Posts Tagged ‘Saint-Simon’

Workers’ Chamber Book: Chapter Breakdown

November 21, 2017

As I mentioned in my last post, a year or so ago I wrote a pamphlet, about 22,000 words long, arguing that as parliament was filled with the extremely rich, who passed legislation solely to benefit the wealthy like themselves and the owners and management of business, parliament should have an elected chamber occupied by working people, elected by working people. So far, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I haven’t found a publisher for it. I put up a brief overview of the book’s contents in my last post. And here’s a chapter by chapter breakdown, so you can see for yourselves what it’s about and some of the arguments involved.

For a Workers’ Parliamentary Chamber

This is an introduction, briefly outlining the purpose of the book, discussing the current domination of parliament by powerful corporate interests, and the working class movements that have attempted to replacement parliamentary democracy with governmental or administrative organs set up by the workers themselves to represent them.

Parliamentary Democracy and Its Drawbacks

This discusses the origins of modern, representative parliamentary democracy in the writings of John Locke, showing how it was tied up with property rights to the exclusion of working people and women. It also discusses the Marxist view of the state as in the instrument of class rule and the demands of working people for the vote. Marx, Engels, Ferdinand Lassalle and Karl Kautsky also supported democracy and free speech as a way of politicising and transferring power to the working class. It also shows how parliament is now dominated by big business. These have sent their company directors to parliament since the Second World War, and the number has massively expanded since the election of Margaret Thatcher. Universal suffrage on its own has not brought the working class to power.

Alternative Working Class Political Assemblies

This describes the alternative forms of government that working people and trade unionists have advocated to work for them in place of a parliamentary system that excludes them. This includes the Trades Parliament advocated by Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trade Union, the Chartists’ ‘Convention of the Industrious Classes’, the Russian soviets and their counterparts in Germany and Austria during the council revolution, the emergence and spread of Anarcho-Syndicalism, and its aims, as described by Rudolf Rocker.

Guild Socialism in Britain

This describes the spread of Syndicalist ideas in Britain, and the influence of American Syndicalist movements, such as the I.W.W. It then discusses the formation and political and social theories of Guild Socialism, put forward by Arthur Penty, S.G. Hobson and G.D.H. Cole. This was a British version of Syndicalism, which also included elements of state socialism and the co-operative movement. This chapter also discusses Cole’s critique of capitalist, representative democracy in his Guild Socialism Restated.

Saint-Simon, Fascism and the Corporative State

This traces the origins and development of these two systems of government. Saint-Simon was a French nobleman, who wished to replace the nascent French parliamentary system of the early 19th century with an assembly consisting of three chambers. These would be composed of leading scientists, artists and writers, and industrialists, who would cooperate to administer the state through economic planning and a programme of public works.

The Fascist Corporative State

This describes the development of the Fascist corporative state under Mussolini. This had its origins in the ideas of radical nationalist Syndicalists, such as Michele Bianchi, Livio Ciardi and Edmondo Rossoni, and the Nationalists under Alfredo Rocco. It was also influenced by Alceste De Ambris’ constitution for D’Annunzio’s short-lived regime in Fiume. It traces the process by which the Fascists established the new system, in which the parliamentary state was gradually replaced by government by the corporations, industrial organisations which included both the Fascist trade unions and the employers’ associations, and which culminated in the creation of Mussolini’s Chamber of Fasci and Corporations. It shows how this was used to crush the working class and suppress autonomous trade union activism in favour of the interests of the corporations and the state. The system was a failure, designed to give a veneer of ideological respectability to Mussolini’s personal dictatorship, and the system was criticised by the radical Fascists Sergio Panunzio and Angelo Olivetti, though they continued to support this brutal dictatorship.

Non-Fascist Corporativism

This discusses the way the British state also tried to include representatives of the trade unions and the employers in government, economic planning and industrial policies, and suppress strikes and industrial unrest from Lloyd George’s administration during the First World War. This included the establishment of the Whitley Councils and industrial courts. From 1929 onwards the government also embarked on a policy of industrial diplomacy, the system of industrial control set up by Ernest Bevin during the Second World War under Defence Regulation 58a. It also discusses the corporative policies pursued by successive British governments from 1959 to Mrs Thatcher’s election victory in 1979. During these two decades, governments pursued a policy of economic planning administered through the National Economic Development Council and a prices and incomes policy. This system became increasingly authoritarian as governments attempted to curtail industrial militancy and strike action. The Social Contract, the policy of co-operation between the Labour government and the trade unions, finally collapsed in 1979 during the ‘Winter of Discontent’.

Workers’ Control and Producers’ Chambers in Communist Yugoslavia

This discusses the system of industrial democracy, and workers councils in Communist Yugoslavia. This included a bicameral constitution for local councils. These consisted of a chamber elected by universal suffrage, and a producers’ chamber elected by the works’ councils.

Partial Nationalisation to End Corporate Influence in Parliament

This suggests that the undue influence on parliament of private corporations could be countered, if only partly, if the policy recommended by Italian liberisti before the establishment of the Fascist dictatorship. Those firms which acts as organs of government through welfare contracts, outsourcing or private healthcare contractors should be partially nationalised, as the liberisti believed should be done with the arms industries.

Drawbacks and Criticism

This discusses the criticisms of separate workers’ governmental organs, such as the Russian soviets, by Karl Kautsky. It shows how working class political interests have been undermined through a press dominated by the right. It also shows how some of the theorists of the Council Revolution in Germany, such as Kurt Eisner, saw workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ councils as an extension of democracy, not a replacement. It also strongly and definitively rejects the corporative systems of Saint-Simon and Mussolini. This part of the book recommends that a workers’ chamber in parliament should be organised according to industry, following the example of the TUC and the GNC Trades’ Parliament. It should also include representatives of the unemployed and disabled, groups that are increasingly disenfranchised and vilified by the Conservatives and right-wing press. Members should be delegates, in order to prevent the emergence of a distinct governing class. It also shows how the working class members of such a chamber would have more interest in expanding and promoting industry, than the elite business people pursuing their own interests in neoliberal economics. It also recommends that the chamber should not be composed of a single party. Additionally, a workers’ chamber may in time form part of a system of workers’ representation in industry, similar to the Yugoslav system. The chapter concludes that while the need for such a chamber may be removed by a genuine working class Labour party, this has been seriously weakened by Tony Blair’s turn to the right and partial abandonment of working class interests. Establishing a chamber to represent Britain’s working people will be immensely difficult, but it may be a valuable bulwark against the domination of parliament by the corporate elite.

I’m considering publishing it myself in some form or another, possibly through the print on demand publisher, Lulu. In the meantime, if anyone wants to read a sample chapter, just let me know by leaving a comment.


My Unpublished Book Arguing for Worker’s Chamber in Parliament

November 21, 2017

I’ve begun compiling a list of articles on the various coups and other methods the US and the other western countries have used to overthrow, destabilise or remove awkward governments and politicians around the world, when those nations have been seen as obstructions to the goals of western, and particularly American, imperialism and corporate interests. ‘Florence’, one of the great commenters on this blog, suggested that I should write a book on the subject, to which she can point people. She’s worried that too few people now, including those on the left, are aware of the struggle against dictators like General Pinochet and the other butchers in the Developing World, who were set up by us and the Americans as part of the Cold War campaign against Communism. Many of the regimes they overthrew weren’t actually Communist or even necessarily socialist. But they were all reforming administrations, whose changes threatened the power and profits of the big American corporations. Or else they were otherwise considered too soft on the Communist threat. So, I’m compiling a list of the various articles I’ve written on this subject, ready to select some of the best or most pertinent and edit them into book form.

