Treatment of the different religious minorities in the early USSR. Part II.


In those days there lived around 20 million Muhammedan believers in the Russian Empire on the Eve of the Revolution. Disregarding the different denominations in Islam, we can state Islam predominates in some form in the Caucasus and in the lands of the Kyrgyz, the Turkmen and several other tribes. Next to the Quran, from which Sharia law is derived which is common Code of Law in these parts of the world, these tribes often practice another book called the Adat.
Adat is the generic term derived from Arabic language for describing a variety of local customary practices and tradition as observed by Muslim communities in the North Caucasus, Central- and Southeast Asia, and which bundles a variety of local customary practices and tradition. (The wearing of a burqa, a full body cloak worn by some Muslim women, is a controversial practice which stems from the Adat, and not from the Quran as sometimes assumed.)
The Adat eventually came to displace Sharia law, and as such common superstitions and religious practices seeped in the community, such as spiritualism and necromancy. Typical for most of these tribes is that they already possessed a high degree of independence and a well-defined identity, and those characteristics helped the tribe maintain themselves against the Islamic intruder, the New Faith most of them came to voluntarily accept.


“Allah” carrying English capitalist symbols (top hat and umbrella)

During the 1920s, it would have been distinctly unhealthy for anyone to profess oneself “godless” within the limits of any Mohammedan village. It would have been equally unhealthy to act against Islam in general, whose faithful followers were ever-ready to offer such a wandering soul peace of mind, using a silent but convincing argument (a knife between the ribs).

At first the “League of Godless” propagandists tried to modernize the practices and costumes of the faithful, assuming that by doing this the logical conclusion would be that the Muslims would eventually come to reject their faith completely and become apostates. In short, the plan was to “bedazzle these simple primitives with Modern Technology and Civilisation”.

Once the Godless propagandists tried different methods. In a Tatar village an early delegation of the “League” consisting of 13 militants, gathered all the females together and, in public, proceeded to threaten them with the words:

You will from now on all take off your veils, and never cover your heads again!

Needless to say this caused uproar. Such a direct approach was only attempted once, as no member of that delegation (save the driver) was left alive.

The lorry, by which they had come to the Tatar village, now carried away with it 13 dead bodies. The Party subsequently decided to never again handle such techniques, called a “political deviation to the left“.

Self-styled communist Muslims adhered very strongly to Islam. On several occassions Muslims succeeded in blocking the requirement of their Mullahs to donate their Wakoufs (endowments in land shares the Mullah receives from the faithful) to the government. In Turkestan the faithful community even forced the communist government to give back secularized lands to the clerics.


Attempts have been made to affect the historical foundations of Islam, by claiming that Mohammed never really existed, and that his doctrine was developed by Mecca‘s mercantile elite. The Quran was presented as a mainstay of civil society, social inequality and private property rights. Pan-Islamism is a bourgeois-movement, drawn up by the aristocracy, the landowners and the clerics of Islam. The God of the Quran is a spiteful creature, and the fatalism arising from it bothers the workers, it retards the amelioration of their general condition and impedes the revolution.


The Mullahs were formally accused of counter-revolutionary practices. In Tashkent back in 1886, the Kazi-Kalian (chief  Muslim judge) Mukhitdin praised the tsar as the Lord-Protector of all native peoples.

In addition, there emerged an Islamic Party, under the leadership of a Sultan-Galiev, who dreamed aloud of establishing his own Turanic Empire. This political party was officially disbanded in 1929, the grounds were suspicion of secret support by Great Britain.

чистота-залог здоровья.

чистота-залог здоровья.

The bolsheviks did found support for their struggle against the maltreatment of women with many ethnic groups, in particular Dagestan, where in pre-revolutionary days women were still bought and sold on slave-markets. In Dagestan now women were allowed to visit mosques, schools and Soviet-meetings.

There is no clergy in Islam in Western sense since based on the belief that no intermediary between the believer and Allah. But in the course history to comment on Islamic matters and to lead the believers in collective prayers religious leadership emerged.

As in every Muslim society in the Soviet Union the ulama was considered into two categories: the official ulama and the unofficial ulama. In this article we dealt with the first one.

The ulama of the region has been playing very considerable role in the social, political, economic and cultural life for a long time. At the very beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution the Tatar Muslim nationalist communist Sultan-Galiev (1880-1939?), seeing an obstacle to antireligious propaganda pointed out the power and role of the ulama among the Russian Muslims stating that:

… the situation of the Muslim clergy among Russia is that whereas among Russians we find on parish for every 10.000 to 12.000 inhabitants, among Muslims there is one mosque for every 700 to 1.000 souls and each mosque is served by at least three members of the clergy: the mullah, his assistant, and the muezzin.

The strength of the Muslim clergy can also be explained by reason of its social and political position among the Muslim population. The mullah is at the same time priest (in charge of religious rites), teacher (each mullah has a religious school connected to his mosque: mektep or medreseh), administrator (in charge of regulating estates, registering civil acts of stage), judge (competent in affairs of marriage, divorce, and succession), and at times even a doctor of medicine.

Furthermore, the Muslim clergy are elected and this places them in more favourable and solid position than, for example, the Russian clergy.

The Russian priest, appointed by the superior authority, certainly has a lesser authority over his flock than does the Tatar or the Uzbek ulama in his mahalla. The latter consider themselves just the same to be “servants of the people” and lend an attentive ear to their wishes. They are more democratic and closer to the people, and exercise a greater influence on them than does the village priest over Russian muzhik.

In 1924 the Mullahs of the Republic of Tajikistan met to make a peace offering to the Soviet regime. On the 2nd November 1926 a message was sent from Ufa, the capital city of the Republic of Bashkortostan, which stated that the “Pan-Russian Conference of Muslim Clerics” sent Stalin a greeting telegram, in which they expressed the absolute certainty of their submission and gratitude towards the Soviet leadership. This probably was the reason that they were treated better than the traditional, Orthodox religion.


further reading:

“Adat and Islam in West Sumatra” ( Anthropology News, Vol. 43, No. 9, Dec. 2002, page 7)

“The Idea of Muslim National Communism: On Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev” (Viewpoint Magazine article)


The Tataro-Bashkir Feud Revisited: Zaki Validi and the Bashkir Autonomy in Western Historiography. By Christian Noack, Amsterdam 2013 [PDF].

The ‘Tataro-Bashkir feud , or more precisely the split between Tatars and Bashkirs over the question of territorial vs. cultural autonomy after the first Pan-Russian Muslim Congress in May 1917 and the role that the Bashkir leader Akhmed Zaki Validi played in it, has produced an important body of historical research in the West.

Commissar and Mullah: Soviet-Muslim Policy from 1917 to 1924 by Glenn L. Roberts ( Fl, USA 1990, 2006) [PDF] -200 p.

The Official Interpretation of Islam under the Soviet Regime: A Base for Understanding of Contemporary Central Asian Islam. By Seyfettin Erşahin. Journal for Religious Culture/Journal für Religionskultur vol 77 (2005):

Islam, the Muslim traditions and the ulama in Central Asian societies are becoming increasingly important for assessing the situation in and around the region. To understand of the post Soviet Muslim republics it is necessary to know the Islamic heritage of the Soviet Union, i.e. the Islamic understanding and interpretation of Soviet official ulama which still influence the mind of the people and the contemporary Central Asian ulama. The official ulama were endeavouring to reconcile Islam with science and progress and to guarantee its survival in a modern environment, they served by an extremely energetic effort to preserve Islam at least in purity and integrity as religion and national sentiment and to prevent it from relapsing into deprivation and ignorance. The most important official Muslim religious figure, the Mufti of Tashkent Ziyauddin Babakhan interpreted Islam as a bulwark of progress, disseminator of knowledge, the religion of peace and friendship; portrayed the Prophet Muhammad as a “democrat, reformer and revolutionary, even a socialist”; reconciliation with socialism and communism.

Islam in Soviet Central Asia: Renaissance or Revolution? by James Critchlow [PDF]

The Bolsheviks and Islam by Dave Crouch (International Socialism, vol 110, april 2006)

The Impact of Russo-Soviet Culture in Central Asia by Mark Dickens, 1989 [PDF]

Marxism or Pan‐Islamism: Russian Bolsheviks and Tatar national communists at the beginning of the civil war, July 1918. by Alexandre Bennigsen. Central Asian Survey, vol 6 (1987) no 2 pp 55-66 [PDF]

Education and Change in Religious Practices in Uzbekistan by Sabina Mushtaq. Research Journal of Educational Sciences Vol. 3(3), 1-5, April (2015). [PDF]

Fundamentalist Challenges to Local Islamic Traditions in Soviet and Post‐Soviet Central Asia by Ashirbek Muminov [PDF]

Soft Power, Hard Power, and Counterinsurgency: The Early Soviet Experience in Central Asia and Its Implications. by Olga Oliker (RAND National Defense WR-547 feb 2008) [PDF]

Islamic Reformism on the Periphery of the Muslim World: Rezaeddin Fakreddin (1859-1936) by Sofia Mazgarova (Master Thesis 2010) [PDF]


Lamaism/Buddhism and shamanism

In the north-eastern part of European Russia, in the south, in North-Siberia and the Far East there are tribes practicing Lamaism/Buddhism and shamanism

It is said that Lamaism, which is closely related to Buddhism, attaches great importance to believing in spirits, and views life on Earth as suffering, similar to the dualist ideas of some gnostic Christians and Paulicians. The communists claimed that the religion requires from its adherents:

that they suppress all desire and lust, in order to reach the Nirvana and to merge with the Buddha, or the legendary tsar’s son [sic], and that as such the exploiting character of this religion became clearly proven.

“The Lamaists walk hundreds of versts to a so-called holy Kalmyk or Buryat, of course never empty-handed, often packed with rich gifts, which made these holy men very wealthy. The accumulated stock of such a holy man consisted of 33500 sheep, 4700 horses and 800 heads of horned cattle. Another holy man owns 3000 camels, 7555 sheep and 270 heads of horned cattle.
source: dlya rabotshich antirelig. krushkov (Manual for Workers of Antireligious Circles), Leningrad, p 375

The fierce struggle of the bolsheviks against these religions has both an economic an a political side. The Sovietrégime ruthlessly attacked certain primitive habits that were commonly practised by these tribes: bride kidnapping, bride-purchasing, polygamy and sati.

(note that there is also hinduism practiced in the former USSR)

Sati: Ceremony of Burning a Hindu Widow with the Body of her Late Husband

Sati: Ceremony of Burning a Hindu Widow with the Body of her Late Husband

The early USSR had good results with eradicating these practices from the Dark Ages on a large scale. Towards the women, who had always been abused as a slave and a beast of burden in the household, Soviet power paved the road to emancipation and political life.

This was before unseen with these primitive tribes.
The results were astonishing: women and girls eagerly presented themselves to the Communist Universities in Irkutsk, Tomsk and many other cities, and the success was so astounding that a lot of candidates had to be turned down because there were simply too much.
The economic side was focussed on collectivisation. This was naturally part of the master plan to mine the natural treasures of Siberia and Yakutia. A reformist wave was born amongst Lamaists.


Khambo Agvan-Lovsan Dorzhiev

Between 20 and 25 january 1927 in Moscow the “Pan-Russian-Buddhist Conference of Representatives of Lamaist Reformist Monks” took place. Earlier in Astrakhan a meeting of Kalmykian monks had taken place where the Buryat Khambo-lama Agvan Dorzhiev (the deputy of the Tibetan Dalai Lama) declared to fully subscribe to the communist doctrine. Buddhism meant according to him enlightenment from darkness and ignorance, and leads towards the highest form of intellectual development, and partly to the development of intellectual culture.

