Workers Vanguard No. 1009

28 September 2012


The Bolshevik Revolution vs. the State Church

(Quote of the Week)

Shortly after the Bolshevik-led October Revolution, the Soviet government stripped the Russian Orthodox church of its state sanction and vast property holdings. An initial step toward rooting out religious reaction and promoting atheism, the decree printed below was part of a thoroughgoing effort to remake a society steeped in rural backwardness and the heritage of tsarist oppression. Such steps were later undermined by the Stalinist bureaucratic caste that, beginning in 1923-24, usurped political power and threw out the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary-internationalist program. In 1943, the same year the Communist International was officially liquidated, Stalin’s regime gave state recognition to the Orthodox church as part of its promotion of Russian nationalism in the war against Nazi Germany.

1. The Church is separated from the state.

2. Within the confines of the Republic it shall be prohibited to issue any local by-laws or regulations restricting or limiting freedom of conscience, or establishing privileges or preferential rights of any kind based on the religious creed of citizens.

3. Every citizen may profess any religious belief, or profess no belief at all. All restrictions of rights, involved by professing one or another religious belief, or by professing no belief at all, are cancelled and void.

Note: All reference to the professing or non-professing of religious creeds by citizens shall be expunged from all official documents.

4. State or other public functions binding in law shall not be accompanied by the performance of religious rites or ceremonies.

5. Free performance of religious rites is permissible as long as it does not disturb public order, or interfere with the rights of the citizens of the Soviet Republic. The local authorities shall be entitled in such cases to adopt all necessary measures for maintenance of public order and safety.

6. Nobody is entitled to refuse to perform his duties as a citizen on the basis of his religious belief. Exceptions to this rule, on the condition that one civic duty be replaced by another, may be granted in each individual case by the verdict of the People’s Court.

7. The official taking or administering of religious oaths is cancelled. In necessary cases merely a solemn promise is given.

8. Births, marriages, and deaths are to be registered and solemnized solely by civic (secular) authorities: marriage and birth registration offices.

9. The School is separated from the Church. Instruction in any religious creed or belief shall be prohibited in all state, public, and also private educational establishments in which general instruction is given. Citizens may give or receive religious instruction in a private way.

10. All church and religious associations are subject to the ordinary legislation concerning private associations and unions. They shall not enjoy special privileges, nor receive any subsidies from the state or from local autonomous or self-governing institutions.

11. Compulsory collection of imposts and taxes in favour of church and religious associations, also measures of compulsion or punishment adopted by such associations in respect to their members, shall not be permitted.

12. No church or religious associations have the right to own property. They do not possess the rights of juridical persons.

13. The property of all church and religious associations existing in Russia is pronounced the property of the People. Buildings and objects especially used for the purposes of worship shall be let, free of charge, to the respective religious associations, by resolution of the local, or central state authorities.

—“Decree on the Freedom of Conscience, and of Church and Religious Societies,” 20 January 1918, printed in Mervyn Matthews, ed., Soviet Government: A Selection of Official Documents on Internal Policies (Taplinger Publishing, 1974)