A year or so ago I got so sick of the way parliament was dominated by the very rich, who seem to pass legislation only to benefit themselves rather than the poor, that I wrote a pamphlet, For A Workers’ Chamber. This argued that what was needed to correct this, and really empower working people, was a separate chamber in parliament directly elected by working people themselves. I’ve tried submitting it to various publishers, but so far those I’ve approached have turned it down.

Here’s a brief summary of the pamphlet and its arguments.

For A Workers’ Chamber is a short work of 22, 551 words, arguing that a special representative chamber composed by representatives of the working class, elected by the working class, is necessary to counter the domination of parliament by millionaires and the heads of industries. These have pushed through legislation exclusively benefiting their class against the best interests of working people. It is only by placing working people back into parliament that this can be halted and reversed.

The pamphlet traces the idea of workers’ political autonomy from Robert Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trade Union, Anarchism, Syndicalism and Guild Socialism, the workers’, socialists and peasant councils in Revolutionary Russia, and Germany and Austria during the 1919 Raeterevolution. It also discusses the emergence corporatist systems of government from the Utopian Socialism Saint-Simon in the 19th century onwards. After Saint-Simon, corporativism next became a much vaunted element in the constitution of Fascist Italy in the 20th century. This merged trade unions into industrial corporations dominated by management and big business in order to control them. This destroyed workers autonomy and reduced them to the instruments of the Fascist state and business class. It also discusses the development of liberal forms of corporatism, which emerged in Britain during and after the First and Second World War. These also promised to give working people a voice in industrial management alongside government and management. However, it also resulted in the drafting of increasingly authoritarian legislation by both the Labour party and the Conservatives to curb trade union power and industrial discontent. It also examines the system of workers’ control and producers’ chambers, which formed the basis of the self-management system erected by Edvard Kardelj and Milovan Djilas in Tito’s Yugoslavia. It also recommends the part-nationalisation of those companies seeking to perform the functions of state agencies through government outsourcing, or which seek to influence government policy through the election of the directors and senior management to parliament as a way of curtailing their influence and subordinating them to the state and the wishes of the British electorate.

The book examines the class basis of parliamentary democracy as it emerged in Britain, and the Marxist critique of the state in the writings of Marx and Engels themselves and Lenin during the Russian Revolution, including those of non-Bolshevik, European Social Democrats, like Karl Kautsky, who rejected the need for institutional workers’ power in favour of universal suffrage. It also critically analyzes Tony Crosland’s arguments against nationalisation and workers’ control. The book does not argue that parliamentary democracy should be abandoned, but that a workers’ chamber should be added to it to make it more representative. The final chapter examines the possible advantages and disadvantages of such a system, and the problems that must be avoided in the creation of such a chamber.

I’m considering publishing the pamphlet myself in some form or other, possibly with Lulu. In the meantime, if anyone’s interested in reading a bit of it, please leave a comment below and I’ll send you a sample chapter.

Social Darwinism and Alan Duncan’s Defence of Offshore Tax Havens

April 19, 2016

In the controversy over Dodgy Dave’s tax avoidance and the rich’s use of offshore tax havens to avoid paying their share of the nation’s finances, the Tory MP Alan Duncan stood up in parliament to defend his master. He argued that it was wrong to close them down, as this would penalise ‘achievers’ and stop them entering parliament. It wasn’t quite a Social Darwinist spiel, but it was almost there. It had most of the assumptions.

It took for granted that the rich had acquired their money through their own efforts, and that, as naturally gifted people, who had risen economically to the top of society, they also had a natural right to lead. None of this automatically follows. Firstly, probably the majority of the rich aren’t achievers in the sense that they haven’t earned their riches. It was already accumulated for them by rich ancestors. This is certainly the case for the aristocracy, and also for the big business dynasties. And they’re supported by important social and financial networks that ordinary mortals don’t have access to. The early Utopian Socialist Saint-Simon recommended the abolition of inherited wealth, so that the individuals in each generation would start out on a level playing field, and have to make their own money. I wonder just how many of Duncan’s ‘achievers’ would rise to their positions of eminence if that was the case, and they had to start out in council houses and in suburban housing estates with everyone else. Possibly very few.

Secondly, the tactics the rich have used to hang on to their money and retain their privilege are blocking opportunities for everyone else. Under New Labour, which was enthusiastically Thatcherite, social mobility had almost ceased. Now I think it’s stopped altogether. This isn’t an accident. Policies like the introduction and raising of tuition fees to exorbitant levels, and paying low wages so that employees cannot acquire the capital to start their own businesses naturally have the effect ensuring that those at the bottom of society cannot afford to take the opportunities that the rich take for granted. Duncan’s ‘high achievers’ in actual fact are the dead hand of the wealth past stifling achievement and innovation in the present.

And then there’s the whole assumption that because they’re good at business, somehow this entitles them to political leadership. This is obviously false, because capitalism, at least in its neo-liberal variety, is geared to enriching the few at the expense of the many. Hence the trickle-down economics, which has seen the tax burden shifted on to the poor to subsidize the wealthy, demands for wage restraint and labour fluidity, so that workers can be hired and fired easily. The result has been a massive growth in poverty, with about 4.7 million people in Britain now wondering where they’re going to get their next meal from. All to benefit Duncan’s ‘achievers’.

Duncan had to apologise for his speech. Who knows, he may have been sincere when he did so. But it showed the underlying snobbery and class bias underneath Conservatism. Marxists used to consider the ‘creators of wealth’ to be the workers, as in the slogan, ‘all wealth to the creators of wealth’. The loyal followers of Milton Friedman got hold of the phrase, and decided that the ‘creators of wealth’ were entrepreneurs, and, in particular, the financial sector. The result has been over three decades of such snobbish rhetoric, of which Alan Duncan’s latest speech was just the latest example. It’s high time this was brought to an end, and the neo-liberal policies scrapped so that real achievement can be made possible, and working people can enjoy their share as ‘creators of wealth.’

Tolstoy’s The Law of Violence and the Law of Love

January 24, 2016

Tolstoy Law Love

(Santa Barbara: Concord Grove Press, no date)

As well as being one of the great titans of world literature, Leo Tolstoy was a convinced anarchist and pacifist. The British philosopher and writer, Sir Isaiah Berlin, in his book, Russian Thinkers, states that Tolstoy’s anarchist beliefs even informed his great work, War and Peace. Instead of portraying world history as being shaped by the ideas and actions of great men, Tolstoy’s epic of the Napoleonic Wars shows instead how it is formed by the actions of millions of individuals.

The writer himself attempted to put his own ideas into practise. He was horrified by the poverty and squalor, both physical and moral, of the new, urban Russia which was arising as the country industrialised, and the degradation of its working and peasant peoples. After serving in the army he retreated to his estate, where he concentrated on writing. He also tried to live out his beliefs, dressing in peasant clothes and teaching himself their skills and crafts, like boot-making, in order to identify with them as the oppressed against the oppressive upper classes.