According to him, the West had preached individualism, but instead introduced capitalism, imperialism and extortion. Marx and Lenin therein against had achieved justice and fraternity.

Buryat lama Agvan Dorzhiev argued in his Autobiography that Buddhism was fully compatible with “this newly established system of communism,” stressing that both were based on compassion, insisting on helping the poor and establishing basic justice. He also vehemently condemned corruption in both systems, explaining it by the fact that monks have abandoned the teaching of the Buddha, just as Bolsheviks corrupted the “good” Lenin’s teaching.

Dorzhiev, Agvan. 1994 [1921]. “Predanie o krugosvetnom puteshestvii” ili povestvovanie o zhizni Agvana Dorzhieva. Ulan Ude: Olzon, pp. 31-35.

Russian diplomat and Orientalist Prince Esper Esperovich Ukhtomskij argued that Buryats were strategically crucial to Russian foreign policy in Asia:

Trans-Baikalia is the key to the heart of Asia, the vanguard of Russian civilization on the frontier of the “Yellow Orient.”

Due to Ukhtomskij’s efforts, two ethnic Buryats became especially influential in St. Petersburg: Avgan Dorzhiev and Piotr Aleksandrovich Badmaev, a doctor of Tibetan medicine who had access to the Romanov court. Agvan Dorzhiev, the aforementioned Buryat lama who became prominent as the advisor and teacher of the 13th Dalai Lama and an intermediary between the Russian court and Tibet.

doctor Piotr Aleksandrovich Badmaev

doctor Piotr Aleksandrovich Badmaev

Князь Эспер Эсперович У́хтомский (prince Ester Esterovich Uchtomskij)

Князь Эспер Эсперович У́хтомский (prince Ester Esterovich Uchtomskij)

Badmaev, a fashionable “Eastern” doctor at the time when occult beliefs were very much in vogue with the Russian aristocracy, had become influential in the tsar’s thinking on Eastern policy, convincing Nicolas II in the possibility to detach Mongolia and Tibet from China.

His plans included building an extension to the Trans-Siberian Railway to connect Buryat regions around Lake Baikal to the Chinese city of Lanzhou across the Gobi desert, where thousands of Buryat fifth columnists would descend to agitate their fellow Buddhists for the creation of the pan-Buddhist confederacy under the “White Tsar.”

see Badmaev, P.A. 1925. Za kulisami tsarizma: arkhiv Tibetskogo vracha Badmaeva. Leningrad: Gos. izd-vo. “Peter the Great opened a window on Europe, and Petersburg became the symbol of Russian might. … [Now you] have opened a window on the Chinese East.”

From the memorandum to Nicolas II written by Badmaev in 1900 quoted in D. Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, Towards the Rising Sun, p 200.

Although Badmaev’s eccentric projects have soon failed and were eventually revealed as a fraud by serious politicians, he was crucial for the development of Russian Buddhology in that he sponsored two Buryat students, Gombozhab Tsybikov and Banzar Baradjin, to come to St. Petersburg to study under Russia’s three internationally renowned Buddhologists: A. M. Pozdneev, S. F. Ol’denburg and F. I. Shcherbatskoy. Both Buryat scholars undertook several successful years-long field expeditions to Tibet disguised as Buddhist pilgrims, bringing back extensive fieldnotes, maps, and some of the first photographs of Tibet.


Gombozhab Tsybikov is sometimes called “Buryat Lomonosov,” for he came from a poor nomadic Buryat family, whose father decided to educate his younger son.

He graduated from the Khita gimnazija and later went on to study medicine at Tomsk University. Badmaev, who happened to pass by Tomsk, met Tsybikov there and convinced him to quit medicine and come to St Petersburg to major in Oriental studies and diplomacy, promising him financial help and essentially recruiting him for his future schemes.

When Tsybikov refused to convert to Christianity, however, Badmaev discontinued his stipend, and Tsybikov continued his education with the support from home in Buryatia.

After he graduated from St Petersburg University’s Faculty of Oriental Languages, Tsybikov spend a year doing field research on land management in Transbaikalia, after which his supervisor Pozdneev recommended him to the Russian Geographical Society, which sponsored his expedition to Tibet.

The situation today [2010]:

While there exist a small number of so-called “Westernizers” in Buryatia — many being the product of the Soviet education and general trend towards Russification — during the post-Soviet period, most Buryats favor their own version of “Asianism,” promoting their Asian heritage as a source of pride. [analogous to so-called “Slavophilia” movement]

Here we can trace the distinctions between the more extreme “Asianist” view (expressed by views such as the former Khambo lama Aleksandr Nimbuevich Budaev’s, which claim the derivative nature of Buryat Buddhism) while Khambo lama Damba Badmayevich Ayusheev’s point of view could be considered a moderate version of “Asian Eurasianism” or “Eurasianism from the Asian point of view” in the sense that in separating Buryats from their Tibetan and Mongolian heritage, he inevitably links them to Russia.

In fact, orientation to Russia (“West”) vs. Mongolia/Tibet (“East) was the defining factor in the reformist/conservative split in Buryat Buddhism after the Revolution of 1917.

The reformist movement or “progressives” led by Buryat intellectuals, such as Tsybikov and Baradjin, advocated separation of church and state, opening secular schools at monasteries, stressing the importance of harmonizing European science with traditional Mongol ways whilst the  conservative platform was mostly based on opposition to these reforms.

What united them was that both were pan-Mongolian nationalists: despite the reformists’ seeming orientation to the “West,” they were working for the greater Mongolian state, seeing Buryats as a cultural avant-garde among the Mongols, with a special mission to combine the best in European/Russian and Mongolian culture.

A version of pan-Mongolism was Pan-Buddhism in which Tibet was to be included in the Mongolian areas to be brought under unified control with the aforementioned Khambo Agvan-Lobsan Dorzhiev as its principal advocate.

All three of them — Tsybikov, Baradjin, and Dorzhiev — tried to collaborate with the Soviet government, but eventually all were blamed for advocating “bourgeois nationalism.” Tsybikov managed to die a natural death in 1930, while Baradjin was shot in 1937, and Dorzhiev died in a prison hospital in 1937 after being convicted for treason and counter-revolutionary activity.

source: Sunthar  V., “Chindia, Russia, Europe: the peaceful rise of Eurasia

There is a documentary produced by RT on the Kalmyk Republic and their variant of Buddhism called Russian Tibet. The description: Kalmykia is a steppe region in the south of European Russia and the only European Buddhist republic. An international Buddhist festival is going to take place in a temple in the Kalmykia’s capital, Elista. Monks are preparing a sand mandala. It is a palace that may serve a temporary abode for an enlightened deity. Colored marble sand is applied to the canvas through a cone-shaped tube.

Further reading:

“The White Tsar”: Romantic Imperialism in Russia’s legitimizing of Conquering the Far East
Marlène Laruelle
ACTA SLAVICA IAPONICA, TOMUS 25, pp 113-134 (2008) [PDF]



The tsarist regime wasn’t exactly philosemitic, to put it lightly. The public opinion wasn’t very positive towards the Jews either, the Russian pogroms leave no shadow of a doubt. “You are poor because the Jews took everything from you” was a sentence that was often heard.

This antisemitism also had a religious aspect, as the Jews were accused of having crucified Christ.

The pressure on the Jews grew along side with the danger of an emerging revolution.
The October-revolution gave the Jews freedom and equality. The highest ranks in the new government were taken by Jews: Leon Trotsky, Adolf Ioffe, Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Karl Radek, etc… The Soviet leadership has favoured the Jews, but amongst the proletarian masses, although it may have softened somewhat in its intensity, antisemitism remained as alive as always in Russia.

Just because of the fact that there were so many Jews amongst the bolshevist leadership, during the Civil War, this gave the Whites, who wanted the tsar back, an idea for a new battle cry: “For the defense of Christians!

ЧК – чрезвыча́йная коми́ссия

ЧК – чрезвыча́йная коми́ссия

All lynching-parties, all horrors and cruelties from the civil war, especially those by the hands of the Cheka (predecessor of NKVD/KGB/FSB), were claimed to be the work of the Jews.

In spite of official resistance, antisemitism became common in broad communist party circles, so that in 1924 the Jews were removed from the main Soviet offices. Trotsky was banished from the USSR. In 1928-1929 the worst pogroms took place, and again the cry was heard: “the Jews are the cause of our fall!“.

The accusations against the Jews are mostly the following:

1. They avoid physical labour and prefer trade.
2. On prooflists of workers there are no Jewish names to be found.
3. The seditious wealth of Jewish N.E.P.-men.
4. The large number of Jews in institutes for higher education.
5. They try to evade military service.
6. The strong influx of Jews in Moscow.

source: Sandomirski, Puti antisemitisma v Rossij (The Ways of Antisemitism in Russia), Moscow 1928, p 34

(note the one-eyed Jehova)


The official Soviet-interpretation of antisemitism states:

“The pan-Slavism of the Orthodox Christians, the Zionism of the Jews, and the antisemitism of the Muslims: they all lead, despite the outward and verbal differences, to the flare of flames of national animosity and chauvinism, and all these have a destructive effect on the Revolutionary Movement.”

source: dlya rabotshich antirelig. krushkov (Manual for Workers of Antireligious Circles), Leningrad 1931, p 383

The Soviet-régime is hostile towards Zionism because it considers it a bourgeois-political movement with religious foundations, that does not accept class war.

The government tries to retain Jewish workers who want to move to Palestine, with claims that the situation in Palestine is terrible, partly due to British imperialism and the Jewish fanaticism of the rabbis who will exploit and suppress the Jewish worker.
Furthermore it is claimed that the rabbis exploit and dumb down the people and that they are the same like all other religious ministers: they are friends with the rich and exploit the poor.
The magazine De Apikoires (Yiddish for “The Unbeliever”) 1931, volume IX, p 59 report a huge success for the “Godless” in the city of Kremenchug near the Dniepr (Ukraine), where half of the city’s population was Jewish (about 40000), and over the city were spread 37 synagogues.

A large part of the Jewish factoryworkers voted in favor of closing the main synagogue.

The Young Pioneers had been mobilized to track down secret Jewish schools (Cheder) and trace and expose the children that attend them.

an early 20th century Cheder in Samarqand (Uzbekistan)

an early 20th century Cheder in Samarqand (Uzbekistan)

The Mikves (Jewish bathrooms with separate compartments for women on their monthly period) were contested under the guise of public healthcare, as both the sick and the healthy use the same water, which pose a possible source of pathogenic contamination.

Rabbi: “Purify your heart!” Bourgeois: “…so I can better purify your pockets at the same time.”


sources: Besboshnik u Stanka 1925, VIII, p6 ; Berg, “Wat zegt Rusland?” p 136


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Propaganda material distributed by the “League of Godless”

Propaganda material distributed by the “League of Godless”

Religion was equaled with backwardness and illiteracy.


This material first emphasized their so-called Anti-Religious Evenings where they provided lectures and performances.

