Tuesday, September 11, 2007

more from the Gulag Archipelago

In the lengthy excerpt that follows, Solzhenitsyn recounts two trials related to the famine in the Volga region after the Russian Civil War. The question of spending money to make worship beautiful vs. giving it to help the poor is a long-standing one; the agenda of the Soviet government, however, seems to have gone far beyond any legitimate critique in that area, to manipulate the circumstances as an excuse to attack the Church:
[342] In the two trials following we will take leave of our favorite supreme accuser for a while: he is occupied with his preparations for the major trial of the SR's. This spectacular trial aroused a great deal of emotion in Europe beforehand, and the People's Commissariat of Justice was suddenly taken aback: after all, we had been trying people for four years without any code, neither a new one nor an old one. And in all probability Krylenko himself was concerned about the code too. Everything had to be neatly tied up ahead of time.

The coming church trials were internal. They didn't interest progressive Europe. And they could be conducted without a code. We have already had an opportunity to observe that the separation of church and state was so construed by the state that the churches themselves and everything that hung in them, was installed in them and painted in them, belonged to the state, and the only church remaining was that church which, in accordance with the Scriptures, lay within the heart. And in 1918, when political victory seemed to have been attained faster and more easily than had been expected, they had pressed right on to confiscate church property. However, this leap had aroused too fierce a wave of popular indignation. In the heat of the Civil War, it was not very intelligent to create, in addition, an internal front against the believers. And it proved necessary to postpone for the time being the dialogue between the Communists and the Christians.

At the end of the Civil War, and as its natural consequence, an unprecedented famine developed in the Volga area. They give it only two lines in the official histories because it doesn't add a very ornamental touch to the wreaths of the victors in that war. But the famine existed nonetheless--to the point of cannibalism, to the point at which parents ate their own children--such a famine as even Russia had never known, even in the Time of Troubles in the early seventeenth century. (Because at that time, as the historians testify, unthreshed ricks of grain survived intact [343] beneath the snow and ice for several years.) Just one film about famine might throw a new light on everything we saw and everything we know about the Revolution and the Civil War. But there are no films and no novels and no statistical research--the effort is to forget it. It does not embellish. Besides, we have come to blame the kulaks as the cause of every famine--and just who were the kulaks in the midst of such collective death? V. G. Korolenko, in his Letters to Lunacharsky (which, despite Lunacharsky's promise, were never officially published in the Soviet Union), explains to us Russia's total, epidemic descent into famine and destitution. It was the result of productivity having been reduced to zero (the working hands were all carrying guns) and the result, also, of the peasants' utter lack of trust and hope that even the smallest part of the harvest might be left for them. Yes, and someday someone will also count up those many carloads of food supplies rolling on and on for many, many months to Imperial Germany, under the terms of the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk--from a Russia which had been deprived of a protesting voice, from the very provinces where famine would strike--so that Germany could fight to the end in the West.

There was a direct, immediate chain of cause and effect. The Volga peasants had to eat their children because we were so impatient about putting up with the Constituent Assembly.

But political genius lies in extracting success even from the people's ruin. A brilliant idea was born: after all, three billiard balls can be pocketed with one shot. So now let the priests feed the Volga region! They are Christians. They are generous!
  1. If they refuse, we will blame the whole famine on them and destroy the church.
  2. If they agree, we will clean out the churches.
  3. In either case, we will replenish our stocks of foreign exchange and precious metals.
Yes, and the idea was probably inspired by the actions of the church itself. As Patriarch Tikhon himself had testified, back in August, 1921, at the beginning of the famine, the church had [344] created diocesan and all-Russian committees for aid to the starving and had begun to collect funds. But to have permitted any direct help to go straight from the church into the mouths of those who were starving would have undermined the dictatorship of the proletariat. The committees were banned, and the funds they had collected were confiscated and turned over to the state treasury. The Patriarch had also appealed to the Pope in Rome and to the Archbishop of Canterbury for assistance--but he was rebuked for this, too, on the grounds that only the Soviet authorities had the right to enter into discussions with foreigners. Yes, indeed. And what was there to be alarmed about? The newspapers wrote that the government itself had all the necessary means to cope with the famine.

Meanwhile, in the Volga region they were eating grass, the soles of shoes, and gnawing at door jambs. And, finally, in December, 1921, Pomgol--the State Commission for Famine Relief--proposed that the churches help the starving by donating church valuables--not all, but those not required for liturgical rites. The Patriarch agreed. Pomgol issued a directive: all gifts must be strictly voluntary! On Febraury 19, 1922, the Patriarch issued a pastoral letter permitting the parish councils to make gifts of objects that did not have liturgical and ritual significance.

