The Religious Foundations of Bolshevism


The Religious Foundations
of Bolshevism

(From the Religious Psychology of the Russian People)



 Such a setting of theme might evoke astonishment. What relationship has Bolshevism to religion? The Bolsheviks, just like the overwhelming majority of the Social Democrats, — are materialists, positivists, atheists, foreign to them is every religious interest, and they mock at any religious setting of themes. Everyone tends to say, that Bolshevism is a phenomenon totally non-religious and anti-religious. All this is indeed so, if we stay at the surface and regard as conclusive those word formulas, in which people tend to cloak their consciousness. But I think, that the Bolsheviks themself, as so often transpires, know not the final truth about themself, do not perceive, of what sort of spirit they are. To recognise about them a final truth, to recognise, of what sort of spirit they are, is possible only for people of a religious consciousness, endowed with a religious criterion of distinction. And here, I am wont to say, that Russian Bolshevism — is the manifestation of a religious order, in it are active certain ultimately religious energies, if by religious energy be understood not only that, oriented towards God. A religious substitute, an inverted religion, a pseudo-religion — is indeed likewise the manifestation of a religious order, in it there is its own absoluteness, its own final end, its own all-encompassing aspect, its own pseudo and phantasmic plenitude. Bolshevism is not merely politics, not simply a social struggle, it is not a partialised and differentiated sphere of human activity. Bolshevism is a state of spirit and a phenomenon of spirit, an entire world-sense and world-outlook. Bolshevism has pretentions to seize upon the whole of man, all his powers, it seeks to give answer to all the questions of man, upon all the human torments. Bolshevism seeks to be not merely some-thing, not merely a part, not some separate sphere of life, but rather the all, and all-encompassing. As a fanatic faith-confession, it does not tolerate anything alongside it, does not want to have anything separate from it, it wants to be the all and in all. Bolshevism indeed is socialism, having reached a religious disposition and a religious exclusiveness. In this it is akin to the French revolutionary syndicalism. In all its formal signs Bolshevism displays religious pretentions, and it is necessary to define, of what sort is this religion, of what sort is the spirit that it conveys with it into the world.

Revolutionary Social Democracy has become subject to a process of fading intensity, of becoming bourgeois, of differentiation, it gradually is becoming transformed into a practical social politics of the evolutionary-reform type. The pathos of revolutionary socialism imperceptibly has become weather-beaten. The European Social Democrats have become cultural people, they have acknowledged such “bourgeois” values, as nationality and the state, and their teleological world-concept has become transformed into a partialised matter. Only within the consciousness of the Russian Bolsheviks does the revolutionary socialism remain a religion, with which by fire and sword they want to thrust upon the world. This is something upon the order of a new Islam, in which they want to merit themself paradise by the killing of unbelievers. The Bolsheviks, just like all religious fanatics, divide all the world and all mankind into two realms — the realm of God, the realm of the socialistic proletariat, in opposition to the realm of the devil, the bourgeois realm. But all the while I shall be speaking about the sincere, the believing Bolsheviks, since in this medium there are also many dark elements, provocateurs, spies, the corrupt, and moral idiots.

The religious basis of Bolshevism for the time being is very unclear and for many unnoticed. But a Christian, believing in the Christ having come and awaiting the Christ to come, has to assume the audacity to declare, what sort of spirit it is that enters the world with the fanatical revolutionary socialism of the Bolsheviks. The Russian great writers — Dostoevsky in the “Legend about the Grand Inquisitor”, and Vl. Solov’ev in his “Tale about the Anti-Christ” — help us to solve the riddle of this spirit. Russian religious thought has done much for exposing the ultimate religious foundations of socialism, for making apparent its twofold nature, it has done this moreso, than has Western thought. Within Russian religious thought there has always been an apocalyptic disposition and striving. And therefore it has succeeded in making clear, that this is the spirit, of one who is to appear at the end times and who will tempt with his semblance to Christ, who will act in the name of the happiness and well-being of people, in the name of a million happy infants, not knowing sin. This spirit desires to leave people happy, having deprived them of spiritual freedom. For the renouncing of their spiritual birthright, the renouncing of the image of God in man and his Divine destiny, the Grand Inquisitor promises happiness, bliss, world-unity and tranquility. “He sets about to the merit of himself and his, that the final thing is that they shall have vanquished freedom, and rendered things thus, that they have made people happy”. “Yes, we shall force them to work, but in their hours free of toil we shall arrange their life, as child’s play, with childish songs, with choruses and dancing. Oh, we shall absolve them also their sins, for they are weak and without strength”. “And all will be happy, all the millions of beings”. “If it were to be in that light, then certainly already it is not for such, as they are”. And the hero of the “Legend about the Anti-Christ” — is a great philanthropist, he likewise wants to make people happy, he ultimately resolves the social question and installs a social paradise, but all this at a terrible price.


