The Purge: The Poison of Faith

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.


7 thoughts on “The Purge: The Poison of Faith

  1. It’s interesting how specific Stalin got with his anti-church/religion campaign. Banning religious holidays makes sense but banning church bells is a pretty unique order. I like how you pointed out the anti-religious campaigns had an economic undertaking through scrapping church bells for metal.


  2. Great job! The point on the church bells is super interesting and unique to Russia culture. The hyperlink provided great extra information. I agree this cultural revolution led to the implications for the Great Purges, and further led to collectivization under Stalinism.


  3. It’s interesting to me the great measures Stalin took to attack the church and how harsh these measures were. I thought the uninterrupted work week was interesting and how Stalin went so far as to regulate work schedules to keep individuals from going to church. Good job!


  4. One thing I learned from reading your post was that Stalin literally exterminated the use of church bells under his reign. Like who does that!? He’s literally crazy, as we all know. Anyways, the extremes Stalin went through in order to eliminate religion in general is astonishing. He was so threatened by God’s word that he reconstructed the state as relgion-less basically, which would force many citizens to quickly lose their faith in God. This heavily impacts their daily life because once you lose your faith, you start losing hope, too which can cause severe social issues. I really enjoyed your article, so good job!


  5. What I find interesting is the lack of a unified resistance to these changes. Certainly Russian Orthodoxy had been an integral part of Russian identity (At least in the Russian heartland) for the majority of its history. The rapid transition to open persecution of Christians under Stalin must have come as quite a shock. I’m curious if you found anything in your research pertaining to persecution of Muslims and Jews living in the USSR? Or was this attack on faith based less on the faith itself but rather undermining the power of the Church in light of Stalin’s rapid growth of power?


  6. I agree with Kassidy that it’s crazy how much Stalin wanted to keep people out of the churches. I wonder why he didn’t try to win over the churches and the people so devoted to them to gain a greater following. I feel as though trying to alienate this group would make him unpopular while working to win over the Russian Orthodoxy would be highly beneficial to promoting an agenda.


  7. This is truly one of the most fascinating aspects of Stalin’s intentions and actions to progress the Russian state. I often wonder how effective he actually thought the persecution of all-things-religious would be, and I’m saying that because so much of the Russian culture is rooted in religion. Like you stated in the posts, weekends/work breaks are traditional known as days of rest and prayer, so Stalin sought to rid them of a place in the week. The Russian language was partially created by a Christian saint (St. Cyril), and the word Sunday in Russian,
    Воскресенье, is literally translated to ‘Resurrection’. Thanks for the insightful post, I like the cover-photo of Stalin and his car!


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