shrine of the Iberian Virgin,(2) were inscribed the words: "Religion is opium for the people."
In many a worker's home one can find similar evidences of this struggle. In one corner of the room the wife continues to burn candles before the traditional Russian ikons, or carved images representing Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and scenes from the Bible and the lives of the saints. In another place the Communist husband has arranged his "Lenin corner," strikingly and suggestively similar to the ikon corner in general idea, with the pictures of Lenin from childhood to death, portraits of other Communist leaders, and a few Communist books and pamphlets.
I once stood in a factory church which had been turned into a workers' club; and here again the substitution of new objects of reverence for old was very striking. Instead of pictures of the saints, pictures of Marx and Lenin. Instead of the rich decorations of the typical Orthodox church, red streamers pro-claiming that with Communism would come the final liberation of humanity. An adherent of the Russian church with whom I talked once said: -
"The Communists say that religion is opium for the people. But we can say, with much more reason, that Communism is opium for the people."
Certainly in Communism, as in every strong new idea, there is an element of boundless faith, rising sometimes almost to self-hypnotism. Trotzky, in one of his most eloquent orations, delivered in 1918, depicted the future paradise which religion promises to humanity, and then, in his peroration, urged his exhausted, hungry, enthusiastic working-class audience to go out and work and fight for the true paradise, "the paradise in this world," which would come with the final victory of the Revolution.
Soviet and Communist policy in the field of religion, as in many other matters, has gone through several evolutionary stages, and it is by no means certain that the last stage has yet been reached. The first blows of the Revolution fell most heavily on the Orthodox Church, which was so closely bound up with the Tsarist system that it was almost bound to suffer materially, if not spiritually, by the violent overthrow of the latter.
Before the War the Orthodox Church had no real in-dependence; the Tsar's will was as supreme there as it was in the state. The office of Patriarch, which existed in the medieval Russian Church, was abolished by Peter the Great
and very great power in regulating ecclesiastical affairs was vested in a lay official, the Procurator of the Holy Synod. The Tsarist Government was very intolerant in its attitude toward dissenters from the Orthodox Church, of whom, notwithstanding the restrictions and persecutions to which they were subjected, there was a considerable number. The sects ranged in character from the Khlists, who indulged in promiscuous orgies as a form of religious exaltation, and the Skopts, who practised. unnatural self-mutilation, to rationalistic sects like the Baptists and Evangelical Christians, which in doctrine were not far removed from European Protestantism.
That the Orthodox Church was seriously weakened as an independent spiritual factor by its close identification with the Tsarist state system can scarcely be doubted. Attendance at church was largely mechanical, being strongly influenced by official and social pressure. The poorly paid and poorly educated village priests were often required to act as spies for the police. Perhaps the most striking commentary on the internal hollowness of Orthodoxy is furnished by the two facts that Count Leo Tolstoy, certainly one of the greatest Christian personalities in Russian history, died an excommunicate because of his radical social views, while the incredibly dissolute Siberian monk, Rasputin,(3) as a result of the hypnotic influence which he had acquired over the hysterical Tsarina, was able to exert almost dictatorial influence in affairs of church and state alike during the last years before the fall of the Romanov dynasty. This internal dry-rot in the fabric of the Orthodox Church was an important contributory cause of its weakness in the post-revolutionary period.
The Provisional Government which held power during the period between the overthrow of the Tsar and the Bolshevik Revolution of November 1917 did not have time to formulate a definite and all-inclusive ecclesiastical policy. A Church Congress held in the autumn of 1917 revived the office of Patriarch, and elected the ecclesiastic Tikhon as its first occupant. The first blows of the Revolution fell on the Orthodox Church, rather than on the sectarians, who were, indeed, relieved from the disabilities under which they had suffered in pre-war times. Church property was included in the sweeping nationalization measures of the Soviet Government, and all state aid was withdrawn from the Church, which was made dependent upon the contributions of believers. Priests, monks, and ministers of all religions were disfranchised under the new Soviet Constitution; and the Soviet Government, besides eliminating. religious instruction in the schools, passed a law prohibiting in general the giving of religious instruction to children in groups of more than three under the age of eighteen.
