“Religion is the opium of the people,” Marx said in his Contribution to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right published in 1843. (I looked this up on Wikipedia and I’m not ashamed of confessing it.) The Communist leaders of the Soviet Union took this statement to heart and invested the Soviet brand of Communism with very obvious religious overtones.* This made it a lot easier to convert a very backwards, ultra-religious country to a new Communist religion.
Just consider the following facts:
|Just look at this picture that in the
USSR we saw on a regular basis. Does
it remind you of anything?
1. Communist ideologues were always presented as a kind of a Holy Trinity where, instead of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, you had Marx, Engels and Lenin.
2. Holy remains of saints were always central to religious practices of the most backwards denominations. When Lenin died in 1924, his body was embalmed and preserved in a mausoleum so that people could visit his remains and pay their homage. It was considered a duty and a privilege of every Soviet citizen to walk by Lenin’s remains at least once. I’ve done it and I don’t know any other person who grew up in the Soviet Union who hasn’t. The Russian government still spends a significant amount on preserving Lenin’s remains because there are too many people who oppose interring the poor guy’s body (or whatever is left of it). Lenin’s remains still have pride of place on the Red Square. When Stalin died, his remains were also embalmed and added to Lenin’s in the Mausoleum.**
3. In a Russian Orthodox home, there was always a corner called “beautiful” (which carries the same meaning as the word “red”) where religious images were located. After the October Revolution, religious images were removed from these right-hand corners and substituted with images of the Communist Holy Trinity. Just like with the holy images, people would light candles in front of the triple image of Marx, Engels and Lenin (or Marx, Lenin and Stalin.) The number of “inspirational stories” we have read about young Pioneers (you do know what it means in the context of the Soviet Union, right?) removing an old grandma’s religious images from the right-hand corner and placing Lenin’s portraits there was overwhelming. And, come to think of it, very Derridian****, too.
4. In a profoundly Pagan culture that was forcibly converted to Christianity (as all Slavic cultures that still preserve their Pagan customs and allegiances were), it was important to offer people Communist equivalents of their Pagan deities and traditions. This was done very successfully in the Soviet Union. As we all know, Pagan sexuality is very happy and exuberant***, while Christianity was always very repressive sexually. The official Communist ideology would snag people with their “a sexual act should come as easily as having a glass of water” propaganda of the 20ies, only to collapse into an extremely Puritanical culture of the 60ies and the 70ies.
The main reason that the Communist ideology was so successful with the backwards and ultra-religious people of the Russian Empire is that it managed to inscribe itself so neatly into the all-important belief system promoted by the Russian Orthodox Church. It isn’t for nothing that Stalin was so eager to turn the Church leaders into happy collaborators of the regime. For decades, the Russian Orthodox priests collaborated with the KGB and informed the authorities of whatever it was that people revealed in the confessional. Today, the Russian president and prime-minister flaunt their fake religiousness which is made easy for them because of their KGB credentials that they share with the top officials of the Russian Orthodox Church.
*If I somebody reminds me, I will one day blog about why this project failed so spectacularly in Cuba.
** I also want to write a separate post on how Stalin’s death was perceived as an enormous tragedy even by the most intellectual and refined Soviet people. It is especially curious to examine the case of Jews who weeped over the death of a guy who was in the process of exiling them all into Siberia. There are so many topics to blog about that one feels overwhelmed.
*** I’m also dying to blog about Slavic Paganism in the hopes that a Western Pagan (Pagan Topologist, maybe?) will point out similarities and differences.
**** If I need to write a separate post about it, just say so.