The Last Years of the Soviet Empire: Snapshots from 1985-1991

By Vladimir Shlapentokh; Neil F. O'Donnell | Go to book overview

RUSSIA'S NEW INTEREST IN RELIGION NOVEMBER 1986

This snapshot captures a dilemma repeatedly faced by Gorbachev during
his tenure--he must choose between a course that will serve the people,
further his political program, and please the liberals, or one that will un-
dermine his goals but will please the conservatives, who pose the most serious
threat to his position.

When studying Soviet society, most analysts focus on issues such as class struggle, social property, and planning, while ignoring the role of science in Soviet ideology. This ideology, known as "scientific communism," presents itself as different from all other worldviews--including most socialist views--due to its reliance on science. This presentation not only endows official ideology with the veneer of science, but fosters the belief that any problem can be solved, given continual progress in science and technology.

Of course, Soviet ideology's deification of science serves a second, but no less important, purpose: to discredit religion. In particular, it is important that official ideology reject religion's claim to ultimate moral authority and affirm that only the Soviet state--with its class-based morality--can rightly judge human behavior. Compared to its other goals, Soviet ideology has probably been most successful in its struggle against religion, with the "cult of science" allowing the Soviet leadership to undermine respect for religion across generations of Soviet citizens.

Following Stalin's death, Soviet ideology suffered numerous blows, particularly whenever a new leader would denounce the blunders of his predecessors. Yet the prestige accorded science continued to increase, because previous leader's failures were always blamed on a neglect of the "scientific approach."

Beginning in the late 1960s, however, Soviet intellectuals began criticizing Soviet ideology's excessive belief in the power of science. In the magazine Novyi Mir (New World), one author described this "scientism" as a source of new prejudices and superstitions. Russophile writers, who adored prerevolutionary Russia and often praised religion (although only between the lines), began cautiously denouncing the cult of technological progress, and were among the first to alert the country to the pollution of its most important lakes, bays, and rivers.

Despite its flirtation with the Russophiles, the Brezhnev regime ignored such warnings about the possible dangers of technological progress, and

____________________
This article originally appeared in The Detroit News on November 27, 1986.

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