Atheism in the Soviet Union
Soviet Atheism: the Militant League|
Atheists, Militant League of.
An antireligious organization established in the Soviet Union in 1923.The Soviet
government was determined to combat religion in Russia from the time that it
first assumed power in 1917. Initial efforts to develop antireligious machinery
and propaganda were hampered by the preoccupation of the new government with the
Civil War and by opposing theorists who can best be described as "leftist" and
"rightist" in their orientations. The "leftist" group favored a massive and
violent attack upon religion, whereas the "rightist" faction wished to permit
religion to die a natural death.
In 1922 Emel'ian Yaroslavskii, who became head of the atheistic programs of the
Communist Party during the 1920's and 1930's, began to edit the newspaper
Bezbozhnik (Godless). This publication rapidly became a centripetal force
for a group of dedicated atheists who, in 1923, evolved into the Soiuz
voinstvuiushchikh bezbozhnikov (League of Militant Atheists), an
organization destined to remain the leading wedge of the Soviet government's
antireligious drives between the World Wars.
In the pages of Bezbozhnik the League soon began to argue for a middle
course between the extremes of the "rightists" and "leftists." In 1925 the League
began to publish a new monthly journal, Antireligioznik (the
Anti-religious Worker), which further espoused the cause of compromise. In 1926
the Central Committee of the Communist Party endorsed the approach of the League
and condemned both "rightists" and "leftists." Undoubtedly this circumstance
adumbrated the fate of the Trotskyite and Bukharinite factions in the Central
Committee. In 1929 the League was assigned the central coordination of all
atheistic efforts and undertakings. From then until the early 1940s, when the
atheistic policies and programs of the Party threatened to hamper the war effort
of the Soviet Union, the League reigned supreme and conducted a vigorous campaign
against organized religion. Ironically, once having removed all competition for
the leadership of the atheistic program, the League adopted the "leftist"
approach in dealing with the religious problem.
By the beginning of World War II, the League had stifled organized religion
throughout the Soviet state, although it failed to suppress religious beliefs.
The League never disbanded officially but, after the war, was succeeded by the
All-Union Society for the Dissemination of Political and Scientific Knowledge or
(as it was known more simply) the Znanie (Knowledge Society).
- Dennis J. Dunn, Southwest Texas State University
see also the entries for Yaroslavskii, Emil'ian Mikhailovich (1878-1943), and the
- the Modern encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet history, vol. 2, edited
by Joseph L. Wieczynski (Academic International Press: Florida 1976) pp 148-9