Workers Vanguard No. 936

8 May 2009


Religion: Spiritual Bondage

(Quote of the Week)

Writing in May 1918, Bolshevik leader Nikolai Bukharin outlined the Marxist approach to the struggle against religion and religious institutions, including by drawing on the experiences of the young Soviet republic that issued out of the 1917 October Revolution.

Religion must by fought, if not by violence, at all events by argument. The Church must be separated from the State. That means that the priests may remain, but should be maintained by those who wish to accept their poison from them or by those who are interested in their existence. There is a poison called opium; when that is smoked, sweet visions appear; you feel as if you were in paradise. But its action tells on the health of the smoker. His health is gradually ruined, and little by little he becomes a meek idiot. The same applies to religion. There are people who wish to smoke opium; but it would be absurd if the State maintained at its expense, that is to say, at the expense of the people, opium dens and special men to serve them. For this reason the Church must be (and already is) treated in the same way: priests, bishops, archbishops, patriarchs, abbots and the rest of the lot must be refused State maintenance. Let the believers, if they wish it, feed the holy fathers at their own expense on the fat of the land, a thing which they, the priests, greatly appreciate.

On the other hand, freedom of thought must be guaranteed. Hence the axiom that religion is a private affair. This does not mean that we should not struggle against it by freedom of argument. It means that the State should support no church organisation. As regards this question, the programme of the Bolshevik Communists has been carried out all over Russia. Priests of all creeds have been deprived of State subsidy. And that is the reason why they have become so furious and have twice anathematised the present Government, i.e., the Government of the workers, by excommunicating all workers from the church. We must note this. At the time of the Tsar they knew well enough the text in the Scripture which says, “There is no power but from God,” and “The powers that be are to be obeyed.” They willingly sprinkled executioners with holy water. But why have they forgotten these texts at a time when the workers are at the head of the Government? Is it possible that the will of God does not hold good when there is a Communist Government? What can the reason be? The thing is very simple. The Soviet Government is the first Government in Russia to attack the pockets of the clergy. And this, by the way, is a priest’s most sensitive spot. The clergy are now in the camp of the “oppressed bourgeoisie.” They are working secretly and openly against the working class. But times have changed, and the masses of the labouring class are not so prone to become the easy prey to deceit they were before. Such is the great educational significance of the Revolution; revolution liberates us from economic slavery, but it also frees us from spiritual bondage.

—Nikolai Bukharin, Programme of the World Revolution (1918)