The walls were decorated with posters depicting slogans as “Religion is a Fraud” and “I don’t go to Church on Easter”. The general opinion was that “religion severely retards the foundation of a socialist society”. The lectures were interspersed with games, ballet and dancing.
On the evening before Easter the artistic part was well rehearsed, so as to attract as big an audience as possible and to entertain and keep said audience, because the traditional Easter festivities took place at exactly the same time, and the latter time-honoured tradition still was a strong attracting force for most Russians, including some comrades.
Soon it was concluded that a lecture about the socialist project they were about to realize did not suffice as alternative, and that the people present, voluntarily and otherwise, would concoct a clever ruse so they could still be able to attend the traditional Easter celibration:

“Church Holidays”

“Easter Eve 1928”

The peculiarities of the events that happened on Easter Eve 1928 in the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow are well known.
The “Union of Food Workers and Trade Clerks” had reserved all places in the theatre for its members, the opera to be performed on Easter Eve itself was “Boris Godounov” (Mussorgsky).
Shortly before the start of the play, there is suddenly announced by the staff that instead of the promised play, another would be performed: “Prince Igor” (Borodin) which is much shorter in duration.

The actors all visibly rushed through the play, and it was not even 22.30h when the curtains dropped.

At midnight all the actors and a large part of the audience were present in the church for the traditional Easter celibration, to great frustration and shame of the “League of Godless” leadership.

Anti-religious mockery campaigns
The Anti-Shrove Tuesday Parades became notorious, they were held as part of the equally distasteful Anti-Easter and Anti-Christmascampaigns. I use the word distasteful referring to the practices applied by the Youth League (Komsomol), who generously delivered actors for the Mockery Processions, where they sung obscene and blasphemous songs, while mocking religious ceremonials in public.
Masked people roamed the streets, satirical and grotesque impressions of Orthodox popes, Roman Catholic priests, Jewish rabbis, Islamic mullahs, Sjamans from Siberia, the Roman Pope, etc… and statues, large puppets, imagery, and large banners were decorated with huge bottles of vodka and obscene suggestions of an explicit nature.
The general population was furious, and numerous violent confrontations with a strongly indignant majority made sure the League quickly distanced itself from these methods.
A new, and very effective method of propaganda was devised: the anti-religious movie, the cinema!


Godless Moving Picture Film
Movie theatres were rapidly constructed and emerged like mushrooms everywhere. Because of its novelity and the fascination of the people by “moving pictures”, the projector became the new weapon of the League propagandist. Groups armed with projecting equipment, films and large tents spread all over the country. The movie theatres are loved by the general population, this provided the “Godless” militant with a means of spreading propaganda to the most distant corners of the Soviet lands.
A simple do-it-yourself procedure appeared in the Anti-Easter edition of Besboshnik u Stanka (april 1927, p 20), where it is detailed how to make projector slides yourself with black/white small format plates and Chinese ink (see the following picture).

From left to right: God the Father of the Christians, Jehova of the Jews, Allah of the Muslims next row: together with their formost practitioners

From left to right: God the Father of the Christians, Jehova of the Jews, Allah of the Muslims
next row: together with their formost practitioners

source: Besboshnik u Stanka 1927, IV, 20

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Treatment of the different religious minorities in the early USSR

Old Believers

With different religious minorities is mainly meant different from the official state-religion during the tsarist period: the Russian Orthodox Church, of which the tsar was also the patriarch since Peter the Great established the system of caesaropapism in 1700 and abolished the Patriarchate of Moscow (until the Revolution).

An important group here are the different Russian sect, the Old Believers being the most important. In the mid-17th century the Patriarch Nikon decided to reform the Russian Orthodox Church and adapt practices from the Greek Church, practices that were (erroneously, will later be proven)  considered by most scholars of those days to be closer to the original Byzantine ritus, thus closer to the Early Christians. Amongst the changes were that the Sign of the cross has to be made with three fingers (thumb, index and middle finger), instead of two (index and middle finger) which was the habit of the Russian peoples.

Later it will be clear that the Sign of the cross with two fingers actually predates the Sign using three fingers, icons have been found from the 3nd and 4rd century where two fingers are clearly used, proving the Old Believers right[1]:

Fourth century icon of Saint Paul of Efeze

Fourth century icon of Saint Paul of Ephesus

A rather large part of the population outright refused to comply with these new rules implemented by patriarch Nikon, which they deemed blasphemous, and Nikon was publicly branded a False Prophet, forbode of the Antichrist. Nikon was the son of a peasant, who managed at a young age to obtain high positions in the Church thanks to his eloquence which had come to the attention of the pious tsar Alexei I. On 1 August 1652 he was elected patriarch of Moscow. It was only with the utmost difficulty that Nikon could be persuaded to become the arch-pastor of the Russian Church, and he only yielded after imposing upon the whole assembly a solemn oath of obedience to him in everything concerning the dogmas, canons and observances of the Orthodox Church. He proceeded to invite the most learned of the Greek prelates to Moscow, who convinced him (erroneously, as will later be proven) that the Muscovite service-books were heterodox, and that the icons actually in use had very widely departed from the ancient Constantinopolitan models, being for the most part imbued with the Polish baroque influences. Thus the reforms of Patriarch Nikon in 1653 were said to establish uniformity between Greek and Russian church practices.

Nikon at once (1654) summoned a synod to re-examine the service-books revised by the Patriarch Joasaf, and the majority of the synod decided that “the Greeks should be followed rather than our own ancients.” A second council, held at Moscow in 1656, sanctioned the revision of the service-books as suggested by the first council, and anathematized the dissenting minority, which included the party of the protopopes and Paul, bishop of Kolomna. The reforms coincided with a great plague in 1654. [Wikipedia]

The indignation of the Russian christians was manifold, and led to a split of the Russian Orthodox Church, called the Raskol, into an official church and the dissidents, who came to be called “Old Believers” or “Old Ritualists” (Russian: старове́ры or старообря́дцы, starovyery or staroobryadtsy). They  found many supporters among different strata of the Russian society and were heavily, ruthlessly persecuted during the entire tsarist regime from then on, both by the Tsar, the Church and the Cossacks.[2] According to the Old Believers, Nikon acted without adequate consultation with the clergy and without gathering a council. After the implementation of these revisions, the Church anathematized and suppressed with the support of Muscovite state power the prior liturgical rite itself as well as those who were reluctant to pass to the revised rite.

Nikon’s forcible introduction of the new divine service books and rituals caused a major estrangement between the Zealots of Piety (influencial reformist ecclesiastical circle for the purification of the Russian faith) and  its former member, Nikon. Some of its members stood up for the old faith and opposed the reforms and patriarch’s actions. Avvakum Petrov and Daniel petitioned to the tsar in favour of the two-finger sign of the cross and bows during divine services and sermons. The dispute would take a turn for the worse, all so-called raskolniki were to be persecuted and Avvakum and the others were eventually  executed in 1682.

Incredibly strong-willed and powerful, Nikon set about crushing the opposition but his reign was brutally ended as he suddenly fell foul of the Tsar. It’s thought that his active interfering in politics and an ambition to make the Church independent on the state caused the Tsar’s anger. In 1666 Patriarch Nikon was formally deposed, made a simple monk and confined to a remote monastery.

Nikon’s reforms, though, were upheld by his successor. Old Believers were referred to as “raskolniki” or schismatics and endured severe persecution. Over the years many fled Russia altogether while many were sent to villages scattered across Siberia. Out of sight and often regarded with mistrust, they led a secluded life, carefully preserving the traditions of the past. [RT]

His soldiers and servants were charged first to gouge out the eyes of these heretical counterfeits and then carry them through the town in derision. He also issued an ukase threatening with the severest penalties all who dared to make or use such icons in future. Construction of tent-like churches (of which Saint Basil’s Cathedral is a prime example) was strictly forbidden, and many old uncanonical churches were demolished to make way for new ones, designed in the “Old Byzantine” style.  [Wikipedia]

Russian Church Council of 1654: Patriarch Nikon introduces new service books

Russian Church Council of 1654: Patriarch Nikon introduces new service books

The Raskol movement gained in strength after the church sobor in 1666–67, which had anathemized the defenders of the old faith as heretics and made decisions with regards to their punishment. Especially members of the low-ranking clergy, who had severed their relations with the church, became the leaders of the opposition. Propagation of the split with the church in the name of preservation of the Orthodox faith as it had existed until the reforms was the main postulate of their ideology. The most dramatic manifestations of the Raskol included the practice of the so-called ognenniye kreshcheniya (огненные крещения, or baptism by fire), or self-immolation, practiced by the most radical elements in the Old Believers’ movement, who thought that the end of the world was near.

The Old Believers would soon split into different denominations, thePopovtsy and the Bespopovtsy. Attracted to the preachings of the Raskol ideologists, many posad people, mainly peasants, craftsmen and cossacks fled to the dense forests of Northern Russia and Volga region, southern borders of Russia, Siberia, and even abroad, where they would organize their own obshchinas. This was a mass exodus of common Russian people, who had refused to follow the new ecclesiastic rituals. In 1681, the government noted an increase among the “enemies of the church”, especially in Siberia. With active support from the Russian Orthodox Church, it began to persecute the so-called raskolniki (раскольники), i.e., “schism-makers”. [Wikipedia]

Feodosia Prokopiyevna Morozova (Феодо́сия Проко́пьевна Моро́зова, 1632–1675) was one of the best-known partisans of the Old Believer movement. During the Raskol, with Archpriest Avvakum as her confessor, Feodosia joined the Old Believers’ movement and secretly took monastic vows with the name Theodora. From a boyar family, she convinced her sister, princess Evdokia Urusova, to join the Old Believers. The two sisters were incarcerated in an underground cellar of the St. Paphnutius Monastery at Borovsk, where Feodosia succumbed to starvation on December 1, 1675. Many Old Believer communities venerate her as a martyr. Painting by Vasily Surikov.



VICE has produced a documentary called Surviving in the Siberian Wilderness, as has RT, a documentary called Agafia, both which tell the story of Agafia Lykova, last remaining member of an Old Believer family that settled in the remote Sayan mountains in Siberia in 1936, fleeing Stalinist persecution, where the family was said to have lived secluded from all contact with outside civilisation (which was said to be 160 km away across the wild Siberian taiga) until 1975. Although it must be noted that VICE is not entirely correct, and that the Lykov family lived most of the time about 20 km from the village they left, where their relatives lived, also “староверы” or “Old Believers”. Naturally this village was already remote and very modest, for obvious reasons.

It was only in 1905 that the last tsar Nicolas II finally granted them officially freedom from persecution. In the early days of the Soviet-Union, the communists were quite friendly towards the Old Believers, as they admired the way they lived, which resembled the communist ideal, and their fierce resiliance towards the severe tsarist persecution which lasted more than 2 centuries. It was only later during Stalin’s Great Purges that the persecution started all over again for them, officially because they refused to renounce their religious ways in a way which could potentially endanger the communist ideal.

As late as 1971, the Moscow Patriarchate revoked the anathemas placed on the Old Believers in the 17th century, but most Old Believer communities have not returned to Communion with other Orthodox Christians. Many still live in extremely isolated communities respecting ancient traditions.

Patriarch Nikon went to hell where he made a deal with Satan and introduced the new laws. He was the ultimate Satan worshiper. He abolished the two-fingered sign of the cross handed down to us by Christ himself, changed the books and the articles of church,”

-Old Believer and hermit Agafia Lykova.


