Lukin on the Orthodox Church and the Russian Revolution

Our latest translation from the 1918 magazine Kommunist concerns a topic not often dealt with in our writings. Since 1839 Tsarism had adopted the slogan “Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality” as the basis of its ruling ideology. The Tsar’s autocratic power was justified in the formula “God’s representative on Earth”, and the Russian Orthodox Church supported this as the established State Church. Since Peter the Great’s time, the Procurator of the Holy Synod, who sat in the Cabinet, was responsible for running the Church. With the overthrow of Nicholas II in February 1917, you might have expected the Orthodox Church to oppose the revolution. Especially since the new Provisional Government was largely composed of anticlerical Freemasons. However, as Marx noted regarding the English Church in one of his prefaces to Capital:

The English Established Church, e.g., will more readily pardon an attack on 38 of its 39 articles than on 1/39 of its income. Now-a-days atheism is culpa levis [a relatively slight sin, c.f. mortal sin], as compared with criticism of existing property relations.

No doubt the Orthodox Church was also rapidly abandoning its theological dogma in order to preserve its property. Thus it temporised, and its leadership welcomed the February Revolution (despite their solemn oath of loyalty to the now deposed Tsar). The Provisional Government though appointed the anti-clerical V.N Lvov as Procurator. He began to purge the clergy of any of the hierarchy too closely connected to the monarchy and, in June 1917, the Church’s 37,000 parish schools were put under the control of the Minister of Education. “Divinity” was dropped from the curriculum.

However, the Church did preserve its property until the October Revolution. This coincided with the Orthodox Church’s Council (Sobor) decision to revive the office of Patriarch which Peter the Great had suppressed two centuries earlier. The choice fell on Tikhon, the Metropolitan of Moscow. The new Council of Peoples’ Commissars (Sovnarkom), headed by the Bolsheviks, went much further in its attack on the Church. The first decree was the transfer of all educational establishments run by the Church to the Commissariat of Public Education in December 1917. The same month civil marriages were declared as the only legal ones. This was followed in January 1918 (although by the modern calendar which was adopted a few days later the date became 2 February) of the complete separation of Church and State. The decree was not against religion. It wisely stated that “Every citizen has a right to adopt any religion or not to adopt any at all” but it did begin to dismantle the power of the Church by undermining the source of its wealth. This had already begun with the Decree on Land of November 1917. This involved the confiscation of the substantial holdings of monasteries and the Church and their redistribution by local district (volost) committees. The February 1918 decree went further and removed the control of churches from the hierarchy and handed them and their religious contents over to their congregations if they were at least 20 strong. It is these “churches” that the Orthodox hierarchy complain about in the article that follows. By this time Patriarch Tikhon had already anathematised the Bolsheviks (although telling atheists that they would “burn in hell”, or that they could not enter a church, was hardly likely to be much of a deterrent). No reprisals were taken against Tikhon by Sovnarkom, and there were no widespread revolts against the measures taken against the Church. However, it was inevitable that, in certain places, bloodshed would occur. In Tula 13 people were killed when Red Guards fired on an ecclesiastical procession and in Voronezh a commissar who tried to take over a monastery was murdered. Both the Commissariat of Justice and of the interior issued instructions to avoid force but during the Civil War the Church identified more and more with the counter-revolution by supporting the White Armies. The banishment and even execution of leading Church figures as well as over 300 local priests in this period indicate the depth of hatred felt towards the Church. The revelations that most of the supposed “holy icons” were actually fakes (the vessel that supposedly contained the remains of St Alexander Svirsky, for example, was found to contain a doll) further undermined the Church’s reputation. However, it seems that devotion to the Orthodox Church before the revolution had been much exaggerated. Class hatred was more intense than religious devotion at this point. Even Denikin, the White general, found that “the preachings of the Church showed little influence on the masses”. Monasteries were converted into hospitals and other types of institutions and some Churches were even destroyed. This though was not a policy and would only become so under Stalin. Such is the background to the document that follows.

