V. I.   Lenin

Classes and Parties in Their Attitude to Religion and the Church

Published: Sotsial-Demokrat, No. 6, June (4)17, 1909. Published according to the text in Sotsial-Demokrat.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1973, Moscow, Volume 15, pages 414-424.
Transcription: R. Cymbala
HTML Markup: B. Baggins and D. Walters
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The debates in the Duma on the Synod estimates, then on the restoration of rights to persons who have left holy orders and, finally, on the Old-Believer communities, have provided very instructive material characterising the attitude of the Russian political parties towards religion and the Church. Let us make a general survey of this material, dwelling mainly on the debates on the Synod estimates (we have not yet received the verbatim reports of the debates on the other questions mentioned above).

The first and most obvious conclusion that emerges from the Duma debates is that militant clericalism in Russia not only exists, but is clearly gaining ground and becoming more organised. On April 16, Bishop Metrophanes stated: “The first steps in our Duma activities pursued the explicit end that we who have been honoured by the votes of the people, should here in the Duma stand above party divisions, and form a single group of the clergy, which should throw light on all sides from its ethical point of view.... What is the reason why we have failed to achieve this ideal situation? ... The fault for this lies with those who are sharing these benches with you [i. e., with the Cadets and the “Left”], namely, those clerical deputies who belong to the opposition. They were the first to lift their voice and say that this was neither more nor less than the emergence of a clerical party, and that this was extremely undesirable. Of course, there is no such thing as clericalism among the Russian Orthodox clergy—we never had a tendency of that kind, and in seeking to form a separate group we were pursuing purely ethical and moral ends. But now, gentlemen, when,   as a result of this discord introduced in our brotherly midst by the Left deputies, there followed disunity and division, now you [i. e., the Cadets] blame it on us.”

Bishop Metrophanes in his illiterate speech let the cat out of the bag: the Left, don’t you see, are guilty of having dissuaded some of the Duma priests from forming a special “moral” (this term is obviously more suitable for hoodwinking the people than the word “clerical”) group!

Almost a month later, on May 13, Bishop Eulogius read in the Duma “the resolution of the Duma clergy”: “The overwhelming majority of the Duma Orthodox clergy considers”... that in the interests of the “leading and dominant position of the Orthodox Church” neither freedom of preaching for the Old-Believers, nor the unauthorised functioning of Old- Believer communities, nor the using of the title of priest by Old-Believer clergymen, are permissible. “The purely moral point of view” of the Russian priests stands fully revealed as clericalism pure and simple. “The overwhelming majority” of the Duma clergy, in whose name Bishop Eulogius spoke, probably consisted of 29 Right and moderately Right priests in the Third Duma, and possibly also included 8 priests belonging to the Octobrists. The opposition had probably been joined by 4 priests belonging to the Progressist and Peaceful Renovation groups and one belonging to the Polish-Lithuanian group.

What is then the “purely moral and ethical point of view of the overwhelming majority of the clergy in the Duma” (the June-the-Third Duma, one should add)? Here are a few excerpts from the speeches: “All I say is that the initiative for these [i.e., Church] reforms must come from within the Church, not from without, not from the state and, of course, not from the Budget Commission. After all, the Church is a divine and eternal institution, its laws are immutable, whereas the ideals of state life, as we know, are subject to constant modifications” (Bishop Eulogius, April 14). The orator recalled “a disturbing historical parallel”: the secularisation of Church property under Catherine II. “Who can vouch that the Budget Commission, which this year expressed the desire to put them [the Church funds] under state control, will not express next year the desire to deposit them in the State Treasury, and then fully to transfer their   management from the Church authorities to the civil or state authorities?... The Church statutes say that since a bishop is entrusted with Christian souls, then all the more should Church property be entrusted to him.... Today before you [deputies of the Duma] stands your spiritual mother, the holy Orthodox Church, not merely as before representatives of the people, but also as before its spiritual children” (ibid.).

This is pure clericalism. The Church is above the state as the eternal and divine is above the temporal and earthly. The Church cannot forgive the state for secularising Church property. The Church demands a leading and dominant position. In its eyes the Duma deputies are not only—or rather not so much—representatives of the people as “spiritual children”.

