The Soviet debate on religion in the 1920s. Principal positions
Outline the principal positions in the debate of the 1920s surrounding religion, its nature and its intended eli mination by the Bolsheviks.
In Marxism-Leninism religion as such is generally regarded as being contradictory to communism. For the Bolshevik regime with its aim to lead the people towards a communist society an understanding of the nature of religion was highly important: it was needed for the development of effective means to overcome the people's attachment to religious traditions and beliefs. Such a theoretical underpinning of antireligious policies was provided by the intense and highly controversial debate surrounding religion in the 1920s. Though the focus of this short essay lies on the debate of the 1920s itself, I shall have to start with its philosophic basis: Feuerbach's and Marx's critique of religion.
For Feuerbach (the Christian) religion is merely a man-made fantasy: a projection of the attributes of the human race as such onto the Heavens. This fiction gained a momentum of its own and became the notion of an all-superior locus of power. Thus man started to feel dependend on his own creation. To restore the initial freedom of the human mind, Feuerbach suggests the destruction of traditional religion in every possible way.
Marx adopts much of Feuerbach's view on religion. But by integrating it into his materialist worldview, he goes a step further. If the human consciousness - as Marx believes - is determined by its economic base, man's need for the illusion of a religion is due to an unsatisfactory reality. Feuerbach's critique of the Heavens must therefore be redirected into a critique of earth: the social and economic conditions have to be changed, so that people can experience in this life what religious believers expect from life after death. On the way to such a (communist) society, the need for illusory consolation in religion and therefore religion itself will vanish. But religion nevertheless has to be fought by all means as it keeps the working classes in mental emprisonment.
 As far as the description of the different notions of religion and their impact on Bolshevik antireligious policies is concerned, this essay relies mainly on Pospielovsky (1987), pp. 1-68, and McLellan (1987), pp. 7-32 and 90-112. Additional references are given in the footnotes.
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- University of Leeds – POLIS
- 2003 (September)
- 1.0 (A)
- Bolsheviks Religion Bolschewisten Russland Soviet Union Sowjetunion Religionspolitik religious policy Russia