And in this way matters could again have simply degenerated into a compromise that would have frustrated the will of the proletariat, just as it once had been by the Constituent Assembly, and still was in all the chatterbox European parliaments.

The thought came in a stroke of lightning! The thought came--and a decree followed! A decree of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee on February 26: all valuables were to be requisitioned from the churches--for the starving!

The Patriarch wrote to Kalinin, who did not reply. Then on February 28 the Patriarch issued a new, fateful pastoral letter: from the church's point of view such a measure is sacrilege, and we cannot approve the requisition.

From the distance of a half-century, it is easy to reproach the Patriarch. Of course, the leaders of the Christian church ought not to have been distracted by wondering whether other resources might not be available to the Soviet government, and who it was who had driven the Volga to famine. They ought not to have clung to those treasures, since the possibility of a new fortress of faith arising--if it existed at all--did not depend on them. But one has also to picture the situation of that unfortunate Patriarch, not elected to his post until after the October Revolution, who had for a few short years led a church that was always persecuted, restricted, under fire, and whose preservation had been entrusted to him.

But right then and there a sure-fire campaign of persecution began in the papers, directed against the Patriarch and high church authorities who were strangling the Volga region with the bony hand of famine. And the more firmly the Patriarch clung to his position, the weaker it became. In March a movement to relinquish the valuables, to come to an agreement with the government, began even among the clergy, Their still undispelled qualms were expressed to Kalinin by Bishop Antonin Grunovsky, a member of the Central Committee of Pomgol: "The believers fear that the church valuables may be used for other purposes, more limited and alien to their hearts." (Knowing the general principles of our Progressive Doctrine, the experienced reader will agree that this was indeed very probable. After all, the Comintern's needs
and those of the East in the course of being liberated were no less acute than those of the Volga.)

The Petrograd Metropolitan, Veniamin, was similarly impelled by a mood of trust: "This belongs to God and we will give all of it by ourselves." But forced requisitions were wrong. Let the sacrifice be of our own free will. He, too, wanted verification by the clergy and the believers: to watch over the church valuables up to the very moment when they were transformed into bread for the starving. And in all this be was tormented lest he violate the censuring will of the Patriarch.

In Petrograd things seemed to be working out peacefully. The atmosphere at the session of the Petrograd Pomgol on March 5, 1922, was even joyful, according to the testimony of an eyewitness. Veniamin announced: "The Orthodox Church is prepared to give everything to help the starving." It saw sacrilege only in forced requisition. But in that case requisition was unnecessary! Kanatchikov, Chairman of the Petrograd Pomgol, gave his assurances that this would produce a favorable attitude toward the church on the part of the Soviet government. (Not [346] very likely, that!) In a burst of good feeling, everyone stood up. The Metropolitan said: "The heaviest burden is division and enmity. But the time will come when the Russian people will unite. I myself, at the head of the worshipers, will remove the cover [of precious metals and precious stones] from the ikon of the Holy Virgin of Kazan. I will shed sweet tears on it and give it away." He gave his blessing to the Bolshevik members of Pomgol and they saw him to the door with bared heads. The newspaper Petrogradskaya Pravda, in its issues of March 8, 9, and 10, confirmed the peaceful, successful outcome of the talks, and spoke favorably of the Metropolitan. "In Smolny they agreed that the church vessels and ikon coverings would be melted down into ingots in the presence of the believers."

Again things were getting fouled up with some kind of compromise! The noxious fumes of Christianity were poisoning the revolutionary will. That kind of unity and that way of handing over the valuables were not what the starving people of the Volga needed! The spineless membership of the Petrograd Pomgol was changed. The newspapers began to howl about the "evil pastors" and "princes of the church," and the representatives of the church were told: "We don't need your donations! And there won't be any negotiations with you! Everything belongs to the government--and the government will take whatever it considers necessary."

And so forcible requisitions, accompanied by strife, began in Petrograd, as they did everywhere else.

And this provided the legal basis for initiating trials of the clergy.

H. The Moscow Church Trial--April 26-May 7, 1922

This took place in the Polytechnic Museum. The court was the Moscow Revtribunal, under Presiding Judge Bek; the prosecutors were Lunin and Longinov. There were seventeen defendants, including archpriests and laymen, accused of disseminating the Patriarch's proclamation. This charge was more important than [347] the question of surrendering, or not surrendering, church valuables. Archpriest A. N. Zaozersky had surrendered all the valuables in his own church, but he defended in principle the Patriarch's appeal regarding forced requisition as sacrilege, and he became the central personage in the trial--and would shortly be shot. (All of which went to prove that what was important was not to feed the starving but to make use of a convenient opportunity to break the back of the church.)