Tolstoy took his pacifism from a Chechen Sufi nationalist leader, who was finally captured and exiled from his native land by the Russians after a career resisting the Russian invasion. This Islamic mystic realised that military resistance was useless against the greater Russian armed forces. So instead, he preached a message of non-violent resistance and peaceful protest against the Russian imperial regime. Tolstoy had been an officer during the invasion of Chechnya, and had been impressed by its people and their leader’s doctrine of peaceful resistance. Tolstoy turned it into one of the central doctrines of his own evolving anarchist ideology. And he, in turn, influenced Gandhi in his stance of ahimsa – Hindu non-violence – and peaceful campaign against the British occupation of India. Among the book’s appendices is 1910 letter from Tolstoy to Gandhi. I also believe Tolstoy’s doctrine of peaceful resistance also influence Martin Luther King in his confrontation with the American authorities for civil rights for Black Americans.

Tolstoy considered himself a Christian, though his views are extremely heretical and were officially condemned as such by the Russian Orthodox Church. He wrote a number of books expounding his religious views, of which The Law of Violence and the Law of Love is one. One other is The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Tolstoy’s Christianity was basically the rationalised Christianity, formed during the 19th century by writers like David Strauss in Germany and Ernest Renan in France. In their view, Christ was a moral preacher, teaching devotion to a transcendent but non-interfering God, but did not perform any miracles or claim He was divine. It’s similar to the Deist forms of Christianity that appeared in the 18th century in works such as Christianity Not Mysterious. While there are still many Biblical scholars, who believe that Christ Himself did not claim to be divine, such as Geza Vermes, this view has come under increasing attack. Not least because it presents an ahistorical view of Jesus. The Deist conception of Christ was influenced by the classicising rationalism of the 18th century. It’s essentially Jesus recast as a Greek philosopher, like Plato or Socrates. More recent scholarship by Sandmel and Sanders from the 1970’s onwards, in works like the latter’s Jesus the Jew, have shown how much Christ’s life and teaching reflected the Judaism of the First Century, in which miracles and the supernatural were a fundamental part.

In The Law of Violence and the Law of Love, Tolstoy sets out his anarchist, pacifist Christian views. He sees the law of love as very core of Christianity, in much the same way the French Utopian Socialist Saint-Simon saw universal brotherhood as the fundamental teaching of Christianity. Tolstoy attacks the established church for what he sees as their distortion of this original, rational, non-miraculous Christianity, stating that it’s the reason so many working people are losing their faith. Like other religious reformers, he recommends his theological views, arguing that it will lead to a revival of genuine Christianity. At the same time, this renewed, reformed Christianity and the universal love it promotes, will overturn the corrupt and oppressive rule of governments, which are built on violence and the use of force.

Among the other arguments against state violence, Tolstoy discusses those, who have refused or condemned military service. These not only include modern conscientious objectors, such as 19th century radicals and Socialists, but also the Early Church itself. He quotes Christian saints and the Church Fathers, including Tertullian and Origen, who firmly condemned war and military service. For example, Tertullian wrote

It is not fitting to serve the emblem of Christ and the emblem of the devil, the fortress of light and the fortress of darkness. One soul cannot serve two masters. And besides, how can one fight without the sword, which the Lord himself has taken away? Is it possible to do sword exercises, when the Lord says that everyone who takes the sword shall perish by the sword? And how can a son of peace take part in a battle.

Some scholars of the Early Church have argued that its opposition to military service was based on opposition to the pagan ceremonies the soldiers would have to attend and perform as part of their duties. As believers in the only God, these were forbidden to Christians. Nevertheless, despite his condemnation, Tertullian admits elsewhere that there were Christians serving in the Roman army.

Other quotations from the Church Fathers make it clear that it was opposition to the bloodshed in war, which caused them to reject military service. Tolstoy cites Cyprian, who stated that

The world goes mad with the mutual shedding of blood, and murder, considered a crime when committed singly, is called a virtue when it is done in the mas. The multiplication of violence secures impunity for the criminals.

Tolstoy also cites a decree of the First Ecumenical Council of 325 proscribing a penance to Christians returning to the Roman army, after they had left it. He states that those, who remained in the army, had to vow never to kill an enemy. If they violated this, then Basil the Great declared that they could not receive communion for three years.

This pacifism was viable when the Church was a small, persecuted minority in the pagan Roman Empire. After Constantine’s conversion, Christians and the Christian church entered government as Christianity became the official religion. The Church’s pacifist stance was rejected as Christians became responsible for the defence of the empire and its peoples, as well as their spiritual wellbeing and secular administration. And as the centuries progressed, Christians became all too used to using force and violence against their enemies, as shown in the countless religious wars fought down through history. It’s a legacy which still understandably colours many people’s views of Christianity, and religion as a whole.

This edition of Tolstoy’s book is published by the Institute of World Culture, whose symbol appears on the front of the book. This appears from the list of other books they publish in the back to be devoted to promoting mysticism. This is mostly Hindu, but also contains some Zoroastrian and Gnostic Christian works, as well as the Zohar, one of the main texts of the Jewish Qabbala.

Pacifism is very much an issue for your personal conscience, though it is, of course, very much a part of the Quaker spirituality. Against this pacifist tradition there’s the ‘Just War’ doctrine articulated and developed over the centuries by St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and other theologians and Christian philosophers. This examines and defines under which circumstances and for which reasons a war can be fought, and what moral restrictions should be imposed on the way it is fought. For example, combatants should not attack women, children and non-combatants. Despite this, the book is an interesting response to the muscular Christianity preached during the days of the British Empire, and which still survives in the American Right. Many Republicans, particularly the Tea Party, really do see Christianity as not only entirely compatible with gun rights, but as a vital part of it. Bill O’Reilly, one of the anchors on Fox News, has stated that Christ would fully approve of the shooting of violent criminals, even in circumstances others find highly dubious. These include some of the incidents where teh police have shot unarmed Blacks, or where such resistance from the suspect may have been the result of mental illness and the cops themselves were in no danger. In the Law of Violence and the Law of Love, you can read Tolstoy’s opinion of the official use of lethal force, and his condemnation of the capitalist statism O’Reilly and Fox stand for.

The Horrors of 19th Century Industrial Society and the Rejection of Liberalism for Socialism

March 14, 2014

Hearder Europe pic

I found this description of the origins of socialism in the 19th century in Harry Hearder’s Europe in the Nineteenth Century 1830-1880, 2nd edition (London: Longman 1988). He explains that it arose through the rejection of Liberalism by some 19th century intellectuals, who believed that its concentration on individual rights had been inadequate to protect people from the harsh poverty and exploitation of modern industrial society.

A more important reaction against laissez-faire liberalism and middle-class democracy was represented by a new creed, the creed of socialism. In January 1848 de Tocqueville, addressing the Assembly of the July Monarchy in the last days of its life, had pointed out a significant fact that in recent times in Paris a large number of writings had appeared attacking the right of property. Less than six months later Europe witnessed the first major socialist rising in the June Days in Paris. The idea of social equality which had gathered appreciable support under the July Monarchy was not an entirely new one in 1830. Babeuf, the follower of Robespierre in the 1790s, had worked for his idea of a dictatorship of the poor. But the creation of an industrial proletariat provided a more clearly distinguishable class, not synonymous with ‘the poor’, but large enough to justify a new political faith, and to provide the fighting columns to support such a faith. The terrible conditions of industrial workers in England and France, to be discussed in a later chapter, attracted in the first place the attention of philanthropists or agitators, who had no complete politico-economic philosophy with which to conduct the onslaught on the capitalist exploiters. But slowly it began to be realized by small groups of thinkers that the rights of the individual as thy had been defined by the English, American and French Revolutions did not protect the great majority of men in the new industrialized society from an unreasonable amount of suffering and what was in practice only a modified form of slavery. A real continuity of social justice could not be obtained merely by legislating in favour of a free economy. The free play of the laws of supply and demand did not protect the weak from the strong… French followers of Saint-Simon [early Utopian Socialist] could concentrate upon the central theme of his message, and one of them, Pierre Leroux, named the theme ‘socialism’. (pp. 57-8).

