How The Atheist-Communist Soviet Union Tried to Eliminate Religion

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During the days of its iron-fisted rule, the Soviet Union’s Communist Party called for the elimination of the “old ways”, much of which had to do with religion, and for the education of the “new spirit” (1). The new spirit had to do with the creation of scientific-atheism that the party intended to spread across its population through as many channels as possible.

The Communist Party traces back to the 1917 October Revolution when the new Bolshevik leadership sought a worldview based upon rational, scientific principles and philosophical materialism (2). The Communist Party conceptualized new changes in education and broadly redefined law, criminal justice, and social welfare. Even aesthetics were altered. All of these changes were initiated with the intention of producing a new consciousness in the people, part and parcel of which were attempts to replace religious views with secular values. This was far from easy, however, as the state came up against resistance from certain quarters. What followed was the oppression and persecution of religion. In 1921-1922, the state seized valuables of the church for famine relief. Throughout the 1920s there were attempts to secularize social rites and to eradicate religious influences as a whole. In 1929, The Soviet Law on Religious Associations severely restricted rights of worship and proselytization. There were grave assaults on believers in the countryside and widespread violence against churches and clergy at the hands of the Red Army and anti-religious militants. There were arrests of the patriarch and prominent bishops, nationalization of church property, and the separation of church and state. In this mix, propaganda bodies were established, such as the Union of Atheists, which enrolled millions of people and further campaigns in the early 1930s led to a significant reduction of priests and churches.

In the mid-twentieth century numerous decrees were mandated by the Communist Party to establish scientific-atheism. The Central Committee of the CPSU established two decrees that would become the foundation of the Soviet’s scientific-atheism. The first decree observed how atheists had neglected their duties which resulted in religion regaining ground (2). This, the Communist Party alleged, was evident in an increase in the observance of religious holidays, visitations to religious shrines, decrease in worker-discipline, and a loss of interest in Communism. Atheists had become complacent as publications on atheism left much wanting. The decree attempted to address these issues by presenting practical means for correcting the situation as follows (3):

[1] All local Central Committees must promote activities in favour of scientific-atheism. Activities and events, such as courses, lectures, speeches, publications, movies, theater, and radio, are to be carried out practically, systematically, and persistently with the purpose of spreading scientific knowledge, rational views on the structure of the universe, the origin of life, and more. This is to be conducted with the goal of eliminating all religions, sects, and religious sentiments among the people.

[2] The group Agitprop is responsible for organizing courses on atheism at universities and other educational institutions.

[3] The Ministry of Culture and other cultural agencies are obligated:

[a] To find qualified lectures to accelerate and improve the spread of scientific knowledge
[b] To articulate and put into practice a publication plan for scientific and atheist literature in 1954 and 1955,
[c] To prepare and put into practice a plan for anti-religious films in 1954 and 1956
[d] To plan and arrange the airing of radio broadcasts of scientific atheist speeches and discussions
[e] To make the accomplishments of Soviet science, technology, and culture known to all people
[f] To provide lecturers with atheistic albums and diapositives

[4] The All-Union Society for the Propagation of Political and Scientific Knowledge is to manage the publishing of a monthly text called Science and Religion.

[5] For 1954 and 1955, the publication Gospolitizdat is to select classical and popular works on religion and atheism.

[6] The Publishing House of the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union is responsible for publishing works of ancient and French atheists.

[7] The Foreign Languages Publishing House is to publish the best works on atheism from foreign scholars and authors.

[8] The Goslitizdat must publish large editions of atheistic literature of an artistic nature.

[9] Editors of local and national journals are to publish materials on atheism.

[10] The Ministries of Education are responsible for atheism being systematically introduced into all areas of teaching and for conferences to promote atheist ideology

[11] Youth groups are responsible for the atheistic education of the young

[12] Professional groups must see to the atheistic formation of all workers

The Communist Party mandated two further decrees (4). Here the emphasis was placed more on the ideological and philosophical presentation of scientific atheism (5). Atheistic propaganda was to be more refined and in tune with the sensibilities of the people. The Communist Party’s reasoning was that Communism is superior because it is based on science whereas religion is profoundly anti-scientific and therefore inferior. True science is anti-religious which means that ramping up efforts in science education would lead to religion’s inevitable elimination. The first of the two decrees, On the Journal Science and Religion of 1959, again entertained the idea of a journal after a lapse in interest. The Communist Party wanted a special journal on scientific-atheism and again assigned The All-Union Society for the Propagation of Political and Scientific Knowledge to the task of publishing Science and Religion. This journal, which was finally established in 1960, was to feature popular articles on the theory and history of atheism, science, religious ideology, reports on atheist publications, and methods of atheist propaganda. The second decree ordered the devising and publication of a textbook on scientific atheism (6).

Further, two semi-official texts and editorials were produced by Voprosy Filosofii. In 1960, this group published an editorial titled For a Creative Elaboration of Problems of Scientific Atheism, which called for a greater collaborative effort between experts in different disciplines, such as in psychology, sociology, and philosophy to promote scientific-atheism. Voprosy Filosofii produced a second text, A Theory of Scientific Atheism for Today, which highlighted the need for strong university and high-school courses and books on scientific-atheism. Books needed to more thoroughly engage topics of religion, such as the varieties of religion, the emotional component of religion, religious experience, and religious organizations. Important was it to show that no amount of changes in religion to make it correspond with science would ever save it. It was dedicated to demonstrating the scientific superiority of atheism.

References

1. Blakeley, Thomas. 1964. “Scientific Atheism: An Introduction.” Studies in Soviet Thought 4(4):277-295. p. 281.

2. Husband, William. 1998. “Soviet Atheism and Russian Orthodox Strategies of Resistance, 1917‐1932.” The Journal of Modern History 70(1):74-107.

3. Gospolitizdat. 1961. Questions of Ideological Work (Voprosy ideologiceskoj raboty). Moscow: Gospolitizdat. p. 6

4. Blakeley, Thomas. 1964. Ibid. p. 285.

5. Decree of the CK KPSS of November 10, 1954. “On Mistakes in Carrying on Scientific-Atheist Propaganda Among the People.”

6. Blakeley, Thomas. 1964. Ibid. p. 287

7. Blakeley, Thomas. 1964. Ibid. p. 285.

7 comments

  1. Does any religion gives any piece of bread to the poor ? Does religion heals the pain of any fettering ? Religion is right only if it can serve Humanity. But in current senario this is not case. In most countries, religion is a crucial factor behind the hatred, discrimination and terrorism.

  2. Communist countries aren’t atheistic necessarily. They just create the religion of the State with the Great Leader as the father figure God or God’s representative

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