On May 5 Patriarch Tikhon was summoned to the tribunal as a witness. Even though the public was represented only by a carefully selected audience (1922, in this respect, differing little from 1937 and 1968), nonetheless the stamp of Old Russia was still so deep, and the Soviet stamp was still so superficial, that on the Patriarch's entrance more than half of those present rose to receive his blessing.

Tikhon took on himself the entire blame for writing and disseminating his appeal. The presiding judge of the tribunal tried to elicit a difTerent line of testimony from him: "But it isn't possible! Did you really write it in your own hand? All the lines? You probably just signed it. And who actually wrote it? And who were your advisers?" and then: "Why did you mention in the appeal the persecution to which the newspapers are subjecting you?' [After all, they are persecuting you and why should we hear about it?] What did you want to express?"

The Patriarch: "That is something you will have to ask the people who started the persecution: What objectives were they pursuing?"

The Presiding Judge: "But that after all has nothing to do with religion!"

The Patriarch: "It has historical significance."

The Presiding Judge: "Referring to the fact that the decree was published while you were in the midst of talks with Pomgol, you used the expression, behind your back?"

The Patriarch: "Yes."

Presiding Judge: "You therefore consider that the Soviet government acted incorrectly?"

A crushing argument! It will be repeated a million times more in the nighttime oflices of interrogators! And we will never answer as simply and straightforwardly as:

The Patriarch: "Yes."

[348] The Presiding Judge: "Do you consider the state's laws obligatory or not?"

The Patriarch: "Yes, I recognize them, to the extent that they do not contradict the rules of piety."

(Oh, if only everyone had answered just that way! Our whole history would have been different.)

A debate about church law followed. The Patriarch explained that if the church itself surrendered its valuables, it was not sacrilege. But if they were taken away against the church's will, it was. His appeal had not prohibited giving the valuables at all, but had only declared that seizing them against the will of the church was to be condemned.

(But that's what we wanted--expropriation against the will of the church!)

Comrade Bek, the presiding judge, was astounded: "Which in the last analysis is more important to you--the laws of the church or the point of view of the Soviet government?"

(The expected reply: "The Soviet government.")

"Very well; so it was sacrilege according to the laws of the church," exclaimed the accuser, "but what was it from the point of view of mercy?"

(For the first and last time--for another fifty years--that banal word mercy was spoken before a tribunal.)

Then there was a philological analysis of the word "svyatotatstvo," meaning "sacrilege," derived from "svyato," meaning "holy," and "tat," meaning "thief."

The Accuser: "So that means that we, the representatives of the Soviet government, are thieves of holy things?"

(A prolonged uproar in the hall. A recess. The bailiffs at work.)

The Accuser: "So you call the representatives of the Soviet government, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, thieves?"

The Patriarch: "I am citing only church law."

Then there is a discussion of the term "blasphemy." While they were requisitioning the valuables from the church of St. Basil the Great of Caesarea, the ikon cover would not fit into a box, and at that point they trampled it with their feet. But the Patriarch himself had not been present.

[349] The Accuser: "How do you know that? Give us the name of the priest who told you that. [And we will arrest him immediately!]"

The Patriarch does not give the name.

That means it was a lie!

The Accuser presses on triumphantly: "No, who spread that repulsive slander?"

The Presiding Judge: "Give us the names of those who trampled the ikon cover! [One can assume that after doing it they left their visiting cards!] Otherwise the tribunal cannot believe you!"

The Patriarch cannot name them.

The Presiding Judge: "That means you have made an unsubstantiated assertion."

It still remained to be proved that the Patriarch wanted to overthrow the Soviet government. And here is how it was proved: "Propaganda is an attempt to prepare a mood preliminary to preparing a revolt in the future."

The tribunal ordered criminal charges to be brought against the Patriarch.

On May 7 sentence was pronounced: of the seventeen defendants, eleven were to be shot. (They actually shot five.)

As Krylenko said: "We didn't come here just to crack jokes."

One week later the Patriarch was removed from office and arrested. (But this was not the very end. For the time being he was taken to the Donskoi Monastery and kept there in strict incarceration, so that the believers would grow accustomed to his absence. Remember how just a short while before Krylenko had been astonished: what danger could possibly threaten the Patriarch? Truly, when the danger really does come, there's no help for it, either in alarm bells or in telephone calls.)

