Stalinism and Religion

One of the most fascinating components of the ‘building of Stalinism’ is action taken against religion, especially the Russian Orthodox Church. Although the First-Five-Year Plan particularity focused on collective agriculture and industrialization, the attack on religion was physically and mentally schematized. Churches were not only destroyed by the thousands, but propaganda also declared religion poisonous.

Particularly ferocious was the attack on church property, which saw ancient churches converted into warehouses, and sacred objects melted down for their metals. Church bells were the object of special attention, since the state claimed the metal for the great industrialization project. (Seventeen Moments, Closed Church Subject Essay)

The state also went as far as to alter people’s daily schedules so much that they would not even have time to attend church. “Introduced in 1929, the nepreryvka was meant to increase productivity by keeping machines in operation throughout the year, and to wean workers away from Sundays and religious holidays as days of rest” (Seventeen Moments, Closed Church Subject Essay). To me this is shocking because of the historical importance of church in Russia. The baptism of Vladimir the Great in 988 introduced Christianity to Russia and was a uniting force that provided a sense of unity, so in the course of just a few decades, Stalin went after a defining characteristic of Russian society that had been in place for almost 1,000 years. Similarly, to the view of the peasantry, the church was a barrier to building communism (Freeze, 347).

Another characteristic that stood out to me was the second decree of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR, Religious Organizations in April of 1929 that stated “Religious associations of believers of all rites shall be registered as religious societies or as groups of believers” (Seventeen Moments, Closed Church texts, Law on Organizing Religion. This reminded me of similar Anti-Semitism policy the Nazis took against the Jews in the Aryanization project, and it surprises me how unknown this is, considering how closely they occurred to each other. The following picture also comes from Seventeen Moments, captured in 1928, and is titled “The Godless Ones.” This was taken at an anti-religious demonstration in Moscow. Notice the swastika . . . What else stands out in this photo?



4 thoughts on “Stalinism and Religion

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  1. Another student used the “godless ones” image but I didn’t notice the swastika in the picture until you mentioned it. It honestly reminds me of a voodoo parade down in New Orleans or something like that. Great post!


  2. Nice post! I really like that you used this photo, it is very interesting. I find it surprising and disappointing that religion and the intolerance people have for it is so prominent in history. I did a post on the Bolsheviks and their terror on the church but I did not know that it continued on and even had decrees written about it. It seems like a slippery slope that will often times lead to violence.


  3. I had previously done a blog post about anti-religiousness and this post immediately caught my eye. I always thought it was interesting how the Soviets tried to suppress religion and separate themselves from any organized religion. You did a really good job. I liked the picture too!


  4. I’m struck by the capitalist “banker,” and even more so by demonic looking Trotsky. Wow. Tell me more about the laws on religious registration (in the Third Reich and the Soviet Union) — why are they so ominous?


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