Old Believers today (photo BBC)

Old Believers today (photo BBC)

Shortly after the Octoberrevolution and the subsequent civil war ended, the “Agricultural Commission for the Colonisation of Soviet Goods” published an official statement addressed to “the Old Believers and the adherents of the sects which separated themselves from the Russian-Orthodox Church”, in which was stated:

The land that used to be state property has partly been assigned to the Soviet exploitations. These are currently not very well managed. The adherents of the sects lead a sort of communist life and have done so for centuries. Commonly they will in their efforts quote the Acts of the Apostles as their platform: “Now all the believers were one in heart and soul, and nobody called any of his possessions his own. Instead, they shared everything they owned.” (Acts 4:32)
This is why the sect were harassed, persecuted, banished, yet they remained truthful to their faith and even facing death they would trust the continuation of their struggle for a communal life to their brothers. The adherents of the sects always belonged to the poorest proletarian classes.
Now the time has come, when you are free and can profess your faith in public. The Soviet regime brought you Freedom of Conscience, and has no interest in partaking in any disputes concerning worldview.


Unfortunately the incense and accolades were only short-lasting, and it wasn’t long before this touted Brotherhood-in-Arms was completely forgotten, and a whole different tune became heard: namely that the religious opposition against the czar from the side of the Old Believers merely side-tracked the Working Class and kept them from their revolutionary struggle!

Having embraced Christianity, Solzhenitsyn began to sympathize more than ever with those who had been persecuted for their religious faith. At Ekibastuz, he rubbed shoulders with many devout men who had been imprisoned for their beliefs and began to feel a deep affinity with them. The Old Believers, the traditionalist recusants of the Orthodox Church, were no longer the strange anachronism they had seemed to Solzhenitsyn in his days as a Marxist. Now they were the “eternally persecuted, eternal exiles”, the ones who three centuries earlier had “divined the ruthlessness at the heart of Authority”. He heard with a sense of growing admiration about the struggle of these Old Believers to retain their faith and way of life in the hostile environment of Stalin’s Russia.

In The Gulag Archipelago, he recounts the story of the Yaruyevo Old Believers who had fled from the oppression of Soviet collectivization. A whole village had literally uprooted itself and disappeared deep into the remoteness of the Russian wilderness. For twenty years, these uncompromising Christians had lived a self-sufficient existence in the vast basin of the Podkamennaya Tunguska, living in secluded isolation from the prying eyes of the outside world. The end came in 1950 when the previously unknown settlement was spotted from a plane and its position reported to the authorities. When Soviet troops arrived, they found a small but thriving community that had enjoyed “twenty years of life as free human beings among the wild beasts, instead of twenty years of … misery“. They were all wearing homespun garments and homemade knee boots, and they were all “exceptionally sturdy”. The whole village was arrested on a charge of “anti-Soviet agitation” and for constituting a hostile organisation and found themselves in the same labour camps as Solzhenitsyn.

In 1946, four years before the Yaruyevo Old Believers were discovered, another group of Old Believers was arrested in a forgotten monastery somewhere in the backwoods. They were then floated on rafts down the Yenisei River bound for the camps. “Prisoners still, and still indomitable – the same under Stalin as they had been under Peter!” – they jumped from the rafts into the waters of the Yenisei, where our Tommy-gunners finished them off.

Excerpt from: Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile, by Joseph Pearce

Here is a cartoon against the Old Believers and diverse sects:

cartoon against sects


“He receives the loot.”

Pope: <<Join the struggle, the True Faith is in danger!>>

source: Besboshnik u Stanka 1926, IV, 9

Another documentary produced by RT on the life of Russian Old Believers is Children of the schism. The description: They lead a quiet life out of public view and keep distant from worldly matters. Religious books written in the Old Slavonic language are studied and food is all homemade. Married women are obliged to cover their head, while men have beards. The length of their dresses, trousers and shirt sleeves is strictly regimented – most of the body is covered. Living, eating or praying together with lay people is out of the question. They are the Old Believers.

[1] Towards the end of the 19th century, the Russian Orthodox Church realized that the forced introduction of the so-called “new rite” was carried out in a violent and uncanonical way, and that the old rite kept in Russia is actually a historic rite of the ancient Antiochian Patriarchate. At least three Fathers of that Patriarchate (namely,Meletius of Antioch, Theodoret of Cyrus and Peter of Damascus) had given homilies on the sign of the cross being made with two fingers, in the manner of the Russian Old Believers. Perhaps the fact that Michael I of Kiev, the first Metropolitan of Kiev, was possibly of Syrian origin, can explain how this tradition arrived in Russia. What cannot be understood is how the tradition was lost in Antioch itself. However, St. Nicodemus, in the Rudder also mentions that Christians made the sign of the cross with two fingers, in honor of the two natures of Christ, and that the current custom is now to use three fingers, for the Holy Trinity.  […]

In the 18th-19th centuries, church and secular historians formed a theory about the allegedly blatant illiteracy which prevalied in Russia in the 10th-16th centuries. The overwhelming majority of the population of Kiev, and then Moscow Russia was illiterate according to the opinion of such “scholars”. A small quantity of semi-literate people were occupied by written office management, and simultaneously copied spiritual literature. In this case into the liturgical books fell many errors, errors and even fabrications of these ignoramuses.

Today this pseudo-scientific opinion is completely disproven. In the course of impartial historical research in the 20th century, it was established that the very substantial part of the population of ancient Russia was literate. Archaeologists could find on the site of ancient cities and populated areas, thousands of birch bark certificates with records belonging to commoners. After the philological analysis of Old-Russian liturgical texts, the scientists drew the conclusion that their translators and compilers know the wide layers of the literature of the Christian east. The academician of RAN (Russian Academy of Sciences), V. Kirillin, conducted a tedious study of some canons of lenten and colored Triodions of the first half of the 15th century. It turned out that many texts of that time were philological more competent than contemporary ones, are more transparent for the perception and are theologically reconciled. A scientist characterizes the Old-Russian compiler of Lenten Triodion thusly: “There is an obvious and striking theological and philological culture, and a deep (Christian) understanding of unknown editor”. Sometimes the literary achievements of the ancient Russian church proved to be unprecedented throughout entire orthodox east. So in 1490, Novgorod archbishop Gennadiy’s efforts for the first time in the history of eastern Christianity created a manuscript bible.

[2] An Ukrainian/Russian friend told me this story he heard from his grand-parents, that the local Cossacks used to randomly stop peasants, whereafter they asked them to make the Sign of the cross. If a peasant made the Sign with two fingers, most often the Cossacks would proceed to kill him on the spot, in order to “protect the True Faith”.

It became a criminal offence to be a dissenter, and anyone who informed on a dissenter would acquire the property of the condemned.

Further reading:

For 40 Years, This Russian Family Was Cut Off From All Human Contact, Unaware of World War II, the story of the Lykov family (Smithsonian)

Old Believers break from Russian Orthodox Church (RT)

Orthodoxwiki: Old Believers

The Hidden Village of Alaska’s “Old Believers” (National Geographic)

Russian Old Believers in Estonia

Elena’s Place: story of an Old Believer in Erskine, Minnesota, USA (October 23, 2003)

Discovering Russian Orthodoxy: The Old Believers (Russia Beyond The Headlines, UK)

The Old Believers of Berezovka (Ph.D. Thesis D. Scheffel 1988) [PDF]

Secularizing Tendencies in Medieval Russian Hagiography of the 16th and 17th Centuries (Ph.D. Thesis Rosalind Y. McKenzie 1998) [PDF]

The Spirit of Russian Orthodoxy by Vasily V. Zenkovsky ; Russian Review Vol. 32,  No. 1, (1963)  pp 38-55 [PDF]

The Old Believers in the United States by Anton S. Beliajeff ; Russian Review, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Jan., 1977), pp. 76-80 [PDF]

The Old Believers and the New Religion by Michael Cherniavsky ; Slavic Review, Vol. 25, No. 1 (Mar., 1966), pp. 1-39 [PDF]

Does History Repeat Itself? Public Discourse of the Contemporary Russian Old Believer Elite by Ekaterina Levintova ; The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 85, No. 4 (Oct., 2007), pp. 753-779 [PDF]



With regards to the protestant faith, the Soviet Union in those days had several million Lutheran citizens, many of Finnish or Baltic descent. They were least targeted by the anti-religious propaganda, but that is best explained by the fact that they were a relatively small part of the population. The greatest reproach targeted at pastors and protestant believers was that they were accused of encouraging the people not to pay their taxes.
The foreign protestant churches, especially those from the USA, Germany and the UK were instead the favorite target point of the propagandists. In them the bolsheviks saw the embodiment of the bourgeoisie of these capitalist countries. The Archbishop of Canterbury was said to be the Lord-Protector of English colonial politics. American pastors and clergymen gave blessing to financiers and capitalists with the electric chair and the lynching of negroes nearby.
To illustrate, here is such a cartoon:

God Bless the lynching of negroes

“The Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury and the lynching of negroes in the English colonies”

source: Besboshnik u Stanka 1927, V, 6


Roman Catholic Church


When pope Pius XI of the Roman Catholic Church wrote to Cardinal Pompilj, the Vicar General of Rome, in 1930 an open letter where he condemned the persecution of religion in the USSR, the bolsheviks counterattacked ruthlessly and persisting for a long time, making the Pope the most hated man amongst the Russian communists, his image was caricaturized on an almost daily basis in thousands of several fashions. The papal call was held equal to a call “for a crusade” and “for an armed conflict”.


Everything ever used by enemies of the Roman Catholics through history, former enemies and current enemies, was brought as a charge against Rome. Hereby they lent a lot of material from their other adversaries, mostly Orthodox and the Russian sects.


The Pope was accused to be the fire-starter of all wars, to be a faithful servant of the English, French and American capitalists. The essence of the USA-Mexican War for example was according to them caused by the fact that the Pope wanted to sell catholic Mexico to the American capitalists. They referred to late 19th-early 20th century German historians Schulte and Strieder and claimed the essence of both their works was that all the Roman Popes indulged in chiefly one thing, during the whole of Church history, namely speculation with currency and land. Being stressed were the selling of Indulgences, remission of future sins, and the notorious ‘Popessa Johanna’, also know as Pope Joan :

“On the Roman throne many evil-doers took a seat, unsavory figures such as John VIII (Joan), Alexander VI (Borgia) and the like”.


Pope Joan (John VIII)  pregnant

Pope Joan (John VIII) giving birth

Pope Joan gives birth during a procession Pope Joan, legendary female pope, gives birth to a child while taking part in a procession through the streets of Rome — it is a shock to everyone, including herself. She is thought to have reigned for a time during the Middle Ages (but there is no contemporary evidence, possibly destroyed).


The Jesuits were declared the “Black Guards of his Holyness”, all sort of sexual debauchery was insinuated with the vow of celibacy. Also the so-called “monita secreta” were widely discussed, and although they admitted it was based on falsifications, their final argument was that the whole did at least show what the Jesuits were capable of doing.
Following cartoon is set during the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash:

wallstreetcrash banker

“When the World’s Imperialists see how the Pound Sterling, the Dollar and the Crown is perishing, now suddenly the priests start exercising religious practices in the bank vaults.”


source: Besboshnik u Stanka 1931, 22

               Joan Pope of Rome 856 – A Woman Pope (as History doth tell) – In High Procession once in Labour fell, And was Deliver’d of a Bastard Son ;_ Whence Rome some call The Whore Of Babylon.

Further reading:

The education of Ukrainian Greek Catholic clergy (1882-1946) by Ivan Kaszczak [PDF]

The Roman Catholic Church and Its Legal Position under the Provisional Government in Russia in 1917 by James J. Zatko ; The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 38, No. 91 (Jun., 1960), pp. 476-492 [PDF]

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The Mother of God has passed in Kazan


“The Mother of God has passed” in Kazan


In early Soviet days, religious holidays were deemed responsible for moral depravity, debauchery, fighting and familal feuds. Here we see the Icon of the Mother of God being carried through the streets of Kazan (Каза́нь, capital of Tatarstan), whilst in the wake thereof we can observe fighting peasants, drunkards, mistreated women and general troublemakers. There are bottles of vodka being held up, loose teeth can be seen on the floor…
Commonly a comparision would be made in those days between the religious holiday, and the amount (expressed in buckets) of vodka or amount of roubles wasted.


