N.B: This article looks at the subject in a Russian context.
Fighter Anarchist recently spoke about the relationship between anarchism and religion. In my opinion, this is an excellent invitation for further discussion. In this article, I want to focus on two aspects of this rather broad question. First, I want to talk about state repression against religious minorities, both in historical perspective and in the present. Secondly, I am interested in the points of contact between the worldview of representatives of religious minorities and the liberation movement. Here I will turn to both history and modernity.
The Russian state has a long tradition of persecuting religious minorities, and the current Kremlin tsar is a worthy successor to it. It is enough just to look at the data provided by the OVD-info website to make sure that the Russian special services most often arrest, torture, imprison not anarchists, not human rights defenders, not journalists, but “wrong” believers, primarily Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of the Islamist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir. The first of these two organizations is recognized as extremist in the Russian Federation, and the second is terrorist. Of course, a person of anarchist views is unlikely to become a follower of these religious movements. However, this does not negate the right of religious dissidents to practice their religion and live according to their cultural norms. Neither Jehovah’s Witnesses nor Hizb ut-Tahrir, despite the strict rules within these communities, do not propagandize and do not use systematic violence, these religious communities are also devoid of frankly destructive features, like any sect of the god Kuzi. According to libertarian principles, the cultural rights and voluntary cultural autonomy of these minorities must remain protected, both from the state and from the democratic centralism of the “majority”.
As already mentioned, persecution of religious dissidents is nothing new for the Russian state. Historically, schismatics have been one of the most oppressed religious minorities in Russia. Without going into the details of the church schism that took place in the middle of the 17th century, I can only say that the Russian state unleashed the most cruel repressions on the Old Believers. This is one of the reasons why the schismatics massively supported all subsequent popular uprisings. By the second half of the 19th century, the will of the Old Believers for active armed struggle had long been broken, but infringements of social and cultural rights, as well as mistrust on the part of the authorities, remained. On the part of the split, passive resistance continued. The most radical schismatics, the so-called runners, tried to minimize their interaction with the “antichrist” state, up to a complete refusal to bear the duties imposed by them. And therefore, when in the first half of the 1870s, mass revolutionary propaganda began in Russia, which was called “going to the people”, the Old Believers were considered the natural allies of the revolution, the vanguard of the future uprising.
Among those populists who worked especially diligently in the schismatic environment was the future organizer and strategist of Narodnaya Volya, Alexander Mikhailov. From the point of view of the issue under discussion, his view of this religious group is interesting.
Alexander Mikhailov began his work among the schismatics in the spring of 1877, even during the existence of Earth and Freedom. A group of Petersburg landowners went to the Saratov province with the aim of conducting a sedentary revolutionary agitation, finding jobs that required education or rare skills useful for peasants. Alexander Mikhailov, choosing a place for a settlement, settled on the Old Believers. He himself talked about campaigning among the schismatics in his short autobiography Autobiographical Notes, completed in February 1880, as well as in the testimony given during the investigation. Yes, this outstanding organizer of Narodnaya Volya’s activities, who received the pseudonym “Janitor” for his extremely pedantic approach to conspiracy, testified. I will allow myself to move away from the topic, and give an explanation of the revolutionary why he made such a decision: “As a public figure, I take the opportunity now presented to give an account of the Russian society and people in those my actions and the motives and considerations that guided them, which became an integral part of the events of recent years that had a serious impact on Russian life <…>. I will not touch upon individuals, in the sense of surnames and data leading to their discovery, disclosure and involvement in the present case. ” Naturally, this approach of Mikhailov to testifying was not condemned by his comrades; rather, on the contrary, he managed to turn the trial into a platform for promoting the ideas of Narodnaya Volya. The revolutionary knew that he would no longer be released, but he still used the situation with the maximum benefit for the organization and the liberation movement.