During the Russian civil war the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church and the majority of the priests were, quite naturally, counter-revolutionary in their sympathies. The victory of the Whites would have meant, most probably, the restoration of the Church in all its old pomp and circumstance. The Patriarch Tikhon in 1918 pronounced a solemn anathema against the Bolsheviks, and many ecclesiastics in territory occupied by White armies showed moral and material sympathy for the counter-revolutionary cause. This provoked reprisals on the part of the Soviet authorities, and priests and bishops were not last among the categories of people who suffered under the Red Terror.
The conflict between the revolutionary state and the Orthodox Church reached its climax when the Soviet authorities in 1921 decided to requisition the treasures of the Church and sell them for the purposes of famine relief. There was some passive and a little active resistance to the carrying out of this measure; and ecclesiastics who were implicated in this resistance were ruthlessly punished, some being shot and many exiled and imprisoned. The Patriarch Tikhon was placed under house arrest.
The situation was somewhat changed in 1922 by the emergence in the Church of a number of groups which advocated a break with Tikhon's policy of noncooperation with the Soviet Government and a reorganization of the Church on the basis of drastic changes in ritual, ecclesiastical structure, and social outlook. Space prevents a detailed review of the rise and fall of these groups, which ultimately merged into a single so-called Living Church organization, headed by a synod, or council, and without the office of Patriarch. Many of the more conservative believers looked on this whole movement with considerable aversion and suspicion as a device promoted by the Soviet Government to split and weaken the Church; and very probably there was some ground for these suspicions.
Seeing the Church threatened with schism and recognizing the stability of the Soviet Government, Tikhon made a confession of past error and a declaration of loyalty to the Soviet regime in the spring of 1923. The legal proceedings against him were then quashed, and he lived during the remainder of his life in the Donskoy Monastery, in Moscow, honored as Patriarch by the majority of believers who did not adhere to the Living Church movement.
After Tikhon's death, in the spring of 1925 it was impossible to elect another Patriarch, because so many bishops were in prison or had seceded to the Synod that a canonical quorum could not be secured. Moreover, the Soviet Government was not disposed to permit the holding of a church council for this purpose. One of Tikhon's intimate associates, Peter, by an informal process of selection, was recognized as his successor; but he was not sufficiently compliant with certain demands of the Soviet authorities in regard to the repudiation and ex-communication of representatives of the Church abroad who assumed an anti-Soviet attitude. Eventually Peter was banished. The present informal head of the former Tikhonite wing of the Orthodox Church, Sergei, has adopted a more conciliatory attitude and has been left unmolested up to the present time, although no leader of the Orthodox Church can hope to lead a very secure and unharassed existence in the Soviet Union to-day.
The Living Church has discarded about 90 per cent of its original proposed changes in doctrine and ritual, and is now severed from the Tikhonites largely as a result of personal differences among the leaders. The continued separation is doubtless regarded with favor by the Soviet Government, which prefers a weakened and divided to a united and strong Church. The nationality policy of the Soviet Government has helped to promote further disunion in the Orthodox ranks by encouraging the emergence of nationalist churches in Ukraina and Georgia, which dispute the field with the Tikhonites and the Living Church alike.
For some time after 1923 there were no striking new developments in the Communist policy on the religious question. Abandoning as tactless and fruitless such violent means of anti-religious agitation as the holding of processions in which sacred rites were parodied and the taking over of churches for clubs where this did not correspond with the will of a distinct majority of the local population, the Communists concentrated their attention upon educational anti-religious propaganda. A society called the Union of the Godless took over the direction of this propaganda, issuing several magazines and sending organizers and lecturers all over the country to spread the doctrine of atheism.
