League of Militant Atheists - Activities


In 1931, the LMG boasted that 10% of the nation's schoolchildren were LMG members.

The LMG underwent great growth between 1929 and 1932, partly as a result of the requirement of Komsomol members to join it. The LMG's hold over the Komsomol is reflected in the latter's programme at its 10th congress that state 'The Komsomol patiently explains to the youth the harmfulness of superstitions and of religious prejudices, organizing for this purpose special study circles and lectures on antireligious propaganda. The League had grown from 87,000 members in 1926 to 500,000 in 1929 and it reached a peak of 5,670,000 in 1931 (dropping to 5.5 million in 1932) (it had intended to get 17 million, however, as its target). It declined to 2 million in 1938, but rose again to 3.5 million in 1941. The Communist party at the time had 1.8 million members. Almost half of the LMG's membership, however, resided in the vicinities of Moscow and Leningrad, which led to the LMG then creating 'cells' across the country in order to reach rural citizens for atheist propagation.

The LMG alleged massive growth in the Central Asian republics in the 1930s. The Central Asian Muslims, who had a long history of encountering Christian missionaries attempting to convert them away from Islam, were considered to pose a special issue for LMG activists who were told by Yaroslavsky that

A careless approach to the matter of antireligious propaganda among these people can call up memories of this oppression and be interpreted by the most backward and the most fanatical part of the Muslim population as a repeat of the past, when Christian missionaries reviled the Mohammedan faith.

Under the LMG's guidance, 'Godless collective farms', were formed. Yaroslavsky in 1932 thought that the campaign would be successful, when he said:

There can be no doubt that the fact that the new state of the USSR led by the communist party, with a program permeated by the spirit of militant atheism, gives the reason why this state is successfully surmounting the great difficulties that stand in its way - that neither "heavenly powers" nor the exhortations of all the priests in all the world can prevent its attaining its aims it has set itself.

The enthusiasm of its new members was notably poor, however, as its dues were left unpaid and only a minority appeared to have great interest in antireligious work.

The League printed masses of antireligious literature. These would mock religious belief. The weekly Bezbozhnik reached 500,000 copies per issue in 1931. The monthly Bezbozhnik, grew from 28,000 in 1928 to 200,000 in 1931, dropped to 150,000 after 1932, climbed to 230,000 in 1938 and went down 155,000 in 1939. The Bezbozhnik u stanka consistently ran 50,000-70,000 copies per issue, however, it changed from a monthly to a fortnightly in 1929 and continued to produce until it was closed in 1932. Yaroslavsky's scholarly monthly for the LMG central committee 'Antireligioznik' (The Antireligious) appeared in 1926, and reached 17,000 circulation in 1929 (it was a 130 page publication), 30,000 in 1930 and 27,000 in 1931. Its material was often repeated over different issues and it was more primitive in its scholarly material than it had been intended. It was reduced to 64 pages in 1940, and produced between 40,000 and 45,000 in 1940-41 before it was finally cancelled.

The League also printed antireligious textbooks. An 'Antireligious Textbook for Peasants' was produced between 1927 and 1931, with a circulation of 18,000 for the first edition and 200,000 for the sixth. A similar textbook for urban people was created in 1931, followed by a universal amalgamated textbook. LMG member, I A Shpitsberg began publishing a scholarly journal in the late 1920s called Ateist. It was changed to Voinstvuiuschii ateizm (Militant Atheism) in 1931 and it was published by the LMG central council. In 1932 it was swallowed up by Antireligioznik.

From 1928 to 1932, a journal for peasants named Derevenskii bezbozhnik (The Rural Godless) was produced. It was alleged to be so "popular" among the peasantry that it was 'read to tatters', and contradictorily it ceased publication in 1932. The supposedly popular nature of the atheist propaganda was also contradicted by cases of reported lynchings of antireligious propagandists and murder of LMG agitators. In a similar vein, in 1930, the LMG leadership advised that social surveys of believers in school classes where the majority of pupils were believers was harmful, and that such data should not, as a principle, be used. Another such anecdote can be found in the 1929 Moscow religion survey, in which 12,000 industrial workers were surveyed anonymously and only 3,000 returned the survey, of which 88.8% claimed to be atheists, and it was then declared that 90% of Moscow industrial workers were atheists.

The non-serial LMG literature grew from 12 million printed pages in 1927 to 800 million in 1930 (making up at least 100 million pieces of printed antirelgious literature). In 1941 sixty-seven books and brochures of antireligious propaganda were printed with a total circulation of 3.5 million copies. Up to 1940 there were about 2000 titles published every year.

A textbook produced by the LMG in 1934 admitted the existence of sincere believers among the intellectuals; however, Yaroslavsky in 1937 claimed that all scholars and scientists who believe in God were insincere deceivers and swindlers.

The League trained a massive number of antireligious propagandists and other workers. This work included lecture cycles. The League of Militant Atheists attempted to "control and exploit the Proletarian Freethinkers," a group founded by socialists in 1925, in order to diminish the influence of religion, particularly Catholic Christianity, in Central and Eastern Europe.

The League of Militant Atheists aided the Soviet government in killing clergy and committed believers. The League also made it a priority to remove religious icons from the homes of believers. Under the slogan, "the Storming of Heaven," the League of Militant Atheists pressed for "resolute action against religious peasants" leading to the mass arrest and exile of many believers, especially village priests. By 1940, "over 100 bishops, tens of thousands of Orthodox clergy, and thousands of monks and lay believers had been killed or had died in Soviet prisons and the Gulag."

The LMG had reduced the number of religious communities of all faiths from 50,000 in 1930 to 30,000 by 1938 and 8,000 by 1941. The last figure includes, however, 7,000 communities in the annexed western territories (so that only 1,000 actually remained in the rest of the country).

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