In a similar fashion the following picture can be interpreted.

Here is implied that instituting a Kolkhoz (колхо́з) or collective farm is in its essential nature an atheist factor. “Because the lesser the farmer (who is most often a former peasant) feels dependent upon the unreliable forces of nature, the quicker he will turn away from religion.”

This way the main philosophy of the godless modernizers (which is how they called themselves) of the Soviet-Russian 1920s and ’30s.


52% (of Russian farmground) is already collective!

A call to strengthen work discipline in the Uzbek kolkhoz

A call to strengthen work discipline in the Uzbek kolkhoz

sources: Besboshnik u Stanka 1926, VI ; 1931, 11/12

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Noblesse oblige

“Were all of us, the top layer of Russian society, were we so completely insensitive, so terribly estranged, that we had not noticed that the wonderful life we were leading in itself was unjust and that it was impossible to continue in that manner?”

-Nicolas Nabokov
Bagázh: Memoirs of a Russian Cosmopolitan

A group of Russian nobles (boyares) 17th century - Kremlin in the background

A group of Russian nobles (boyares) in the 17th century – note the Kremlin in the background


(translated some parts from “Verloren Adel“, the Dutch translation of “Former People. The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy” by Douglas Smith 2012, Dutch translation by Gerrit Jan Zwier 2012. I highly recommend everyone who takes an interest in Russian history to buy this unique document on the fate of Russian aristocracy at the advent of the Revolution.)

The rise and ultimate fall of the Russian aristocracy

For almost one thousand years the nobility (белая, bélaya or “white bones” in Russian – compare to “blue blood”) was the ruling class of Russia providing political, military, cultural and artistic leadership. The nobles had served the Tsar as counselors and governors, as generals and officers ; the aristocracy had  brought forth generations of writers, artists, philosophers, scholars and scientists, reformers and revolutionaries. In a society where slowly  but surely a middle-class was emerging, the nobility played a leading part in the political, social and artistic life of the country, a role which was disproportionate to its size.

The end of the Russian aristocracy marked the end of a long and proud (and rightly so) tradition that created a great part of what we consider today of being essentially Russian, whether it be the grandiose palaces in Saint-Petersburg or the estates surrounding Moscow, the poetry of Pushkin, the novels of Tolstoy or the music of Rachmaninoff.

The tale of the Russian nobility is also one that deserves to be told, since as its destiny is a prefiguration of what was in store for other groups in the near future.

The decision of the bolshevists to make the aristocracy the target of political persecution, to expropriate all her possessions, to imprison her, to execute and to mark her as “washed-up people“, betrayed a brutal, Manichaean mentality, which led whole population groups to be condemned to cruel repression and even to death.

There is also the fact that the tactics used against the nobility would also be applied against every so-called class-enemy of the regime.

Propaganda directed against "class enemies"

Propaganda directed against “class enemies”

Lenin saw them everywhere, these types of enemies, whether it were moderate socialists who refused to support his radical views or Russian peasants who were somewhat better off than their neighbours. He insisted that such enemies would be crushed and this was exactly what happened. And yet, as a result of the strange dynamics of the revolution, their defeat did not provide any guarantee for security, because as soon as the old enemies were defeated new enemies had to be found to continue the never-ending battle for the bright future of communism.

Just like Stalin would later destroy the old bolshevists during the Great Purge (Большая чистка, Bolshaya tchistka) and subject the peasant population in a cruel manner.

Partial view of a plaque with photos of victims of the Great Purge who were shot in the Butovo firing range near Moscow. The photos were taken after the arrest of each victim.


In name of the proletarians…

And so the revolution in name of the poor began, a revolution that would even make a much greater number of victims amongst the peasant population than under the rich, the original targets of the revolution.

Towards the end of the 19th century the Russian nobility consisted of about 1.9 million people, corresponding to 1.5% of the total population of the Russian Empire. The aristocracy formed a very diverse group, divided by nationality (Russians, Poles, Georgians, Baltic Germans), religion (Russian-Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran), education and wealth (well educated and rich, or neither of both), and politics (reactionary to revolutionary). There were noblemen with hereditary tites and noblemen with personal titles.

The diversity amongst the nobles in the Empire was so pronounced that historians still debate whether they truly can be assigned to  one separate social class.

If there was one thing that characterized the nobleman in those days, it was the capacity of “belonging to the chosen few, the priviliged, and not being like other people” as someone noted in 1895 in Dvorianstvo (“The Tasks of the Nobility”) [1] .

The Russian nobility however never consisted of a class of rich freeloaders. He was always much more a service-providing class who first earned his priviliges by serving the Grand Dukes of Muscovy, from where he increasingly derived his identity, and later by providing service to the Tsars of Imperial Russia, at court as well as in the military and in government.



[1] Avenir Pavlovich Korelin, “The Tasks of the Nobility” Dvorianstvo v poreformennoi Rossii (1861–1904 gg.), p. 22

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“Without God, without prayer, but using modern technique”


Thanks to the advances in agricultural technology the old saying “man proposes, but God disposes” is no longer valid. From now on mankind will determine its own destiny, so it is told.

From this statement concrete antireligious inferences are drawn.

The “godless” farmer from the Kolkhozy or collective farms, which utilise modern agricultural techniques and better fertilizers, has produced bigger potatoes than the religious, independent, poor farmer or “muzhik“, and proceeds to place a sign on the border of his field with the words: “without God, without prayer, but using modern technique“. His son is a member of the Young Pioneer Organization and sneers at God and the orthodox priest.

source: Besboshnik u Stanka 1925, VIII, p 16

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The Two Faces Of Russia (essay by Oswald Spengler)


Here is an essay on the nature and the national character of the Russian people by the (somewhat controversial) German historian, philosopher and cultural pessimist Oswald Spengler. Although it is written from an outspoken German point of view, the author makes an interesting historical and socio-cultural analysis of the nature of the Russian that is analoguous to my previous post on “The nature of Russian Marxism“.

From the introduction to “Selected Essays” by Oswald Spengler, translation and introduction by Donald O. White (Chicago, Illinois: Henry Regnery Company, 1967):

The occasion for which Spengler composed his lecture entitled “The Two Faces of Russia and Germany’s Eastern Problems” was a convention of captains of industry in the heart of the Ruhr district in early 1922. Before audiences such as this one he naturally indulged his penchant for oracular predictions; his remarks about “the coming religion of Russia” might strike us as amusing now that we have witnessed Soviet developments from Stalin to Khrushchev and beyond. But there is enough depth and insight to this speech to make one suppose that Spengler may, allowing the Russian people enough time to come to itself, carry the day after all.

Here follows the complete essay. It is available online in the public domain:

[the added emphasis on some subjects are my own. OC]


The Two Faces Of Russia And Germany’s Eastern Problems

An address delivered on February 14, 1922, at the Rhenish-Westphalian Business Convention in Essen

First published in Spengler, Politische Schriften (Munich, 1932).

In the light of the desperate situation in which Germany finds itself today — defenseless, ruled from the West by the friends of its enemies, and the victim of undiminished warfare with economic and diplomatic means — the great problems of the East, political and economic, have risen to decisive importance. If from our vantage point we wish to gain an understanding of the extremely complex real situation, it will not suffice merely to familiarize ourselves with contemporary conditions in the broad expanses to the east of us, with Russian domestic policy and the economic, geographic, and military factors that make up present-day Soviet Russia. More fundamental and imperative than this is an understanding of the world-historical fact of Russia itself, its situation and evolution over the centuries amid the great old cultures — China, India, Islam, and the West — the nature of its people, and its national soul. Political and economic life is, after all, Life itself; even in what may appear to be prosaic aspects of day-to-day affairs it is a form, expression, and part of the larger entity that is Life.

One can attempt to observe these matters with “Russian” eyes, as our communist and democratic writers and party politicians have done, i.e., from the standpoint of Western social ideologies. But that is not “Russian” at all, no matter how many citified minds in Russia may think it is. Or one can try to judge them from a Western-European viewpoint by considering the Russian people as one might consider any other “European” people. But that is just as erroneous. In reality, the true Russian is basically very foreign to us, as foreign as the Indian and the Chinese, whose souls we can likewise never fully comprehend. Justifiably, the Russians draw a distinction between “Mother Russia” and the “fatherlands” of the Western peoples. These are, in fact, two quite different and alien worlds. The Russian understands this alienation. Unless he is of mixed blood, he never overcomes a shy aversion to or a naïve admiration of the Germans, French, and English. The Tartar and the Turk are, in their ways of life, closer and more comprehensible to him. We are easily deceived by the geographic concept of “Europe,” which actually originated only after maps were first printed in 1500. The real Europe ends at the Vistula. The activity of the Teutonic knights in the Baltic area was the colonization of foreign territory, and the knights themselves never thought of it in many other way.

In order to reach an understanding of this foreign people we must review our own past. Russian history between 900 and 1900 A.D. does not correspond to the history of the West in the same centuries but, rather, to the period extending from the Age of Rome to Charlemagne and the Hohenstaufen emperors. Our heroic poetry, from Arminius to the lays of Hildebrand, Roland, and the Nibelungs, was recapitulated in the Russian heroic epics, the byliny, which began with the knights at the court of Prince Vladimir (d. 1015), the Campaign of Igor, and with Ilya Muromets, and have remained a vital and fruitful art form through the reigns of Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great, the Burning of Moscow, and to the present day. [1] Yet each of these worlds of primeval poetry expresses a very different kind of basic feeling. Russian life has a different meaning altogether. The endless plains created a softer form of humanity, humble and morose, inclined to lose itself mentally in the flat expanses of its homeland, lacking a genuine personal will, and prone to servility. These characteristics are the background for high-level politics in Russia, from Genghis Khan to Lenin.

Furthermore, the Russians are semi-nomads, even today. Not even the Soviet regimen will succeed in preventing the factory workers from drifting from one factory to another for no better reason than their inborn wanderlust. [2] That is why the skilled technician is such a rarity in Russia. [3] Similarly, the home of the peasant is not the village or the countryside into which he was born, but the great expanses. Even the mir or so-called agrarian commune — not an ancient idea, but the outgrowth of administrative techniques employed by the tsarist governments for the raising of taxes – was unable to bind the peasant, unlike his Germanic counterpart, to the soil. Many thousands of them flooded into the newly developed regions in the steppes of southern Russia, Turkestan, and the Caucasus, in order to satisfy their emotional search for the limits of the infinite. The result of this inner restlessness has been the extension of the Empire up to the natural borders, the seas and the high mountain ranges. In the sixteenth century Siberia was occupied and settled as far as Lake Baikal, in the seventeenth century up to the Pacific.



A Map of 16th Century Russia

A map of 16th century Russian expansions

A map of 17th century Russian expansions

A map of 17th century Russian expansions

Even more deep-seated than this nomadic trait of the Russians is their dark and mystical longing for Byzantium and Jerusalem. It appears in the outer form of Orthodox Christianity and numerous religious sects, and thus has been a powerful force in the political sphere as well. But within this mystical tendency there slumbers the unborn new religion of an as yet immature people. There is nothing Western about this at all, for the Poles and Balkan Slavs are also “Asiatics.”