In 1928, however, symptoms of a more active anti-religious policy began to appear. Had the Communists been obliged to reckon only with the Orthodox Church they might have been willing to trust their cause to time and propaganda, because, while there are still enough believers to crowd the churches to overflowing on the great Russian holiday of Easter, attendance at church on ordinary Sundays shows a distinct diminution. The hold of the Orthodox Church on the peasantry has been severely shaken.(4) As far back as 1926, Emilian Jaroslavsky, Secretary of the Control Committee of the Communist Party and perhaps the most active atheistic leader in Russia, told me that half the industrial workers had definitely broken with religion. The two million members of the Union of Communist Youth represent a fairly large proportion of the young workers and students and a fair sprinkling of peasant boys and girls. One might not be willing to vouch that no peasant Young Communist is married in a church, but certainly no young man or woman of strong or profound religious convictions would join a society which treats anti-religious agitation as one of its most important features.
But side by side with these evidences of a weakening of religion appeared another tendency, which has been giving more and more concern to the Communists and has finally led to the adoption of a more drastic and active anti-religious policy. This was the steady growth of the sectarians, especially of the Baptists and Evangelical Christians. It is asserted by Communist specialists in the anti-religious movement that there are now almost a million registered members of sects, about treble the pre-war number. Counting in families and sympathizers, it is estimated that several million people are in the habit of attending the sectarian services.
There were several reasons for this growth. Having experienced no favor, but only persecution, from the Tsarist state, the sectarians were not adversely affected by its downfall. They were less vulnerable to attack on the ground of identification with the autocratic regime. The War and the Revolution, coming in rapid succession, shook the traditional faith of the Russian people to its base. Many became indifferent or joined the ranks of the convinced atheists; but many more came into the state of wavering and doubt which is psychologically most favorable to apostles of a new faith. And the sectarians developed a far-flung missionary activity, of which the following note in the Baptist, organ of the Federative Baptists of the Soviet Union, is typical: -
"Y. Y. Vins, who was invited to work by the whole Far Eastern brotherhood of Baptists, went enthusiastically about his tasks. All felt and saw with their eyes that the cause was in experienced hands. Brother Vins carried out a complete reorganization of the local department of the All-Russian Union of Baptists, carried out reforms which were very beneficial to the brotherhood and to the Cause of God, and in general correctly organized the evangelical activity.
"After stubborn, sometimes very difficult work, with the help of certain brethren, and, most of all, with the help of God, Y. Y. Vins achieved good results. Now in the Far East are counted hundreds of societies and groups and thousands of members." (See the Baptist, No. 7 for 1927, p. 26.)
In the same number of the Baptist were printed group pictures of the orchestra of the Baptist society in Blagoveschensk, in Siberia, and the Baptist choir in Slavgorod, a remote Siberian town. The sectarians began to develop a network of clubs, recreation circles, mutual-aid societies, artels, or groups for cooperative labor. All this activity did not go unnoticed in the Soviet press, where it was treated as unpleasantly successful competition with the organizing efforts of the Communist Party and the Union of Communist Youth. So a writer in the news-paper, Trud, of February 17, 1929, prefacing his article with the observation that "in a number of workers' regions ripen the poisonous and disgraceful fruits of the activity of priests and ministers in the shape of new churches and prayer-houses," states that in such widely separated towns as Polotzk, on the western frontier, and Vladivostok, the chief Russian port on the Pacific, the Baptists are opening meeting houses and clubs and developing propaganda among the workers. Even in such a revolutionary proletarian centre as Leningrad sectarian religious agitation in workers' districts elicited much unfavorable notice.
Several blows fell on the Baptists during the winter of 1928-1929. A group of some sixteen Baptists, Russian emigrants who had been trained in a Baptist seminary in Philadelphia, in America, and returned to Russia in some irregular fashion in 1920 or 1921, were arrested in White Russia, where they maintained a cooperative farm, and charged with counter-revolutionary agitation. Shortly afterwards a man named Shevchuk, alleged to be in the confidence of the Baptist communities in Ukraina, where this sect is especially strong, was arrested on the Soviet-Polish border, accused of espionage and plying a contraband trade. In the spring of 1929 the Baptist training college in Moscow found itself obliged, at least temporarily, to suspend activity, although at the time of writing I do not know whether or not it has been definitely and permanently closed.