It was written by “Nikolai Antonov”, the nomme de guerre of Nikolai Mikhailovich Lukin (1885-1940). He is one of the least politically prominent of all the contributors to Kommunist. He joined the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1904. He was though another “Left Communist” who, born just outside Moscow, went through Moscow University. He was also a cousin to Nikolai Bukharin. His sister, Nadezhda Mikhailovna Lukina (1887-1940) was Bukharin’s first wife (they divorced in 1921). Lukin distinguished himself as a historian, specialising in the modern history of France and Germany. In this role, his 1922 study of the Paris Commune highlighted the impact this first attempt by the working class to give the bourgeoisie a general battle had on subsequent generations. It went through four editions and Lukin held several important academic posts in his career, writing a mammoth history of the role of the peasantry in the French Revolution as well as books on the Girondins and Robespierre. As director of the Institute of History of the USSR Academy of Sciences (1936-38) his most political act was an article in 1937 predicting that the coming war would be one between capitalism and socialism.

A year later he was arrested and expelled from the Academy of Sciences on 5 September 1938. At his trial in 1939 he made an ambiguous, but telling, statement about the methods of Stalinist interrogation: “I ask the court to consider that, due to my painful condition, I could not tolerate physical influences, as a result of which I slandered myself and slandered others”. He died in prison on 19 July 1940. He was “rehabilitated” in 1957 in the wake of Khruschev’s denunciation of Stalin’s crimes.

Sources: Y. Akhapkin First Decrees of Soviet Power (Lawrence and Wishart 1970), W.H Chamberlin The Russian Revolution Volume 2 (Macmillan 1935), The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, Wikipedia “Nikolai Lukin”

The Clergy and the Counter-Revolution

In recent times, because of the restoration of the monarchy in Ukraine and the worsening problem of subsistence in Northern Russia, counter-revolution has again reared its head. It has mobilised all of its forces with great haste; from that of the “savage” landowner, reanimated by the hope of taking back their land, to that of the village kulak, who dreams of the abolition of fixed grain prices.

The Orthodox clergy plays an active role in the campaign led by the Cadets and their accomplices (such as Gots and Martov)(1) against the Soviet power.

Just like the Mensheviks and the Right SRs, these shepherds of human souls play mainly on the famine. They are well aware that in times of public catastrophe, religious beliefs previously cast aside often resurge. Among the poor city dwellers, there are still many unconscious, politically backwards elements who, in their desperation, are prepared to place all their hopes in providence. And as long as the clergy plays its intermediary role between the divine and the sinners, its authority will continue to swell in such times.

Even the priests are scrambling to take advantage of this situation; they exploit the sensitivity and credulity of the starving masses to stage various miracles, they organise religious processions, masses, etc. At the same time, the pastors’ incomes grow (miracles being rather profitable!) with their influence over pious people ready to believe the Patriarch Tikhon(2) saying that, “only the union of all the different layers of the Russian people around the Church” can save Russia.

But the lost democratic elements who are ready to follow the clergy today do not see the close relationship linking the Church to the classes which were defeated by the revolution.

However, examining the attitude of the Orthodox clergy since the February Revolution, we easily see that the counter-revolutionary schemes of the pastors had begun long before the Decree of the Separation of Church and State which pushed the princes of the Church into such an extreme fury.(3)

The publishers of the bourgeois newspapers, which reproached the clergy for being insensitive to political events and provoked the “excommunication” of the Bolsheviks, were in error. Count Olsufiev(4) was also wrong when he regretted to the Church council that the “message” of the Patriarch “was a little late: we should have done it from the moment that they began plundering the houses of landowners as well as the factories, and not only when they attacked the Monastery.”

The very precious material that characterises the political line of the Orthodox clergy is contained in “the messages to the children of the Orthodox Church” published from time to time by an official ecclesiastical organisation like the Council.

This Council was an attempt by the Orthodox clergy to adapt to the astonishing new situation which the fall of the Romanov monarchy has created for the priests.

After the abolition of autocracy, the servants of the Orthodox cult lost their protector and firm defender. Gone were the uriadniks,(5) the city sergeants and the Tsarist prosecutors who guarded the profits of the priests, and who had supported the Church in its struggle against the Old Believers(6) and cultists. The laws which prevented people who had already drifted spiritually from the Orthodox Church from formally leaving it were abolished. Thus, fewer devotees, less income for the pastors!

