Red Medicine: Socialized Health in Soviet Russia

Religious and Civil Liberty and Law

OUTSIDE of working hours the health and welfare of workers, men and women, as well as of their families, are affected by their home circumstances, by their possibilities of recreation and mental refreshment, by the educational facilities for them and their children, and by their general ethical outlook on life.

It is convenient to consider first this last named aspect of life and its effect on religious and civil liberty and on law enforcement.

From its initiation the policy of Soviet Russia has been actively antireligious. Under its constitution, the Soviet Government, while insisting on a complete separation between Church and State, added the principle of freedom for any kind of religious belief. It is not surprising, however, that this principle is largely controverted in practice, for Lenin whose sayings are often quoted as final judgments in the same way as Scriptural texts are sometimes bandied about by theologians has expressed himself as follows:

'Religion is one of the forms of spiritual oppression... . 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. . . . Religion is opium for the people.' [Quoted by Chamberlin in Soviet Russia.]

No person can become a member of the Communist Party or of the Union of Communist Youth unless he renounces religious faith.

Stalin said in an interview with an American labor delegation, September 15, 1927:

The Party cannot be neutral in regard to religion. Communists who hinder the broadest development of antireligious propaganda have no place in the ranks of the Party.

One has to bear in mind the type of religious belief and expression against which this revolt has occurred. On this point Maurice Hindus affirms that the Orthodox Church in Russia sterilized the spiritual life of the peasant, for it emphasized form rather than substance, and the technique more than the spirit of worship. It made its appeal to magic, and Bible reading could supply no corrective, as most of the people were illiterate. Whatever may be said about the State Church, there were doubtless numberless individuals in whom a Christlike life evidenced itself both in true worship and in fruitful Christian love. The evil side of the official church, however, gives force to Trotsky's indictment in his History of the Russian Revolution, where he writes :

The Church in Russia was satisfied with the role of spiritual servant of the autocracy, and counted this a recompense for its humility.

We need not wonder, then, that in most homes the picture of Lenin may be seen where the Ikon used to be. Religion is not merely tabooed, but opportunity is seized by the Communist Party, the "keeper of the nation's conscience," to suppress churches and to make religious belief appear ridiculous.

Believers may still attend church, and they do so in large numbers; but the priests are prohibited from organizing any social work, and no school for minors is allowed in which religious teaching is given. Churches are closed if the congregation fails to maintain the building or to pay the taxes, which may be very high. In rural districts a church may be closed by resolution of the local Soviet, but definite instructions have now been given forbidding this to be done, unless the closure is desired, not by a mere majority, but by a really preponderating mass vote. The latest information indicates that a large majority of the village churches are still functioning as such.

Although many churches remain and function, others, especially in the cities, have been taken over for secular purposes, such as clubs or motion picture houses. In a few cases churches have been converted into antireligious museums. We saw two of these museums, one in St. Isaac's Cathedral in Leningrad. In this museum were models and caricatures of religious personages, pictures showing their close connection with the Tsar, sneering cartoons, charts and diagrams indicating how much money the State Church had obtained from the people, illustrations of religious persecutions which have stained the course of all religions, exposures of sham miracles, and illustrations of every other feature of mistaken orthodoxy. But the genuine faith of millions in true spiritual Christianity is simply ignored.

Antireligious pamphlets and exhibitions and cinema films of an intensely antireligious character abound. Bolshevism is materialistic communism of an intolerant type, and the abolition of every religion, except that of the materialistic philosophy, which is nationally raised to the rank of a quasireligion, is a definite part of its policy. Yet it is but fair to add, on the good authority of Sidney Webb, that religious literature, hymns, etc., are actually being published by the Government Printing Houses.

The practical abolition of religious liberty in Russia for anyone wishing to take his share in active communal life or in the Youth Movement must be related to a corresponding restriction of civil liberty when open criticism of the Communist Party is attemed. As already stated (page 78), there is free criticism of collective methods or policy in any and every branch of administration, always limited by the condition that the criticism must not take the form of arguing against the fundamental principles of Marxism or Leninism or aim at anything which is counter-revolutionary. Criticism on these points makes the critic a marked man with possible severe punishment, such criticism being regarded as sedition in the present continuing "state of war."

The administration of law and justice in Soviet Russia throws some further light on the problems of religious and civil liberty. In minor cases justice is administered by People's Courts, the judges in which are appointed by the local Soviet.