These are not officials in cassocks, as the Social-Democrat Surkov called them, but feudalists in cassocks. Defence of the Church’s feudal privileges, outspoken support of medievalism—that is the essence of the policy pursued by the majority of the Third Duma clergy. Bishop Eulogius is by no means an exception. Gepetsky also vociferates against “secularisation” which he calls an intolerable “wrong” (April 14). The priest Mashkevich fulminates against the Octobrist report for seeking “to undermine the historic and canonical foundations on which our Church life has rested and must rest ... to push the life and activities of the Russian Orthodox Church off the canonical path on to the path where ... the true princes of the Church—the bishops—will be obliged to give up almost all their rights, inherited from the apostles, to secular princes.... This is nothing but ... an encroachment on somebody else’s property and on the rights and possessions of the Church.... The speaker is leading us towards the destruction of the canonical order of Church life; he seeks to subordinate the Orthodox Church and all its economic functions to the Duma, an institution composed of the most diverse elements in our country, of religious creeds both tolerated and not tolerated” (April 14).

The Russian Narodniks and liberals have long been comforting themselves, or rather deceiving themselves, with the “theory” that in Russia there is no basis for militant clericalism, for a struggle of “the princes of the Church” with   the temporal power, and so forth. Our revolution has dispelled this illusion, as it did a number of other Narodnik and liberal illusions. Clericalism existed in a hidden form, so long as autocracy existed intact and inviolate. The all- powerful police and bureaucracy concealed from the gaze of “society” and the people the class struggle in general, and the struggle waged by the “feudalists in cassocks” against the “base rabble” in particular. But the first breach which the revolutionary proletariat and peasantry made in the feudalist autocratic regime laid bare what had been hidden. As soon as the proletariat and the advanced elements of the democratic bourgeoisie began to make use of the political liberty, the freedom to organise the masses, which they had won at the end of 1905, the reactionary classes, too, reached out for independent and open organisations. Under absolute autocracy they did not organise, and did not come out too much in the open, not because they were weak, but be cause they were strong; not because they were incapable of organisation and political struggle, but because at that time they did not yet feel any real need for independent class organisation. They did not believe in the possibility of a mass movement against the autocracy and the feudalists in Russia. They fully relied on the knout being sufficient to keep the rabble down. But the first wounds inflicted on autocracy compelled the social elements which supported it and needed it to come out into the open. It was no longer possible to use only the old knout in fighting masses that had been capable of causing the events of January 9, the strike movement in 1905, and the October-December revolution. It became necessary to build up independent political organisations; it became necessary for the Council of the United Nobility to organise Black Hundreds and engage in the most irresponsible demagogy; it became necessary for “the princes of the Church—the bishops”—to organise the reactionary clergy into an independent force.

A typical feature of the Third Duma, and of the Third Duma period of the Russian counter-revolution is, indeed, that this organisation of the reactionary forces has come out into the open, has begun to develop on a nation-wide scale, and has demanded a special Black-Hundred bourgeois “parliament”. Militant clericalism has shown its true colours;   and from now on Russian Social-Democracy will have to act again and again as an observer of, and participant in, the clashes between the clerical and the anti-clerical bourgeoisie. If our general task is to assist the proletariat to unite into a special class, capable of separating from bourgeois democracy, one component of this task is the use of every means of propaganda and agitation, including the rostrum of the Duma, to explain to the masses the distinctions between socialist and bourgeois anti-clericalism.

The Octobrists and Cadets who have come out in the Third Duma against the extreme Right, the clericals, and the government, have eased this task for us immensely by providing an object-lesson of the attitude of the bourgeoisie to wards the Church and religion. The legal press of the Cadets and the so-called Progressists is at present devoting special attention to the question of the Old-Believers, to the fact that the Octobrists as well as the Cadets have taken a stand against the government, and to the fact that they have, albeit in a small way, “adopted the course of reform” promised on October 17. What interests us most is the principle involved in this question, i.e., the attitude of the bourgeoisie in general, including the elements who claim the title of Democratic Cadets, towards religion and the Church. We must not allow a relatively minor question—the Old-Believers’ conflict with the dominant Church, and the conduct of the Octobrists who are tied up with the Old-Believers, and are partly even dependent on them financially (Golos Moskvy[2] is said to be financed by the Old-Believers)—make us lose sight of the root question, that of the interests and policy of the bourgeoisie as a class.