More important than these minor episodes was the new law regulating the activities of religious organizations in the Soviet Union, promulgated in the latter part of April 1929.(The full text of this law is printed in Izvestia for April 26, 27, and 28.) Two or three provisions of this law strike at the very heart of two main aspects of sectarian activity, the sending out of missionary propagandists from central headquarters and the extension of church activity into educational, recreational, and benevolent fields. Paragraph 19 of the law provides that "the region of activity of ministers of cults, religious preachers, messengers, etc., is limited to the place of residence of the religious unit which they serve and the place of existence of the corresponding house of worship." This is pretty definitely aimed at itinerant preachers and missionaries.
Under paragraph 17 of the law religious organizations are forbidden: "(a) to create mutual-aid funds, cooperatives, productive societies, and, in general, to use the property in their possession for any ends except the satisfaction of religious needs; (b) to render material support to their members; (c) to organize special meetings for children, young people, women, and for prayer, and in general to organize meetings, groups, courses, departments, etc., for Bible study, literature, manual training, and education in religion, and also to arrange excursions and children's parks, to open libraries and reading rooms, to organize sanatoria and medical aid.
"In buildings and houses of worship may be kept only books which are necessary for the observance of the given cult."
The Communist state is a jealous state. It desires to maintain a monopoly on education, social-welfare work, literary and recreational training. It does not wish to see sectarian or Orthodox clubs, cooperatives, reading rooms, and similar institutions developing to a point where they may win away souls, from the teachings of Marx and Lenin.
Another indication of the new more active anti-religious policy of the Communist Party is the movement to make the schools of the country not only areligious, as they have been ever since the Revolution, but definitely anti-religious in teaching. The Commissar for Education, Anatole Lunacharsky, published in Pravda of March 26, 1929, an article entitled "The Anti-religious Struggle in the School," the general purport of which is sufficiently visible from the following sentence: -
"Theatres, concerts, moving pictures, radio, visits to museums, richly illustrated scientific and especially anti-religious lecturers, well-arranged periodical and non-periodical children's literature all this must be set in motion, developed, completed, or created for the great objective of most quickly transforming the growing generation into an absolutely atheistic one."
Mr. Lunacharsky addresses the following significant warning to religious teachers, whom he estimates at 30 or 40 per cent of the total number of Soviet pedagogues: -
"The believing teacher in the Soviet school is an awkward contradiction, and departments of popular education are bound to use every opportunity to replace such teachers with new ones, of anti-religious sentiments."
In conformity with this tendency, a number of children's parades and demonstrations against religion have been organized in the larger Russian centres.(5) Several other evidences of the strengthened anti-religious policy may be noted. A number of articles have appeared in the press urging the printers to boycott religious literature by refusing to print it.(6) There is also an agitation against the leasing of municipalized houses to religious bodies for purposes of worship; and I have heard that private people who lease houses to such bodies are sometimes subjected to so much hostile pressure from the authorities that they find it inadvisable to continue the practice. This affects the sectarians much more than it does the Orthodox Church, which is still well provided with houses of worship. The Baptists, for instance, have 400 chapels of their own, 800 which are leased, and 3800 places of worship in private quarters.(7)
The tendency to close churches, usually turning them into clubs, schools, or other public buildings, is gaining in momentum. During 1927, 17 churches, 34 monasteries, 14 synagogues, and 9 mosques were closed; in 1928 the figures were appreciably higher, rising to 359 churches, 48 monasteries, 59 synagogues, and 38 mosques.(8) Such closings are not supposed to be carried out by purely administrative authority, but only after the local "toilers" have expressed their will on the question. It is unlikely, however, that all of these sequestrations correspond with the wishes and feelings of the congregations affected.
During the early part of 1929 I attempted to gain some further knowledge of the situation on what the Communists like to call "the anti-religious front," through a series of visits to the headquarters of the Union of the Godless, the Baptists, and the Living Church wing of the Orthodox Church. The high dignitaries of the Tikhonite wing, for prudential reasons, are not disposed to talk with foreigners.