There is also a Supreme Court, presided over by a permanent judge and two assessors. Justice, like government, is boasted to be "class justice," being based on the fundamental dictatorship of the proletariat, "the conceion of the State as the instrument of class domination"; and justice is employed as an instrument in the class struggle. This is clearly indicated in a statement by the officer equivalent to the Attorney General of the Soviet Union, quoted by Chamberlin (in Soviet Russia) :

[There must be] consideration of the social position of the person who has committed a crime. . . . Naturally, in the case of two quite identical crimes, the Soviet court will act differently toward the bourgeois, who has committed a crime as a result of his class ideology and habits, and toward the worker, who has committed a crime from poverty or from slightly developed social consciousness.

The social danger of the offender to the State and to the proletarian dictatorship is made to determine the magnitude of punishment. Thus the London Times (October 25, 1932) records that in view of recent increase of thieving all thieves who steal at the expense of the State shall be subject to the death penalty. The Commissar of Justice of the R.S.F.S.R., it says, has issued an apologia for this new enactment, defending this "sharp and cruel law" for the offense of stealing grain or a cart wheel or an agricultural tool. Such offenses are favoring actual famine, and, as he puts it, "people who have not learnt to respect property in the course of fifteen years are incorrigible and must be shot ... the time for mercy to these malefactors has gone, and they must now be destroyed."

The law is specially directed against definite class enemies who organize arson, etc.; against unscrupulous private traders, batches of whom have already been shot in various centres; also against peasants stealing produce for illicit sale, and against town thieves and brigands.

The Commissar concludes his apologia in these words :

The class war is a cruel thing. But the working class is not to blame for the fact that its enemies force it to resort to these methods.

Subject to the above limitations, there is much on the judicial side of Soviet life which is interesting and highminded. The penal system is intended to be "modern and redemive." Prisons (many of them) have become reformatories, in which leaves of absence, and even family life while in prison, are permitted. The most advanced prisons are really settlements in which wages are paid, while escape from them is not severely punished. (See page 25.)

The position in these particulars is partially reminiscent of Samuel Butler's Erewhon, in which criminals were put in hospitals; but it does not complete that topsyturvy Utopia in placing the sick in prison. The oldfashioned prison is reserved for political offenders, and over this is drawn a veil.

Mention should be made of the Comrade Courts, in which a man's neighbors or fellowworkers sit in judgment on domestic offenses. If in a large house a wife beater is brought before a meeting of the tenants, he is first admonished. For a second offense his bad conduct is published on the house door. If he again offends, his office or factory is informed; and he then has to draw his weekly wages at a flimsy wooden structure covered with caricatures and known as the "black pay office." For further incorrigibility he may be banished to a distant city. Similar methods are adopted in schools, factories, and even in prisons! (See Progress, December, 1932, 1, No. 3.)

In our wanderings we were surprised at the infrequency of drunken persons. During six or seven days spent on steamships on the Volga and the Black Sea we saw very little drinking and no drunkenness.

There is active official propaganda against drinking. In workshops, factories, schools, and parks, exhibits warning against the evils of vodka are common, as are also cartoons and dummy figures throwing contumely on the drunkard. These all show that addiction to alcoholic drink continues to be regarded as a great national evil, and as responsible for much carelessness in the use of materials and machinery, and thus a definite impediment to the success of the national industrial plans.

On a visit to one of the ten antialcoholic stations in Moscow, we learned that "drunks" are brought in droshkies to the station, bathed and put to bed, and may be kept one or more days. The drunkard's home address is obtained ; also the name of the trade union to which the man belongs, and the man's condition is reported to the union. The man may be sent to a special dispensary for treatment.

In each factory there is a wall display of the name and photograph of the drunkard and a descriion of his fault. For this purpose a card is sent from the antialcoholic station to the factory, and disciplinary action follows on the initiative of the committee of the shop in which the drunkard works.

A useful enactment is that liquor shops near factories can be closed if the workmen vote for it; another is that the sale of vodka on pay days and holidays is forbidden. It should be added that every obvious inducement to drink has been abolished in premises where vodka is sold, and we saw no advertisements of alcoholic drinks. Reform is complicated by the revenue derived from vodka. Prior to the Great War one fourth of the nation's budget came from this source. There was war prohibition of the sale of vodka on the authority of the Tsar; but in October, 1925, largely because prohibition resulted in immense illicit production of spirits, vodka of its full 40 per cent strength was restored. At the present time, although the Government derives much income from vodka, it is conducting a systematized education campaign against alcoholic indulgence.