The Russian Communist Party turns to the Orthodox Church | Religion
Moscow, Russia – Jesus Christ was the world’s first communist, Tamara Lavrischeva happily announced.
“Jesus said, ‘Do not collect earthly wealth, you will not take it with you after death,'” the 78-year-old pensioner and Orthodox Christian told Al Jazeera as she plodded through the snowy streets of the city. center of Moscow. along with thousands of other Communists at the November 7 rally commemorating the near centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.
“And the communists thought the same,” she added, her voice drowned out by the crowd chanting Soviet-era songs under red banners with hammers and sickles and portraits of Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin.
It is a sacred duty of Communists and the Orthodox Church to unite
With a dismissive shrug and a condescending smile, Lavrischeva dismissed the murders, imprisonment and persecution of millions of Orthodox Christian clerics and believers at the hands of the Communists.
What she said was not just the opinion of an elderly woman who wants to reconcile her faith with the ideals of her youth in the officially atheist USSR. His selective amnesia for the persecution of believers – well documented and brandished by the Soviet authorities – reflects a seemingly paradoxical trend in recent Russian Communist Party policy.
More than 25 years after the Soviet collapse, the party appeals to Orthodox Christianity, Russia’s dominant creed. The party’s only post-Soviet chairman, Gennady Zyuganov, has called Jesus “the first communist” more than once.
“It is a sacred duty of Communists and the Orthodox Church to unite,” Zuyganov wrote in 2012 in his party’s first long document on religion, as the two institutions shared “common goals and enemies.” . Goals included censorship of “debauchery and violence” in the media, eradication of Western liberalism and “its conception of human rights”, e-government and sex education in schools.
READ MORE: Russia’s Renewed Love for Joseph Stalin
A populist approach
The Russian Orthodox Church regards two-thirds of the country’s 143 million people as its flock. Even though most of them are only nominally religious, as polls show, they are still a demographic that no political force can ignore – even though it is United Russia’s biggest rival, the giant of the Kremlin in power.
The Communist Party easily gathers tens of thousands of supporters for rallies. Zyuganov has run for president four times, always coming in second, and the party he has led since 1993 holds almost a tenth of the seats in the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, forming its second largest fraction.
But in reality, tthe communist party is a colossus with feet of clay.
His support has been waning for years; his loyalists are simply dying. The average age of a party member is 56, and membership has fallen to around 155,000 – an insignificant number compared to the 19.5 million Soviet communists in 1989. Zyuganov’s speeches – bald, chubby and notoriously uncharismatic – hardly attract millennials or bourgeois city dwellers, the main antagonists of the Kremlin.
The Communist Party necessary to expand its ranks – and secure the support of its hard core.
He whitewashed the image of Stalin, whose name was condemned and tabooed by the Politburo in 1956. He boosted his online presence and recruited a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, cosmonaut and retired admiral to dominate his federal ticket to the legislative elections in September.
And it turned to religion – what sociologists call a populist movement.
“The staunchest followers are mostly elderly women, pensioners, in a sense the CP’s electoral base,” Denis Volkov of the Levada Center, Russia’s newest independent pollster, told Al Jazeera.
A symbiosis after the persecution
The Church’s response to the celebratesOvertures from were polite and positive.
“All political forces must be united when it comes to the values of faith, morals, culture and the unity of our nation,” Russian Patriarch Kirill was quoted as saying by the agency. Interfax press, in 2014 when he presented Zyuganov a Medal of Glory and Honor, his Church’s highest honor, on the occasion of his 70th birthday.
In February, Zyuganov congratulated Kirill on the fifth anniversary of his induction. “One of the most serious mistakes of my predecessors was falling out with the Church,” he told the patriarch.
But it wasn’t just a matter of falling out.
Every Soviet leader before Mikhail Gorbachev sought to eradicate religion – be it the Abrahamic religions, Buddhism, Siberian shamanism or endemic pagan cults. Sacred texts and relics were destroyed, religious buildings dynamited, desecrated and transformed into stables, schools or warehouses.
READ MORE: The resurgence of shamanism in Siberia since the fall of the Soviet Union
Lenin laconically set the number of Orthodox priests to be executed: “The more the better”. The Politburo supported the policy of “militant atheism” which replaced religion with a rigid ideology that prophesied the worldwide triumph of Communism and developed an elaborate cult of Lenin and lesser Communist “saints” and “martyrs”.
This ideology was imposed by a propaganda machine designed to regulate all walks of Soviet life and indoctrinate children from preschool. One of the first Soviet youth organizations was called “Little Red Devils”.
Although religion was not outright banned, authorities attempted to control religious institutions by enlisting clerics as KGB agents.
In the early 1990s, a parliamentary commission headed by Orthodox politician and priest Gleb Yakunin released KGB documents allegedly proving that top Orthodox hierarchs, including the future Patriarch Kirill, were KBG informants.
The Orthodox Church denied the allegations and defrocked and excommunicated Yakunin. The frail priest joined a breakaway Orthodox sect and was severely beaten several times by unknown assailants.
But these days, the Communists even blame their own impiety for the collapse of the USSR.
“Atheism destroyed the Soviet Union,” Vadim Potomsky, a communist governor of the western Orel region, reportedly said in mid-July.
Zyuganov also occasionally mentions Islam and Buddhism, whose followers form large minorities in Russia.
“If Jesus Christ, Muhammad and Buddha hadn’t been prophets, they would have been 100 percent communists,” Zuyganov told the Kommersant daily in December 2015. The shift to religion also reflects a tectonic shift in tthe communist partythe ideology.
Zyuganov remains committed to nationalizing Russia’s oil and gas industry, restoring a socialist welfare state and opposing “decaying Western capitalism”.
But, instead of a messianic struggle for world “proletarian unity”, the Communist Party endorses nationalism and exploits a widespread nostalgia for the Soviet past.
It is “a party of imperialist nostalgia and Russian nationalism, and there is no imperialism or nationalism without Russian orthodoxy,” Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center, a think tank, told AlJazeera.
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Another thing that undermines the party’s popularity is its conformism. Breakaway communist groups and critics accuse Zyuganov of being part of the “systemic opposition”, a term used to describe three parties nominally opposed to United Russia.
These parties have seats in the Duma, loudly criticize the Kremlin – and quietly vote on most bills. For years, tthe communist party backed some of the Kremlin’s most controversial initiatives – the annexation of Crimea, airstrikes in Syria and unpopular domestic reforms such as drastic cuts in social benefits.