We’ve seen in our own day the massive inadequacy of the free market to provide prosperity for the working and lower middle classes. Since the 19th century the vast majority of Socialists in Western Europe have been keen defenders of democracy and individual rights, if not the right to property. The situation in this regard is now the reverse. It is the Right that is now consistently trying to undermine the rights of the very poorest members of society. Mike over at Vox Political , Jayne Linney and very many other left-wing bloggers have covered the way they have ignored parliament, and treated with contempt the calls by its committees for a cumulative impact assessment into the way the government’s welfare reforms have affected the poor and disabled it claims to be helping.

They have also attempted to pass further legislation outlawing public protests, under the guise that this may be a nuisance to the communities where the protests are held. The Angry Yorkshireman over at another Angry Voice has also covered the massive expansion of covert surveillance by this government. He has a story today about how GCHQ’s massive monitoring of the net included taking screen snaps of people having cybersex. This rather lurid fact is part of the wider point, that GCHQ was snooping on ordinary citizens, who had committed no offence and for whose surveillance they had no legal warrant. See his piece this morning: GCHQ: Spying on people’s cybersex sessions in Order to “Protect” Them, at The parapolitical magazine, Lobster, since it first appeared in the 1980s, criticised the massive expansion of the powers, corruption, and political interference of the British secret state. The magazine was unimpressed by Blair’s signal refusal to curb its growth or organise any proper investigation into its failures – such as those that allowed the 7/7 bombing to occur. Its growth seems to have expanded even further under the Tories and Tory Democrats. Its spying on the ordinary suggests that the government now regards everyone of its citizens as a potential threat, an attitude that can only lead to more paranoia and more attempts to limit liberty and freedom of speech.

The need for socialist legislation to combat the poverty created by the free market is as necessary as ever. And there needs to be proper, liberal, democratic legislation to curb the expansion and development of the surveillance state. But I cannot see any of the latter coming from the Tories or Lib Dems, despite their claims to represent and promote individual liberty.

The Soviet Persecution of the Churches

April 9, 2008

There seems to be an attempt by atheist polemicists to deny or play down the extent to which atheism informed and provided the ideological basis for the persecution of Christianity and other religions, such as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and the indigenous shamanic religions of Siberia and the Soviet Far East by the Communist regime in the USSR. According to some atheist commentators, the Soviet persecution of people of faith was motivated not by atheist ideology, but by political expediency. The Russian Orthodox Church was attacked and persecuted because of its support for the Tsarist autocracy. The supporters of this view point to the reconciliation between the religions and the state that emerged in the 1940s when Stalin lifted some of the restrictions on organised religion, which resulted in the reopening of churches, seminaries, theological academies and monasteries. This tolerant attitude towards religion by the officially atheist Communist states continues today, according to this view, in China, where Christianity has been tolerated by the Communist authorities, and Buddhist and Taoist temples and monasteries re-opened after the savage persecution of Mao’s cultural revolution.

Religious Toleration by and Opposition to the Soviet Regime 

Now initially the Soviet authorities did indeed consider that the individual had the right to freedom of belief. Lenin himself hated religion, but felt that the individual should be free to seek comfort in the religion of his choice and that this freedom should be guaranteed. 1 He also does not seem to have considered religious belief to have necessarily been an obstacle to membership of the Communist party. In the 1920s it was not unknown for Communist delegates in Central Asia to take prayer mats to party meetings. 2 There was indeed a political dimension to the persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church. Lenin probably launched his attack on the Church because he was afraid that the Orthodox Church, which had been a central pillar of Tsarist autocracy, would provide inspiration and a centre for anticommunist activities. In a Civil War the Church, through its influence with the rural peasantry, could lead to the Bolsheviks’ defeat. 3 The Soviet attack on the Russian Orthodox Church began after Patriarch Tikhon condemned the bloodshed of the revolutionaries. In a speech in January 1918 Tikhon had commanded the Bolshevkis to ‘Come to your senses, ye madmen, and cease your bloody doings!’ 4 Many Orthodox priests did indeed speak out in opposition to the Soviet Regime, and it was partly as a consequence of this clerical opposition that the supporters of the Soviet system denounced the Orthodox Church, declaring that every priest personified the ‘cursed past’ and was ‘for the Tsar’. 5

Stalin also became far more tolerant towards the Russian Orthodox Church during the Second World War, largely as a result of the need to enlist its aid as an inspirational, patriotic force, as in some areas the clergy were encouraging collaboration with the Nazis and attacks on the Soviets during the Nazi invasion. From 1942 there was a tacit understanding between the Church and the Soviet authorities that they should unite against the invader, an alliance which appeared to be cemented by Patriarch Sergius’ letter in Pravda hailing Stalin as the ‘God-chosen leader of our military and cultural forces’. The Mufti of the Soviet Muslims prayed that Allah would make Stalin victorious in his ‘work of freeing the oppressed peoples’ while the Jewish community in Moscow declared that ‘the Almighty has prepared for the Fascist horde the inglorious and shameful destruction suffered by all the Pharoahs, Amalekites and Ammonites’. 6 As a result of this active encouragement, many of the restrictions on religious worship were lifted. The Soviet government reopened 22,000 Orthodox churches that had been closed, two theological academies, eight seminaries and some monasteries. 7

Atheist Nature of Marxism

However, the view that political expediency, rather than an ideological commitment to atheism, was responsible for the persecution of people of faith in the Soviet Union ignores the essentially atheistic nature of Marxism and the continuation of the persecution of religious believers long after the Stalin era, from Khruschev’s presidency until Gorbachev’s perestroika.

Some of the early ‘utopian’ socialist ideologies before Marx had either included a place for religion in their grand schemes to reform society, or else made use of arguments from Scripture even when the founders were religious sceptics. In England, Thomas Spence, the founder of the Spenceian Philanthropists who advocated the nationalisation of the country’s land, came from a Glassite family. These were a small sect who preached and practised to a limit extent community of property. 8 Spence was also strongly influenced by the Rev. James Murray, a Presbyterian clergyman who led an independent, democratic congregation and who taught that the Gospels provided humanity with the best charter for human rights and liberties. Murray attacked what he saw as the government’s oppression of the poor, and demanded civil and religious liberty. He was a strong opponent of the War with the American colonies, and believed that the Americans had been cruelly oppressed by Britain. 9 Although Spence later denounced religion as a delusion, he nevertheless tried to justify his arguments using Scripture. 10 

Similarly, the French Utopian Socialist Claude-Henri de Rouvroy, Comte de Saint-Simon, although initially a follower of Auguste Comte, also appealed to religion in his campaign to establish a perfect, Socialist political and social order. In his Nouveau Christianisme of 1825, Saint-Simon declared that the most important of the sciences was morality. Morality was far more important than either physics or mathematics as it formed the basis of society. However, while the sciences of mathematics, physics, chemistry and physiology had made enormous progress since the 15th century, the fundamental principles of morality had been laid 1,800 years previously by Christ, and despite research by the greatest geniuses had not been superseded. 11 Saint-Simon considered that the essence of the divine revelation in Christianity was the command that all men should treat each other like brothers, and so urged the creation of a New Christianity in opposition to the existing sects and denomination to put this article of faith into practice. 12 Saint-Simon believed that with the establishment of such a form of Christianity, in which the form of worship and dogma wuold be merely an accessory to the teaching of morality, would lead to Christianity becoming the sole, universal religion, converting the peoples of Africa and Asia. 13 While Saint-Simon’s highly politicised version of Christianity to many Christians departs very far from the historic conception of the Church, nevertheless it is remarkable that Saint-Simon saw a place for Christianity in his radical reconstruction of society, and felt that it was needed in order to put this reform into practice.

