Early Soviet antireligious propaganda

Goodbye, Cardinal Ratzinger, we hardly knew ye.

To celebrate the papal vacancy, here are a ton of images from Soviet antireligious propaganda. And some thoughts about the question of religion’s compatibility or incompatibility with Marxism, etc.

Cover to Bezbozhnik, Godless (1923)

Cover to Bezbozhnik, Godless (1923)

Some reflections on the recent exchanges regarding Marxism, atheism, and 18th-century materialism. Not that the positions outlined here should necessarily be adopted today. Perhaps we’re no longer in any sort of position to be as radical as Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky were. Nevertheless, while they were perhaps written in response to the prevailing idiocy of the New Atheist neoconservatives, I found many of the arguments that represented these revolutionary Marxists as somehow conciliatory toward religious ideologies, even those of minority religions, to be deliberate distortions of historical reality. There is all too often an attempt to “update” various Marxist positions so as to accommodate fashionable tendencies in the present, even under regressed political conditions. This has been undertaken by leftists as diverse as Deepa Kumar, Alessandro Tinonga, Enaemaehkiw Túpac Keshena, Ben Fowkes and Bülent Gökay, etc. There’s the temptation to reason that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” To argue that the leading Bolsheviks’ attitude toward religion was not that of crushing it mercilessly is deluded.

What’s strange is that this conciliatory move on the part of many leftists comes alongside the ongoing disenchantment of the world, including the progressive secularization of society and the disintegration of traditional religious forms. Brief religious revivals, which tend to produce the most virulently reactionary forms of religious politics (born-again Evangelical Christianity, Islamism, Jewish and Hindu terrorist groups), have usually resulted in nothing more than a brief blip in the overall pattern of decline in religiosity. The paradox is that the world is far less religious today on the whole than it was in, say, 1848 or 1917. Nevertheless, leftists during this earlier time continued to push an uncompromisingly atheistic line in their struggle to overturn the existing bourgeois social order, of which religion is a central component.

The commonplace notion that the Bolsheviks or Marxism in general has been unsuccessful because they offend the religious sensibilities of their “target demographic,” the proletariat, is simply untrue and has no basis in historical reality. Quite the contrary: the masses largely followed the Marxists’ lead in smashing and seizing religious property, looking to eradicate religion both directly (by direct expropriation) and indirectly (by removing the antagonistic social conditions that give rise to religion in the first place). They aimed to render it completely obsolete by obliterating the conditions that create it.

Also, I’ve been bothered by this weird neologism “theophobia.” It doesn’t even make sense etymologically. Most monotheistic faiths are actually all in favor of “theophobia.” “Theo” = God. “Phobia” = fear. “Fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,” says some ancient Jewish text written in praise of their desert god. For a Marxist, however, the fear of nonexistant entities would be the very height of infantile irrationality. Continue reading