The first part of the following selection, thought slightly edited, was excised from the chapter, "The Fanatical Spirit of the Revolution" in That Line of Darkness: The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden (Encompass Editions, 2013) for reasons of space. The last two paragraphs comment on the irony of the contemporary relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Putin regime.
During the Civil War, however, the Reds resorted to wholesale violence in the desecration of churches and the mutilation and execution of thousands of Orthodox priests. In August 1920, Lenin agreed to a plan for mass hangings of rich peasants, priests and landowners with the perpetrators disguised as Greens which would absolve the Bolsheviks of responsibility and allow them to blame the Greens later on. Greens were rural groups who united deserters from both sides to fight Red and White armies partly because they felt no ideological allegiance, but also because they objected to the extortion demands and treatment of the peasantry when either encroached on their territory.
After the Civil War, Lenin intensified the war against the Church when he used the famine as a pretext to plunder its wealth and destroy its influence. Although the Church had actively joined in the relief campaign by selling some of its non-consecrated valuables so that foodstuffs could be purchased abroad, Lenin ordered that it include in the sale its consecrated valuables, such as religious icons. When the Church resisted, he branded it an enemy of the people even though the Patriarch offered to raise the equivalency through the sale of other Church property. Lenin was not interested in co-opting the Church but in destroying it with “the most savage and merciless energy.” When he ordered local soviets (councils) to retrieve the valuables purportedly to assist the famine victims, armed bands gutted the churches of their iconography. Angry crowds defending their churches prompted Lenin to issue a secret polemic: “the more members of the reactionary bourgeoisie and clergy we shoot the better.” His order to “crush its resistance with such brutality that [the Black Hundred clergy who were supporters of the Tsar, anti-Semites and xenophobes] will not forget it for decades to come” led to the execution of an estimated 8000 people during the campaign of 1922 alone.
|A Black Hundred Procession, 1907
Lenin, engineering a prototype of the later Stalinist show trials, authorized the judicial execution of priests and bishops. He defended the Bolshevik all-out assault upon the Orthodox Church because it with its “priestly slime” represented a lethal threat to realizing his own vision of capturing the hearts and minds of the Russian people. Any indigenous religious alternative to the quasi-religious creed of Bolshevism needed to be expunged. He decreed that the Bolsheviks were completely justified in destroying every vestige of religion because “every idea of God, even flirting with the idea of God, is unutterable vileness…contagion of the most abominable kind. Millions of sins, filth deeds, acts of violence, and physical contagion…are far less dangerous.”
Lenin was not only determined to physically liquidate their enemies, but also to destroy any images important to them because as long as the icons existed, the spirit represented by that image remained alive. Similarly the tenacious determination of the Church to maintain the religious icons was motivated by the need to preserve the spirit embodied in those images even if priests lost their lives. Later Stalin compulsively destroyed all images, monuments and literary references, even critical allusions to his enemies, so that the effect would be that not only did they not exist: they could never exist because their spirit could never be invoked.
Ironically, after near extermination under Communist rule, the church and religion are back at the heart of the country’s politics The ideology emanating from the Kremlin—and from the Russian Orthodox hierarchy—is that the liberal opposition’s fight against state corruption and alleged electoral fraud has been recast into a script of “foreign devils” versus “Holy Russia.” The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, took to TV to say that “liberalism will lead to legal collapse and then the Apocalypse.” On another occasion, he called Putin’s rule “a miracle.” Both the Church and Putin have the full support of the cross-wearing thugs (a modern day version of the Black Hundreds) who have taken to patrolling the streets of nighttime Moscow, dressed in all-black clothing emblazoned with skulls and crosses determined to crush every manifestation of liberalism which they associate with prostitution, drugs and Satanists.
|Putin meets with members of the Russian Orthodox Church
The 2011 Pussy Riot trial, in which three female activists were given two-year sentences for performing a “blasphemous” punk prayer in Moscow’s central cathedral—which asked the “mother of God to rid Russia of Putin”—was a godsend for the Kremlin as it sought to whip up nationalist passions. Although condemned in the West, inside the country, it was used by the radical right to reinforce the idea of a Russia under attack. “The puppets are having their strings pulled,” wrote a daily newspaper, speculating the Pussies were following U.S. orders. Russia’s foreign ministry went so far as to say that Western criticism of the Pussy Riot trial was evidence that Russia espouses “Christian values” forgotten in the “postmodern West.” What is currently happening in Putin’s Russia is almost a mirror image—apart from the degree of violence—that occurred in the early Soviet Union under Lenin.
|Members of the Pussy Riot Band