I’m Going Over to the Six-Day Work Week (1929) Heavenly Powers: Guards! They have a knife! Save me! Source: Bezbozhnik u stanka. Moscow: M.K.R.K.P.. 1923.
The Soviet disdain for religion had been well known in society when the crackdown began in 1929, but its efforts stretched back to even before the founding of the USSR. It didn’t help the Orthodox church that it was a central institutions in the Russian Empire and helped lend legitimacy to the Tsar. The Bolsheviks viewed the church with hatred and thus were staunch atheists and had no compassion for the church either as an institution or belief system. The beginning of the crackdown on the church began in 1918 with the implementation of a new criminal code regarding religion that severally limited the power and scope of both the national institution, but also local parishes. However, it was not until 1923 and new Criminal codes designed to break the national organization of the church that really laid the groundwork for the mass persecutions of 1929 which were targeting local parishes and churches.
The persecutions of 1929 also had to coincide with massive economic reforms being put out by Stalin designed to ramp up industrial output. The central government did this by issuing new policies that rearranged the work week designed to keep machines constantly working. This policy lead to many malfunctions and breakdowns as is natural when running machinery 24/7, but in the short term this was seen a necessary and errors could be overlooked. It is obvious why it would be necessary to attack the religion of the USSR in order to make the majority of people work on Sundays and religious holidays which would interfere with constant production. The central government also instituted a seven hour work day with a half hour break for lunch up from a six hour work day in order to keep pace with the desire for greater economic output.
Destruction of Church Bells (1929) For industrial reuse of metal (Mozhaisk 1929) Source: Corley, Felix, ed.: Religion in the Soviet Union: an Archival Reader. New York: New York University Press. 1996.
The persecution of the churches across the USSR lead to looting by the mobs and authorities in particular. They were after the religious objects which were clad in gold and once melted down and recast would dramatically increase the gold reserves of the Soviet Union which it desperately needed. Another set of objects that the churches had were their cast iron bells which the government wanted in order to use in industry. Why waste good iron that is just sitting there waiting to never be used since you’ve already ransacked the churches. The church property was seized and the buildings became used as warehouses or schools while the extensive holdings the churches had were put to use by the state.
Yet, this mass assault on the Orthodox churches didn’t go over well with the masses of peasants who were still quite religious and wanted to preserve their churches. It is obvious that the local governments took a lot of leaway when it came towards the churches and could be quite harsh. Ignoring the populace and rolling ahead produced a large response in local villages with some individuals being quite bold.
The Godless Ones (1928) An antireligious demonstration in Krasnaia Presnia district of Moscow. Trotsky, Rockefeller and Ford on the cross. Source: Russian State Film & Photo Archive at Krasnogorsk. 2000.
Here is an anti-religious march in Moscow which occurred in 1928, one year before the mass attacks began. The main figures being held up and mocked are the effigies of Rockefeller, Ford, and Trotsky. I think that you can tell that a main point for the Soviets when they attacked the churches was that they are as bad as the Capitalists who led them to ruin while they were exploited. It is very interesting how at this point it is very obvious that Stalin was victorious in the power struggle that erupted following the death of Lenin and that Trotsky has been forced out of the government . Stalin’s efforts to de-legitimize Trotsky seemed to have completely worked at this point at the father of the Red Army is now considered as despicable to the Soviet people as the ‘Robber Barons’ of the capitalist United States. I think it is interesting how Rockefeller and Ford were so successful in business that they became the go to symbols of Capitalism and the west.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Sistematicheskoe sobranie zakonov RSFSR (Moscow: Iurid. izd-vo NKIU RSFSR, 1929), text 353. Sobranie uzakonenii i rasporiazhenii, 1929, No. 35, stat’ia 353, reproduced with commentary in N. Orleanski, Zakon o religioznykh ob’edineniyakh RSFSR (Moscow, 193)
Sbornik zakonov S.S.S.R., No. 63 (1930), Art. 586.
Sbornik zakonov S.S.S.R., No. 2 (1929), Art. 30.
Neizvestnaia Rossiia, XX vek (Moscow: Istoricheskoe nasledie, 1992), Vol. I, pp. 34-35.