Two weeks after that, the Metropolitan Veniamin was arrested in Petrograd. He had not been a high official of the church before the Revolution. Nor had he even been appointed, like almost all Metropolitans. In the spring of 1917, for the first time since the days of ancient Novgorod the Great, they had elected a Metropolitan in Moscow and in Petrograd. A gentle, simple, easily accessible man, a frequent visitor in factories and mills, popular with the people and with the lower clergy, Veniamin had been [350] elected by their votes. Not understanding the times, he had seen as his task the liberation of the church from politics "because it had suffered much from politics in the past." This was the Metropolitan who was tried in:

I. The Petrograd Church Trial--June 9-July 5, 1922

The defendants, charged with resisting the requisition of church valuables, numbered several dozen in all, including a professor of theology and church law, archimandrites, priests, and laymen. Semyonov, the presiding judge of the tribunal, was twenty-five years old and, according to rumor, had formerly been a baker. The chief accuser was a member of the collegium of the People's Commissariat of Justice, P. A. Krasikov--a man of Lenin's age and a friend of Lenin when he was in exile in the Krasnoyarsk region and, later on, in emigration as well. Vladimir I1yich used to enjoy hearing him play the violin.

Out on Nevsky Prospekt, and at the Nevsky turn-off, a dense crowd waited every day of the trial, and when the Metropolitan was driven past, many of them knelt down and sang: "Save, O Lord, thy people!" (It goes without saying that they arrested overzealous believers right on the street and in the court building also.) Most of the spectators in the court were Red Army men, but even they rose every time the Metropolitan entered in his white ecclesiastical hood. Yet the accuser and the tribunal called him an enemy of the people. Let us note that this term already existed.

From trial to trial, things closed in on the defense lawyers, and their humiliating predicament was already very apparent. Krylenko tells us nothing about this, but the gap is closed by an eye-witness. The tribunal roared out a threat to arrest Bobrishchev-Pushkin himself--the principal defense lawyer--and this was already so in accord with the spirit of the times, and the threat was so real that Bobrishchev-Pushkin made haste to hand over his gold watch and his billfold to lawyer Gurovich. And right then and there the tribunal actually ordered the imprisonment of a witness, Professor Yegorov, because of his testimony on behalf of the Metropolitan. As it turned out, Yegorov was quite prepared for this. He had a thick briefcase with him in which he had packed food, underwear, and even a small blanket.

[351] The reader can observe that the court was gradually assuming forms familiar to us.

Metropolitan Veniamin was accused of entering, with evil intent, into an agreement with . . . the Soviet government, no less, and thereby obtaining a relaxation of the decree on the requisition of valuables. It was charged that his appeal to Pomgol had been maliciously disseminated among the people, (Samizdat!--self-publication!) And he had also acted in concert with the world bourgeoisie.

Priest Krasnitsky, one of the principal "Living Church" schismatics, and GPU collaborator, testified that the priests had conspired to provoke a revolt against the Soviet government on the grounds of famine.

The only witnesses heard were those of the prosecution. Defense witnesses were not permitted to testify. (Oh, how familiar it all is! More and more!)

Accuser Smirnov demanded "sixteen heads." Accuser Krasikov cried out: "The whole Orthodox Church is a subversive organization. Properly speaking, the entire church ought to be put in prison."

(This was a very realistic program. Soon it was almost realized. And it was a good basis for a dialogue.)

Let us make use of a rather rare opportunity to cite several sentences that have been preserved from the speech of S. Y. Gurovich, who was the Metropolitan's defense attorney.

"There are no proofs of guilt. There are no facts. There is not even an indictment. . . . What will history say? [Oh, he certainly had discovered how to frighten them! History will forget and say nothing!] The requisition of church valuables in Petrograd took place in a complete calm, but here the Petrograd clergy is on the defendants' bench, and somebody's hands keep pushing them toward death. The basic princip:e which you stress is the good of the Soviet government. But do not forget that the church will be nourished by the blood of martyrs. [Not in the Soviet Union, though!] There is nothing more to be said, but it is hard to stop talking. While the debate lasts, the defendants are alive. When the debate comes to an end, life will end too."

The tribunal condemned ten of them to death. They waited more than a month for their execution, until the trial of the SR's [352] had ended. (It was as though they had processed them in order to shoot them at the same time as the SR's.) And after that, VTsIK, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, pardoned six of them. And four of them--the Metropolitan Veniamin; the Archimandrite Sergius, a former member of the State Duma; Professor of Law Y. P. Novitsky; and the barrister Kovsharov--were
shot on the night of August 12-13.

We insistently urge our readers not to forget the principle of provincial multiplicity. Where two church trials were held in Moscow and Petrograd, there were twenty-two in the provinces.

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