Marx, however, was strongly influenced in the development of his philosophical and political system by the Humanism of Ludwig Feuerbach. In his 1841The Essence of Christianity, Feuerbach had argued from a Hegelian perspective that religion was merely the alienation of humanity’s own powers by substituting the human species for Hegel’s ‘subject’ in his Philosophy of Mind. 14 Marx thus became extremely critical of religion. His doctrinal thesis, ‘On the Difference between the Democritian and Epicurian Philosophies of Nature’, was produced as an anti-religious work, while Marx used Feuerbach’s concept of the ‘species-being’ or Gattungswesen, which denoted the sum of humanity’s collective abilities, to analyse the political state and capitalist economy in his Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State of 1843 and Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. 15 Marx eventually rejected Feuerbach’s Humanism because it assumed an ideal human nature to which social institutions could be remoulded after Marx developed his own idea of historical materialism in which ideas, religion and ideologies were all the product of the material conditions of specific points in history. 16 In place of the ideal society imagined by philosophers, Marx and Engels recommended scientific investigation of the real world and revolutionary action to change society. 17 Thus from its very beginning an atheist critique of society was an intrinsic part of Marxist philosophy, and the philosophical materialism supporting Marxist atheism informed Communist attitudes to other philosophies, including those of science. When Alexander A. Bogdanov, a physician, economist, socilogist, philosopher and Lenin’s leading lieutenant in the early years of the Bolshevik party attempt to synthesise Marxism with a empirio-criticism of the Austrian physicist Ernst Mach and the German philosopher Richard Avenius it provoked an angry reaction and party purge by Lenin. Mach was an empiricist and one of the founders of Logical Positivism. He believed that as the mind could not know anything apart from its own sensations, so scientific theories were not the discovery of true, objective facts about the world that exist apart from human sensations, but merely a device for predicting the course of the world and its constituent objects. 18 Thus Bogdanov in his 1905 Empiriomonism stated that ‘laws do not belong at all to the sphere of immediate experience; laws are the result of conscious reworking of experience; they are not facts in themselves, but are created by thought, as a means of organising experience, of harmoniously bringing it into argreement as an ordered unity. Laws are abstract cognition, and physical laws possess physical qualities just as little as psychological laws possess psychic qualities.’ 19 Lenin’s response to Bogdanov, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, asserted the primacy of matter and that thought, consciousness and mind were secondary, and denounced the empirio-criticism as idealism and agnosticism, which left the way open for fideism, and declared that it was a kind of professorial scholasticism ‘unable and frequently unwilling, to separate objective truth from belief in sprites and hobgoblins’. 20 With this, Lenin established an oversimplified 19th century materialism as official Communist philosophy. Thus Lenin’s specifically materialist conception of atheism bitterly attacked other philosophies, even those based squarely on empiricism, as insufficiently scientific and leading to idealism and the primacy of mind and non-physical objects in the shaping of the cosmos.

Atheism and Soviet Persecution of the Church

This intensely atheist, materialist philosophy lead to conflict and persecution of the Church. While Lenin believed that individual religious liberty should be protected, he also strongly believed that the Bolshevik party should engage in a propaganda campaign to promote atheism and convince the Russian people that religion truly was an opium. 21 Stalin stated that the party could not be neutral towards religion, and that it was engaged in struggle against any and all religions. 22 The Soviet Constitution of 1918 allowed freedom of ‘religious and anti-religious propaganda. This, however, was changed in 1929 to ‘freedom of religious belief and of anti-religious propaganda’. 23 The 1977 constitution permitted freedom of worship and of antireligious propaganda’. 24 The Soviet authorities guaranteed a limited freedom of worship, but prohibited religious evangelisation. Although Khruschev  signed a resolution in Novemeber 1954, ‘On Mistakes in the Conduct of Scientific-Atheistic Propaganda among the Population’ condemning violent persecution and offensive attacks on religious belief, the resolution also required that the campaign against religion be continued at a higher ideological struggle. 25

Excommunication of Bolsheviks by Tikhon because of their Atheism and Violence, rather than Political Programme

The Russian Orthodox patriarch Tikhon had excommunicated the Bolsheviks not for political reasons, but because of their atheism and violence, particularly their attacks on the Church. He made no comment about their political and economic programme, but criticised them for their violence and suppression of freedom. In his letter on the first anniversary of the Revolution, Tikhon stated

‘It is not for us to judge earthly powers … However, to you who use your power for the persecution ooand destruction of the innocent, we issue our world of warning: celebrate the anniversay of your rise to power by relaseing the imprisoned, by ceasing from bloodshed, violence, and havoc, and by removing restrictions upon the fiath; devote yourselves not to destruction but to the building up of order and law; give to the people the respite from civil warfare which they have both desired and deserved. For otherwise the righteous blood which you have shed will cry ot against you.’ 26

In 1923 Tikhon stated:

‘The Russian Orthodox Church is non-political, and henceforward does not want to be either a Red or a White Church; it should and wil be the One Catholic Apostolic Church, and all attempts coming from any side to embroil the Church in the political struggel should be rejected and condemned.’ This statement did, however, come following his imprisonment by the Bolsheviks between 1922-3, and it is possible that it was the result of Soviet coercion. 27

Attack on Russian Orthodox Church

Following Khruschev’s condemnation of the violent persecution of religious believers, the Soviet authorities turned instead to severely restricting church activities in an attempt destroy religious belief. In 1961 the Council of Bishops of the Orthodox Church adopted changes in parish regulations that subordinated parish priests to parish councils of 20 lay people, selected by the authorities and the Council on Affairs of Religious Cults. 28 The 1961 parish regulations were very similar to the provisions of the early Soviet legislation on the Church and other religions of 1917 and 1918. This organised religious believers into local religious associations, which had to have at least twenty members in order to lease a church from the government and hire clergy as ‘servants of the cult’. The Religious instruction of children was banned, and clergy could only attend conferences with express permission of the authorities. 29 Under the 1961 parish regulations, Orthodox priests were also reduced to employees. Unless they had the express permission of the local authorities or government agencies, they could not visit their parishioners at home or in hospital, perform the last rites at home or allow children into the church, give them eucharist or hear their confessions. The priests were also required to demand identification from parents bringing their children to be baptised and couples wishing to be married. The priest was also supposed to inform on his congregation, supplying Communist officials with the names of those who had been baptised, married or had the last rites performed, and on their other parishioners, who could be persecuted in their jobs or at their schools and universities. 30 Thus, although parish clergy could preach sermons, they could not give religious instruction, organise study groups for children or adults, organise catechism classes or Sunday schools. The only books that the parish church may own are service books, and the printing of the Bible was deliberately restricted. 31

