During the late 1920s to early 1930s, a cultural revolution was transforming life for all classes and all professions. Stalin instituted social, religious, and political purges throughout Russia in order to preemptively suppress any insurgencies that may occur. Parties were experiencing inner conflicts, professions became polarized (which interrupted many careers), and even literature saw a bitter rivalry (Freeze, 356).
With a refreshed hostility towards the church from the Kremlin came an attempted purge of the church’s influence on Russian life. During the cultural revolution, the masses turned much of their anger towards local clergy, which was encouraged by the Stalin regime. Many people considered the church, and faith in general, to be “poison” to the building up of socialism, or rather Stalinism (Geldern, Churches Closed, Seventeen Moments; Freeze, 341). Anti-religious campaigns were directed towards the Russian Orthodoxy, and believers were ridiculed, property was damaged then repurposed, and the clergy were persecuted (Library of Congress). Local police were brutal in enforcing these new changes to ensure full cooperation under Stalin (Geldern, Churches Closed, Seventeen Moments).
Church bells were a prominent part of Russian life, and Stalin sought to eliminate that role. In fact, church bell ringing was prohibited under Stalin’s reign. He ordered for the bells to be taken down, and melted to be used in the industrial field with hopes that it would help the economy and further industrialization. He also ordered local authorities to confiscate ‘sacred’ items made of gold to be processed and used for other, non-religious means. Stalin attempted to remove the comfort of religion in any way he could in order to increase his power and authority.
Image of the destruction of church bells for the rescue of metal; found here.
To further damage the church, Soviet attempts to remove people from religion looked like increasing labor productivity through an “uninterrupted work week,” or in other words, machines running constantly, drawing people away from church on Sundays (Geldern, Churches Closed, Seventeen Moments; Freeze, 337). Religious holidays were eliminated and even identifying oneself as a believer was often met with hardship.
The restructuring of the social sphere in terms of religion was a dynamic aspect of the cultural revolution. It affected thousands of churches and even more followers, and would eventually lead way into the Great Purges of 1936-1938.
Freeze, Gregory. “Russia A History” 3rd Edition.