CLIO FINAL - page 11

gious policy. The enemy was no
longer visible, but an idea, and
if there was any man in history
to employ to attack an idea,
Stalin would be top of the list.
In 1929, it was estimated that
80% of the Soviet population
was Orthodox (even this was a
wishful estimate from the com-
munists to highlight the success
of the subsequent anti-religious
campaign, perhaps at the price
of statistical accuracy). Stalin
decided to address this emphat-
ically, as with most opposition
during his rule. Throughout the
1930s, there were fewOrthodox
priests left alone by authorities,
and through deportation, exile
and labour camps only 500 of the
initial 54,000 parishes were still
functioning by the outbreak of
the Great PatrioticWar (World
War 2) in 1939. The Orthodox
church that was formerly for
every 2,700 people was now for
342,000. Stalin’s excessive zeal
for social policy left little room in
the church for defiance, or in fact
survival of any kind.
While his policy wavered
little in the years following the
Great PatrioticWar, Stalin’s
wartime rallying of the nation
into a united force allowed for
one change so unexpected it
appears almost anachronistic.
Given that they accepted and
preached complete subservience
to the Soviet State and Stalin,
those Orthodox priests still alive
in camps were released back to
their parishes, with the League
of Militant Godless temporarily
prevented from publishing, and
many key anti-religious writers
forced to write propaganda that
focused not against God, but
Germany. It’s a scene almost
pre-prepared for a soviet prop-
aganda poster: Stalin untying
his leash from around the church’s
neck, holding off the dogs of the
anti-religious press and inviting the
people to play. But to see this only
as a benevolence, a gift to the peo-
ple, would be to miss the reason it
happened in the first place.
Despite persecution beyond
all belief, despite the ‘Godless’
league having 3 million members by
the start of the war, and despite a
church diminishing to a hundredth
of its size at the time of the Octo-
ber revolution of 1917, Stalin had
failed at his aim of killing the idea
of religion in the Soviet State. There
were 3 Russian cities named after
their wartime leader, and countless
posters in every state school of his
airbrushed face. His version of histo-
ry was the version taught, and once
the threat of Germany was extinct,
religious persecution came back
in full force. But for one brief mo-
ment, his cards were laid out, and
in a time of wartime duress, Stalin
was forced to admit that the hold of
religion on the people of his nation
was ever-present, and at that point,
necessary. To say religion triumphed
would be to forget the thousands, if
not millions of Orthodox Christians
attacked, arrested and killed for
their beliefs between 1917 and 1991.
But if you were to see it as a contest,
then at its death in 1991 the USSR
was an estimated 20%Orthodox
Christian. In the space of roughly
one generation, this number is now
at 70%, or 100 million people, 100
years on from the Bolshevik takeo-
ver. Despite the best efforts of the
Bolshevik party (continuing long af-
ter just Lenin and Stalin), Orthodoxy
shall be remembered and seen as a
cornerstone of the Russian people,
and not one removed entirely by
socialism.
ReubenWooley 13W
Adopted Atheism
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