“We Want God!”

The Soviet Union did much to promote a positive image of life within its borders both to the Western world and to its own citizens. However, it is hard to deceive someone about the quality of their own life. By the late 1970’s, the Polish people had become disenchanted with Soviet rule for several reasons. In 1970, worker strikes broke out at the Lenin shipyards in Gdansk. As the decade progressed, more and more strikes occurred due to the stagnated economy. 1980 saw the creation of Solidarity, a movement dedicated to promoting better worker conditions. Negotiations between Solidarity and the Polish government bore no fruit. Continued strikes led to a complete oppression of Solidarity by the military, forcing the movement underground.

Pole strike

Workers praying at the Gdansk shipyard.

The Polish people also had a great point of contention with the Soviets that existed at a more fundamental level. Since its genesis, the Soviet Union had done its best to suppress religion through propaganda and confiscation of Church property. Poland had been a Catholic stronghold for several centuries, and the Church continued to survive through Soviet occupation. In 1978, a Polish Cardinal by the name of Karl Wojtyla was elected as Pope John Paul II. In 1979, he made an historic visit to his home country. In the course of 9 days, nearly a third of Poland saw him – in person. The Soviet authorities expected mere thousands to show up to see him. They were wrong. By a lot. Millions of people flooded the streets wherever he went. One of the most memorable moments came in Victory Square of Old City during a speech that followed the celebration of the Mass. After exhorting his countrymen to courage through hard times and reminding them that history and life must be understood in light of Christ (something blatantly adverse to Marxism) the crowd began to chant “We want God!” Pope John Paul II’s trip to Poland charged the Polish people to remain strong in the faith, which broke the Soviet’s control over the people and exposed the false reality of a great, fulfilling life under the Soviets. The people of Poland wanted more than what the Soviets had to offer. They sought the happiness and truth only the Church could offer.

jp2 poland

John Paul II in Poland, 1979

Lewis Siegelbaum. Solidarity in Poland.


Peggy Noonan. ‘We Want God’. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB122479408458463941

Solidarity, Message to the Working People of Eastern Europe. September 9, 1981

Solidarity in Poland Images


“Let the People Breathe”

In the mid 1960’s, dissidence in the Soviet Union had begun to spread. The most surprising characteristic about the thousands of dissident material that were distributed was the background of the authors. They came from every echelon of Soviet society: workers, collective farmers, university students, school children, and even party members. A protest even broke out in Pushkin Square in 1965. However, the KGB was quick on the case. A show trial in 1966 of two writers who had published their ‘anti-soviet’ material outside of the country was meant to intimidate the rest of the dissenters.

By the 1970’s, dissidence had spread like wildfire. Khrushchev and Brezhnev had slowly eased the yoke placed on people’s freedom of expression, but when this expression was vehemently against state policy, the state was quick to crack down. The dissident movement in the 70’s had three main perspectives. The first was democratic socialism, seeking more political participation allowed to the masses. The second was political liberalism, hoping to achieve more freedom of expression, especially when it came to government policy.


“Allow us a free art and literature, the free publication not just of political books-God preserve us!-and exhortations and election leaflets; allow us philosophical, ethical, economic and social studies, and you will see what a rich harvest it brings and how it bears fruit-for the good of Russia.” -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Letter to the Soviet Leaders, 1974

The third perspective was rather conservative and highly critical of Marxist ideology. The most outspoken proponent of this conservative movement was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. In his Letter to the Soviet Leaders, Solzhenitsyn writes a fiery manifesto thrashing Marxism and the failure of the Soviet Union. For Solzhenitsyn, the application of Marxist ideology spelled Russia’s doom from the beginning. Marx, and the Soviets, constantly look forward to a never ending future. They have no end in sight with all of their industrialization and ‘advancement’. In essence, they are climbing a ladder to nowhere. Solzhenitsyn saw that the Soviets were too caught up with an unattainable future that they ignored basic human rights for a pipe dream. Furthermore, in attempting to be different than Western countries, the Soviets tried faux Marxism while copying the industrialization methods of the very capitalist nations they loathed. The means of production were always in the hands of the leaders of the Communist Party, showing the hypocrisy of it all. Nevertheless, it is not authoritarian rule Solzhenitsyn is concerned with, it is the ideology purported by that authority. He saw the old authoritarian regimes of Russia as legitimate because they followed the morals laid down by the Orthodox Church. The problem he has with the Communist Party is that it ignores Christian principles, causing moral decay in society. He firmly believed that Christianity was the only “living spiritual force capable of undertaking the spiritual healing of Russia”. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn did not wish for a Christian state, per say, in fact he argued for the separation of Church and state. But he knew that the underlying truths in Christianity could save his people. For Solzhenitsyn, Russian did not need to import foreign ideologies. Instead, it needed free education and thought, which would cultivate a more virtuous and prosperous nation.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Letter to the Soviet Leaders (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), pp. 19-21, 24-26, 41-43, 51-54, 56-57.