I had paid a visit to the Union of the Godless in 1926, and was impressed by the evidence of increased activity on the part of this organization. It had moved into new and larger quarters; typewriters were clicking; bundles of the society's publication, Byezbozhnik, or "Godless," were being prepared for the post. My informant, a tall young man who spoke with the ardor of a convinced Young Communist, summed up his view-point as follows: -
"Our society has more than doubled during the last year and now counts 600,000 members, organized in 12,000 branches, which work in factories, offices, and villages. Our agitation varies, depending upon the form of religion which we are combating and the class of the population among whom we are working. Our most dangerous enemies are the sectarians, because they have done away with the more silly ritualistic practices. However, their growth has been stopped recently.
"Among the peasants we emphasize the laws of natural science and show that thunder and lightning and hail are not supernatural or mysterious phenomena. Our village branches are supposed to cultivate garden plots, in order to demonstrate that good crops come, not from prayer, but from observing the rules of scientific agriculture. Among the workers we emphasize more the class character of religion as an instrument, of capital enslavement. We publish a weekly journal, the Godless, with a circulation of 170,000, a biweekly magazine with 80,000 readers, and another journal, the Antireligious Worker, less popular in character and designed for our agitators, with a circulation of 20,000. We also arrange lectures and have issued twenty anti-religious moving pictures. We. have just opened a central anti-religious museum."
A visit to this museum, which is located in the former famous Strastnoi Monastery, in the heart of Moscow, revealed an emphasis on two points: the alleged common origin of religions, illustrated by pictures and illustrations of various ancient myths and legends, and the identification of the Orthodox Church with the Tsarist system, driven home by exhibitions of manuscripts, figures about the wealth which churches and monasteries received from the imperial family and the nobility, etc.
Glancing through a specimen copy of the propagandist magazine, the Godless, one first noted an account of the alleged anti-Communist activity of priests, in league with the kulaks, or rich peasants, at the Soviet elections. There was a harrowing story about the "ikon of death," which people persisted in kissing, despite the risk of infection, during the great Moscow plague of 1771. A cartoon pilloried two enormously fat kulaks as "the support of the Church Council." As a light touch the magazine included a picture puzzle, a series of pictures which, when fitted together, would point an atheistic moral. Violently hostile articles about the Salvation Army and the Russian sectarian groups in Odessa, and portraits of priests participating in the funeral services for the former Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevitch, filled out the magazine.
The Baptists' headquarters was in the building of their semi-nary for preachers, which at the time of my visit had not been closed. Sixty-three, "brothers" and nine "sisters" were studying there. One gained the impression of a religious sect that had grown spontaneously out of the masses of the people; the pictures of pioneer Russian Baptists which hung on the walls represented a collection of typical bearded peasant faces.
The spokesman for the society declared that 95 per cent of the Russian Baptists were peasants and most of the remainder workers, the society having made special progress among the miners of the Donetz Basin. In general the doctrine of the Baptists, like that of another large sect which very much resembles them, the Evangelical Christians, is quite similar to that of conservative evangelical Protestantism, being based on literal acceptance of the Bible. Baptist teaching is against smoking and drinking, against attending moving picture and theatrical performances, although concerts are regarded as allowable and moving picture representations of sacred scenes are sometimes given in churches.
The Baptists reckon 200,000 members and about 1,000,000 friends and sympathizers, counting in the families of the members. They are especially strong in the Ukrainian peasant villages. Their monthly magazine, the Baptist, was first printed in 7000 copies; now this number has been cut down to 4000. At one time they were granted permission to print 25,000 Bibles; later this number was reduced to 2500, and the carrying out of the whole order seemed to be in doubt. The Baptists maintain mutual-aid funds for the benefit of their needy members. Their educational and recreational activities, even before the promulgation of the new law regulating religious organizations, had been stopped by administrative order, and they complained that they experienced great difficulty in leasing buildings for worship and that many of their rank-and-file members, besides their preachers, who are elected by their congregations, had been disfranchised.