In such conditions, the Orthodox clergy naturally started searching for support among the classes whose interests were threatened by the development of the revolution, i.e. by the landowners and the bourgeoisie.

In turn, the large landowners and capitalists gladly approached the Church with the assistance with which they hoped to regain their old influence, at least among the most backwards layers of the common people.

The bourgeois and feudal elements got along very well indeed with the shepherds of human souls on religious matters. They understood together the impossibility of clinging to the privileges of the Orthodox clergy through the old measures of pure policing; at the same time, they did not desire the separation of Church and State.

The capitalist needs a priest who receives a State salary, who preaches to the workers that all earthly concerns are vanity and that the exploitation of one class by another pleases God, and finally who inspires in the masses the spirit of resignation and humility down here on Earth. All this will be rewarded in heaven.

Accustomed to their privileges (which are more vast than those of the servants of any other cult) and in support of the government, the Orthodox clergy could not even imagine that one day the State coffers would be closed to them and the era of “free competition” between all religions and their priests would commence.

The Holy Council is made up of the “princes of the Church” (metropolitans, bishops, archimandrites), former large landowners (such as Count Olsufiev, Prince Trubetskoy(7), Rodzianko (8), Samarin (9)), Cadet capitalists (Astrov (10)) and bourgeois intellectuals (Kotlyarevsky (11), S. Bulgakov (12)).

The Council was created around 15 August last year, at the very moment when the landowners, the capitalists and the Tsarist generals were preparing a military dictatorship which would annihilate all the gains of the revolution.

It is from that date that the political actions of the clergy commenced.

In Moscow, a review of the counter-revolutionary forces was prepared (a so-called “democratic conference”(13)) and the clergy scrambled to organise a sumptuous meeting for General Kornilov on whom the eyes of all the enemies of the revolution were fixed. But Moscow “was a failure” and Kornilov, along with Kerensky, the head of the government, set to systematic preparations for a counter-revolutionary coup d’État.(14) Advocating the re-establishment of the death penalty for soldiers, Kornilov knowingly surrendered Riga to the Germans. He explained this as due to a lack of military discipline: the bourgeois newspapers began a savage campaign of slander against the soldiers, decrying them as “traitors to the fatherland”, “cowards”, etc.

And so? The bourgeoisie finds support in the Orthodox clergy. In the special message of the Council, the latter repeats the filthy slanders of the servants of capital on the shameful fleeing of “entire detachments”, the “plundering of the civilian population”, “spies and traitors on the inside who debase the morals of the army and incite them to massacre their commanders”, etc.

Capital, in the human form of Ryabushinsky, threatens to submit the “insatiable” workers “to the bony hand of famine” by closing the plants and factories.(15) And the Orthodox priests, with their eyes raised heavenwards, say, “Workers, work without sparing any strength and suppress your demands for the good of the fatherland.” But Kornilov’s adventure failed, and revealed itself completely as the “cunning trickery” of the conspirators; the hero of the bourgeoisie was threatened with a trial and maybe capital punishment.

So the Orthodox Council sent a telegram to the Provisional Government imploring it “in the name of God and of Christian mercy” to save the life of the traitor-general. The “princes of the Church” recalled the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” when Kornilov was threatened with the death penalty which he himself had re-established. But they remained obstinately silent when, by the order of the same general, hundreds of soldiers who did not want to continue the massacre for the capitalists’ profit were shot!

The policies of the bourgeois Provisional Government, organised with the participation of the Mensheviks and Right SRs, had pushed the starving peasants to extremes and to revolt, against which it sent punitive detachments to the country and threw members of the agrarian committees in prison. Finally, the Holy Council addressed the “sons of the Orthodox Church” once more to tell them to hurry to defend the wealth of the landowners and the clergy. “Sometimes,” their message reads, “we hear of pillaging of churches, convents, landowners ... In several different bishopric parishes, the peasants are appropriating private and ecclesiastical land by force, plowing the fields of the clergy without authorisation, cutting the wood of the convents and landowners.”

The humble fathers of the Church treat the peasants like “brigands” and, under the threat of the fury of Our Lord in the flesh and of excommunication, demand that “the land, the wood and the plundered crops be returned at once to the churches, convents, parishes and landowners.”

