Harry Young

Religion and Reaction in Russia


Source: Socialist Standard, November 1943.
Transcription: Socialist Party of Great Britain.
HTML Markup: Adam Buick
Copyleft: Creative Commons (Attribute & No Derivatives) 2007 conference "Be it resolved that all material created and published by the Party shall be licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs copyright licence".


The news that Stalin has approved the election of a Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Russia and the formation of a Holy Synod is not the least surprising to Socialists, especially after the information published in the Daily Worker (see August Socialist Standard) about the increasing numbers of rouble millionaires. Perhaps one of the best comments is that of General de Gaulle's paper, La France. It compares the present developments in Russia to the end of the Robespierre regime in France in 1798, and further points out that the old official Greek Orthodox Catholic Church in Russia has enegetically supported the war against Germany, openly threatening denunciation as a traitor and ex-communication for any priest guilty of failing to lead the people against the enemy. According to the Moscow correspondent of the Daily Herald (September 6, 1943), "Since the war there has been an upsurge of religions feeling by no means confined to the older generation." This is simply one, further aspect of the profound truth of the contention of the Socialist Standard 23 years ago that the people of Russia were not Socialists—but largely illiterate pemsaats. They still are— and are therefore priest-ridden.

It is the development of industrial forces, and mankind's consequent growing control over nature, and increasing knowledge of her working, that provides a wider and firmer basis for science, and leaves less room for superstition in the minds of working men. (Socialism and Religion, S.P.G.B., p. 15-16.)

The position of the hapless British Communists becomes ever more ridiculous. One-time sponsors of the "League of the Godless" they are now forced to whitewash what is the most reactionary Church in Europe—the Russian Church— former organiser of pogroms against the Jews, spiritual managers of the Czar's public brothels, and breakers of strikes. Meantime, the British Archbishops and Deans of Canterbury, York, etc., have proved how astute they are and how well they understood that the backward conditions of Russia would serve religion.

According to the Daily Worker (September 16), the Dean of Canterbury welcomes the visit of the Archbishop of York to the Soviet Union. In an article in the same issue he states that "the Russian Church of to-day differs widely from the Russian Church of Tsarist days, proving itself by a whole series of acts, especially in war time, a loyal ally of the Soviet Regime." The Dean considers that this recognition of the Holy Synod in Russia makes it "the first great union of peoples to practise things which for 1,800 years the Church has been preaching."

When we recall the books written by these people, The Socialist Sixth of the World (extensively debunked in the Socialist Standard) and hear the statement of the Archbishop of Canterbury on the radio that they (the Church of England) have long been on the most friendly terms with the Greek Orthodox Church in Russia, and are now exchanging delegates, it becomes clear that the clergy are up to their age-old game, consistently played throughout the ages, of repainting their theological scenery to suit the political policy of the ruling clique of the day. In the same way that Ancient Rome and the Incas of Peru took the idols of conquered tribes and placed them in the Pantheon, so the Patriarch of the Holy Synod is quite willing to send greetings to Joseph Stalin so long as Stalin recognises the Church, or vice versa. Once Churchill "recognised" Stalin, the Church of England follows suit. Stalin has done this, as the Times indicates, because the Greek Church is the most suitable machinery for influencing Russian and Balkan peasants, not the Communist International, which it has superseded. Eleven years ago they said: —

In all the Catholic Churches in the Liverpool diocese a pastoral letter from the Archbishop was read during the High Mass last Sunday. After stating that the abolition of religion is a fundamental tenet of Russian Communism, the Archbishop asserts, "Almost from the outset the price which the workers paid for the somewhat fictitious benefits of Communism was very real slavery; and slavery not merely of body but of mind, for the serfs of the soil in their misery soon discovered that the only free-thinkers in Russia were the despots who ruled them.
Even at this late hour the world's ports should be closed to the commercial fleets of Russia and the plague of Bolshevism isolated within the Soviet State." (Daily Worker, November 29, 1932.)