However, back to the schismatics. Mikhailov initially prepared for his revolutionary activities in the Old Believers’ environment with all responsibility. He wanted to become “his own” for the Old Believers, and not a person from the outside, an intercessor, or, as they say now, a human rights activist. In his “Autobiographical Notes” the revolutionary wrote: “I had to literally become an Old Believer, I had to pull myself into tight-knit gloves, to break myself from head to toe. <…> This helped me to become an unrecognizable schismatic in two or three months, and whoever knows the Old Believers knows what that means. For an intelligent person, this means performing 10,000 Chinese ceremonies and performing them naturally. ” The efforts were justified. “I could already penetrate the Siberian secret sketes, and the Astrakhan communities (communists), and the runners, and to the Preobrazhenskoe cemetery ”- Mikhailov told about the results of his reincarnation as an Old Believer. It should be noted that such a diligent approach to revolutionary agitation is still relevant today.
From the point of view of the issue under discussion, the relationship between the liberation movement and religion, it is most interesting how the social environment of the Russian revolutionary imbued with the spirit of progress was compatible with the Old Believer archaism. Mikhailov naturally touches on this topic. Even in his autobiography, he wrote: “The world of schism captivated me with its originality, strong development of spiritual interests and independent people’s organization. It is a powerful state in a bureaucratic state. ” That is, Mikhailov sees similarities between the developed “spiritual interests” of atheist revolutionaries and schismatic believers. Both those and those oppose the state ideology, adhere to a worldview that for the better differs from the officially accepted one.
In his testimony during the investigation, Mikhailov developed this point of view further. He argued that the Old Believer communities were gripped by a spirit of spontaneous social protest. The revolutionary talked about the special cult of Emelyan Pugachev, which he discovered among the schismatics. And the point here is not only in the specific historical memory, because the Old Believers made up a significant part of the Pugachev army. Some schismatics who met Mikhailov dreamed of a new uprising, revenge on the oppressors and the onset of a “kingdom of truth on earth.” But even those who were less radical did not recognize state power. In the fall of 1877, Mikhailov got a job as a teacher in the village where the so-called Spassovtsy lived, representatives of one of the directions of the Old Believers. In his testimony, the revolutionary told about their teachings:
“Their worldview is as follows: the world is embraced by the spirit of Antichrist. His incarnation is sensuously the king. His servants and his means are officials and the state system. By this he conquers the souls of men, full of everyday desires and therefore unable to fight. He makes the conquered pray to himself, as the chief chief of the church since Peter I, to serve him and make sacrifices, of which military service is a blood sacrifice, the most grievous. But “for the sake of love” the Spasovtsy cannot openly fight against him and pass themselves on to the goodness of Christ the Savior and his invisible leadership. “
Thus, the religious teaching of the schismatics was inseparable from the spontaneous opposition. Among the Old Believers, Mikhailov also finds a different type of personality, for the better different from the one that prevailed among the submissive, downtrodden people. In his opinion, the very religious worldview of the schismatics was based on personal morality, and not official religiosity. This independence in matters of faith made the schismatics a fertile environment for revolutionary agitation and potential rebels. Mikhailov stated in his testimony: “It is perfectly understandable why the Old Believers so willingly pestered Pugachev. They fought against the state before him, and now they continue it. Spiritually, the world of schism is much higher than our peasantry. Among him, it is easy to raise questions of a moral nature, and the soil for them will be the most fertile. “
The problem is not religion as such, but how earthly power uses it. It is appropriate here to cite the story of Grigory Plekhanov about Mikhailov’s participation in a religious dispute that took place in Saratov in the fall of 1877. To people of anarchist views, the luminary of Marxism Plekhanov is known as an unpleasant character, but there were bright sides in his biography. In the 1870s, he took a noticeable part in the activities of “Land and Freedom”. So, as Plekhanov recalled, Mikhailov merged so much with the schismatic environment that he began to attend disputes with Old Believers organized by the Orthodox clergy. He took the future Marxist with him to one of these events.