Take a look at the speech delivered by Count Uvarov, an Octobrist in his general views, but who has left the Octobrist group. Speaking after the Social-Democrat Surkov, he started by refusing to deal with this question from the standpoint of principle, as the workers’ deputy had done. Uvarov merely attacks the Synod and the Procurator-General for their unwillingness to give the Duma any information on certain Church revenues and on the expenditure of parish funds. Kamensky, the official spokesman of the Octobrists, approaches the question’ from the same stand point (April 16), and demands that parishes should be revived   “for the purpose of strengthening the Orthodox faith”. Kapustin, the so-called “Left-wing Octobrist”, elaborates on this idea. “If we turn to the life of the people,” he ex claims, “to the life of the rural population, we observe today, here and now, a sad fact: religious life is tottering, the greatest and sole foundation of the people’s moral principles is tottering.... What can replace the concept of sin, what can replace the dictates of conscience? Surely, they cannot be replaced by the concept of class struggle and the rights of this or that class. That is a tragic concept which has taken root in our everyday life. Therefore, if religion is to survive as a foundation of morality, if it is to be within reach of the whole population, it is necessary that the bearers of this religion should enjoy the proper authority...."

The spokesman of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie wishes to strengthen religion, he wishes to enhance the influence of religion on the masses, realising that it is inadequate and out of date, realising even the harm caused to the ruling classes by “officials in cassocks”, who are lowering the authority of the Church. The Octobrist is fighting against the excesses of clericalism and of police tutelage in order to strengthen the influence of the Church on the masses, in order to replace at least some means of addling the wits of the people, which are too crude, too out of date, too threadbare to achieve their object, by more refined and improved means. Police religion is no longer adequate for be fuddling the masses: give us a more cultured, more up-to- date, more skilful religion, one that will be effective in a self-governing parish—that is what capital is demanding of the autocracy.

And the Cadet Karaulov fully subscribes to this same point of view.This “liberal” renegade (who gradually “evolved” from the Narodnaya Volya[1] to the Right-wing Cadets) screams his protest against the “denationalisation of the Church,understanding this to mean the exclusion of the masses of the people, of the laity, from the building of the Church”. He finds it “shocking” (literally so!) that the masses are “losing faith”. He raises an outcry, quite in the style of Menshikov,[3] because the “immense intrinsic value of the   Church is being depreciated ... to the great detriment not only of the cause of the Church, but of that of the state as well”. He qualifies as “words of gold” the loathsome hypocrisy of the zealot Eulogius on the theme that “the task of the Church is eternal, immutable, hence, it is not possible to link up the Church with politics”. He protests against the alliance of the Church with the Black Hundreds for the sole reason that the Church may, “with greater might and glory than today, fulfil its grand and holy mission in a Christian spirit of love and freedom”.

Comrade Belousov did well to have a good laugh at these “lyrical words” of Karaulov’s from the Duma rostrum. How ever, such ridicule is very far from being adequate. It had to be made clear—and at the first convenient opportunity this should be done from the Duma rostrum—that the stand point of the Cadets is absolutely identical with that of the Octobrists, and merely expresses the efforts of “cultured” capital to bamboozle the people with religious narcotics by more refined methods of Church deception than the ones now practised by the rank-and-file Russian priests who are still living in the past.

To keep the people in spiritual bondage, there must be the closest possible alliance of the Church and the Black Hundreds, said the “wild landlord” and the old Derzhimorda[4] through their spokesman Purishkevich. You are wrong, gentlemen, retorts the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie through their spokesman Karaulov: with such methods you will only make the people turn away from religion for good. Now let us go about it in a more clever, more artful, more ingenious way: let us remove the too stupid and crude agent of the Black Hundreds, declare war on “denationalisation of the Church”, and inscribe on our banner Bishop Eulogius’s “words of gold” to the effect that the Church is above politics. Only in this way shall we be able to fool at least some of the backward workers, and especially of the petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry, and be able to help the renovated Church to fulfil its “grand and holy mission” of retaining the masses of the people in spiritual bondage.

Our liberal press, not excluding the newspaper Rech, has concentrated of late on censuring Struve and Co. for their   authorship of the symposium Vekhi. But Karaulov, the official spokesman of the Cadets in the Duma, has done a superlative job of exposing all the vile hypocrisy of these remonstrances, and these repudiations of Struve and Co. What Karaulov and Milyukov conceal, Struve reveals. The liberals blame Struve only for having imprudently blurted out the truth, for showing his hand too openly. The liberals, who censure Vekhi and go on supporting the Cadet Party, are most shamelessly deceiving the people—condemning imprudently outspoken words, and going on doing the very things that go with those words.

