Russia's "Anti-God " Campaign in Practice
ONSTITUTION .\I, freedom of religion in Russia still exists, though modified by the decree of 1929. In judicial practice one finds little which does not accord with this position. What the present movement of protest abroad dubs " persecution of religion " by the Soviet authorities, represents the working of a casuistry built up to accomplish the Com- munist purpose of destruction of religion, while still adhering to the letter of the law granting religious freedom. The following quotation from the " question and answer " column of the newspaper Godless, February 1st, 1930, is illustrative :- " QuEsTion : Does my wife have the right without my permission to have a religious ceremony performed for our child, and may I complain against the person who performs the ceremony without my permission ?
" ANSWER : Article 33 of the law code regarding marriage, family and guardianship provides that parents shall decide questions regarding the religious or non-religious upbringing of children by mutual agreement. In case of disagreement, the question is decided by the organs for guardianship, attached to the Departments of Public Education. Our laws do not as yet demand that priests must have the permission of both parents for conducting religious ceremonies for children. Consequently, at the request of the mother alone the priest may, for example, baptize the child. However, in so far as Article 33 gives to both parents the right to mutual agreement, the priest, if he knows of disagreement between the parents on the question of baptism does not have the right to perform the ceremony without the requisite permission from the organ for flnardianship. In case you have evidence of the fact -that the priest knew of your unwillingness to have the child baptized 'and yet performed. the ceremony, you may present, a declaration to the procurator charging the priest with infraction of Article 125 of the Civil Code, in so far as he undertook personally to decide a question which required decision by a government organ."
One can readily see how easy it would be for a judge to decide that the priest was surely aware of the fact that a Communist must be opposed to having his child baptized, and thus the priest would be caught on a technicality which_ an ordinary village priest would not have anticipated, particularly as the law of April, 1929, places no restriction on the performance of religious ceremonies in registered church buildings.
Yet another manner of persecuting religion within the law is illustrated by the following incident reported in the official Moscow Izvestia, January 26th, 1980 :-- " The District Court has just terminated its session in the village Siademka, Semetchin district, Tambow province. The case was that of the priests Rymareff and Sladkopevtzeff, the miller Tchubrin. the nun Pershina, the wife of a kulak, Shirokova, and the poor peasant Alexieff, all accused of organizing a demonstration against the Soviet government. On the 20th of June the priests Rymareff and Sladkopevtzeff had been deprived of their property and arrested, because they had refused to give up their surplus grain. Tchubrin, Shirokova and Pershina made use of this. They collected before the village Soviet a crowd composed mainly of those deprived of civil rights. Being instigated by Tchubrin, the crowd began to throw bricks at the representatives of the village Soviet, demanding the release of the priests and the restitution of their property. The tribunal sentenced Rymareff, Sladkopevtzeff and Tchubrin to be shot, Pershina to seven years' imprisonment in strict isolation and the confiscation of her property, and Shirokova to five years. The poor peasant Alexieff, being illiterate and entirely under the influence of the kulaki and priests, was sentenced to six months of compulsory labour."
It appears that the only criminal action of the priests was failure to turn over surplus grain ; otherwise they merely sat in jail. Yet because in their persons there centred the cause of anti-governmental demonstration, they were considered the principals in the riot and condemned accordingly.
As regards the closing of churches, this is generally accomplished " legally " by accepting the resolution of an anti-religious meeting as the " will of the workers," and either shelving petitions for retaining the church or announcing them to be the work of the kulaks. The following are among the cases quoted in Bezbo:hnik (Godless) of February 1st, 1930 :— " The citizens of Lukoyanovka, Lukoyanovsky region, and the citizens of Neledina, Shatkovsky region, have decided to transform the chapel into a fire station."
" The peasants of the village Lapino, Karelia, after an anti- religious lecture, decided to close the church and use it as a club, turning over the bells for the needs of industrialization of the country." " In the village Karmali, Kirghiz Licykinski county, Beleveevsky canton, ABSSR, at the insistence of the workers, the church has been made into a school for peasant youth."
"The citizens of the village Nikolaivka, Ashkadarsky county, Sterlitamaksky canton, ABSSR, petitioned for the transfer of the church- for cultural needs. The BTZIK (Central Executive Com- mittee) satisfied the demands of the workers."
It is in the popular movement toward collectivization and industrialization of agriculture, however, that we see the best example of the practical working out of Marxist dialectic in the campaign for destroying religion. You seldom have cases. of direct anti-religious appeals, such as " down with religion," or " drive out the priest." Rather, the slogan presents a choice —" church bells or tractors," " church or club," " prayers or irrigation," " bread for the priest and kulak, or bread for the workers." With the proposition thus weighted for an anti-religious answer, the Government makes rapid strides forward towards its goal and has, it feels, ample proof that the workers have voluntarily finished with religion. A long article in Pravda of January 15th, 1930, brings out yet another important aspect of the way in which the masses are presumably losing their religion. Agri- cultural Russia is fast being collectivized, that is, small holdings are being amalgamated, and live stock, imple- ments and all equipment transferred to the " indistri- butable ." capital of the collective farms. The five-year plan, which is being carried out on time or even ahead of time in this regard, calls for 3,129,000 households being collectivized by the summer of 1980. These collective farms are Communist undertakings and form political as well as economic units. As such they partake of the official political philosophy of the Soviet state and also of the official attitude on education and religion. When a peas-ant enters a collective farm he ceases to be an individual, he becomes a " collective man." He owns nothing, yet the farin is his ; he ceases to have personal interests, his is a group existence ; he thinks for the whole collective and in tune with the Marxist mould into which his body and soul are poured. The collective and he are synonymous ; each belongs to the other. Hence the logic he is faced with in the matter of religion : the Communist collective is ipso facto devoid of religion, therefore the peasant " collective man " is now devoid of religion. All ye who enter here leave ikons, churches, prayers, and all such superstition behind. The collective farm spells the doom of the village church, which now becomes a granary, club, or a mere ruin.
Peter the Great shook Russia to her foundations in trying to remake her life on a European model. The Soviet Government out-Peters Peter, for he only. refashioned religion while the Communist regime, according to its party platform, finds that " religion and Com- munism are incompatible."
PAUL B. ANDERSON.