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The Priesthood and Politics

As is known, the most desperate efforts are being made at present to arouse the entire priesthood for the elections to the Fourth Duma and to organise it as a solid Black-Hundred force.

It is most instructive to see that the whole Russian bourgeoisie—governmental, Octobrist, and oppositional Cadet alike—with equal zeal and agitation is exposing and condemning these plans of the government.

The Russian merchant and the Russian liberal landlord (or rather the landlord playing the liberal) fear the strengthening of an irresponsible government which desires to “cull” for itself the votes of obedient priests. It goes without saying that the democrats’ opposition (to use a mild and inexact term) on this point is far more resolute than that of the liberals.

We have already pointed out in Pravda the undemocratic approach to the question of the priesthood by the liberals, who either frankly defend the arch-reactionary theory of “non-interference” of the priesthood in politics, or reconcile themselves to this theory.[1]

A democrat is absolutely hostile to the slightest falsification of suffrage and elections, but he is absolutely in favour of the widest masses of any priesthood being directly and openly drawn into politics. Non-participation of the priest hood in the political struggle is the most harmful hypocrisy. In reality the priesthood has always participated in politics covertly, and the people would only benefit if it were to pass to overt politics.

Of outstanding interest in this respect is the article published in Rech a few days ago by Bishop Mikhail, an adherent of the old rites[2]. That writer’s views are very naïve. He is under the impression, for example, that “clericalism is unknown [to us] in Russia”, that prior to the revolution it (the priesthood) concerned itself only with heavenly matters, and so on.

But the instructive thing is the actual appraisal of events by this apparently informed man.

“It seems indisputable to me that the triumph of the elections will not be a triumph of clericalism,” wrote Bishop Mikhail. “United, if artificially, and at the same time, of course, offended by this lording it over their votes and their conscience, the priesthood will see themselves standing between two forces.\dots Hence the need of a radical change, a crisis, a return to a natural alliance with the people. If the clerical and reactionary trend ... succeeded in growing strong and maturing by itself, this perhaps would not come about. Now that the priesthood has been roused from its quiescence while still with remnants of its former confusion, it will continue its history. And the democracy of the priesthood is the inevitable and closing stage of this history, which will be linked to the priesthood’s struggle in its own behalf.”

Actually it should be a question of a distribution between the contending classes, and not of “a return to a natural alliance”, as the author naively believes. If the priesthood is drawn into politics, this distribution will certainly gain in clarity, breadth and political consciousness.

As for the fact that informed observers acknowledge the existence, vitality and force of the “remnants of the former confusion” even in such a social stratum of Russia as the priesthood, it is well worth putting on record.

V. I. Lenin


[1] See pp. 227–28 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] Adherents of the old rites—followers of a Russian religious movement against the official Orthodox Church. The movement arose in the mid-seventeenth century following the alteration of church rites by Patriarch Nicon. In tsarist times it was subjected to persecution.

Published: Pravda No. 106, September 1, 1912. Signed: I. V..
Published according to the Pravda text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1975], Moscow, Volume 18, pages 310-311.
Translated: Stepan Apresyan

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