18th century Stroganov Palace in St-Petersburg

18th century Stroganov Palace in St-Petersburg

The economic life of this people has also assumed indigenous, totally non-European forms. The Stroganov family of merchants, which began conquering Siberia on its own under Ivan Grozny [4] and placed some of its own regiments at the tsar’s disposal, had nothing at all in common with the great businessmen of the same century in the West. This huge country, with its nomadic population, might have remained in the same condition for centuries, or might perhaps have become the object of Western colonial ambitions, had it not been for the appearance of a man of immense world-political significance, Peter the Great.

By the grace of God, the most excellent and great sovereign prince Pyotr Alekseevich the ruler all the Russias: of Moscow, of Kiev, of Vladimir, of Novgorod, Tsar of Kazan, Tsar of Astrakhan and Tsar of Siberia, sovereign of Pskov, great prince of Smolensk, Tversk, Yugorsk, Permsky, Vyatsky, Bulgarsky and others, sovereign and great prince of Novgorod Nizovsky lands, Chernigovsky, of Ryazan, of Rostov, Yaroslavl, Belozersky, Udorsky, Kondiisky and the sovereign of all the northern lands, and the sovereign of the Iverian lands, of the Kartlian and Georgian Kings, of the Kabardin lands, of the Circassian and Mountain princes and many other states and lands western and eastern here and there and the successor and sovereign and ruler.

Peter the Great 1672-1720


There is probably no other example in all of history of the radical change in the destiny of an entire people such as this man brought about. His will and determination lifted Russia from its Asiatic matrix and turned it into a Western-style nation within the Western world of nations. His goal was to lead Russia, until then landlocked, to the sea — at first, unsuccessfully, to the Sea of Asov, and then with permanent success to the Baltic. The fact that the shores of the Pacific had already been reached was, in his eyes, wholly unimportant; the Baltic coast was for him the bridge to “Europe.” There he founded Petersburg, symbolically giving it a German name. In place of the old Russian market centers and princely residences like Kiev, Moscow, and Nizhni-Novgorod, he planted Western European cities in the Russian landscape. Administration, legislation, and the state itself now functioned on foreign models. The boyar families of Old Russian chieftains became feudal nobility, as in England and France. His aim was to create above the rural population a “society” that would be unified as to dress, customs, language, and thought. And soon an upper social stratum actually formed in the cities, having a thin Western veneer. It played at erudition like the Germans, and took on esprit and manners like the French. The entire corpus of Western Rationalism made its entry — scarcely understood, undigested, and with fateful consequences. Catherine II, a German, found it necessary to send writers such as Novikov and Radishchev into jail and exile because they wished to try out the ideas of the Enlightenment on the political and religious forms of Russia. [5]

And economic life changed also. In addition to its ages-old river traffic, Russia now began to engage in ocean shipping to distant ports. The old merchant tradition of the Stroganovs, with their caravan trade to China, and of the fairs at Nizhni-Novgorod, now received an overlay of Western European “money thinking” in terms of banks and stock exchanges. [6] Next to the old-style handicrafts and the primitive mining techniques in the Urals there appeared factories, machines, and eventually railroads and steamships.

Most important of all, Western-style politics entered the Russian scene. It was supported by an army that no longer conformed to conditions of the wars against the Tartars, Turks, and Kirghiz; it had to be prepared to do battle against Western armies in Western territory, and by its very existence it continually misled the diplomats in Petersburg into thinking that the only political problems lay in the West. Despite all the weaknesses of an artificial product made of stubborn material, “Petrinism” (the Westernizing tradition of Peter the Great) was a powerful force during the two hundred years of its duration. It will be possible to assess its true accomplishments only at some distant future time, when we can survey the rubble it will have left behind. It extended “Europe,” theoretically at least, to the Urals, and made of it a cultural unity. An empire that stretched to the Bering Strait and the Hindu Kush had been Westernized to the extent that in 1900 there was hardly much difference between cities in Ireland and Portugal and those in Turkestan and the Caucasus. Travel was actually easier in Siberia than in some countries in Western Europe.

Trans-Siberian Railway

Trans-Siberian Railway

The Trans-Siberian Railway was the final triumph, the final symbol of the Petrinist will before the collapse. Yet this mighty exterior concealed an internal disaster. Petrinism was and remained an alien element among the Russian people.

In reality there existed not one but two Russias, the apparent and the true, the official and the underground Russia.

The foreign element brought with it the poison that caused that immense organism to fall ill and die. The spirit of Western Rationalism of the eighteenth century and Western Materialism of the nineteenth, both remote and incomprehensible to genuine Russian thought, came to lead a grotesque and subversive existence among the intelligentsia in the cities. There arose a type of Russian intellectual who, like the Reformed Turk, the Reformed Chinese, and the Reformed Indian, was mentally and spiritually debased, impoverished, and ruined to the point of cynicism by Western Europe. It began with Voltaire, and continued from Proudhon and Marx to Spencer and Haeckel.

In Tolstoy’s day the upper class, irreligious and opposed to all native tradition, preened itself with blasé pretentiousness. Gradually the new world view seeped down to the bohemians in the cities, the students, demagogues, and literati, who in turn took it “to the people” to implant in them a hatred of the Western-style upper classes. The result was doctrinaire bolshevism. At first, however, it was solely the foreign policy of Russia that made itself painfully felt in the West. The original nature of the Russian people was ignored, or at least not understood. It was nothing but a harmless ethnographic curiosity, occasionally imitated at bals masques and in operettas. Russia meant for us a Great Power in the Western sense, one which played the game of high politics with skill and at times with true mastery.

What we did not notice was that two tendencies, alien and inimical to each other, were operative in Russia. One of these was the ancient, instinctive, unclear, unconscious, and subliminal drive that is present in the soul of every Russian, no matter how thoroughly westernized his conscious life may be — a mystical yearning for the South, for Constantinople and Jerusalem, a genuine crusading spirit similar to the spirit our Gothic forebears had in their blood but which we hardly can appreciate today.

Superimposed on this instinctive drive was the official foreign policy of a Great Power: Petersburg versus Moscow. Behind it lay the desire to play a role on the world stage, to be recognized and treated as an equal in “Europe.” Hence the hyper-refined manners and mores, the faultless good taste — things which had already begun to degenerate in Paris since Napoleon III. The finest tone of Western society was to be found in certain Petersburg circles. At the same time, this kind of Russian did not really love any of the Western peoples. He admired, envied, ridiculed, or despised them, but his attitude depended practically always on whether Russia stood to gain or lose by them. Hence the respect shown for Prussia during the Wars of Liberation (Russia would have liked to pocket Prussian territory) and for France prior to the World War (the Russians laughed at her senile cries for revanche). Yet, for the ambitious and intelligent upper classes, Russia was the future master of Europe, intellectually and politically. Even Napoleon, in his time, was aware of this. The Russian army was mobilized at the western border; it was of Western proportions and was unmistakably trained for battle on Western terrain against Western foes. Russia’s defeat at the hands of Japan in 1905 can be partly explained by the lack of training for warfare under anything but Western conditions. Such policies were supported by a network of embassies in the great capitals of the West (which the Soviet government has replaced with Communist party centers for agitation). Catherine the Great took away Poland, and with it the final obstacle between East and West. The climax came with the symbolic journey of Alexander I, the “Savior of Europe,” to Paris. At the Congress of Vienna, Russia at times played a decisive role, as also in the Holy Alliance, which Metternich called into being as a bulwark against the Western revolution, and which Nicholas I put to work in 1849 restoring order in the Habsburg state in the interest of his own government.

By means of the successful tradition of Petersburg diplomacy, Russia became more and more involved in great decisions of Western European politics. It took part in all the intrigues and calculations that not only concerned areas remote from Russia, but were also quite incomprehensible to the Russian spirit. The army at the western border was made the strongest in the world, and for no urgent reason — Russia was the only country no one intended to invade after Napoleon’s defeat, while Germany was threatened by France and Russia, Italy by France and Austria, and Austria by France and Russia. One sought alliance with Russia in order to tip the military balance in one’s favor, thus spurring the ambitions of Russian society toward ever greater efforts in non-Russian interests. All of us grew up under the impression that Russia was a European power and that the land beyond the Volga was colonial territory. The center of gravity of the Empire definitely lay to the west of Moscow, not in the Volga region. And the educated Russians thought the very same way. They regarded the defeat in the Far East in 1905 as an insignificant colonial adventure, whereas even the smallest setback at the western border was in their eyes a scandal, inasmuch as it occurred in full view of the Western nations. In the south and north of the Empire a fleet was constructed, quite superfluous for coastal defense: its sole purpose was to play a role in Western political machinations.

On the other hand, the Turkish Wars, waged with the aim of “liberating” the Christian Balkan peoples, touched the Russian soul more deeply. Russia as the heir to Turkey — that was a mystical idea. There were no differences of opinion on this question. That was the Will of God. Only the Turkish Wars were truly popular wars in Russia. In 1807 Alexander I feared, not without reason, that he might be assassinated by an officers’ conspiracy. The entire officers’ corps preferred a war against the Turks to one against Napoleon. This led to Alexander’s alliance with Napoleon at Tilsit, which dominated world politics until 1812. It is characteristic how Dostoyevsky, in contrast to Tolstoy, became ecstatic over the Turkish War in 1877. He suddenly came alive, constantly wrote down his metaphysical visions, and preached the religious mission of Russia against Byzantium. But the final portion of Anna Karenina was denied publication by the Russian Messenger, for one did not dare to offer Tolstoy’s skepticism to the public.

As I have mentioned, the educated, irreligious, Westernized Russians also shared the mystical longing for Jerusalem, the Kiev monk’s notion of the mother country as the “Third Rome,” which after Papal Rome and Luther’s Wittenberg was to take the fulfillment of Christ’s message to the Jerusalem of the apostles. This barely conscious national instinct of all Russians opposes any power that might erect political barricades on the path that leads to Jerusalem by way of Byzantium. In all other countries such political obstacles would simply disturb either national conceit (in the West) or national apathy (in the Far East); in Russia, the mystical soul of the people itself was pierced and profoundly agitated. Hence the brilliant successes of the Slavophil movement, which was not so much interested in winning over Poles and Czechs as in gaining a foothold among the Slavs in the Christian Balkan countries, the neighbors of Constantinople. Even at an earlier date, the Holy War against Napoleon and the Burning of Moscow had involved the emotions of the entire Russian people. This was not just because of the invasion and plundering of the Russian countryside, but because of Napoleon’s obvious longrange plans. In 1809 he had taken over the Illyrian provinces (the present Yugoslavia) and thus became master of the Adriatic. This had decisively strengthened his influence on Turkey to the disadvantage of Russia, and his next step would be, in alliance with Turkey and Persia, to open up the path to India, either from Illyria or from Moscow itself. The Russians’ hatred of Napoleon was later transferred to the Habsburg monarchy, when its designs on Turkish territory — in Metternich’s time the Danubian principalities, and after 1878 Saloniki — endangered Russian moves toward the south.

Crimean War (1853-1856)

Crimean War (1853-1856)

Following the Crimean War they extended their hatred to include Great Britain, when that nation appeared to lay claim to Turkish lands by blockading the Straits and later by occupying Egypt and Cyprus. Finally, Germany too became the object of this hatred, which goes very deep and cannot be allayed by practical considerations. After 1878, Germany neglected its role as a Russian ally to became more and more the protector and preserver of the crumbling Habsburg state, and thereby also, despite Bismarck’s warning, the supporter of Austro-Hungarian intentions in the Balkans. The German government showed no understanding of the suggestion made by Count Witte, the last of the Russian diplomats friendly to Germany, to choose between Austria and Russia. We could have had a reliable ally in Russia if we had been willing to loosen our ties to Austria. A total reorientation of German policy might have been possible as late as 1911.