Dostoevsky and Solov’ev prophetically and with genius revealed this twofold image of suchlike future alluring millions of infants. When one ponders what at present is occurring, one tends to remember then the truth of the words of the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor: “Nothing ever for man and human society has been more unbearable than freedom”. Both the “Legend of the Grand Inquisitor” and the “Tale about the Anti-Christ” posit the problem concerning the Anti-Christian connection with the problem of socialism. And truly within socialism, as a worldwide phenomenon on a massive scale, there is something twofold and divided — within it truth is mixed together with lie, Christ with the Anti-Christ, a principle liberating together with a principle enslaving. Socialism — is a very complicated phenomenon, complicated both in idea, and complicated in life. And it is impossible simply to be a friend of socialism or its enemy. The alluring temptation of the Anti-Christ is grounded upon this, that the ultimate evil manifests itself under the guise of seeming good, that this ultimate evil is impossible to distinguish on the surface, that the evil power acts in the name of the well-being of mankind, in the name of lofty, just, beautiful aims, in the name of equality and brotherhood, in the name of universal happiness and felicity. Upon this basis rests all the whole seductive dialectics of the spirit of the Anti-Christ, as revealed by Dostoevsky. This spirit accepts all those temptations, spurned by Christ in the wilderness. This spirit conducts the Inquisitor’s acts of violence in the name of the well-being and happiness of people, in the name of justice and equality. Socialism, as a religion, is first of all also the acceptance of the first temptation in the wilderness, the temptation of the loaves of bread. “And see Thou these stones in this barren and scorched wilderness? Turn them into bread, and Thou wilt win over mankind, like an herd, grateful and obedient, though also eternally trembling, lest Thou hold back Thine hand and cease Thine bread for them”. And the obedient herd is won over by those, who would tempt it with the turning of stones into bread. Bolshevism follows in the footsteps of the Grand Inquisitor. In the name of happiness and equality this spirit would destroy everything uplifting, everything of quality, everything of value, all freedom, all individuality. This spirit preaches a worldwide equality of bliss in non-being. This spirit hates being, as qualitative, as uplifting, all in the name of equality and blissful tranquility it would destroy and subject it to non-being. Hateful to this spirit is that ontological aristocratism, which sets at the basis of every religion and most of all — Christianity, an aristocratism of spiritual freedom and spiritual birthright, of the Divine descent of man. This spirit of Hamism affirms instead a lower descent of man’s origin. People for it — are not sons of God, but rather sons of the world. From a verymost low matter and material darkness it seeks to arouse revolt and rebellion in the name of a leveling down and equating being with non-being, in the name of submerging all the qualities of being into a qualityless non-being. This — is a mystical Communism.

This spirit accepts not only the first temptation with the loaves of bread, but also the two other temptations, and upon them it desires to create a kingdom of this world. This spirit consents to worship the kingdom of this world and plunges into the abyss. The worldwide revolutionary socialism of the Bolsheviks wants to transform stones into bread, to plunge headlong into the revolutionary abyss in the hope of a revolutionary miracle and to found a forever kingdom of this world, replacing the kingdom of God. This religion of socialism is opposite in everything to the religion of Christ, which teaches, that not by bread alone doth a man live, but also by the word of God, it teaches to worship the Lord God alone, and not the kingdom of this world, it repudiates the temptation for a miracle, in the name of freedom. The religion of socialism wants to destroy everything qualitative of being, everything uplifting, and to drown it in non-being. It spurns freedom, the freedom of the sons of God, and it accepts the necessity and coercion of the sons of this world, of the children of lower matter. The temptation of a world social cataclysm, “of a leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom”, is also the allure with the temptation to plunge into the abyss, the temptation for a social miracle. The social revolution, having taken on a mystical hue, is also the third temptation, spurned by Christ in the name of the spiritual freedom of man. To this temptation has to be opposed a social sobriety, as a demand for ascetic religious discipline. Socialism, as a problem of social politics and social ethics, as social reformism, as a real bettering of the lot of the toiling, providing daily bread, is religiously neutral and can comprise an inalienable part of the Christian attitude towards life. In socialism there is its own great truth. But this true socialism issues forth from the freedom of the human spirit and does not permit of the enslaving of the human spirit at the price of bread and the dark abyss, the promises of a miraculous bliss in an earthly kingdom. Socialism however, in its dreaming about the creation of a worldwide kingdom by mechanical revolutionary miracles, is a temptation of the Anti-Christ, it denies the freedom of the spirit and deprives man of his filial relationship of sonship to God.


