Some Exceptionally Vivid Soviet Anti-Religious Propaganda

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Sept. 19 2013 11:30 AM

Some Exceptionally Vivid Soviet Anti-Religious Propaganda

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

Here are four pieces of anti-religious propaganda published in the young Soviet Union. These are undated, and the artist’s name has been lost, but it’s likely that they were printed and distributed during the 1920s or 1930s, when the newly empowered Bolsheviks made the elimination of religious power one of their main goals.

In a post on the excellent Web archive Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, historian James von Geldern catalogs the steps that the new Communist Party took during the 1920s to dismantle the cultural power of the Orthodox Church (as well as that of the Islamic and Jewish authorities in Ukraine and Belarus).


The early years of the decade saw officially sanctioned destruction of church buildings and property, as well as violence against priests. Later, the government attempted to persuade people to leave religion behind through culture: films, books, newspapers, and art.

Soviet officials focused, in particular, on the rural peasantry, thought to cling more closely to religious belief. These four caricatures appear to appeal to the class-consciousness of this group of laborers.

Two images feature a monocled fat cat, sitting on the shoulders of a bent-over man and wielding a whip, or spraying a group of believers with a tank of gas reminiscent of the chemical weapons recently used in World War I. In another illustration, a bishop wearing his church robes makes gluttonous inroads into a duck carcass, while anticipating the arrival of a pig’s head at table.

In the last image, a church’s dwindling attendance contrasts poorly with the throngs of people entering a factory—a wishful vision from a government that celebrated industrial technology as national liberation.

Thanks to Princeton’s Graphic Arts Librarian Julie Mellby, who posted these images on her collections blog, for her help.

Propaganda 1

L: “The voice of God is intended for the rich.” R: “Belief is harmful, more harmful than wine.” Graphic Arts Collection, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.


L: “Bye-and-bye the bishops ate.” R: “The power of the engines which overcomes the power of the church.” Graphic Arts Collection, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.


Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
Sept. 23 2014 12:43 PM Occupy Wall Street How can Hillary Clinton be both a limousine liberal and a Saul Alinsky radical?
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Head of Security Had a Legacy of Sabotage
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would A Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 2:31 PM 3 Simpsons Showrunners Reflect on New Fans and the “Classic Era” Myth
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 1:50 PM Oh, the Futility! Frogs Try to Catch Worms Off of an iPhone Video.
  Health & Science
Sept. 23 2014 1:38 PM Why Is Fall Red in America but Yellow in Europe? A possible explanation, 35 million years in the making.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.