The Religious Persecution in Russia
MANY difficulties unhappily stand in the way of fulfilling the desire—almost universal in this country—to help Christians and Jews in Russia. It would be an immense satisfaction if there were any simple and clear way of doing what we wish, but it is only too certain that any rudimentary method of " inter- vention " would suffer the fate which has always attended it in history.. There is nothing more detestable than intolerance against honest opinion, particularly when that opinion is linked with the spiritual yearnings of mankind. We should be happy indeed if we could say that the problem of religious oppression in Russia was so uncomplicated that there was nothing to do but to go straight ahead, to protest to the Soviet Govern- ment with all the might of a united country, and, if that failed to produce any impression, to apply forthwith some appropriate form of pressure.
When we write, unfortunately the chief facts are not beyond dispute. It cannot be doubted that there is what may be generally described as a religious persecu- tion in Russia, but that is nothing new. The highly mechanistic and materialistic Soviet organization has always been the declared enemy of religion. The Bolshevists think of the Orthodox Church under the old regime as a class institution committed to the perpetua- tion of Capitalism. From the beginning• they took the view that the uneducated peasants could not be won over to Communism till the Church was crippled, if not abolished. They wanted to substitute culture for godliness ; and the only hope they had of bringing' about this transformation was to deprive the youth of Russia of religion in their education. They were right in saying that a large part of religion as practised by illiterate Russians was mere superstition, and they laid it down, not without logic, that culture and superstition could not co-exist.
' It must be remembered, too, that Russian Communism is itself a kind of religion. It is a political passion which requires the submission of every private interest. It is true that Russia would be very much better off if the incentive provided by private interest were not cut off, but the Soviet rulers are concerned, perhaps without knowing it, less for the general welfare than for the pro- motion of a dogma. This dogma has nothing to do with democracy. The rulers are an autocratic oligarchy ; they are almost, one might say, priests ; and those who are ruled by them must obey for the salvation of their political souls as rigidly as obedience was given to Ignatius Loyola by the devoutest of his followers. It hardly needs to be pointed out that the Bolshevist leaders, thinking and working in this frame of mind, look upon all requests for tolerance as merely attacks on their dogma. Communism is a religion of conquest like Mohammedanism. That is one of the first difficulties. It is almost quite unprofitable to reason with a Bolshevist, because the facts are on his side when he says that you cannot patch former systems on to the Communist system, which is exclusive and destructive of all other theories of government.
Another great difficulty is that protests against Bolshe- vist arrogance and cruelty can hardly in practice be kept innocent of some political motive. The vast majority of people in Great Britain are genuinely filled with horror at the plight of the Russian Christians, and in expressing their feelings they have no thought whatever of serving any political purpose ; but directly a movement for helping the Russian Christians is on foot it inevitably draws in as helpers—perhaps as the most clamorous of helpers—a certain number who really want to break off diplomatic relations with Moscow without further parley, if not to encourage anti-Bolshevist propaganda in all civilized countries. When people are shocked by 'a brutal treatment of men's dearest beliefs it is terribly easy to make mistakes in sifting the evidence, on which the charge of persecution rests, and when such mistakes are made the Bolshevists naturally seize upon them as proof positive that there is a plot to attack their country, or at all events to hem it in and prevent it from getting its fair share of trade. It is said that some' atrocities which have recently been mentioned as instances of present persecution really happened several years ago. Al- though this fact does not in any way excuse the atrocities, it does make them bad evidence of the more intensive persecution which is now alleged.
Mr. Henderson has announced that he is waiting for a full report from the British Ambassador, and we hope that he will be able to publish it when it comes. Mean- while it is enough for us to know that the " anti-God " method of the Soviet has caused the closing of many churches, the destruction of others and the transformation of a great many of the village churches into cinemas. It may, however, be worth while to give an oxample of the difficulty of verifying many of the statements which have been published.
The Morning Post—which, by the way, deserves great credit for trying to keep its campaign against the perseci- tion free from political animus—published on February 4th a statement .by Bishop ,Nikolai, head of the Russian Orthodox Church in London, that atrocities had been committed on many ecclesiastics, among whom was a certain Father Andronicus, Archbishop of Perm.. The Paris correspondent of the Manchester Guardian sought information on this subject from Monsignor Evlogi,. the Metropolitan of the Russian Churches in Western Europe. Monsignor Evlogi said that he did not recognize any of the names mentioned except that of, Andronicus, who was murdered by factory workers in 1918.
It would be useless to insist further upon -such diffi- culties. We only want to point out the risk of •increasing the danger to those in Russia, whose danger is already lamentably great, if arguments are used which give the Soviet rulers a handle against prospective •victims in their own country or against the good faith of people in this country who are, we know, expressing a genuine indignation. Let us say here that we may safely dis- regard, as having any exculpatory value, the declaration of the Metropolitan Sergius and other Russian clerical dignitaries who have denounced " the attempt " of the Pope and the English Archbishops " to interfere in Russia." This declaration has all the internal signs of having been written under duress. It is well known that the Metropolitan Sergius was released from prison and allowed nominally to conduct the Orthodox Church only on dictated terms. He is not a free agent.
The locus cleissicus of a British attempt at active inter- vention to help oppressed persons was in 1795, when -a British Fleet at Quiberon supported the landing of returned French emigres who desired to continue the fight for the monarchy and for their religion. In vain they had represented to their countrymen in France that the British were coming as their friends and helpers. Nothing could commend to the hearts of most Frenchmen the descent of British ships upon the French coast, and the result was a terrible tragedy for the emigres. Tho experiment of helping the White Russian Army in the years immediately following the Russian Revolution was another instance of futility.
It is impossible at present to see very far ahead. The wisest way is to proceed step by step. We should like to see the present Government definitely using the re-established relations with the Soviet Government as conferring the right to protest. We remember that when the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 was negotiated, one of the chief arguments in its favour was that, it gave us a standing for exercising a moderating influence on Russia in her treatment of Persia. Many Liberals complained that Sir Edward Grey, in making the agreement at all, was doing a wickedly cynical thing— that he was in effect consenting to the partition of Persia. Sir Edward's argument was, we think, sound. He said that Russia would gradually absorb the whole of Persia if she were left to do as she liked, but that Great Britain; by establishing her own spheres of influence in Persia, acquired the only possible means of checking the Russian tendency. This argument has justified itself. Neither Great Britain nor Persia has reason to regret Sir Edward Grey's policy.
So it might be again. Our restored relations with Russia at least give us an opportunity. The first thing necessary is to tell the Soviet rulers officially how intense the feeling is here against oppression, and to warn them how many impediments they are putting in the way of what they profess to desire. Perhaps their dogma will admit of no compromising whatever, but we have yet to find that out. The judgment of the civilized world hangs upon their future action.