The official Church of England, through the Dean of Canterbury and others, will try to pass this off as "Socialism," and surely, if Hitler and Stalin can call themselves "Socialists," so can the Dean of Canterbury and the Russian Church. Yelping at his heels, the Daily Worker and Russia Today announce that the modern Russian Church, like the new Soviet millionaires, is " quite different."

Unfortunately for them, information is not lacking to the contrary. In the Daily Mirror for September 17 is a report from Moscow by Marion Sinclair entitled "An exhausting time was had by all," on the reception of the Patriarch by Stalin and his enthronement in Moscow Cathedral.

Never in the history of Soviet Russia has there been such a blaze of colour, jewels, candles, velvets, brocades—or such a concourse of people in an ecstasy of religious fervour.

The Cathedral Dean was fussing about like the stage-manager before the opening performance.

"Don't forget those candles, line up the beggars at the door—they're blocking the entrance. Where are the people who are to line the path to keep back crowds? "
Sergei (the Patriarch) put on the golden mitre blazing with rubies, sapphires, amethysts and pearls. One girl whispered "they can't all be real." But they were, for canonical law forbids the wearing of false jewels. (Italics ours.)

So we see. It is almost the same old superstitious Russia in spite of everything. Great wealth for priests—based on crowds of beggars at the door as they always were, with "modern" rouble millionaires and masses of pauper-workers added. And yet not quite the same, for somewhere in the back streets of Moscow there are working men and women who recall the words of one of Russia's outstanding sons : —

Religion is one of the forms of spiritual oppression which everywhere weigh upon the masses who are crushed by continuous toil for others, by poverty and deprivation. The helplessness of all the exploited in their struggle against the exploiters inevitably generates a belief in a better life after death, even as the helplessness of the savage in his struggle with nature gives rise to a belief in gods, devils, miracles, etc.
Religion teaches those who toil in poverty all their lives to be resigned and patient in this world, and consoles them with the hope of reward in heaven. As for those who live upon the labour of others, religion teaches them to be "charitable"—thus providing a justification for exploitation and, as it were, also a cheap ticket to heaven likewise."Religion is the opium of the people." Religion is a kind of spiritual intoxicant, in which the slaves of capital drown their humanity, and blunt their desire for a decent human existence.
But a slave who has become conscious of his slavery, and who has risen to the height of fighting for his emancipation, has half-ceased to be a slave. The class-conscious worker of to-day, brought up in the environment of a big factory, and enlightened by town life, rejects religious prejudices with contempt. He leaves heaven to the priests and bourgeois hypocrites. He fights for a better life for himself, here on earth. The modern proletariat ranges itself on the side of Socialism, which, with the help of science, is dispersing the fog of religion and is liberating the workers from their faith in a life after death, by rallying them to the present-day struggle for a better life here upon earth.

The same Russian writer went on :—

Marx said : "Religion is the opium of the people"—and this postulate is the corner-stone of the whole philosophy of Marxism with regard to religion. Marxism always regarded all modern religions and churches, and every kind of religious organisation as instruments of that bourgeois reaction whose aim is to defend exploitation by stupefying the working-class.

And finally perhaps Josef Stalin ponders these words written to Maxim Gorky : —

By redecorating the idea of God you actually repaired the chains by which the ignorant workers and peasants are bound. "There !"—Messrs. Parson & Co. will say—"see what a fine and wise idea (idea of God) this is ! Even ' your ' democrats, your leaders, admit it; and we (Messrs. Parson & Co.) are the ministers of this idea." . . . Now in Europe, just as in Russia, every defence or justification of the idea of God, even the most refined and well intentioned, is a justification of reaction.

The Russian writer from whose work the above quotations are taken is N. Lenin (Lenin on Religion, Lawrence & Wishart, 1943, 1s.), and Mr. Harry Pollitt has been so busy at the back of the Second Front lately that he hasn't got round to suppressing it yet.