There is little to say about the conduct of the Trudoviks in the Duma during the debate on the questions under re view. As always, a noticeable difference was revealed between the peasant Trudoviks and the intellectual Trudoviks to the disadvantage of the latter, because of their excessive readiness to follow the Cadets. True, Rozhkov, a peasant, revealed in his speech his complete lack of political consciousness; he, too, repeated the Cadet platitudes about the Union of the Russian People helping not to reinforce but to destroy faith. He was unable to suggest any programme. On the other hand, when he began in his artless manner to tell the naked, unvarnished truth about the levies collected by the clergy, about the extortions of the priests, about how, in addition to charging money for conducting a marriage ceremony, they demand “a bottle of vodka, snacks, and a pound of tea, and sometimes things that I am even afraid to talk about from this rostrum” (April 16, verbatim report, p. 2259)—this was more than the Black-Hundred Duma could stand. A wild howl arose from the benches of the right. “This is scandalous, this is outrageous!” shouted the Black Hundreds, realising that this simple peasant’s speech about extortions, listing the scale of “fees” charged for religious rites, was more likely to revolutionise the masses than any amount of theoretical or tactical anti-religious and anti-Church declarations. Thereupon the band of diehard defenders of autocracy in the Third Duma intimidated their flunkey—the Duma Chairman Meyendorff—and compelled him to rule that Rozhkov must sit down (the Social-Democrats, joined by some Trudoviks, Cadets and others, handed in a protest against this action of the Chairman).

Although the speech delivered by the peasant Trudovik Rozhkov was extremely unsophisticated, it provided an excellent demonstration of the abyss dividing the hypocritical, deliberately reactionary defence of religion by the Cadets, and the primitive, unconscious, matter-of-fact religiousness of the peasant, whose living conditions give rise—against his will and unconsciously—to a truly revolutionary resentment against extortions, and to readiness for a resolute fight against medievalism. The Cadets are the representatives of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie, which is intent on renovating and strengthening religion against the people. The Rozhkovs are the representatives of revolutionary bourgeois democracy, a democracy that is undeveloped, lacking political consciousness, downtrodden, lacking independence, disunited—yet frought with an all but inexhaustible reservoir of revolutionary energy in the fight against the landlords, the priests, and the autocracy.

Rozanov, a Trudovik intellectual, came close to the Cadets far less unconsciously than Rozhkov. Rozanov could mention disestablishment of the Church as a demand of the “Left”, but could not refrain from reactionary, petty-bourgeois phrases about “amending the electoral law in the sense that the clergy should be excluded from participation in the political struggle”. The revolutionary spirit, which finds a spontaneous outlet in a typical, average peasant when he begins to tell the truth about how he lives, vanishes in the case of a Trudovik intellectual, to be replaced by hazy and sometimes actually vile phrases. For the hundredth and thousandth time we see the truth confirmed that only if they follow the proletariat’s lead will the Russian peasant masses be able to overthrow the oppressive and killing yoke of the feudal-minded landlords, the feudalists in cassocks, the feudal-minded supporters of the autocracy.

The Social-Democrat Surkov, representing the workers’ party and the working class, was the only person in the Duma to raise the debates to the truly high level of principle, and said without beating about the bush what the attitude of the proletariat is towards the Church and religion, and what should be the attitude in this matter of all consistent and vigorous democrats. “Religion is the opium of the people.... Not a farthing of the people’s money to these murderous   enemies of the people who are drugging the people’s minds”—this straightforward, bold and outspoken battle-cry of a socialist resounded like a challenge to the Black- Hundred Duma, and met with the response of millions of proletarians, who will spread it among the masses and who will know how to translate it into revolutionary action when the time comes.


[1] See Note 99.—Ed.

[2] Golos Moskvy (Voice of Moscow)—a daily newspaper, organ of the Octobrists— a counter-revolutionary party of the big industrial bourgeoisie and big landlords. Published in Moscow from 1905 to 1915.

[3] Menshikov, M. 0. (1859-1919)—a reactionary journalist, one of the editors of the Black-Hundred newspaper Novoye Vremya (New Times).—Ed.

[4] Derzhimorda—the name of a policeman in Gogol’s comedy The Inspector-General typifying an insolent, brutal bully and oppressor.

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