Russians by their feminine nature readily fall subject to the allures of twofold images, to the temptations of evil, masked under the guise of good. Imposters and pretenders are so characteristic in Russian history. Within it have often appeared twofold images, the nature of which are indeterminate, not as a person, but as a mask. In our mystical sects amongst the people there have been no little of such masks, twofold images, pseudo-Christs and pseudo-Mothers of God. In the Russian people there is a very peculiar element, the Klysty element, submerged within the depths of the pagan roots of the life of the people. Russian Klystyism in the final end is bound up with an incorrect and impaired interrelationship of the masculine and feminine principles in the soul and the character of the Russian people. Within the mystical depths of the Russian people there has not occurred as it were a marital consummation, a true union of the masculine and feminine principles within the people’s character. The soul of the people remains feminine, separated from the masculine principle, eternally awaiting a bridegroom and eternally not accepting any as her destined one. Upon this basis has developed a metaphysical hysteria in the character of the Russian people. Dostoevsky discerned it. Upon this basis blossoms forth every sort of obsession. The obsession with Bolshevism is a new form of the age-old Russian Klystyism. This Klystyism can alike be both black, and red, the Klysty-like hero can alike be either Grigorii Rasputin, or Lenin. And all this would be thus a manifestation of the passivity, and not the activity of the Russian soul, its sickly ugly and hysterical femininity. The Bolsheviks, certainly, are under the domination of a sort of spirit unrecognised by them, they are passive to the core and they mislead otherwise only by their revolutionary shouting on the outside. A masculine and active spirit would never be dominant in such elements.

With the more masculine peoples of the West, having received a Catholic or Protestant upbringing, there is a sharper sketching out of the boundaries, moreso a separating apart good from evil, God from the devil, than in the Russian indistinctness. The Catholic world has been tempted by the devil, as evil, but this is a distinctness of form, a crystalised world perceptive of its boundaries, and is not so readily tempted by the Anti-Christ — by evil, having assumed the guise of good. Satanism, the demonic aspect has always been a specialty of the Catholic and Romance world; the Anti-Christ however is a specialty of the Orthodox Slavic world, with its indistinctness and unlimitedness. The devil is not a temptation for the Russian soul, but the Anti-Christ can quite readily be a temptation for it. The devil presupposes distinctness, the Anti-Christ however is grounded in confusion and substitution. This — is a very interesting contrast in religious psychology. The satanic sects are impossible in the Russian Orthodox East, but very possible there is a confusion of pseudo-Christs with the true Christ, and in the Russian mystical sects this is always occurring. The piously pure cult of the Virgin Mary readily gets jumbled together with Astartism, and the Mother of God gets identified with a pagan goddess of the earth.

The West has everything set within its place, has in place all its religion, its culture, all its activity, its manly history, its chivalrous past, its free submission to law and norms. This makes the West little sensitive to the mystical impulses of the spirit of the Anti-Christ. The feel of the Anti-Christ is a religious specialty of Russia. It was there always in the religious life of the people and also at the heights, in Russian literature, in Dostoevsky and Solov’ev, and in the modern religious searchings. Within the Russian nature there is no sharp separation of good and evil. Russians tend to be captivated by evil, under the guise of good, whereas that selfsame evil, in not assuming the guise of good, rarely tends to captivate them. Here is why for Russians the dread thing is not the devil, but rather the Anti-Christ — an ultimate and approaching manifestation of evil. And with Russians particularly strong has taken hold the religion of revolutionary socialism, of a magical socialism, the religion of Bolshevism, captivating with its equality, justice and world triumph of an ultimate social truth and social paradise. Western socialism — is a matter of laws; the Russian socialism however — is lawless. Bolshevism is a Russian, a national phenomenon, and this — is our national ailment, which also in the past has always existed in Russian history, but in different forms. Germany is making use of this sickness of the Russian spirit, turning it into its own obedient tool. The manly German spirit is committing violence over the feminine Russian soul, abusing its sick passivity and hysteria. Germanism has presumptions to be the bridegroom in marriage to the Russian earth. To conquer this Russian sickness is impossible merely by rational, state, political methods of doctoring. To conquer it is possible only religiously, only by opposing against the false semblance of the Good with rather the authentic power of the Good — of Christ. In this world the kingdom of the Anti-Christ can occur only as the result of the non-success of the matter of Christ in the world, — it proposes to unite by violence this world, which is not being united in the love and freedom of Christ. If the principle of the Anti-Christ triumphs, then the blame will fall upon the Christian world, upon Christian mankind, upon its spiritual bourgeoisness. Christians do not show even an hundredth part of the energy, that the Bolsheviks show. In truth, the energy of the latter — is misleading, is illusory, it is only an obsession. But a most important matter is the uniting of all the powers of the Christian world against the coming evil, since the struggle with it has to be conducted not only on the external, the political and social plane, but also in the inward, the spiritual and religious plane.

Nikolai  Berdyaev.

11 July 1917

©  2007  by Fr. S. Janos


RELIGIOZNYE  OSNOVY  BOL’SHEVIZMA.  Article originally published in the weekly Journal “Russkaya svoboda”, Petrograd-Moskva, 8 aug. 1917,  No. 16/17.

Republished in Tom 4 of  Berdiaev Collected Works by YMCA Press, in the collection of 1917-1918 Berdyaev articles under the title, “Dukhovnye osnovy russkoi revoliutsii (Stat’i 1917-18)” (“Spiritual Grounds of the Russian Revolution (Articles 1917-18)”,  Paris, 1990,  p. 29-37.