As well as placing restrictions on evangelisation and the abilities of priests to perform their traditional duties to their parishioners, the Communists attacked the Church as an institution. The Decree on the Separation of Church and State of 5 February 1918 deprived the Church of its status as a juridical person. 32 It could not hold property, and the decree provided for the nationalisation of Church land, funds, and buildings, which believers were required to lease back from the state. 33 Churches could be closed down by the local authorities without the consent of the worshippers if the workers requested this. This resulted in the systematic closure of Orthodox churches. Of 54,457 churches in 1914, only 4, 255 remained in 1941. The number of active priests fell from 57,105 in 1914 to 5, 665 in 1941. Of the 1,498 monasteries and convents that existed in 1914, there were 38 left in 1941. None of the 4 theological academies, 57 seminaries and 40,150 other religious schools that existed in 1914 survived into 1941. 34 The unofficial Concordat between Stalin and the Church did allow many churches and other religious institions to be reopened. In 1947 for there 22-25,000 churches, 33,000 active priests, 80 monasteries and convents, 2 theological academies and 8 theological seminaries. The other religious schools supported by the Church before the Communists seized power remained closed, however. 35 However, from 1959 the Church was again attacked and ecclesiastical institutions closed by the Soviet authorities. By the late 1970s less than 7,000 Orthodox churches were open in Russia. Five of the eight seminaries opened in 1945 had been closed down by 1966, and of the 80 monasteries only 16 still survived by the 1970s. During the closure of the Monastery of Saint Job of Pochaev one monk was beaten to death in prison, several others taken to hospital for injections, despite their good health and others placed in psychiatric hospitals. 36 In 1918 and 1919 28 bishops were killed by the Communists. A further fifty were killed between 1923 and 1926 and from 1917 to 1926, 2,700 priests, 2,000 monks, and 3,400 nuns were killed by the Communists. Emigre Russians estimated that from 1917 to 1983 at least 12,000 priests were killed. 37 The Metropolitan of Petrograd was executed for anti-Soviet activities and the Patriarch Tikhon jailed in 1922. The Communists also attempted to destroy the Church by encouraging a group of clergy sympathetic to the Communist regime, calling themselves the Living Church to take over its leadership, and arresting their ecclesiastical opponents. Tikhon was deposed by the Living Church, and his trial set for 1923, but he signed a confession and publicly repented of his past opposition to the Communists. He was thus released, and reinstated as the head of the Church. Nevertheless, the Living Church continued to exist and the Communists attempted at times to play it and the Orthodox Church off against each other. 38 The Living Church split into a number of increasingly smaller factions and lost its significance in 1926.

Other Christian denominations, such as the Roman Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostalists and the Seventh Day Adventists were also subject to terrible persecution.

Persecution of Soviet Baptists

Although the Bapists were able to hold their meetings and publish their religious literature from 1918 to 1929 without restriction, from 1929 until the Second World War they were subjected to an increasing campaign of persecution. Approximately 50,000 Baptists, including most of the clergy, were arrested for ‘anti-Soviet propaganda’ and sentenced to 25 years each in the gulags, where 22,000 died. Of the numerous Baptist churches, only four in Moscow and other large cities survived as the Soviet authorities closed them. 39 

During the War, however, the Soviet authorities turned from outright persecution to the authoritarian system of control and repression used against the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1942-3 the regime established the Council on the Affairs of Religious Cults under the control of the Council of Ministers of the USSR. 40 Baptist ministers who were prepared to collaborate with the government in the control of their churches were released from the camps and internal exile to form the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christian Baptists. 41 At the end of the war, 5,000 Baptist communities  were revived. However, as with the churches, these communities were required to register with the authorities. Unregistered Baptist churches were closed. As a result, 1/3 – 1,696 of the revived Baptist churches were registered, and staffed with ministers from the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christian Baptists. Hand-picked members of the ministery were used by the Soviet authorities in 1947 to give the impression that there was no religious persecution in the Soviet Union by travelling abroad to meet their co-religionists and deny that such persecution was occurring. 42 This is similar to the way the Russian Orthodox Church was required to support Soviet propaganda. 43 In 1960 further restrictions were placed on the Baptist Church through the publication of the New Regulations of the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christian Baptists and the secret Instructive Letter to Senior Church Officials. These two documents demanded that Baptists cease from evangelism and placed increased restrictions on worship. Baptists were prohibited from using some musical instruments, such as guitars, in their services. They could not invite choirs from neighbouring communities to sing in their churches, and church attendance by children under 18 years of age was also prohibited. Those over 18 years old could only be baptised after a probationary period of two to three years. Preaching was restricted to the area of each individual Baptist community and was to be held entirely within the church building. No part of the service could be held outside the church. Baptist communities were prohibited from visiting and assisting each other. Children’s meetings, Sunday school outings attended by members of different Baptist churches and private religious services at home were banned. 44 The Instructive Letter was a secret document intended to be read only by the Baptist Church leadership. However, ordinary Baptists learned of it, read it, and in outrage led a campaign against it. This resulted in the establishment of an independent Baptist Church, with its own governing body, the Council of Churches of the Evangelical Christian Baptists in 1965. 45 The leaders of the independent Council of Churches, G. Kryuchkov, Nikolay Baturin and G. Vins, were arrested in May 1966, after which all the leaders of the Council of Churches lived in hiding to avoid arrest. By 1981 all of the members of the Council of Churches were in prison, charged with violating the statutes in the USSR separating church and state, ‘performance of rites injurious to church members’ and occasionally with slandering the Soviet system. 46 Although private services in the home were prohibited under the regulations of the All-Union Council, there was no official Soviet secular legislation against them. Despite this, however, private prayer meetings were broken up by the police, both regular and volunteer, and with those attending them frequently beaten. Ministers and community leaders who organised such domestic services, and often the person in whose home the service was held, were arrested. For the person whose home was used, the charges were often that of ‘hooliganism’ or ‘resisting’ the police’. Russian Baptist weddings are traditionally large, as the entire local religious community is often invited. Because the guests often filled the house into the yard or garden, the Soviet authorities frequently broke them up as ‘ritual assemblies’ that were illegally being held in the open air. Ordinary, unregistered Baptists were fined for attending services at an unregistered church, the amount fined often exceeding their monthly salary. 47 Moreover, Baptists, like other religious believers, were excluded from higher education. 48 The Civil Rights group formed to support the independent Baptists in February 1964, the Council of Relatives of Evangelical Christian Baptist Prisoners, amongst its other activities collected examples of the official persecution of the Baptist community. In addition to the arrest and imprisonment of Baptists, persecution by the Soviet authorities also included removing Baptist children from their families for being brought up in the faith, the persecution of school children for their religious beliefs, the confiscation of the homes in which religious services had been held, and the sacking of Baptists from their jobs because of their religious beliefs. The first president of the Council of Relatives was Lidiya Vins, the widow of a Baptist minister, Pyotr Vins, who had died in one of Stalin’s gulags, and who herself was imprisoned in a forced labour camp from 1970-3. 49

