Down with Easter: Up with Industry

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This post earned a “Comrade’s Corner” and “Student Choice” award from the editorial team.

In the late 1920s, the newly formed Soviet Union had trouble establishing its own identity. The majority party was creating fractures within itself because of its unfounded attitudes towards its previous foes and allies. This split in the party created a divide between the old and the new soviets, the wary and radical. Their ideas differ on economic policy that resulted in the bloody conflict of collectivization and on the role of religion in society with Karl Marx saying “religion is the opiate of the masses” (A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Paragraph 4), but having traditional rural Russians on their side.

https://www.imdb.com/videoplayer/vi1383970841?ref_=ttvi_vi_imdb_1
A clip from “The Death Of Stalin” (2017)

In the years 1918 and 1929, the soviet state established harsher restrictions on the church and other religious gatherings, clamping down on local autonomy for many rural areas. It was clear that the state was going to have very little dissent with the heartland of Russia. The state then pressured the local soviets to close down their community church or place of religious gathering (i.e. synagogues, mosques) to increase productivity with the new economic policy of nepreryvnaia nedelia. Nepreryvnaia nedelia (abbreviated to nepreryvka) was the establishment of the uninterrupted work week, with keeping factories open and machines running throughout the year, even on days of worship and religious holidays with churches being the biggest opponent to the new policy. The nepreryvka policy also created scheduled system for cultural events and meetings, enable for the factory to always be occupied. The church property was also confiscated and churches were either demolished or converted in other facilities like warehouses.

“On Easter Day, Nobody Skips Work” (1929) – From the Hoover Political Poster Database (2009) http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1929-2/churches-closed/churches-closed-images/#bwg63/462

There is reports of protesters on both sides of this argument. There have been riots of anti-religion protesters that have climbed the walls of church to tear it down and knock out the church’s bell. There have also been local resistance to the closing of their community churches. Like in the village of Olshanitsa, the village soviet had a meeting to close the local church within a two week period. The Head of the District Administration Department came down to the village collect the keys of the property from the churchwarden. The drunken churchwarden refused and was accompanied by a group of hysterical women in protest. Two of which, climbed the bell tower and rang the alarm. At the sound of the alarm, up to 300 – 350 women ran from the fields with sickles and drove away the representatives that had come to close the church.

The destruction of church bells for industrial reuse (1929)
http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1929-2/churches-closed/churches-closed-images/#bwg63/465

Citations in order of use:

  • Focal Point – http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1929-2/churches-closed/
  • https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christ_saviour_explosion.jpg (Title picture)
  • *(Primary Source) https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm
  • https://www.imdb.com/videoplayer/vi1383970841?ref_=ttvi_vi_imdb_1 (Video clip)
  • *(Primary Source) http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1929-2/churches-closed/churches-closed-texts/law-on-religious-organizations/
  • http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1929-2/churches-closed/churches-closed-images/#bwg63/462 ( 2nd Image)
  • *(Primary Source) http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1929-2/churches-closed/churches-closed-texts/protest-of-church-closing/
  • http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1929-2/churches-closed/churches-closed-images/#bwg63/465 (3rd Image)

9 Replies to “Down with Easter: Up with Industry”

  1. Peter – this is a great post about religion in the Soviet Union. That clip from “The Death of Stalin” is priceless – I love that movie! I really like that you showed both sides of the religious debate in the Soviet Union; it’s sometimes easy to assume that because the state didn’t condone religion, the people just went along with that and didn’t practice it, when in reality it’s never that black and white. You did a great job of utilizing the primary sources from Seventeen Moments!

  2. Agree with Emma — You use an impressive array of sources to frame the narrative, and that clip from “The Death of Stalin” has almost convinced me to actually watch the movie. But what I like most about your post is the way it suggests that things were “complicated” where the campaign against religion was concerned. I’m guessing that most people really had a hard time wrapping their heads around the “nepreryvka.” Never mind, no “Sunday” – what about “No Friday Night!?!??!” And peasants, who are also under assault by collectivization in this period, did not take kindly (or quietly) to having their churches expropriated and destroyed.
    Your post pairs really nicely with Gina’s (about the “end” of the Patriarchate – that is restored during WWII — putting the priests in place for that scene from “The Death of Stalin”: https://larastwentiethcenturyrussiaclass.home.blog/2019/03/22/you-do-not-lament-the-loss-of-the-hair-of-one-who-has-been-beheaded/comment-page-1/#comment-32
    Thanks for this post — I really enjoyed reading it!

  3. Peter, I really like how you included the new economic policy of nepreryvnaia nedelia to help shed some light onto the shifting view of religion at that time. Also I thought your example of the 300-350 women running with sickles to drive away the people who wanted to close the church, that’s so bizarre but so fascinating!

    1. Right??!?!? I was thinking about that when we talked about peasant women resisting collectivization today in class. The phenomenon was called “baby bunty” (https://books.google.com/books?id=vMkWZ5wk77UC&pg=PA11&lpg=PA11&dq=%22baby+bunty%22+soviet&source=bl&ots=-V7Y-FEUk9&sig=ACfU3U0n-RA-udNIYIVzOsXDDEwfRn_6pA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiv76Hj76DhAhUHJt8KHezBAj0Q6AEwAXoECAgQAQ#v=onepage&q=%22baby%20bunty%22%20soviet&f=false)
      First word pronounced “bahby”, second word with a long “u”

  4. I used the same picture of Christ the Savior Church in my post! I think you make some really interesting points about the place (or rather lack of place) for religion in the newly formed Soviet Union. It’s interesting to think that modern Russia has actually rebuilt some of the churches that the Soviet government demolished.

  5. Nice Job Peter. Bolshevik policies concerning the role of the Orthodox Church were probably one of the more difficult issues to address due to the sheer number of people who were tightly attached to the institution, and your analyzes this process well

  6. I really enjoyed your video clip. It brought the reader into context with a bit of humor. You make an excellent point concerning the Bolshevik’s consideration of the Orthodox Church. The reference to rebellious groups resisting the destruction of churches and the rebuilding of some of those churches in modern day really express how the Russian people were not willing to let go of their religious heritage. Overall great post. I enjoyed your use of multiple media sources!

  7. Peter!
    I really enjoyed your blog post this time around I think you did an amazing the Russian shift in religion. In class we have discussed the various shifts that have occurred in this time period and you d a great job of highlighting this one. Not only that but the role politics played in this but the orthodox church as well. Also bonus points for the video included and awesome web design. I truly enjoyed this.

  8. Hello Peter,

    This blog post was incredibly insightful, and it covered the topic very well. The social shifts in Russia were absolutely life-changing, and it can be difficult to imagine banning it nationally. The idea of a never-ending week (with no true “weekend”) truly sounds miserable. One of my jobs over the summer required me to work every day except Saturdays and Tuesdays. Having that weird schedule compared to everyone else was frustrating, and I cannot imagine the confusion on a national level! Coordinating with family members must have caused significant stress, I would assume.

    Additionally, your short anecdotes regarding the closing of churches are so interesting. I think it can be hard to recognize the intricate ways that the topics we discuss in colleges today were the day-to-day life of people nearly 100 years ago.

    Thank you for sharing.

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