The Soviet Union and the Great Industrial God

I was going through some archive material about the war on Judaism waged by communist Jews in the early Soviet Union — posters, magazine covers, various agitprop, that kind of thing — for this latest chapter, when I came across an old Bezbozhnik magazine cover that I particularly liked.

“Bezbozhnik” means “godless.” The magazine was published from the 1920s through I think the early 1930s. It was edited by a Jewish Bolshevik named Yemelyan Yaroslavsky. At some point, the magazine was renamed into Bozbozhnik u stanka, which roughly translates to something like “godless worker at the factory” or “godless factory worker.” The magazine pumped out anti-religious agitprop and produced some great looking avant grade art mocking religion as a brainwashing tool of the capitalist class. It targeted not just Judaism and Christianity, but Buddhism and Islam as well. As Evgenia just pointed out, they were pumping out a century ago the kind of anti-Islamic stuff that would get you beheaded or shot full of holes in Paris today. Je Suis Godless Factory Worker!

The cover I liked the most though is the one below. I’m not sure what year it’s from. What I like about it is that it clearly shows the new God of the Soviet Union.

The cover shows a priest, a mullah, a rabbi, and what is I think is probably an evangelist preacher being flushed down a river. And who is doing the flushing? A denuded landscape with a hydroelectric dam and a bunch of belching factories! The symbolism couldn’t be clearer. The new is flushing out the old. Get out, you reactionary holy men. There’s a new God in town: Industrialization. Pollution is the new spirit and factories are the new places of worship — hence the title of the magazine: The Godless Factory Worker.

What’s funny is that the capitalist countries worshiped the same Industrial God. But there the old religions weren’t banished like they were in the Soviet Union, they were accommodating — they served the new master.

The Soviet Union is no more and the ideology that animated is all but dead. But on the worship side, not much has changed. We still live in the politics that gripped people a century ago. It doesn’t matter where people place themselves ideologically today, most still believe that the Great Industrial God — with its belching factories and machines and chemicals and its denial of nature — will remake the world into heaven, even as it turns it into hell.

—Yasha Levine

Update: Actually, I think I might have gotten something mixed up here. Godless wasn’t renamed into Godless Factory Worker. They were two separate magazines/newspapers running concurrently — which is actually even more amazing. Anyway, my point still stands!

This note is part of my book, The Soviet Jew: A Weaponized Immigrant’s Tale. Read the previous installment, The Old Country.