Persecution of Soviet Pentecostal Christians

The Pentecostalists were also savagely persecuted by the Soviet regime after 1929, using the same methods the authorities used against the Baptists. The Soviet authorities viewed them as the same church as the Baptists, and they were forced to submit to the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christian Baptists. 50 Pentecostalists were particularly subject to severe persecution by the Soviet authorities because of their absolute refusal to compromise their religious beliefs. Pentecostalist children refused to join the Soviet youth organisation, the Octobrists, Pioneers and the Komsomol. As a result, their grades were lowered, they often suffered criticism at school meetings were beaten up by other schoolchildren, often at the command of the school teacher. Soviet teachers also questioned Pentecostalist children in order to get them to admit that their parents forced them to take part in religious ceremonies and prayer meetings. If the child admitted that this occurred, their parents would be prosecuted or the child taken away from them. 51 The Pentecostalists also suffered for their pacifism. Church doctrine prohibits Pentecostalists from joining the military, being arms or killing. This led to persecution in the Soviet Union, which still had compulsory National Service. Refusal to take the enlistment oath was punished by five years in a labour camp. Additionally, Pentecostalist servicemen were also subjected to vicious beatings, which left some of them permanently handicapped. As religious believers, they were also excluded from higher education, and were frequently sacked from their jobs on the command of the local Communist party. Like other religious believers, Pentecostalist services at home were broken up by the police and the homes destroyed. Weddings and funerals were similarly broken up by the authorities, and leaders and elders arrested under the regulations against religious evangelism, and also slandering the Soviet system and engaging in anti-Soviet propaganda. 52 Pentecostalist clergy were also accused of performing savage religious rites which traumatised their fellow believers, and even human sacrifice. In 1960 the Pentecostalist elder, Ivan Fedotov, was sentenced to ten years in prison on the charge of attempting to influence one of his congregation so that she murdered her daughter. 53

Persecution of Seventh-Day Adventists in Soviet Union

The Seventh Day Adventists were also subjected to persecution, particularly because of their pacifism, in which the Commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is taken so literally that they are vegetarians, and their refusal to work on Saturday, which they observe as the Sabbath. In 1928 the Congress of Seventh Day Adventists, under pressure from the Soviet authorities, passed a resolution that forced members to violate these tenets of their faith, and to perform all the duties expected of other Soviet citizens. As a result, the Church split, and a separate Church emerged which refused to conform to these restrictions, the All-Union Church of True and Free Seventh-Day Adventists. From its very beginning this church was not recognised by the Soviet authorities, and was savagely persecuted. Its first leader, Gregory ostvald, died in a gulag in 1937, and his successor, Pyotr Manzhura, also died in a camp twelve years later in 1949. The third leader of the church, Vladimir Shelkov, was arrested several times in his career before his death in a gulag in 1980. 54 During the 1980s the Soviet authorities imprisoned and tortured a number of Seventh-Day Adventists in an attempt to find their underground publishing house, True Witness. 55

Attacks on Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches

The Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches also suffered terrible persecution. In Lithuania, for example, persecution of the Roman Catholic Church began on 2nd July 1940, when Soviet troops entered the country. The Concordat with the Vatican was annulled. This was followed by the prohibition of all Catholic organisations, the nationalisation of Catholic schools and the closure of the Catholic press. The monasteries were looted, and the four Catholic seminaries in Lithuania were closed, with the exception of the one at Kaunas, and this had its buildings confiscated. All the Roman Catholic bishops except one were arrested and imprisoned in 1946-7. In the 1940s and 1950s, 600 priests, more than a third of all Roman Catholic priests in Lithuania, were imprisoned, and many died. Mecislovas Reinys, the bishop of Vilnius, died in Vladimir Prison in 1953. 56 The evangelism of children was strictly prohibited. In September 1970 a Catholic priest, Antanas Seskevicius was sentenced to a year in prison camp for teaching the catechism to schoolchildren, despite the fact that this was done at the request of their parents and so perfectly legal under the existing regulations. 57 In Estonia the Lutheran Church also suffered persecution like the other Churches, though it was particularly attacked as a ‘German’ Church after the Second World War. 58

Promotion of Atheism by Soviet Regime

In addition to the persecution of the churches and their members, the Soviet state also embarked on a campaign to promote atheism through the educational system, and in officially sponsored lectures, demonstrations and atheist publications. Atheism was explicitly taught in schools. In 1949 the former Secretary of the League of the Militant Godless, the official Soviet anti-religious organisation, writing in the teacher’s newspaper Uchitelskaya Gazeta, stated ‘A Soviet teacher must be guided by the principle of the Party spirit of science; he is obliged not only to be an unbeliever himself, but also to be an active propagandist of Godlessness among others, to be the bearer of the ideas of militant proletarian atheism.’ 59 The official campaign against religion began soon after the Revolution when the reliquaries of the Orthodox saints were opened by the revolutionaries in the presence of the Church, press, party and ordinary members of the Church. Some of the relics on display were found to be fakes, made from wax or plaster. These disinternments were filmed and shown in propaganda films throughout the Soviet Union. 60 Some of the closed churches were converted into ‘museums of religion and atheism’, including the former Kazan cathedral in Leningrad. 61

Soviet propaganda posters regularly attacked religion. A 1918 propaganda poster, for example, shows an Orthodox priest, flanked by a pair of rich peasants – kulaks – supporting the fist of the Tsarist general Denikin. 62 A 1930 poster by the Soviet propagandist Yuri Pimenov urging Soviets to fulfill the five year plan in four shows an express train hurtling down the rails towards a group of the regime’s opponents, one of whom is an Orthodox priest. One of the poster’s slogans is ‘No Religion’. 63 The regime also attempted to promote atheism through television and pop music. In the 1980s Soviet television screened a pop song denouncing belief in Christ at Christmas.

The League of the Militant Godless

 The League of the Militant Godless was founded in 1925 as part of the Soviet authorities’ attack on religion. 64 At its height in 1932 it had about five million members, before it was eventually disbanded in 1942. 65 Originally its activities included vandalism and the destruction of church property, like smashing church windows and desecrating cemeteries, done more out of its members’ hatred for religion rather than any attempt to spread atheism. Over time it became more sophisticated in its approach, organising meetings in the villages to promote its atheist message. It also organised anti-religious lectures, and published anti-religious books, magazines and journals. These included works of popular science written to show how science had disproved religion. These included quizzes, which presented the approved answers to criticism of Communism as well as attacking religion. Thus a 1930 handbook for the League, Dosug Bezbozhnika, by S. Glyazer and N. Kopievskii, included questions such as:

‘Q. How do reply to a priest who says ‘your communism is just another religion’?

A. All religions involve belief in the supernatural. Communism does not.

Q. How did Karl Marx describe Christianity?

A. As the Executive Committee of the bourgeoisie.’

The League also organised plane trips above the clouds in Tupolevs in order to show that there was no God or heaven up there. 66 Before the Second World War, the League also organised blasphemous processions and demonstrations against religion, especially on religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter.

