103.918/1865: Telegram

The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Harriman) to the Secretary of State

1775. Department’s 991, October 14, 6 p.m.3 The Embassy has obtained the following information regarding the status of the antireligious movement in the Soviet Union during the Soviet-German war, as a result of interviews with the Director of the Moscow Anti-Religious Museum and with the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Society of Military [Militant] Atheists of the USSR.

The Anti-Religious Museum, which was opened in 1925, was closed to the public in August 1941. Its name has been changed to “Museum of the History of Religion”. The museum’s staff of scientific workers has been reduced from 30 to 2 members. The director stated that 5 members of the staff had been killed at the front during the war. At present the museum operates two traveling exhibits, which visit small towns in the Moscow area and also Moscow factories. These are entitled “Fascism, the Destroyer of Freedom of Conscience” and “Fascism, the Destroyer of Culture.” The director stated that the museum staff had a very limited program at present, and that it engaged entirely in scientific and not in propaganda work. During the [Page 862]war there has been no anti-religious propaganda during religious holidays.

Asked why the anti-religious work of the museum had been so curtailed, the director at first referred to technical reasons, such as lack of personnel. Questioned further, he stated that clergymen and religious believers had shown a patriotic attitude toward the Soviet Government during the war, and that therefore militant anti-religious propaganda would be out of order at this time. Asked if the work of the museum would be restored to its former scale and direction after the war, the director said that he thought that their work would have to be scientific and educational in the future, rather than openly propagandistic. He said that communism and religion remained irreconcilably hostile, but that future anti-religious activity would be of a scholarly, restrained character. He also stated that the excesses of the past must be avoided.

The director was courteous and friendly altho a suspicious attitude had been displayed by his assistant with whom the appointment was arranged by telephone. The director personally displayed to the member of the Embassy staff who visited the museum some of the collections which were housed in a storage building near the museum.

The Secretary of the League of Militant Atheists also was friendly and answered questions freely after he had checked his visitor’s documents of identity. He said that his organization remained intact throughout the country but that its activities during the war were “more nominal than real”.

He stated that the society had suspended all publication activities during the war, with the exception of a brochure published in September 1941 entitled Fascism—the Destroyer of Freedom of Conscience. They were not accepting new members during the war although there were many applicants. Asked about the membership of his organization, he said that it had been over a million before the war, but that it was impossible to give any figures now. He said that the organization still carries on activities but on a small scale.

The Secretary stated that the reason for curtailment of anti-religious activity during the war was that the Church had shown a very loyal attitude toward the country, and that it was regarded as an ally in the struggle against fascism. He emphasized that most of the membership of the anti-religious groups had gone to the front or were engaged in vital war work and that therefore anti-religious work could not be promoted.

Like his subordinate, the museum director, he appeared to hope that anti-religious activity would be resumed after the war. He felt that it would have to be more restrained than in the prewar period. He said that ideologically the Soviet Government remained irreconcilable [Page 863]in its opposition to a religious world outlook (mirovozzrenie). Asked what forms future anti-religious activity might take, he said that it could be carried on by means of lectures in clubs, by reading programs in libraries, etc. Asked about anti-religious teaching in the schools, the Secretary replied that there was no special anti-religious program in the schools, but that the standard text books used presented a materialist point of view.

The information furnished by these Soviet officials tallies on the whole with that given by an experienced American observer in Moscow who was also consulted. This source stated that he also had visited the Office of the Atheists League, and had been told that they were not carrying on any publication activities. He, however, stated that anti-religious tracts published before the war were still on sale in some of the Moscow bookstores. Metropolitan Nikolai’s statement to a member of the Embassy staff that the anti-religious societies are not active during the war (see Embassy’s 1753, October 27, 11 a.m.) also seems, on the whole, to be in accord with the statements made by the Soviet officials consulted.

It appears from the foregoing that anti-religious propaganda has virtually ceased in the Soviet Union during the present war, and that such plans for its resumption as are now envisaged indicate that after the war the anti-religious organizations will not be allowed to take such an openly hostile attitude toward the Church and religion as they did in the period before the present war. The opinions expressed by the two Soviet officials who were consulted as to what attitude is likely to be taken after the war should not, in the Embassy’s opinion, be accepted as conclusive as the official policy has probably not been formulated.

Moreover the views expressed by the officials who were consulted probably reflect to some extent their personal desires and the natural zeal of a person to continue activities to which he has devoted years of effort.

In evaluating this whole situation, there should be kept in mind the present unprecedentedly favorable attitude of the Soviet Government toward the Church. The restoration of the Patriarchate and the Holy Synod, the resumption of Church publications, and the supplying of candles and other necessary articles for church services, are significant. Other information which has reached the Embassy, such as the report that prominent Soviet architects are now engaged in making plans for restoring churches in the liberated areas is also symptomatic.

Thus under the stress of war the Soviet Government has found it desirable to restore the Church to at least a part of its former prestige.

  1. Not printed.