The Holy Council appeals to the poor peasants by quoting the Bible: “when riches increase, set not your heart on them” [Psalm 62 - CWO], while the followers of the cult themselves never forget to “look to heaven but root about on the Earth”. In the same message, the fathers of the Church give a pained sigh: “not long ago, the churches enriched themselves with donations, wealth, houses and various products made by rich and poor folk alike; not long ago the peasant communes gave up 33 dessiatins(16) of land for the construction of a temple, did they not?” Now this is no longer the case; not only are they not offering “voluntarily” but they are simply “plundering”.

And the Orthodox clergy continues to cast shame on its flock; look at those heretics! “This year, they redoubled interest in their temples and priests.”

This is how the profits of the Orthodox clergy were decreasing even before the separation of Church and State, as we can see in the Message of the Council on 15 December, in which the people “of the other world” reminded us once again to, “take care of your spiritual fathers who work for you ... it is your duty before God.”

Thus the halt in the flow of “voluntary donations” and the appropriation of ecclesiastical land by the peasants brought the clergy even closer together with the landowners who had been driven out of the countryside.

But the revolutionary wave grew and grew and, in October, it conquered the power of the bourgeoisie. The clergy, already unhappy with the February “coup”, received the triumph of the October Revolution with clenched teeth.

And with good reason; now not only the land of the landowners but also that of the Church has been declared public property.

But the workers and peasants did not triumph overnight; sometimes the bourgeoisie opposed them with fierce resistance. And at that time, the Council believed its duty to be to add its renowned voice to the stream of lies and slanders flowing from the counter-revolutionary camp against the new Soviet power.

In the message “On the Internal Quarrel”, the October Revolution is presented (in typical bourgeois fashion) as a revolt “of one part of the troops and the people seduced by the promises of earthly wealth and immediate peace, against the other part.” They terrify the masses with the prospect of civil war; they blast the “false masters”, that is, the Bolshevik socialists, who are stigmatised as “traitors to the fatherland”, “who betray Russia and its faithful allies in unheard of ways.”

The Decree of the Separation of Church and State, and the realisation thereof, have provoked new demonstrations by the Orthodox clergy; the message of Patriarch Tikhon (19 January) and the order of the Council (26 January). We will not analyse these documents which our readers will recall very well. Let us just say that after the approbation of this decree, the priests began to defend their wealth and riches under the pretext of the defense of religion, which, according to them, was under attack from the Soviet power.

Every conscious worker and peasant must unmask these hypocrites and reveal to the masses the counter-revolutionary essence of the priests’ crusade. Reality gives us more and more material for our propaganda.

Now, in Moscow, Patriarch Tikhon calls the workers and peasants to unite with the capitalists and landowners under the banner of the Orthodox Church; in Kiev, Bishop Nikodim(17), and with him all the high clergy, organised a triumphal meeting, with the cross and holy water in their hands, with the German creation Hetman Skoropadsky who, having restored autocracy in Ukraine, took the peasants’ last few grains of wheat to aid German bayonets, restored the land to the landowners and reinstalled the arbitrary rule of capitalism in the plants and factories. What is more, the priests of Kiev prayed for Nicholas the Bloody to return to the throne.

While Patriarch Tikhon and the Holy Council anathemise Mr Skoropadsky and the clergy of Kiev sings the praises of his regime, we are all the more certain that once the same Skoropadsky is in Moscow with his German guard, the “humble” Tikhon and his clergy will rush just as promptly to his sides as the whole bourgeoisie and all the landowners of Russia.

N. Antonov

(1) Abram Rafialovitch Gots (1882-1940): was a leader on the right of the Right Socialist Revolutionaries, not only supporting the Provisional Government but also the continuation of the war. Opposed to soviet power he organised armed resistance to the Bolsheviks. He was put on trial in 1922 with other SR leaders. Though sentenced to death he, like the others, had the sentence suspended and he was exiled to Alma Ata where he worked in industry until 1937 when he was arrested and sent to the Gulag where he died in 1940.