Continuation of Government Ideological Campaign against Religion

Although the League was abolished in 1942, its propaganda functions were taken over by the All-Union Society for the Diseemination of Scientific and Political Knowledge, which was established in 1947, and the regime’s campaign to promote atheism continued. 120,679 anti-religious lectures were given in the Soviet Union in 1954, while four years later, in 1958, the number of anti-religious lectures increased to 300,000. 67 The atheist popular science magazine, Science and Life, which was originally founded by the League of Militant Godless, continued publication into the 1970s. 68

These publications and lectures, like the propaganda posters, strongly attempted to present the clergy as agents of political reaction and exploitation. The priests were presented as enjoying the spectacle of the peasants getting drunk, and opposed science and collectivisation because these threatened their hold on them. 69 The attacks on the clergy in the press continued after the League was disbanded. In 1959 the Soviet press carried a number of stories supposedly exposing the corrupt activities and ideas of individual bishops and monasteries. Monks were denounced, amongst other accusations, as ‘money grabbers’, ‘idlers’, ‘libertines’, ‘sexual perverts’. The theological seminaries were particularly attacked, with their students described as ‘any sort of rabble … lovers of an easy life … criminals who should be remoulded by work’, with the papers asking rhetorically ‘Does an honest man go to a theological school, in our century of science and technology?’ 70

Pentecostalist Christians were similarly accused in the press of collaborating with the opponents of Communism, in their case the Americans. They were regularly accused of being Western agents, being paid in dollars for services such as hiding American spies. Film depictions of Pentecostalists often showed them praying along on a beach, where it was explained that they were waiting for an ark filled American money. The newspapers also accused them of isolating their children from life by stopping them from going to movies, dances and other gatherings. In fact, Pentecostalist children tended to avoid such social activities not out of religious reasons, but to avoid abuse and violence from others. It’s also true that many Pentecostalists are more prosperous than their fellow citizens, but this was not from receiving any secret funds from the CIA or any other Western intelligence agency. Rather it was because the Pentecostalists had an ethic of hard work, sobriety and mutual aid. 71

Conclusion: Religious Persecution result of Atheist Ideology in Marxism, and New Atheists Similarly Authoritarian in Attitude to Religion

Thus the persecution of religious believers in the Soviet Union was not the result of political concerns, but from the intrinsically atheist nature of Communism itself. Unlike other forms of Socialism, which were not hostile to religious belief or which made Christianity a part of their programme for reform, Marx had developed his ideology under the influence of Feuerbach’s Humanism. This had view God as an alienate projection of humanity, and demanded the abolition of religion as part of the creation of a system that would allow the fullest exercise of humanity’s powers. Marxism’s essentially atheist nature resulted in the persecution of religion. The fact that it continued after Stalin under Khruschev and successive administrations suggests that it was the brief periods of toleration that were due to political expediency, not the persecutions. Indeed, historians have noted that while the Soviet regime did not make the destruction of Christianity, rather than just the Orthodox Church, a priority after the Revolution, it was also impossible for the regime to attempt it in the short term. 72 Furthermore, while China has become more tolerant of religion, churches are still required to be registered with the authorities and are under strict government control. Ministers and ordinary believers who are considered to violate these restrictions are persecuted.

Away from Communist politics, the persecution of religious believers in Communist states is similar to some of the policies and attitudes towards religion recommended by the New Atheists. While the New Atheists aren’t Communists, they do seem to share the Communist assumption taken from 19th century Positivism that atheism and science are identical, and that the educational and legal systems should be used to combat religion. Nicholas Humphreys, in an address to Amnesty International, demanded that the British government should pass legislation against parents giving their children a religious upbringing, while Daniel C. Dennett in his book, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, supported the idea of using the teaching of Darwinism in schools to destroy religious faith in children. This coercive attitude towards the indoctrination of children in schools with atheism contrasts strongly with the attitudes of some of the Soviet people of faith, such as the Seventh Day Adventist leader, Vladimir Shelkov. Shelkov believed that questions of belief were for the individual conscience, and so should not be imposed on the school system by the government:

‘The materialism of atheism is also a kind of belief or religion. For this reason, it should not be a state religion that imposes its materialistic world view through schools and other government agencies. It should be considered a personal ideology among other ideologies. The principle of separation of church, state, and school also applies to teh separation of government atheism from the state and the education system.’ 73 Thus for some Soviet people of faith, a truly neutral educational system regarding issues of faith meant removing atheism as well as religion from the classroom to allow genuine freedom of conscience. As for the Soviet governments attempt to destroy the Orthodox Church, despite the vicious persecution many Russians still see it as their most trustworthy institution. In 1991 an opinion poll asked Russians in which political force or social movement they had the most confidence? 60 per cent considered it was the Church. 74 


1. J.N. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour: Russian History 1812-1986 (Oxford, Oxford University Press 1987), p. 325.

2. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 325.

3. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 323.

4. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 324.  

5. Ludmilla Alexeyeva, translated by Carol Pearce and John Gad, Soviet Dissent: Contemporary Movements for National, Religious and Human Rights (Middletown, Wesleyan University Press 1985), p. 246.

6. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 346.

 7. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 248.

8. H.T. Dickinson, The Political Works of Thomas Spence (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Avero (18th Century) Publications Ltd 1982), p. VII.

9. Dickinson, Thomas Spence, p. VIII.

10. Dickinson, Thomas Spence, p. VII.

11. Ghita Ionescu, ed., The Political Thought of Saint-Simon (Oxford, Oxford University Press 1976), p. 216.

12. Ionescu, Political Thought of Saint-Simon, pp. 206, 209.

13. Ionescu, Political Thought of Saint-Simon, pp 208, 209-10.

14. David Fernbach, ‘Introduction’, in David Fernbach, ed., Karl Marx: The Revolutions of 1848 (Harmondsworth, Penguin 1973), p. 11.

15. Fernbach, ‘Introduction’, in Fernbach, ed., Karl Marx, pp. 11, 14.

16. Fernbach, ‘Introduction’, in Fernbach, ed., Karl Marx, pp. 19, 21.  

17. Fernbach, ‘Introduction’, in Fernbach, ed., Karl Marx, p. 21.

18. ‘Mach, Ernst’, in J. Speake, ed., A Dictionary of Philosophy (London, Pan Books 1979), p. 217.

19. A.A. Bogdanov, Empiriomonism, in Robert V. Daniels, ed., A Documentary History of Communism: Volume 1 – Communism in Russia (London, I.B. Tauris 1987), pp. 34-5.  

20. Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism – Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy, in Daniels, Documentary History of Communism, pp. 39-41.

21. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 323.

22. Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (London, Penguin 1964), p. 152.  

23. Ware, Orthodox Church, pp. 152-3.

24. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 153.

25. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 172.

26. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 159.

27. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 160.

28. Alexeya, Soviet Dissent, p. 248.

29. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 324.

30. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 248.

31. Ware, Orthodox Church, pp. 153-4.  

32. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 324.

33. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 155; Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 324.  

34. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 167.

35. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 167.

36. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 173.  

37. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 156.

38. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 325.

39. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 160.  

40. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 201.

41. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 201.

42. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, pp. 201-2.

43. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 202.

44. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 168.

45. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 203.

46. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, pp. 205-6.

47. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 207.    

48. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 208.

49. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 209.

48. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 210.

50. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 215.

51. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 216.  

52. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, pp. 217-8.

53. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 218.

54. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 233.  

55. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, pp. 237-243.

56. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 72.

57. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 73.  

58. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 96.

59. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 153.

60. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 325.

61. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 154.  

62. Nina Baburina, ed., translated by Boris Rubalsky, The Soviet Political Poster 1917-1980 (London, Penguin Books 1985), p. 5.

63. Baburina, ed., and Rubalsky, trans., Soviet Political Poster, p. 56.

64. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, pp. 325-6.

65. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 327; Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 154.

66. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 326.

67. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 154.

68. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 326.  

69. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 326.

70. Ware, Orthodox Church, p. 172.

71. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, pp. 218-9.

72. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour, p. 323.

73. Alexeyeva, Soviet Dissent, p. 234.

74. ‘Orthodox Church’ in Andrew Wilson and NinBachkatov, Russia Revised: An Alphabetical Key to the Soviet Collapse and the New Republics (London, Andre Deutsch 1992), p. 164.