By Julian Lewis
Salisbury Review – January 1985
Only rarely is an entire Soviet propaganda campaign openly given the lie by a Communist Party newspaper, yet that is precisely what happened recently when the Morning Star reported the speech of Viktor Mishin – leader of the Kremlin's Young Communist League – to a YCL congress in Moscow.
"The servants of religion in our country are not inactive,"
"To be frank, they are ever more persistently looking for paths to the hearts of young people. Every incident of participation in religious ceremonies, or fascination by the decoration and symbolism of religion, or sign of a conciliatory attitude towards religious views, must be a cause not only of concern but of active opposition."
In expressing this view, Mishin was running true to a Communist tradition stretching from before the First World War to the outbreak of the Second. As Lenin had written in 1913:
"Every religious idea, every idea of a god, even flirting with the idea of a god, is unutterable vileness of the most dangerous kind – 'contagion' of the most abominable kind".
It took Stalin's almost fatal confrontation with another militantly atheistic regime, Nazi Germany, to awaken Soviet interest in the political and propaganda value of organised religion. Almost overnight, the great 'eradicator of faith' became Russia's 'God-given leader’, and in due course a Council for the Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church was established under the control of the NKVD – forerunner of the KGB – to give the Church the necessary 'guidance'.
In his acceptance speech for the 1983 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, Solzhenitsyn described present-day Russia as a land
"where the clergy is utterly humiliated and deprived of all independence, where what remains of the Church as an institution is tolerated only for the sake of propaganda directed at the West, where even today, people are sent to labour camps for their faith, and where, within the camps themselves, those who gather to pray at Easter are clapped in punishment cells".
Throughout the 1950s, the Russian Orthodox Church proved its propaganda value to the Kremlin. The flavour of its contributions can be gauged from its assessment of the US role in the Korean War:
"From the first day of lawless aggression, the American neo-fascists began a systematic cannibalistic destruction of the 'lower' Korean race",
declared one of its leaders who was subsequently welcomed to US shores by the American National Council of Churches.
But it was with the formation in Prague in 1958 of the so-called Christian Peace Conference (CPC), that Soviet manipulation of religion for political ends came fully onto the international stage.
The CPC is the youngest member of a network of 13 major international propaganda front bodies co-ordinated and controlled by the International Department of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party. Its most famous sister-organisation in this network is the World Peace Council (WPC), the President of which – an Indian Communist by the name of Romesh Chandra – has set down his view that
"the Soviet Union invariably supports the peace movement",
"wherever people are fighting [sic] for peace and a new life, the Soviet Union is invariably standing by their side".
When President Brezhnev died in 1982, the World Peace Council eulogised his
"unwavering devotion to the cause of peace, understanding among peoples, freedom, justice and social progress",
and predicted with unconscious irony that
"the cause for which he dedicated his life will triumph".
The Christian Peace Conference and the World Peace Council have always been closely linked. The first CPC President, Joseph Hromadka, was a WPC member as well as a holder of the Lenin Peace Prize – a singular distinction for a 'theologian' when Lenin's views on religion are recalled.
According to the Constitution of the Christian Peace Conference, it is a
"forum at which Christians from all over the world will meet together and search for God's will concerning current political, social and economic problems".
Its aims include the creation and preservation of 'peace' and co-operation, support for social and economic systems which would rule out oppression and exploitation, and solidarity with 'popular liberation movements'. What all this really amounts to was spelt out in 1963 by a disillusioned former Vice-President of the CPC, Richard Ullman, who wrote:
"we had better admit without further prevarications that our Eastern brethren are being used for Communist policy, and that through them we are being used in the same way".
Because both the Czech President and Secretary-General of the Christian Peace Conference actually dared voice opposition to the Soviet invasion of their country five years later, the organisation was plunged into a crisis – but not for long. Both men were forced out of their positions the following year. After several further resignations and expulsions, total Soviet control was re-established and 'peace' returned to the CPC.
It was therefore only to be expected that, with the controversy over the plan to deploy US missiles in Western Europe to offset the Soviet SS20s, the Politburo's 'Christians' would add their distinctive gloss to the World Peace Council's propaganda offensive. At its September 1983 meeting, the CPC's International Secretariat expressed satisfaction at its close involvement in the notorious Prague Peace Assembly held the previous June, when dissident Czech members of the Charter 77 movement had been attacked by the security police for trying to hold discussions with Western delegates. In the view of the Christian Peace Conference, that WPC-sponsored assembly had
"generated an enormous amount of ideas and propositions for peace work".
During a speech in Ottawa, back in August 1982, CPC President, Dr Károly Tóth, disarmingly admitted that
"the various declarations of peace can very well conceal contradictory intentions. Peace has become a magic word which may mean any concept you like".
By mid-1984, his organisation was scheduling meetings with SWAPO and ANC guerrillas, and entertaining a delegation from its own Polish affiliate whose Chairman described Jaruzelski's repression as
"the path of a new start, normalisation and stabilisation".
Nor is Britain escaping the CPC's attention. The organisation's British Regional Committee has two Bishops amongst its leaders and is represented on a 'Churches Lateral Committee' advisory panel alongside Mgr Bruce Kent and Rev Paul Oestreicher of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
On 5–7 March the Christian Peace Conference took part in the first international Inter-Faith Colloquium on Apartheid, held at Church House, Westminster. At this event, a UN Assistant Secretary-General gave a warning about "racist tyrants building nuclear weapons"; the possession and deployment of such weapons by the persecutors of Christian believers, does not appear to have featured so prominently.
From 30 April to 5 May the head of the CPC, Dr Tóth (who is also on the top-level Presidential Committee of the World Peace Council), personally participated at the Synod of the United Reformed Church in Great Britain. By then it had also been announced that in September the London-based European Nuclear Disarmament group, which had previously tended to shun World Peace Council-style operations, would be one of five bodies joining with the Christian Peace Conference to arrange a seminar for 'peace' activists in Budapest – a city with its own tale to tell about Soviet techniques of pacification.
Dr Tóth, it will be recalled, spoke about the "contradictory intentions" which can underlie various declarations of peace. In the light of the latest evidence of Soviet opposition to religion at home, the increasing level of activity of Soviet 'Christian' peace-missionaries abroad would seem to be the greatest contradiction of all.