Notwithstanding this atmosphere of actual and threatened repression, one carried away from the Baptist headquarters the same impression of fresh young strength that I have acquired in contact with sectarians in the villages. Unspoiled by prosperity the Russian sectarians have many of the qualities of faith, charitableness, and brotherly good will which one is apt to attribute to the early Christians. I shall not soon forget the impressive reply of a Ukrainian peasant lad who had just returned home from a term in prison for refusing to serve in the Red army. I asked him whether he had the right to refuse to serve, meaning to inquire whether Baptists in general were freed from the obligation of bearing arms.(9) He interpreted my question as a challenge to his action and replied, with a firm earnestness of conviction, quite equal to what one comes in Russia to associate with the more sincere and devoted Communists: -
"Of course, on the basis of the Word of God, I had the right to refuse to learn how to kill."
Most probably the Union of the Godless is correct in regarding such people as its most dangerous ideological enemies.
One found little of the eager faith and hope of the Baptists in the magnificent ecclesiastical mansion which somehow escaped nationalization and serves as the headquarters of the Most Holy Synod, as the directing board of the Living Church wing of the Orthodox Church is called. I had been promised an interview with the head of the Synod, Alexander Vedensky, one of the leading intellectuals in the movement against the Patriarch Tikhon, but, as Vedensky was suffering from one of his chronic fits of heart trouble, I talked instead with a professor of theology. He declared that in dogma and ritual there were practically no differences between the two wings of the Orthodox Church. The Synod has introduced an innovation in permitting bishops to marry (Russian priests have always been allowed to marry), and desires to replace Old Slavonic in the church service with Russian.
"We are in favor of church reunion," declared the professor, "but the Tikhonites are stubborn and carrying on an agitation against us, spreading rumors that our ikons are not holy and will not work miracles. We hold about 35 per cent of the churches in the country. Our chief strength is in Leningrad and in the Kuban, and we are weakest here in Moscow."
The professor admitted that there had been a considerable exodus from the Church since the Revolution, some former believers giving up faith altogether, while others joined the ranks of the sectarians, whose number he estimated at several millions. While the Soviet Government is not inclined as a rule to show special favor to any religion, the Synod enjoys two privileges which are denied to the more conservative Tikhonites: to maintain theological seminaries, of which there are two, one in Leningrad and one in Moscow, and to issue a publication, the Messenger of the Most Holy Synod, which is filled with theological articles and polemical attacks on the Tikhonites and the sectarians.
I have devoted most of the chapter to a consideration of the position of the Christian religion, because most Russians adhered to it in pre-revolutionary times and the Communist campaign has naturally been largely concentrated against it. Neither of the two largest non-Christian faiths in the Soviet Union, the Mohammedan and the Jewish, however, has escaped its share of the attack. Mohammedanism is a regulated system of life, rather than an intellectual creed; and anti-religious propaganda in the Mohammedan centres of Central Asia and the Caucasus, the Crimea and the Volga-Tartar Republic, is inextricably bound up with the Soviet effort to remould its Asiatic population along more modern lines.(More details of this effort are given in Chapters IX and XVII.) Cautious at first about offending the traditional habits of the Mohammedan peoples, the central and local Communist organizations, as the Soviet power has become more firmly established, have taken bolder and bolder steps in this direction. The number of murders of women who have discarded the veil indicates that there is still a strong psychology of resistance in the Soviet East, and that the mullahs, or Mohammedan priests, still retain substantial influence, at least in some places.
While Russian Orthodox Judaism has never been actively counter-revolutionary in the sense that many bishops and priests of the Russian Orthodox Church were counter-revolutionary (the threatening spectre of pogroms was sufficient to keep even the most conservative Jews, as a general rule, from desiring or working for the violent overthrow of the Soviet regime), Judaism is also "opium for the people" in the eyes of the Communists, and is exposed to much the same forms of hostile agitation and pressure. Almost simultaneously with the closing of the Baptist seminary in Moscow a Jewish rabbinical seminary which had existed semi-legally in Vitebsk Province was shut down. Jewish Communists are most active in urging their co-racialists to forsake religious practices; and synagogues, like churches, have been turned into workers' clubs. The general effect of this on Jews and Russian Christians has apparently been very similar: the lukewarm and indifferent fall off, but those who remain loyal are strengthened and deepened in their faith.
