‘We’ve finished the earthly tsars and we’re coming for the heavenly ones!’. Thus spoke the Soviet Union’s first atheist propagandists as they declared war on ‘the opium of the people’ across the USSR.
Soviet atheism is the great lost subject of the 20th century. Pope Pius XI led a ‘crusade of prayer’ against it. George Orwell satirised it in Animal Farm. The Nazis called it a Jewish plot. Franklin D Roosevelt pressured Stalin to abandon it. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn blamed it for Russia’s catastrophes. Ronald Reagan put it at the core of his ‘Evil Empire’ speech. And yet, because the Soviet Union promoted atheism almost entirely for domestic consumption, decades’ worth of arcane and astonishing antireligious imagery remains unknown in the West.
Drawing on the early Soviet atheist magazines Godless and Godless at the Machine, and post-war posters by Communist Party publishers, Roland Elliott Brown presents an unsettling tour of atheist ideology in the USSR. Here are uncanny, imaginative and downright blasphemous visions from the very guts of the Soviet atheist apparatus: sinister priests rub shoulders with cross-bearing colonial torturers, greedy mullahs, a cyclopean Jehovah, and a crypto-fascist Jesus; Russian cosmonauts mock God from space while vigilant border guards nab American Bible smugglers.