Freeze, Russia A History.

James von Geldern. The Dissident Movement. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1973-2/the-dissident-movement/

The Dissident Movement Images

Nothing New Under the Sun

The 1960’s saw another wave of anti-religious propaganda under Khrushchev. The attack on religion by the communist party had a couple different tactics. The first was legislation that transferred the leadership of a local parish from a priest to a council of lay people. This allowed atheist communists to gain seats on the councils and obstruct parish life. In the years following this change in policy, half of all seminaries were closed, and over half of all parishes were dissolved. The Russian Orthodox faith rests almost entirely on religious rituals and practices, so breaking up parishes was devastating to many.

Soviet anti-religious propaganda

“If somebody asks me, say: there is no God.”

The above piece of atheist  propaganda stresses the argument that God does not exist because He would interact with us. The atheists are taunting Christians by implying that if God exists, He must not care for us. In the early 1960’s, the Society for the Dissemination of Political and Scientific Knowledge was brought back in an attempt to influence the youth that God did not exist by providing ‘scientific’ evidence. The propaganda is filled with passionate, straw man attacks on religion and clerics.

“The world of religion confronted me as a unitary process of the development of superstitions and spurious concepts, the mirroring of mundane relations in the empty heavens, where there is no place for any higher spiritual powers.” – Aleksandr Osipov

A powerful form of persuasion is the use of a testimony. A letter titled A Rejection of Religion Is the Only True Path is a personal account of an Orthodox cleric turned atheist. The author, Aleksandr Osipov, tells his own story of how he first became excited to study religion and be a part of it, but was easily disenchanted by hypocrisy within the Church and a disbelief of the efficacy of rituals. One of Osipov’s main objections to the Orthodox faith is the lack of adherence of clerics around him to the tenants of the faith. He despised what he saw as narrow-minded, backward, and hypocritical clerics and beliefs. He also viewed the Old Testament as a nonsensical collection of myths that hearkened back to a barbaric time and had nothing to do with a loving God the Christians were talking about. When Osipov continued to encounter stubborn clerics against even science, he firmly resolved to be an atheist and leave his career in the Church. His letter was published in a newspaper, and provides a passionate, sensationalized account of his relations with the Church. He focuses solely on negative experiences and offers no sound philosophical arguments against Christianity. His argument rests on the weakness of men who could not hold themselves up to the high standards of Christianity. Much of the communist propaganda seized on the opportunity to attack Orthodox hypocrisy because people responded to it.

Aleksandr Osipov, Letter to the Editor: A Rejection of Religion Is the Only True Path. December 6, 1959. Current Digest of the Soviet Press. Vol. XI, No. 4 (1959), pp. 12-14.

“Fight Against Superstition”. James von Geldern. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1961-2/fight-against-superstition/

Cover of Krokodil, No. 7, 1968. “Fighting Pencil” Group: Red Tape from Red Square, 1998. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1961-2/fight-against-superstition/fight-against-superstition-images/#bwg155/833

Pro-life Propaganda for Pro-choice Proletariat

The legalization of abortion in the 1920’s led to 55 out of every 100 pregnancies to be terminated. During Stalin’s tenure, abortion was banned in an attempt to encourage an increase in the workforce. In 1955, the Soviet policy toward abortion became very complex. Government officials and doctors grew concerned about the negative effects of illegal abortion practices, which were often done in less than desirable settings. This led to the Decree on the Repeal of the Ban on Abortions in November of 1955. The state legalized abortions so that if a woman truly desired an abortion, it could be done in a safer setting with less chance of harming her body if she wished to have children later on. The state hoped that if a woman didn’t want to have a child at a certain time, maybe she would have one later. The state was essentially pro-choice in its practice.


“Stop! Now abortion seems necessary. But remember, it might forever deprive you of the happiness of motherhood.”

The interesting part of this policy shift comes in the state’s real attitude. The Communist party launched a massive antiabortion campaign in an attempt to promote a stable, nuclear family structure of a father, mother, and children. They did so by telling of the emotional and health benefits of motherhood. The above propaganda poster tells a mother that if she stomps out the life within her, she will be unhappy. Other posters tell women that they will be lonely without husbands and children if they procure abortions. Another tactic used by the communists was convincing fathers that it was their duty to protect the life of their child and wife. A piece of propaganda called For you, Comrade Men, attacked a pro-choice sentiment widely used in the 21st century:

Sometimes a husband tries to avoid any discussion about the artificial termination of a pregnancy, giving his wife the “right” to decide this herself. This behavior can never be justified. Who, if not the husband, the father of the future child, should protect the health and life of a wife, the happiness of the family?

