Bezbozhnik – Godless
The communists wanted to explain that the church was an integral part of the capitalist system. It was a means of oppression of the working class, used by the capitalists to maximise their profits at the expense of the real workers.
This conspiracy is depicted in such focus by the cover artist, Cheremnikh, for this issue of Bezbozhnik. It involves the rich capitalists as the Magi giving choral support to the religious scene as the working class man, on his knees and kept there, provides physical support for the capitalists. The caption reads: ‘We bow to you. We praise you. We thank you.’
However, this typical Russian scene is characterised by the prominent portrait of Lenin on the wall and the total absence of religious imagery . Its message is that normal Russian folk can throw off superstition and live civilised, rational lives. The title of the photograph is ‘Our Godless’
A WARNING POEM
The poem, (left) appearing on page 2 is called ‘To the Little Octobrists’, addressing the members of the young communist organisation for 7-9 year-olds. It is indicative of the way the more extreme communists (such as the editor of ‘Bezbozhnik’, Yaroslavski) with no knowledge of possible consequences, decided to propagandise and politicise the younger generation and to turn children against their parents. This was partly due to the correct belief that the older people were so entrenched in their ways that it would be impossible to change them. However, this policy goes further than simply not employing resources on the older ones. The government actively encouraged conflict within families, almost handing over the task of reforming the parents to the children. Religious superstition was portrayed as belonging to the older generation. If your parents are religious, it means you should not obey them.
Before the shining angel, from a Christmas tree
Smiled sadly, Looked at the children:
‘There are devils everywhere in the world
They are on the lookout for you like wolves
Be good children, So a devil won’t eat you’
You must obey meekly All who are older by experience
Papa, Mama and Aunt, Given children by God
Stuffy-nosed teachers Even local policemen
You see our God did not ‘Suffer’ in vain for us
So the children were fooled By the angel from the heavenly Christmas tree
And the devils, at night Frightened them in vain
Red studies left little room for god
Well now, angel, try to Frighten the little Octobrists!
And to their parents they said directly, just like this:
I will obey Papa
If he went to the Party School
I will obey Mother
If she graduates from the Workers Faculty
The Bolsheviks considered the church to be one of their prime enemies. They officially blamed the church for the backward nature of the country and the generally unimpressive educational achievements of the peasantry. The church was publicly ridiculed and criticised as being a mafia-style organisation that swindled money and devotion out of the poorest individuals and offered nothing other than fear and guilt in return.
Propaganda and agitation was not the only way the state attacked the church. Although not ‘officially’ supported by Stalin (who had himself studied to be a priest), the Bolsheviks oversaw the destruction of many churches throughout the USSR and the imprisonment and sometimes execution of priests and those associated with them. It was only when the Germans invaded in 1941 that Stalin, in a desperate position, decided to use the unifying nationalist power of the church to rally the people against the aggressor. An uneasy truce with the church then ensued, only for it to be attacked forcefully again by Khrushchev in the 1960s.
Bezbozhnik was the publication of Союз воинствующих безбожников - The Union of the Militant Godless. The Union was headed by Emelian Yaroslavsky, the sycophantic Stalin-worshipper and editor of the very first History of the Bolshevik Party (available here). Yaroslavsky is called ‘Stalin’s Bloodhound’ and appears as that dog in the caricature to the right