Following the Congress of Berlin, hatred of Germany began to spread to all of Russian society, for Bismarck succeeded in restraining Russian diplomacy in the interest of world peace and maintaining the balance of power in “Europe.” From the German point of view this was probably correct, and in any case it was a master stroke of  Bismarckian statesmanship. But in the eyes of Petersburg it was a mistake, for it deprived the Russian soul of the hope of winning Turkey, and favored England and Austria. And this Russian soul was one of the imponderables that defied diplomatic treatment. Hostility to Germany kept on growing and eventually entered all levels of Russian urban society. It was diverted momentarily when Japanese power, rising up suddenly and broadening the horizons of world politics, forced Russia to experience the Far East as a danger zone. But that was soon forgotten, especially since Germany was so grotesquely inept as to understand neither the immediate situation nor the future possibilities. In time, the senseless idea of the Berlin-Baghdad Railway came up; Germany now seemed intent on capturing full control of this path to Constantinople, a move which would have benefitted neither German politics nor the German economy.


Just as in the field of politics, the economic life of Russia was divided into two main tendencies — the one active and aggressive, the other passive. The passive element was represented by the Russian peasantry with its primitive agrarian economy; [7] by the old-style merchants with their fairs, caravans, and Volga barges; by Russian craftsmen; and finally by the primitive mining enterprises in the Urals, which developed out of the ancient techniques of pre-Christian “blacksmith tribes,” independent of Western mining methods and experience. The forging of iron was invented in Russia in the second millennium B.C. — the Greeks retained a vague recollection of the beginning of this art. This simple and traditional form of economy gradually found a powerful competitor in the civilized world of Western-style urban economy, with its banks, stock exchanges, factories, and railroads. Then it was money economy versus goods economy; each of these forms of economic existence abhors the other, each tries to attack and annihilate the other.

The Petrinist state needed a money economy in order to pay for its Westernized politics, its army, and its administrative hierarchy, which was laced with primitive corruption. Incidentally, this form of corruption was habitual public practice in Russia; it is a necessary psychological concomitant of an economy based on the exchange of goods, and is fundamentally different from the clandestine corruption practiced by Western European parliamentarians. The state protected and supported economic thinking that was oriented toward Western capitalism, a type of thinking that Russia neither created nor really understood, but had imported and now had to manage. Furthermore, Russia had also to face its doctrinary opposite, the economic theory of communism. Communism was in fact inseparable from Western economic thinking. It was the Marxist capitalism of the lower class, preached by students and agitators as a vague gospel to the masses in the Petrinist cities.

Still, the decisive and truly agitating factor for Russia’s future was not this literary, theoretical trend in the urban underground. It was, rather, the Russians’ profound, instinctively religious abhorrence of all Western economic practices. They considered “money” and all the economic schemes derived from it, socialistic as well as capitalistic, as sinful and satanic. This was a genuine religious feeling, much like the Western emotion which, during the Gothic centuries, opposed the economic practices of the Arabic-Jewish world and led to the prohibition for Christians of money-lending for interest. In the West, such attitudes had for centuries been little more than a cliché for chapel and pulpit, but now it became an acute spiritual problem in Russia. It caused the suicide of numerous Russians who were seized by “terror of the surplus value,” whose primitive thought and emotions could not imagine a way of earning a living that would not entail the “exploitation” of “fellow human beings.” This genuine Russian sentiment saw in the world of capitalism an enemy, a poison, the great sin that it ascribed to the Petrinist state despite the deep respect felt for “Little Father,” the Tsar.

Such, then, are the deep and manifold roots of the Russian philosophy of intellectual nihilism, which began to grow at the time of the Crimean War and which produced as a final fruit the bolshevism that destroyed the Petrinist state in 1917, replacing it with something that would have been absolutely impossible in the West. Contained within this movement is the orthodox Slavophils’ hatred of Petersburg and all it stood for, [8] the peasants’ hatred of the mir, the type of village commune that contradicted the rural concept of property passed down through countless family generations, as well as every Russian’s hatred of capitalism, industrial economy, machines, railroads, and the state and army that offered protection to this cynical world against an eruption of Russian instincts. It was a primeval religious hatred of uncomprehended forces that were felt to be godless, that one could not change and thus wished to destroy, in order that life could go on in the old-fashioned way.

The peasants detested the intelligentsia and its agitating just as strongly as they detested what these people were agitating against. Yet in time the agitation brought a small clique of clever but by and large mediocre personalities to the forefront of power. Even Lenin’s creation is Western, it is Petersburg — foreign, inimical, and despised by the majority of Russians. Some day, in some way or other, it will perish. It is a rebellion against the West, but born of Western ideas. It seeks to preserve the economic forms of industrial labor and capitalist speculation as well as the authoritarian state, except that it has replaced the Tsarist regime and private capitalist enterprise with an oligarchy and state capitalism, calling itself communism out of deference to doctrine. It is a new victory for Petersburg over Moscow and, without any doubt, the final and enduring act of self-destruction committed by Petrinism from below. The actual victim is precisely the element that sought to liberate itself by means of the rebellion: the true Russian, the peasant and craftsman, the devout man of religion. Western revolutions such as the English and French seek to improve organically evolved conditions by means of theory, and they never succeed. In Russia, however, a whole world was made to vanish without resistance. Only the artificial quality of Peter the Great’s creation can explain the fact that a small group of revolutionaries, almost without exception dunces and cowards, has had such an effect. Petrinism was an  illusion that suddenly burst. The bolshevism of the early years has thus had a double meaning. It has destroyed an artificial, foreign structure, leaving only itself as a remaining integral part. But beyond this, it has made the way clear for a new culture that will some day awaken between “Europe” and East Asia. It is more a beginning than an end. It is temporary, superficial, and foreign only insofar as it represents the self-destruction of Petrinism, the grotesque attempt systematically to overturn the social superstructure of the nation according to the theories of Karl Marx. At the base of this nation lies the Russian peasantry, which doubtless played a more important role in the success of the 1917 Revolution than the intellectual crowd is willing to admit. These are the devout peasants of Russia who, although they do not yet fully realize it, are the archenemies of bolshevism and are oppressed by it even worse than they were by the Mongols and the old tsars. For this very reason, despite the hardships of the present, the peasantry will some day become conscious of its own will, which points in a wholly different direction.

The peasantry is the true Russian people of the future. It will not allow itself to be perverted and suffocated, and without a doubt, no matter how slowly, it will replace, transform, control, or annihilate bolshevism in its present form. How that will happen, no one can tell at the moment. It depends, among other things, on the appearance of decisive personalities, who, like Genghis Khan, Ivan IV, Peter the Great, and Lenin, can seize Destiny by their iron hand. Here, too, Dostoyevsky stands against Tolstoy as a symbol of the future against the present. Dostoyevsky was denounced as a reactionary because in his Possessed he no longer even recognized the problems of nihilism. For him, such things were just another aspect of the Petrinist system. But Tolstoy, the man of good society, lived in this element; he represented it even in his rebellion, a protest in Western form against the West. Tolstoy, and not Marx, was the leader to bolshevism. Dostoyevsky is its future conqueror.

There can be no doubt: a new Russian people is in the process of becoming. Shaken and threatened to the very soul by a frightful destiny, forced to an inner resistance, it will in time become firm and come to bloom. It is passionately religious in a way we Western Europeans have not been, indeed could not have been, for centuries. As soon as this religious drive is directed toward a goal, it possesses an immense expansive potential. Unlike us, such a people does not count the victims who die for an idea, for it is a young, vigorous, and fertile people. The intense respect enjoyed over the past centuries by the “holy peasants” whom the regime often exiled to Siberia or liquidated in some other way – such figures as the priest John of Kronstadt, even Rasputin, but also Ivan and Peter the Great — will awaken a new type of leaders, leaders to new crusades and legendary conquests. The world round about, filled with religious yearning but no longer fertile in religious concerns, is torn and tired enough to allow it suddenly to take on a new character under the proper circumstances.

Perhaps bolshevism itself will change in this way under new leaders; but that is not very probable. For this ruling horde — it is a fraternity like the Mongols of the Golden Horde — always has its sights set on the West as did Peter the Great, who likewise made the land of his dreams the goal of his politics. But the silent, deeper Russia has already forgotten the West and has long since begun to look toward Near and East Asia. It is a people of the great inland expanses, not a maritime people. An interest in Western affairs is upheld only by the ruling group that organizes and supports the Communist parties in the individual countries — without, as I see it, any chance of success. It is simply a consequence of Marxist theory, not an exercise in practical politics. The only way that Russia might again direct its attention to the West — with disastrous results for both sides — would be for other countries (Germany, for instance) to commit serious errors in foreign policy, which could conceivably result in a “crusade” of the Western powers against bolshevism — in the interest, of course, of Franco-British financial capital. Russia’s secret desire is to move toward Jerusalem and Central Asia, and “the” enemy will always be the one who blocks those paths. The fact that England established the Baltic states and placed them under its influence, thereby causing Russia to lose the Baltic Sea, has not had a profound effect. Petersburg has already been given up for lost, an expendable relic of the Petrinist era. Moscow is once again the center of the nation. But the destruction of Turkey, the partition of that country into French and English spheres of influence, France’s establishment of the Little Entente which closed off and threatened the area from Rumania southwards, French attempts to win control of the Danubian principalities and the Black Sea by aiding the reconstruction of the Hapsburg state — all these events have made England and, above all, France the heirs to Russian hatred. What the Russians see is the revivification of Napoleonic tendencies; the crossing of the Beresina was perhaps not, after all, the final symbolic event in that movement.

Byzantium is and remains the Sublime Gateway to future Russian policy, while, on the other side, Central Asia is no longer a conquered area but part of the sacred earth of the Russian people. In the face of this rapidly changing, growing Russia, German policy requires the tactical skill of a great statesman and expert in Eastern affairs, but as yet no such man has made his appearance. It is clear that we are not the enemies of Russia; but whose friends are we to be — of the Russia of today, or of the Russia of tomorrow? Is it possible to be both, or does one exclude the other?

Might we not jeopardize such friendship by forming careless alliances? Similarly obscure and difficult are our economic connections, the actual ones and the potential ones. Politics and economics are two very different aspects of life, different in concept, methods, aims, and significance for the soul of a people. This is not realized in the age of practical materialism, but that does not make it any less fatefully true. Economics is subordinate to politics; it is without question the second and not the first factor in history. The economic life of Russia is only superficially dominated by state capitalism. At its base it is subject to attitudes that are virtually religious in nature. At any rate it is not at all the same thing as toplevel Russian politics. Moreover, it is very difficult to predict its short and long-range trends, and even more difficult to control these trends from abroad.

The Russia of the last tsars gave the illusion of being an economic complex of Western stamp. Bolshevist Russia would like to give the same illusion; with its communist methods it would even like to become an example for the West.

Yet in reality, when considered from the standpoint of Western economics, it is one huge colonial territory where the Russians of the farmlands and small towns work essentially as peasants and craftsmen. Industry and the transportation of industrial products over the rail networks, as well as the process of wholesale distribution of such products, are and will always remain inwardly foreign to this people. The businessman, the factory head, the engineer and inventor are not “Russian” types. As a people, no matter how far individuals may go toward adapting to modern patterns of world economics, the true Russians will always let foreigners do the kind of work they reject because they are inwardly not suited to it. A close comparison with the Age of the Crusades will clarify what I have in mind. [9] At that time, also, the young peoples of the North were nonurban, committed to an agrarian economy. Even the small cities, castle communities, and princely residences were essentially marketplaces for agricultural produce. The Jews and Arabs were a full thousand years “older,” and functioned in their ghettos as experts in urban money economy. The Western European fulfills the same function in the Russia of today.