This aligns with a strong pro-life argument that the decision of the unborn child’s life rests in the father’s hands just as much, if not more, as in the mother’s hands. If the father and mother stay together to choose life, they are more likely to raise the child together. The tract also includes harsh language against abortion, calling it a “gross violation of the laws of nature”. This is a complete 180 degree turn of the attitude towards abortion during Lenin’s time. However, while it seems nice that the state wanted to prevent unprofessional and harmful abortions, it only enabled women to get abortions, whereas a harmful abortion would deter them from seeking one in the first place. If the state was truly antiabortion, they should have just continued the ban.

Russia A History. Freeze.

L. Aristov, “K vam, tovarishchi muzhchiny,” 1962. Russian State Library in Moscow, Graphics Division, Inv # 9325.

Sbornik zakonov SSSR i ukazov prezidiuma verkhovnogo soveta SSSR, 1938-1975, volume 3 (Moscow: Izvestiia sovetov deputatov trudiashchikhsia SSSR, 1975), 306. Supreme Soviet of the USSR, 1955, No. 22, Article 425

Repealing the Ban on AbortionAmy E. Randall (Santa Clara University)

The Stone That the Builders Rejected

When looking back at the atrocities committed during the 20th century, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn attributed them to the observation that men have forgotten God. He saw the rampant atheism in the world as a direct cause of the mass genocides that occurred in the world. No one can forget the millions who died under Stalin’s regime. The roots of this act lie in the Bolshevik’s coming to power. While they were consolidating their power, the Bolsheviks released much propaganda against religion. Marx taught that religion was the opioid of the masses, a mere tool that was used to control people and had no real meaning. The Bolsheviks ate this lesson up like they did Marx’s other lessons. They released stories of ‘learned’ Marxists defeating ‘dumb’ Christian preachers. One such story, entitled Religious Foolishness, tells the story of a town hero who argues and defeats a Baptist preacher. The town hero points out that many rich men who claim to be loving Christians build big mansions and repress the poor, which everyone thinks discredits Christianity. Personally, I can’t stand this approach. It’s a classic ad hominem fallacy and gets the conversation nowhere, because I could just as easily remark that Stalin, an atheist, wasn’t such a nice guy either, which should discredit atheism by this measure. Christianity does not teach that one can live in a nice, comfortable mansion and oppress the poor. The people the town hero is referring to are not authentic Christians. A real Christian gives all he or she has to others, especially the poor. A real Christian does everything out of love of others, not love of self. Atheism, on the other hand, does not teach us this. In fact, it teaches us nothing. A famous branch of atheism is utilitarianism, which teaches that one should act accordingly to bring about one’s own pleasure, which would permit living in a nice mansion and oppressing others if that brings one pleasure. Christianity teaches one to love without ceasing, while atheism is a license to commit right or wrong. The great author Fyodor Dostoyevsky said that without God, anything is permissible. Russia in the twentieth century shows just how dark this philosophy can go.

Religious Foolishness


Bolshevik Seeds

In the late 19th century, Marxist thought had been imported and heavily disseminated in Russia. People from all social classes were fed up with the czar’s autocratic rule and sought greater freedom. The normative ideas of Karl Marx and his theoretical ‘history’ of socialist states attracted many minds. The Russian Social Democratic Worker’s Party was an underground, revolutionary party that sought political and social change in Russia. It wanted to end the capitalist empire and give power to the proletariat. However, its members were divided into two main camps. In what would be later known as the Menshevik party, members wanted to appeal to people of all classes and slowly transition the government into a democratic polity before making it a socialist state. The Bolsheviks, on the other hand, were more aggressive. They believed that revolutionaries should be militant and fully dedicated to the cause to completely transition the empire into a socialist state. The seemingly small discrepancy was brutally divisive between the two factions. It almost seems trivial to completely break apart over a trivial matter of a game of ‘what if’. After all, the best way to learn to swim is to jump in the water, not sit by the fire with your pipe.

Freeze. Russia A History.


Old Church, New Century


Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. General View of the [Nikolaevskii] Cathedral from Southwest, 1911. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-04438 (53)

In the small town of Mozhaisk, west of Moscow, the Cathedral of St. Nicholas towers over the landscape atop a hill. The ornately decorated church shows the devotion to Christianity the Russians had. The devotion to St. Nicholas goes back to the Middle Ages. As the Mongols approached the town, the residents flocked to the cathedral and an apparition of St. Nicholas turned the invaders away. (http://rbth.com/arts/2015/09/04/mozhaisk_city_under_seige_but_protected_by_st_nicholas_49009.html).

Russia at the turn of the twentieth century was an empire deeply embedded with the Christian religion. However, the influx of European culture brought with it the skepticism and atheism of the “Enlightenment”. This cathedral was a powerful testament of the old faith, but didn’t stand a chance against the strong wind of atheism.

-Alex Hamilton