Assistant Professor of History Victoria Smolkin was recently a guest on BBC Radio 4’s “Beyond Belief” to discuss Soviet state atheism.
Smolkin said that Lenin’s conviction that banishing religion was necessary to create a revolutionary society was right ideologically, but wrong politically.
“If they wanted to stay in power, they needed to accommodate religion, and they understood that,” she said. “However, if they wanted to build a Communist society, ultimately religion had to go.”
During the Civil War between 1918 and 1922, “The country’s divided, and [Lenin] saw the [Russian Orthodox] Church as an institution with huge social capital. The clergy on the ground are capable of mobilizing people against the Revolution in a way that he found to be threatening. And in particular, there was a moment in which he had called for requisition of Church valuables in order to ostensibly deal with the famine that was ravaging the country in the time, and he found that when the Bolsheviks went to requisition these church valuables, they met with huge resistance on the ground. As a result of that, Lenin was really able to see the power of religion to mobilize people against the Revolution, and then became much more fanatical, much more militant in his own thinking and in his own policies toward religion after 1922.”
Listen to the full interview.
Smolkin also is assistant professor of Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian studies.