The dispute, to which the two populists came, was framed in the best traditions of Russian statehood and looked little like a free exchange of opinions. Here is how Plekhanov describes it: “Mikhailov was most interested in the question of which of the schismatic” pillars “would defend” ancient piety. ” But to his great chagrin, the clerk replied that the schismatics had almost stopped going to disputes, since, not content with book wisdom, the “priests” inform the police about their opponents, and the schismatics receive due reward from the secular authorities for disagreeing with the spiritual authority. That is, for disagreement with the church hierarchs, the schismatics were simply taken to the police with all the ensuing consequences, and the event, declared as a dispute, was simply state propaganda. But Mikhailov was not taken aback and decided to take the place of the absent “pillars”. And not without success. “I only saw that Mikhailov spoke very self-confidently, that he was not embarrassed by the objections of the“ father, ”and that for each of the texts they quoted, he cites no less weighty testimony of this or that saint. The people around listened to him with great attention, but the “priests” felt, as it was evident, not very clever “- said Plekhanov. In the course of the dispute, the discussion turned to runners who completely deny public duties. Then the church hierarchs used their last, but a win-win argument: “” So, after all, the runners do not recognize the king, “exclaimed one of them (priest). “Fear God, honor the king,” repeated another in a thunderous voice. ” that he is not embarrassed by the objections of the “priest” and that for each of the texts they cite, he cites no less weighty testimony of this or that saint. The people around listened to him with great attention, but the “priests” felt, as it was evident, not very clever “- said Plekhanov. In the course of the dispute, the conversation turned to runners who completely deny public duties. Then the church hierarchs used their last, but a win-win argument: “” So, after all, the runners do not recognize the king, “exclaimed one of them (priest). “Fear God, honor the king,” he echoed in another with a thunderous voice. that he is not embarrassed by the objections of the “priest” and that for each of the texts they cite, he cites no less weighty testimony of this or that saint. The people around listened to him with great attention, but the “priests” felt, as it was evident, not very clever “- said Plekhanov. In the course of the dispute, the discussion turned to runners who completely deny public duties. Then the church hierarchs used their last, but a win-win argument: “” So, after all, the runners do not recognize the king, “exclaimed one of them (priest). “Fear God, honor the king,” repeated another in a thunderous voice. ” Then the church hierarchs used their last, but a win-win argument: “” So, after all, the runners do not recognize the king, “exclaimed one of them (priest). “Fear God, honor the king,” repeated another in a thunderous voice. ” Then the church hierarchs used their last, but a win-win argument: “” So, after all, the runners do not recognize the king, “exclaimed one of them (priest). “Fear God, honor the king,” repeated another in a thunderous voice. “
As Plekhanov recalled, things were going to summon the police and arrest Mikhailov, so the landowners hurried to leave the meeting.
This story is a clear example of how religious dissidence, which the authorities perceived as a threat, was suppressed in the Russian Empire. The parallels with the events of our day suggest themselves. After all, the current repressions against Jehovah’s Witnesses are justified precisely by the fact that they “do not recognize the king.” The very participation in their religious practices by the Russian courts is seen as preparation for the overthrow of the state system. Both under the Romanovs, and now the state claims to be the supreme arbiter in spiritual matters. Dissent is not allowed.
It is now impossible to say what could have resulted from the propaganda activities of Alexander Mikhailov among the schismatics. Mass repressions against propagandists and the need for revolutionary self-defense from persecution, the assassination attempt of Vera Zasulich, which caused a wide public resonance, and the activation of the revolutionary movement in the political center of the empire pushed him to an armed struggle. Already in the summer of 1878, Mikhailov participated in an attempt to free the populist Porfiry Voinoralsky, which ended in the murder of one gendarme. In the spring of 1879 he organized an assassination attempt on the chief of gendarmes Drenteln and helped Alexander Solovyov prepare regicide. During the split of Land and Freedom, Mikhailov was one of the most consistent supporters of the strategy of a democratic political revolution and the tactics of political terror. eventually taken into service by “Narodnaya Volya”. However, the turn to politics did not remove the issue of the oppressed position of religious minorities from the agenda for the populists. Narodnaya Volya proclaimed its goal to provide schismatics and other religious groups with equal political, social and cultural rights with all.