Machine industry is basically non-Russian in spirit, and the Russians will forever regard it as alien, sinful, and diabolical. They can bear with it and even respect it, as the Japanese do, as a means toward higher ends, for one casts out demons by the prince of demons. But they can never give their soul to it as did the Germanic nations, which created it with their dynamic sensibility as a symbol and method of their struggling existence. In Russia, industry will always remain essentially the concern of foreigners. But the Russians will be able to distinguish sensitively between what is to their own and what is to the foreigners’ advantage. As far as “money” is concerned, for the Russians the cities are markets for agricultural commodities; for us they have been since the eighteenth century the centers for the dynamics of money. “Money thinking” will be impossible for the Russians for a long time to come. For this reason, as I have explained, Russia is regarded as a colony by foreign business interests. Germany will be able to gain certain advantages from its proximity to the country, particularly in light of the fact that both powers have the same enemy, the financial interest-groups of the Allied nations. Yet the German economy can never exploit these opportunities without support from superior politics. Without such support a chaotic seizure of opportunities will ensue, with dire consequences for the future. The economic policy of France has been for centuries, as a result of the sadistic character of the French people, myopic and purely destructive. And a serious German policy in economic affairs simply does not exist.

Therefore it is the prime task of German business to help create order in German domestic affairs, in order to set the stage for a foreign policy that will understand and meet its obligations. Business has not yet grasped the immense economic significance of this domestic task. It is decidedly not a question, as common prejudice would have it, of making politics submit to the momentary interests of single groups, such as has already occurred by means of the worst kind of politics imaginable, party politics. It is not a question of advantages that might last for just a few years.

Before the war it was the large agricultural interests, and since the war the large industrial interests, that attempted to focus national policy on the obtaining of temporary advantages, and the results were always nil. But the time for short-range tactics is over. The next decades will bring problems of world-historical dimensions, and that means that business must at all times be subordinate to national politics, not the other way around. Our business leaders must learn to think exclusively in political terms, not in terms of “economic politics.” The basic requirement for great economic opportunity in the East is thus order in our politics at home.


1. Cf. my The Decline of the West, II, 192ff.

2. Cf. several stories of Leskov, and particularly of Gorki.

3. Except perhaps in the earlier arteli, groups of workers under self-chosen leaders, which accepted contracts for certain kinds of work in factories and on estates. There is a good description on an artel’ in Leskov’s The Memorable Angel.

4. Grozny means “the terrifying, just, awe-inspiring” in the positive sense, not “the terrible” with Western overtones. Ivan IV was a creative personality as was Peter the Great, and one of the most important rulers of all time.

5. “Jehova, Jupiter, Brahma, God of Abraham, God of Moses, God of Confucius, God of Zoroaster, God of Socrates, God of Marcus Aurelius, God of the Christians — Thou art everywhere the same, eternal God!” (Radishchev).

6. Cf. Decline of the West, II, 480f., 495.

7. On the contrast between agrarian and urban economy, see Decline of the West, II, 477ff.

8. “The first requirement for the liberation of popular feeling in Russia is to hate Petersburg with heart and soul” (Aksakov to Dostoyevsky). Cf. Decline of the West, II, 193ff.

9. Cf. Decline of the West, II, Chapters XIII and XIV, “The Form-World of Economic Life.”


Other works by Oswald Spengler :

The Decline of the West (German: Der Untergang des Abendlandes), or The Downfall of the Occident by Oswald Spengler, complete edition is in English translation freely available from (public domain)
Selected Essays by Oswald Spengler : –
(Eng. transl. Published 1967, public domain)

The Two Faces of Russia and Germany’s Eastern Problem
Nietzsche and His Century
On the German National Character
Is World Peace Possible?


The Hour Of Decision
Spengler’s thoughts on the “national revolution” of 1932/33
(Published 1934, Eng. transl. public domain-


Prussianism And Socialism
by Oswald Spengler
(Published 1920, Eng. transl. public domain-


Man & Technics – A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life
by Oswald Spengler
(Published 1932, Eng. transl. public domain-

Also, in reference to the parts I emphasised in Spengler’s monograph, a Serbian proverb came to my mind, which states the Serbs should honour “God in Heaven, Russia on Earth.”

further reading:

Prophet of Decline: Spengler on World History and Politics.(2001)
Louisiana University Press Book Review

The Slavophil Idea Re-Stated by V. V. Zenkovsky ; The Slavonic Review, Vol. 6, No. 17 (Dec., 1927), pp. 302-310 [PDF]

The Tale of Bygone Years (Old Church Slavonic: Повѣсть времѧньныхъ лѣтъPovest Vremyannykh Let) or Primary Chronicle is a history of Kievan Rus’ from about 850 to 1110, originally compiled in Kiev about 1113. The work is considered to be a fundamental source in the interpretation of the history of the Eastern Slavs. [PDF]




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“Si non è vero, è ben trovato!”

hangende kooldraadlamp

On a certain day in a remote village there appeared a man who claimed to be Jehova. The man was a member of a sect.

A peasant, who had an electric light-bulb installed in his hut, approached this man and informed him about a nightmare he had last night.

Jehova points towards the light-bulb and explains:  “you have slept under this unchristian, bolshevist contraption. This caused an unclean spirit to appear before you”.

The next day the peasant removed the electric light-bulb, carried it into the garden and grabbed a stick in order to beat the unmasked devil.

Trembling with fear he raised his arm, but lost his grip making the stick fly through the air only to hit the wall next to Jehova’s head.

The latter raised his finger and proclaimed: “The demon is resisting!” which caused the peasant’s wife and children to flee into the hut in shock.

The peasant picked up the stick and raised his hand a second time, but missed again, as he was too agitated to control his hand.

Jehova cried: “still he is showing resistance, the devil!”

The peasant picked up the light-bulb and threw it down the well, but alas it floated on the water!

“The demon is still resisting!” Jehova cried once more.

One of the by-standers, a courageous man, shattered the light-bulb with a rock, and everyone gasped: “Finally, at last we destroyed the evil thing!”

source: Besboshnik  1931, 9/10, p. 22

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The nature of Russian Marxism


Before the introduction of the Marxist teachings Russia was less infected then other countries by atheist ideas. It did have its Voltairians who copied the ideas of the great opponent of religion and called themselves freethinkers, their influence reached until the imperial throne: the czarina Catherine the Great kept written contact with Voltaire, Diderot and d’Alembert. The freethinker ideology however was restricted to certain noble and intellectual circles.

The adherents of Marx brought the ideas of the French atheists to the general public and popularized the writings of Voltaire, Holbach, Helvétius and others. The French Revolution was the fruit of the preceding freethinker ideology against the altar and the throne: the child of atheist parents. The Russians accepted along with the parents also the child and enspirited from the start their atheism with a revolutionary spirit ever ready for battle which is the trademark of the Struggling Godless Movement. Russian socialism had put on the Marxist theories when brought into practice a Russian dress. Karsavin[1] described in his treatise on the “religious character of Bolshevism” socialism as a “highly characteristic folly of the Russian people” (p. 39).

The term bolshevism is derived from the word bolshe which means “more or bigger”. At the second congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party that was held in London in 1903 and where amongst the Russian revolutionaries Lenin took part, there was a split between the “bolsheviki”, the majority, who wanted to endorse the maximum of demands into the program (maximalists), and the “mensheviki” (menshe = less or smaller) who stood for a more moderate direction (minimalists).

The nature of the Russian always tended towards the maximum, a maximalist or bolshevist: he always reaches towards the last, the extreme, the highest. His plans are always absolute, they float amongst the clouds, storm the heavens, they can’t be realized because they reach for the unattainable. He is against the moderate, the average, against anything that hints towards compromise or a mutual agreement. This characteristic mirrors the nature of his motherland, the unmeasurable, the endless steppe, fields and forests, where time and space seem to come together in eternity and infinity.

Next to this the Russian soul urges to immediately convert the absolute, which can only be approached after a series of in between moments, into reality. This irrestistable urge towards the absolute is defined by the Russian as a concrete idea, not just a theory, which is meant to attain some kind of fantastic reality. Although he is before everything else a dreamer, someone who fantasises, he doesn’t like the dream, the theoretical, if he is unable to grab it with his hands. When he has once tried to realize these plans, he will sacrifice life itself for his theory or force them to walk side by side as a screaming contradiction, without taking offense towards this living contradiction. He will combine the dead-born product of his fantasy with a healthy lifestyle and will accuse the living organism of being affected by the insidious poison. From the inevitable self-realization of the unreachable aspects of his method, apathy develops, the indifference and passiveness of the Russian soul, which with its nitchevo (“nothing can’t be done about it”) suits itself with everything and reconciles itself with all states.

Thus Russified Marxism grew into a fanatical, fantastic, extremely radical and absolute form of communism, bloated into a borderless maximalism, that wants to turn the whole world around by means of revolution. The same fantastic, limitless desire could be found in the Russian godless movement, they promised a new life without pain and misery, human happiness without God, heaven on earth, the promise of a prospering classless future society and in spite of the obvious lacking and mishaps they stubbornly clung to it. As such atheist propaganda and the struggle against religion isn’t quaint in the bolchevist ideology: the most radical method of combat which recklessly and brutally exceeds all common sense against what is considered by the rest of humanity as decent and traditional, is of the specific nature of bolshevism. The anti-religious struggle in Russia was a struggle fueled by blind hatred, of a myopic narrow-mindedness, of the most offensive foolishness, a struggle of excited fanaticism.


[1] Lev P. Karsavin, “Das religiöse Wesen des Bolschewismus” in: “Der Staat, das Recht und die Wirtschaft des Bolschewismus : Darstellung und Wertung seiner geistigen Grundlagen”, Wieser-Wenger-Klein, Berlin 1925

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How God electrified the village & how the village electrified itself

How God electrified the village & how the village electrified itself

Lenin’s words: “Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country” was not only the resume of bolchevik economy, it also applied for the stand they took on religion, which is aptly illustrated by this image.

Technique was the miracle of the communist. It represented for him the liberation of oppressed mankind from the slavery of the capital and from the dependence on nature and on God, a Russian-messianistic interpretation of industrialisation’s redemptive work.

Stalin’s words: “We have put the USSR in a motor car and the muzhik in a tractor!” directly gave rise to the idea that with motor cars and tractors religion should be overrun. In the old days the Russian peasant prayed to God when a thunderstorm broke loose, he bowed and made the sign of the Cross in front of icons of saints or the prophet Elias (who was associated with thunderstorms by popular belief). This image now tells us that he doesn’t have to do that anymore, modern technique will provide the solution.

“How God electrified the village, how God swung from his quiver the lightning bolts and the prophet Elias drives his roaring wagon over the storm clouds: down below in a half collapsed peasant hut the muzhiks are trembling before the icons.”

“How the village electrified itself: high poles that catch lightning bolts, everywhere electrical wires are spun above the village and the windows of the houses spread clear light. In clean, renovated huts the peasant and his family bathe in a stream of electrical light, where they are reading books. Images of Marx, Engels and Lenin have substituted the icons.”

source: Besboshnik u stanka (The godless at the work-bench) 1925, VIII, 9

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