Churches Closed

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Subject essay: James von Geldern

State policy toward the church was subject to a number of contradictory impulses in the late 1920s. The Kremlin leadership fluctuated between antagonistic and conciliatory attitudes towards its perceived foes, and there were tensions as well between central authorities and the periphery, young and old, radical and cautious. One result of the shifting directions was a window of approximately two years when the state pursued its most radical policies. The bloody conflict of collectivization was one result, and another was renewed hostility toward the church. The state stiffened the restrictions it had placed on the church in 1918 with a new law on religious organizations issued in 1929, giving the church little room to act, and reinforcing the restrictions by stiff penalties.

These measures were little stricter than the already harsh Criminal Code of 1923. In fact most of the legal and documentary basis for the war on the church was already in place by 1923. What changed was the vigor with which several clauses were prosecuted; the willingness of authorities to use violence to achieve their aims; and perhaps, the autonomy enjoyed by local authorities. The animus towards the church that had been focused on the hierarchy during 1922-1923 was focused on local clergy during the Cultural Revolution. Activists pursued variety of campaigns, mobilizing the population (whether willing or unwilling) to purge the poison of faith. Particularly ferocious was the attack on church property, which saw ancient churches converted into warehouses, and sacred objects melted down for their metals. Church bells were the object of special attention, since the state claimed the metal for the great industrialization project. Local police authorities were usually responsible for church closings, and their heavy handed methods could arouse the fury and resistance of villagers.

Coupled with attacks on the church was the new uninterrupted work week (nepreryvnaia nedelia, often abbreviated to nepreryvka). Introduced in 1929, the nepreryvka was meant to increase productivity by keeping machines in operation throughout the year, and to wean workers away from Sundays and religious holidays as days of rest. In the most widely practiced variant, the so-called five-day week, employees worked for four days and were off for one, following a staggered schedule. The only exception was to be the five days per year consisting of revolutionary holiday celebrations. Introduction of the nepreryvka required cultural organizations, educational institutions, shops, baths, laundries, and other facilities to adjust to the staggered schedule. Moreover, it was one thing to have the factory in continuous operation, but another to have machines operating continuously. Breakdowns and shortages of raw material supplies made this a virtual impossibility. For awhile, such problems could be disguised, but by 1931 Stalin himself conceded that it was better to adopt the interrupted six-day week than to perpetuate a nominal uninterrupted schedule, thereby giving his imprimatur for the abandonment of the continuous work-week system.

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