Not only during the Romanov empire, but now the revolutionary authors find the moral level of representatives of religious minorities above the “average for the House”. This point of view was expressed in the interview “If you are political, you will suffer” by the Belarusian anarchist prisoner Nikolai Dedok. Only he was not talking about schismatics, but about Baptists. In the essay “The Untouchables in the Prison Hierarchy”, included in the book “Colors of a Parallel World” and in the above interview, Nikolai criticizes the informal prison order and claims that their existence is an integral part of the state system of control over prisoners. The most severe form in which the informal prison hierarchy manifests itself is the existence of a caste of untouchables, people deprived of all rights and elementary human dignity in places of imprisonment. Falling into this category is the worst thing that can happen to a prisoner. “The existence of this caste provides the staff of the penitentiary institution (correctional institution) with invaluable assistance in putting pressure on prisoners who refuse to obey,” Nikolai writes. As the anarchist himself notes, representatives of religious minorities are the only ones who actively resist the inhuman prison order. Here is what he says in an interview: “I heard about such people – Christians, Baptists – who ended up in the zone and deliberately went to the lower caste. I have great respect for them, but I couldn’t do that myself. ” That is, the ethical norms of religious minorities required not only sympathy for the most oppressed, but also the direct sharing of their fate. Nikolai himself does not call for such a choice, and the anarchists who have found themselves behind bars should not do this.
It is also worth adding that, as far as the author of the article knows, Nikolai Dedok himself is an Orthodox Christian. But his dedication to anarchist ideas has already brought him to conclusion twice. Such consistency in the struggle for our ideals can be wished for everyone.
To be fair, I would like to note that the religious minorities persecuted in the Russian Federation are not angels at all. With the ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam adopted by Hizb ut-Tahrir, everything is clear; it is unlikely that a person of anarchist views will want to live in a caliphate, the construction of which the members of this movement proclaim as their goal. Jehovah’s Witnesses also have many downright unpleasant features. For example, representatives of this religious group do not participate in strikes and other forms of social struggle, this is directly prohibited by the internal rules of the organization. But in modern Russia we do not have a situation where a dozen strikes break out every day, and only Jehovah’s Witnesses stand in the way of a social revolution. If this were so, the problem would be quickly resolved, because a strike-breaker is a strike-breaker, and it does not matter who and how he worships. But we see how Jehovah’s Witnesses are repressed by the state simply for their religious practices and a worldview that differs from the official one. For their faith, these people, who have not done anyone any special harm, go to prisons and torture.
Of course, many anarchists consider the very concept of the existence of a certain higher power to be authoritarian, which penalizes or, on the contrary, rewards people for their actions and thoughts. A significant part of our comrades reject religion as a set of unscientific ideas. There are enthusiasts who are always ready to conduct atheistic agitation. Let it be so, this is also necessary. But it is important to see the other side of the religious theme as well. The right to practice religion, like the right to renounce it, is an inalienable right of the individual. Both historically and now, religious practitioners have participated in libertarian social experiments. As shown above, there are examples of how representatives of religious minorities, faithful to their faith, ethically and morally stood above the majority of society, which did not question the official ideology and official worldview.
What attitude to religion should be declared? In my opinion, the anarchists should inform the people in their agitation that Putin’s Russia is a country of religious lack of freedom. Anarchists, on the other hand, stand for complete freedom of religion, for an end to persecution and discrimination on religious grounds. If you want to decide for yourself who you believe in and how to pray or not to believe and not to pray at all – join our struggle for freedom and equality.
When writing the article, the collection of materials “Narodovolets Alexander Dmitrievich Mikhailov” (Leningrad 1925) was used, compiled and edited by Anna Pribyleva-Korba and Vera Figner.