How will it end, this first conscious effort to make a large nation atheistic, this struggle for the Russian soul, or, as the Communists deny the existence of either personal or national souls, this struggle for the moulding of Russian thought and character ? In my opinion the issue depends largely upon how far religion is the product of such mechanical influences as habit, authority, tradition, early training, and how far it is a spontaneous psychological and spiritual need of human nature.
Obviously, so long as the Communist policy toward religion remains unchanged (and there is no reason to anticipate any abatement of the fundamental hostility, although there may be alternations of mildness and severity of method) religion will have no external basis of support. The influences of state, school, and society, which in other countries are generally either favorable to religion or at least neutral, will be cast solidly against it.
But in so far as religion is a matter of mature individual faith it will quite probably be strengthened rather than weakened by the period of trial and official disfavor through which it is passing. The Russian philosopher Soloviev described his countrymen as a "God-seeking people." And it will not be surprising if among those who turn away from the promised Communist "paradise in this world" old religious tendencies, both mystical and rationalistic, will be strengthened and new ones will arise.
(1) See Thoughts of Lenin about Religion, by Emilian Jaroslavsky, p. 10. Published by the State Publishing Company, Moscow, 1925.
(2) Shortly after this chapter was written, this historic shrine was demolished on the ground that it represented an obstruction to traffic. In view of the more vigorous anti-religious policy of recent times one might easily perceive a different significance in the demolition.
(3) There is a suspicion that Rasputin was a Khlist; and his morals, if not his doctrines, certainly suggested the influence of that orgiastic sect.
(4) After a fair amount of travel in Russian peasant districts, I am convinced that the profound and overwhelming devotion to Orthodoxy, attributed to the Russian peasant by some pre-war investigators, was either greatly exaggerated or has diminished almost to the vanishing point since the Revolution. Although there is little anti-religious propaganda among the peasants, I did not find a single peasant priest who did not admit a falling off in church attendance, especially among the youth, and who did not regard the future very pessimistically. True, the old customs of church weddings, burials, and christenings persist, but more from habit than from any accompanying sense of deep religious conviction. I was in a Don Cossack village (the last place where one would find active sympathy with Communist ideas on religion or anything else) on a religious holiday, and found most of the male population standing about on the village green and debating the division of the village hay, quite oblivious of the church bells which were calling them to service. It is a curious and yet psychologically not incomprehensible fact that in the cities, where anti-religious propaganda is much more widespread, the churches, as a rule, seem to be better attended.
(5) Such demonstrations usually couple drink with religion as enemies of socialism. In the Communist mind the connection between alcoholism and religion is apparently very close, and the two are usually bracketed together in the speeches of Communist leaders. Orthodox holidays are invariably turned into gigantic drinking bouts, but the sectarians, as a general rule, preach total abstinence. In a textile factory I found that the head of the local Union of the Godless was also the president of the factory Anti-alcohol Society. He seemed to feel that the workers parted with their religious convictions more easily than with their drink, remarking regretfully that in the factory settlement of some seven thousand workers it was difficult to find a president of the Anti-alcohol Society who could be trusted to remain sober on all occasions.
(6) About a score of religious publications are permitted to appear in the Soviet Union. They appear, usually, once a month or less frequently, and are restricted by the Glavlit, the central organ of censorship, to a few thousand copies at the most for each issue.
(7) See the Baptist, No. 7 for 1927, p. 5.
(8) See Workers' Gazette, No. 2143. Only a small fraction of the churches and other houses of worship have been closed, since it is estimated that there are 50,000 functioning churches in the Soviet Union.
(9) A few very small traditionally pacifist sects are exempted from bearing arms under Soviet law, but the Baptists are not one of these groups. Probably with a view to averting friction with the authorities, the Baptists, in a national congress, decided to leave the question of bearing arms to the consciences of their individual members. The Baptist with whom I talked in the seminary declared that a considerable number of the younger members of the sect had conceived such an abhorrence for war that they were willing to endure any penalties rather than serve in the army.