Deep within the guts of Russian library stacks exists what stays — little acknowledged or mentioned — of a lifeless and buried atheist dream. The dream first took form amongst Russian radicals of the mid-19th century, to whom the prospect of mass atheism appeared the important thing to Russia’s salvation. When Lenin seized energy in 1917, the Bolsheviks built-in it into their imaginative and prescient of heaven on earth.
To the extent that folks within the West have heard of this atheist dream, it has come to them primarily by the voices of its enemies. In 1983, Ronald Reagan put Lenin’s rejection of faith on the coronary heart of Soviet unfreedom in his ‘Evil Empire’ speech. That very same yr, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn blamed atheism for Russia’s catastrophes in his ‘Males Have Forgotten God’ speech on the London Guildhall (by which he additionally lamented the blasphemies of Monty Python’s Lifetime of Brian).
Even when the entire topic now lies underneath a layer of mud, guests to Russia’s magnificent state libraries — Soviet-era temples of studying dedicated to the enlightenment of the once-benighted folks — can unearth volumes of vividly illustrated anti-religious magazines from the Soviet period that reveal the evolution of a godless utopia. The principle anti-religious magazines of the 1920s, Godless and Godless on the Machine, had been graphic declarations of battle on all religions. Godless revealed illustrated essays on faith around the globe that resembled entries in a youngsters’s encyclopaedia. Godless on the Machine championed Marxism-infused satires and caricatures.
Blasphemous shock and awe had been a significant a part of the Bolshevik aesthetic, which sought to point out a still-pious nation simply who was in cost. One memorable atheist illustration confirmed a employee climbing a ladder into the heavens above a panorama of shattered temples to smash the gods. It carried the caption: ‘We’ve completed the earthy tsars and we’re coming for the heavenly ones!’ A trendy lithograph from the identical journal confirmed a grisly parody of communion, with monks and peasants butchering the physique of a lifeless Christ and consuming his limbs and entrails. Some magazines ran photographs of actual holy corpses: the mummies and skeletons of Russian Orthodox saints which the Bolsheviks had uncovered to debunk the favored perception that such relics didn’t decay.
Over the course of the 1920s, the magazines’ emphasis shifted from vivid, imaginative blasphemies to a extra regimented, Stalinist style of atheism, involved with the development of godless collective farms and industrial cities on the expense of spiritual buildings and ‘class enemies’. One Godless on the Machine cowl from 1930 confirmed a village priest as a hungry wolf stalking the outskirts of a collective farm, reflecting the collectivisers’ behavior of persecuting village monks and dressing animals of their vestments. A 1930 Godless cowl confirmed — as if as an example a foul joke — a priest, a rabbi and a mullah being swept by a dam sluice. These magazines usually introduced the closure and demolition of ‘centres of obscurantism’ — i.e. spiritual buildings.
The articles in Godless — into which Godless on the Machine was folded in 1931 — confirmed a deep consciousness of Soviet atheism’s 19th-century mental roots. It revealed options on heroes of the Bolshevik atheist canon, together with Nikolai Chernyshevsky and Nikolai Dobrolyubov (each sons of monks), the primary writers to disclaim the existence of God in Russian print. The contributors additionally scoured western philosophy and literature for all that was anti-religious or anti-clerical, from Hobbes and Shakespeare to Voltaire and Victor Hugo (whose novels a younger Josef Stalin was punished for studying throughout his grim coaching for the Orthodox priesthood in Tbilisi).
Stalin deserted the atheist dream when Hitler invaded the united states in June 1941—when anti-religious publishing ceased roughly solely — in favour of an Orthodox-tinted ‘sacred’ battle towards fascism. However the Communist get together revived it within the wake of Stalin’s loss of life and Khrushchev’s de-Stalinisation campaigns of the late 1950s and early 1960s, throughout which atheism appeared a useful signifier of a decided return to Marxist-Leninist roots and a renewed religion in communism. The anti-religious imagery of the Khrushchev period celebrated the glories of the area race — with staff’ sons now storming the heavens in rocket ships — and denounced the greed of village monks and the perceived risk of spiritual minorities such because the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Within the 1970s and early 1980s, Soviet satirists struggled to know the persistence of faith in a now-urbanised, literate nation the place so many church buildings had been changed by gleaming libraries, theatres and TV towers. They confirmed, too, a deep resentment of the West’s concern with spiritual freedom in the united states (which they portrayed as a entrance for espionage), and of ungrateful jeans-wearing Russian hipsters who flashed crucifixes as symbols of rise up. The Russian atheist dream died with glasnost, and now enjoys little well-liked nostalgia. But as we speak, the Russian authorities usually react touchily to public shows of irreligious irreverence; to them, flirtations with godlessness appear synonymous with revolution.