League of Militant Atheists - Origins and Formation

Origins and Formation

The newspaper Bezbozhnik (Godless, Atheist) (1922–1941), founded and edited by Yemelyan Yaroslavsky, played a significant role in the League's establishment, and had a wide network of correspondents and readers. Bezbozhnik appeared first in December 1922, and the following year a Moscow monthly for industrial workers Bezbozhnik u stanka (The Godless at the Work-Bench, AKA Bezbust) formed the like-minded Moscow Society of the Godless in August 1924.

The Moscow group tended to support the leftist side of the debate on how to destroy religion (i.e. in favour of attacking religion in all of its forms rather than moderation), and in 1924 it attacked Yaroslavsky, Anatoly Lunacharsky and Vladimir Bonch-Bruyevich for differentiation between different religions, instead of genuine godlessness. It accused Yaroslavsky of attacking only the clergy rather than religion in general. Yaroslavsky protested this and affirmed that all religions were enemies of socialism including the Renovationist schism in the Orthodox church, but that the methods of struggle against different religions should vary due to the large number of loyal Soviet citizens with religious beliefs who should be re-educated as atheists rather than treated as class enemies. Bezbozhnik argued that it was an oversimplification to treat religion solely as a kind of class exploitation to be attacked, forgetting the complex nature of religions, as well as the individual believers. The CPSU Central Committee supported Yaroslavsky's viewpoint on this issue, although this debate remained unresolved at the Union that came in 1925.

The Moscow group merged with the Society of Friends of the Godless Newspaper (associated with Bezbozhnik) in April 1925 to form the All-Union League of the Godless at its first congress. Between 1925 and 1929 a power struggle took place in the new organization between Yaroslavsky and his followers, and the leadership of the former Moscow group (Galaktionov, Polidorov, Kostelovskaia, Lunin and others). The 1926 All-Union Conference on Antireligious Propaganda voted in favour of Yaroslavsky's views on the antireligious campaign, but the debate still continued. The Moscow group argued that the antireligious struggle should be led only by the party and the industrial proletariat, as opposed to the whole nation which Yaroslavsky wanted to mobilize to conduct the antireligious campaign.

In 1929, when the resolutions that would set the tone for the intensive persecution of the next decade were set and Yaroslavsky's victory in the power struggle had been completed, there were a few last attacks made on Yaroslavsky and the organization for minimizing the class-enemy thesis in attacking religion, of having few workers and peasants in its ranks, of using archaeology instead of aggressively attacking religion, of being indifferent to transforming the school system into a fundamentally antireligious atmosphere and of opportunistically citing works by non-Marxist Western bourgeois atheists in publications. In response, Yaroslavsky claimed that they had supported antireligious education for years, but in contrast to the leftists who simply wanted to attack religion, he was working to replace the popular religious ideology with that of dialectical materialism. He also pointed out correctly that Lenin had used the works of 18th century French atheists and other bourgeois atheists to assist in the campaign to disseminate atheism in the USSR. He admitted that the effect of their efforts up to that point was less than he had hoped, which he implicitly blamed on the Moscow branch for their lack of cooperation, lack of support from the party and some branches of the Komsomol, and a ban operating on their activities in Ukraine, as well as an inadequate finances.

Yaroslavsky, Stalin's loyal aide in the secretariat and one of the founding editors of Kommunist, came out on top despite the Moscow group's resistance in an effort to retain autonomy and the support for that group from the daily Komsomol'skaia pravda.

The problems that Yaroslavsky outlined in his response were addressed in 1929 at the second congress. The CPSU Central Committee delegated to the LMG full powers to launch a great antireligious attack with the objective of completely eliminating religion from the country, granting them the right to mobilize all public organizations.

In 1929, the Second Congress changed the society's name to The Union of Belligerent (or Militant) Atheists. At this Second Congress of Atheists, Nikolai Bukharin, the editor of Pravda, called for the extermination of religion "at the tip of the bayonet." There, Yaroslavsky also made the following declaration:

It is our duty to destroy every religious world-concept... If the destruction of ten million human beings, as happened in the last war, should be necessary for the triumph of one definite class, then that must be done and it will be done.

The Central Council chose Yaroslavsky as its leader; he occupied this post continuously.

Read more about this topic:  League Of Militant Atheists

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