Julius Martov (born Iuliy Osipovich Tsederbaum, 1873-1923): was initially a close comrade of Lenin’s but eventually become the leader of the Menshevik Internationalists. At the Second Soviet Congress, which endorsed the overthrow of the Provisional Government, he won a lot of support for his proposal for a joint government of all the parties but the Menshevik majority and Right SRs who had been in the old government refused to accept unless Trotsky and Lenin were excluded. With the failure of negotiations, the Menshevik majority and Right SRs walked out of the Congress, and Martov soon followed much to the chagrin of some of his own supporters. He continued to support the Reds during the civil war but criticised the decline of the soviets (which he himself had thought premature). He went to Germany to lecture in 1920 and whilst he was still there the Mensheviks were declared illegal (March 1921). He never returned to Russia as he was now suffering the final stages of tuberculosis. Lenin sent him the best medical assistance available but he died in April 1923.

(2) Vassily Ivanovich Bellavin (1865-1925): member of the Orthodox Christian clergy under the name of Tikhon from 1891, Patriarch of Moscow and of the Russian Orthodox Church from 1917 to 1925. When he died, nearly a million people came to say their farewells to the patriarch. The great cathedral of Donskoy Monastery in Moscow could not contain the crowd, which overwhelmed the monastery estate and filled the squares and neighbouring streets.

(3) The Decree of the Separation of Church and State enacted on 23 January (5 February) 1918.

(4) Dmitry Adamovich Olsufiev (1862-1937): Russian politician, he was a member of the Tsarist State Council for the province of Saratov from 1907. Member of the Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1917, he emigrated shortly afterwards.

(5) Non-commissioned police officer of the old regime, considered reactionary.

(6) The heresy of the Old Believers resulted in a schism with the Orthodox Church in the mid-17th century in opposition to the liturgical reforms imposed by Patriarch Nikon (1605-1681).

(7) Evgenii Nikolaevich Trubetskoy (1863-1920): philosopher specialising in Orthodox theology, journalist, professor at the University of Moscow, he was part of the liberal political current.

(8) Mikhail Vladimirovich Rodzianko (1859-1924): Octobrist, final chairman of the State Duma, he occupied an important place in the chain of events which led to the abdication of Nicholas II. Removed from the Provisional Government in favour of Prince Lvov, he retired from political life and in 1918 he left Moscow for Crimea. After the defeat of Wrangel, in 1920, he emigrated to Yugoslavia.

(9) Alexander Dmitrievich Samarin (1868-1932): born to a noble family, he was a graduate of the faculty of history and philology of the University of Moscow (1891). In 1915, he was appointed Chief Prosecutor of the Most Holy Synod. Member of the Council of Churches (1917-1918), threatened with arrest by the Cheka, he fled Moscow, before finally being captured in September 1918. He was then imprisoned and deported.

(10) Nikolai Ivanovich Astrov 1868-1934): Russian politician, member of the Cadet party, he was chosen as Mayor of Moscow in 1917, then President of the All-Russian Union of Towns. He became one of the primary advisers to the White general Denikin before emigrating to Czechoslovakia in 1920.

(11) Sergei Andreievich Kotlyarevsky (1873-1939): historian, author, lawyer and freemason, member of the Cadet party.

(12) Sergei Nikolaevich Bulgakov (1871-1944): economist and legal Marxist, close to the liberal current and the Cadets, he converted to Orthodoxy and got ordained as a priest in 1918. Exiled in 1922.

(13) Called by the VTsIK [of the first Congress of Soviets] on 14 September 1917 to form a coalition aimed at unifying the revolutionary and democratic forces to resist the German advance. This was a total failure. Although it maintained a coalition with the bourgeoisie, it excluded the Cadets.

(14) Doubtless cut short rather rapidly, since the Kornilov putsch was also directed against the Kerensky government, despite the hesitations of the latter.

(15) At a conference of industrial capitalists in 1917, Pavel Ryabushinsky had warned that “the bony hand of famine will seize the members of the various [workers’] committees and soviets by the throat.”

(16) Dessiatin: archaic unit of measurement used in Russia, equivalent to a surface area of 1.0925 ha.

(17) Nikolai Vassilievich Krotkov (1868-1938): priest under the name of Nikodim (1889) or Nikodeme, attached to the bishopric of Kiev from 1911, he organised a prayer ceremony at the Saint Sophia Cathedral on 29 April 1918 with Hetman Skoropadskyi.

Friday, June 4, 2021