These posters were published in the Soviet anti-religious magazine, Bezbozhnik (“The Godless”) from 1922 to 1941. The main purpose of the magazine was to thwart any religious beliefs that were supposedly too distracting for the working class.
The magazine was founded by the League of Militant Atheists, an organization of the Soviet Communist Party members, members of its youth league, workers, and veterans, and technically it was not state-sponsored satire.
The publication included works by cartoonists N. F. Denisovsky, M. M. Cheremnykh, D. S. Moor, K. S. Eliseev, and others. The circulation of “Bezbozhnik” reached 200 thousand copies in 1932.
The magazine actively denounced all religions, hence, rabbis and priests were a basic target for attacking. Often accusing them of collaborating with the rich, as well as the counter-revolutionaries, they were blamed for corruption, laziness, and as a tool used by the rich to control the masses.
Even holidays and traditional celebrations were attacked and ridiculed. The publishers criticized the Jewish Passover holiday as an excuse for excessive drinking, the Jewish prophet Elijah was accused of being an alcoholic who got “drunk as a swine”.
State atheism (gosateizm, a syllabic abbreviation of “state” [gosudarstvo] and “atheism” [ateizm]) was a major goal of the official Soviet ideology.
The Communist Party engaged in diverse activities such as destroying places of worship, executing religious leaders, flooding schools and media with anti-religious propaganda, and propagated “scientific atheism”.
It sought to make religion disappear by various means. Thus, the USSR became the first state to have as one objective of its official ideology the elimination of the existing religion, and the prevention of the future implanting of religious belief, with the goal of establishing state atheism (gosateizm).
As the founder of the Soviet state, Vladimir Lenin, put it: Religion is the opium of the people: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about religion. All modern religions and churches, all and of every kind of religious organizations are always considered by Marxism as the organs of bourgeois reaction, used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class.
The Bolsheviks were particularly hostile toward the Russian Orthodox Church (which supported the White Movement during the Russian Civil War) and saw it as a supporter of Tsarist autocracy.
During the collectivization of the land, Orthodox priests distributed pamphlets declaring that the Soviet regime was the Antichrist coming to place “the Devil’s mark” on the peasants, and encouraged them to resist the government.
Political repression in the Soviet Union was widespread and while religious persecution was applied to numerous religions, the regime’s anti-religious campaigns were often directed against specific religions based on state interests.
Anti-religious and atheistic propaganda was implemented into every portion of soviet life from schools to the media and even on to substituting rituals to replace religious ones.
Though Lenin originally introduced the Gregorian calendar to the Soviets, subsequent efforts to reorganize the week to improve worker productivity saw the introduction of the Soviet calendar, which had the side-effect that a “holiday will seldom fall on Sunday”.
Within about a year of the revolution, the state expropriated all church property, including the churches themselves, and in the period from 1922 to 1926, 28 Russian Orthodox bishops and more than 1,200 priests were killed (a much greater number was subjected to persecution). Most seminaries were closed, and the publication of religious writing was banned.
The Russian Orthodox Church, which had 54,000 parishes before World War I, was reduced to 500 by 1940. Overall, by that same year, 90 percent of the churches, synagogues, and mosques that had been operating in 1917 were either forcibly closed, converted or destroyed.
(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / Fishki.ru / TheCharnelHouse.org / Some poster translations taken from MCBCollection.com).