The Bolshevik

The Bolshevik
A painting from 1920 by Russian artist Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev (1878–1927) currently in the possession of The Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

30 April 2011

The Spread of Chekist Ideas and Ideals at a High Moral Cost: Part II

Other Battles Faced by the Soviet Government Against Its Own Citizens

A political poster from the Bolsheviks which literally translated
means: "Electrification and Counter-Revolution" and makes no
sense out of historical context. At this point in time the first
Soviet government was pushing for and promising the public
the availability of electricity throughout the country. The implied
meaning is that "light" shed by the completion of such a huge
task would help find counter-revolutionaries. The usual group
of potential suspects includes an officer from the Imperial White
Guard, a high-ranking clergyman from the Russian Orthodox
Church, a "wealthy" merchant/capitalist and in the center, a
spy/saboteur - commonly depicted as a thin German complete
with stereotypical monocle and the attire of a member of the 
foreign service or possibly an ambassador. 
Stalin's and later Soviet Union leaders' attempts at maintaining public order to keep the ideals of the Revolution not only alive, but in practice despite continuous, organized pockets of resistance - especially after WWII - was a constant battle that involved the extensive use of the NKVD and subsequently MGB/KGB specialized troops. However, long before Stalin attempted to repress counter-revolutionary pockets throughout the Soviet Union, the first major battles were fought in the form of an Imperial Russian - Bolshevik Russian Civil War from 1917-1923. The war started after the collapse of the short-lived Provisional Government established after Tsar Nicholas II abdicated and turned over the reigns of power to a number of revolutionary groups varying in degrees of communism and socialism. (See early chapters here regarding the revolutions of 1917 and the resulting turmoil for more information.) When the Bolsheviks were clearly on one side, they were referred to as the "Red Guard" and later, more formally as the "Red Army." The Imperialists and their supporters were called the "White Guard." Other splinter groups not clearly in either of these groups either joined one side or the other with hopes of a better future for themselves or formed their own paramilitary organizations, such as the Organization of Ukrainian Nationals (OUN). During the Russian Civil War several other countries joined in the fight (usually against the Red Guard) for at least some of the time - but most lost interest as the Bolsheviks gained the upper hand on the battlefield throughout Russia and her component parts.

Post-WWII Rebels
When counter-revolutionaries were suspected within the contexts of cities, teachers or professors, writers, musicians and other members of the intelligentsia, or even just an average Soviet citizen who said something within earshot of the wrong person who would then turn said person in to the current security organization, the matter was dealt with a bit differently than the all too common battles waged against whole organizations - the most prominent and enduring of which was the OUN. The OUN was formed almost immediately after the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917 and became a constant problem for MGB/KGB troops.
Above is a photo of the reverse of a velvet banner made for "Friends"/"Supporters" of the Ukrainian Nationalists. The Ukrainian inscription (слава україні) simply means "Glory to Ukraine." The front of the flag (below) has the national symbol of Ukraine (currently in use again) and three Cyrillic letters for D, U, and N, or Друзі українських націоналістів for Friends of Ukrainian Nationalists. This particular flag was allegedly captured by NKVD or NKGB/MGB troops depending on whether it was seized during or shortly after WWII. Regardless of when it was captured, those who were arrested or killed immediately because of it were certainly treated as enemy combatants and were referred to by the Soviets as an "Enemy of the People" - a term that came to be known under the NKVD's and Stalin's "terror" as synonymous with a death warrant from the security services.

The OUN was most noticeable and problematic for the Soviets in the decades immediately following WWII, as were a number of other independence groups formed in parts of Mongolia and the newly annexed Baltic States of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. In fact, the Lviv Oblast (something like "county" or "parish" in English) and the city of Lviv was a bastion of continuous ill will toward Soviet rule. The city was once part of Poland but after WWII became a permanent part of western-most Ukraine. As a border region that had ties to Poland and Germany in addition to Ukraine many people got tastes for other governments varying from Imperial to Nazi and of course Communism. The city was a regular source of irritation for the KGB and its predecessor the Ministry of State Security (MGB) since it spawned anti-Soviet groups including members of the ranks of the most organized of them, the OUN. Because of this ongoing problem with the local public opinion, the KGB established one of its most notorious regional offices in Lviv. Serving as an agent there was either a punishment or a chance to gain notoriety and move up the ranks faster than in other parts of the USSR, and which situation it was depended on the individual officer and why he (very few women were actually KGB agents - despite various spy novel authors' fantasies) was assigned to that location. The security services and the border guard were always closely linked if not under the same agency name and this is understandable given the unstable nature of borderlands and the thought processes of people who have been rapidly shifted from one regime to another and the division of loyalties that results.

The pictures below show close-ups of the embroidery work on a flag from a prominent Ukrainian rebel-supporting group ostensibly from a group called the DUN or Druzhnnik or "friends"/"supporters" of the Ukrainian Nationalists. This flag was likely made during the early part of the Soviet involvement in WWII. Germany had been a potential ally of the Ukrainian people against the Soviets as early as the initial series of revolutions in 1917 when German troops were sent in support of members of the White Guard and other imperialists who wanted to maintain the status quo as far as the Russian Empire and the leadership thereof. (See for more information on the White Guard and the initial revolutions.)

In the photos above and below, some of the especially intricate details of this obviously handmade flag are more visible than from a distance. Besides the unusually long-fibered construction of the velvet, sheets of silk  and the embroidery discussed above were sewn together in this weighty example of what one might expect was a form of public announcement about the group and where their sympathies lay - a potentially life-threatening gamble depending on who saw the flag. The national colors of dark blue over a gold field are the dominant colors and have since been restored on the current Ukrainian flag.

Gulags and Asylums
Those who spoke out against the Soviet system in whatever form, faced severe reprisals from the security service personnel in a variety of forms. Arrest was merely an initial step in the final disposition of an individual's case. Most victims of political or alleged criminal activity that wound them up in the hands of the security services were exiled to potentially lethal servitude in one of many forced labor camps (widely known by the Russian acronym: GULAG). A disturbingly high number of people who were arrested particularly by the NKVD during Stalin's reign, were executed either publicly or in secret without a body ever turning up for family members to claim and bury. Both imprisonment and execution were almost always prefaced by some sort of torture.

One of the oldest jokes told about the KGB hearkens back to the theme of beating a confession out of someone, whether real or more likely an elaborately imagined one presented by the interrogating officers: Agents from the CIA, MI6 and the KGB were each told that they had to launch a mission to route out a a certain black rabbit. As per the joke, the British and MI6 were first up. The set about immediately to form organizational groups, discuss and debate strategy, until they finally deemed the whole project unfeasible economically and abandoned the whole task. The Americans and their CIA were up next and after a brief discussion among the highest members of the organization, decided to call in a massive air strike laying the whole forest barren and desolate - much to the protests of the locals. "But at least we know he is not alive down there or at worst, he has gotten away somewhere else," was the CIA agents' response. The KGB officers approached for their assignment already a little tipsy on vodka - but it was almost noon and this is understandable. "You want black rabbit, we get black rabbit." Three KGB officers went into the scorched woods and returned a few minutes later with a brown bear in cuffs and custody, mumbling and rubbing his whole head delicately. Finally, as the KGB officers and the bear approach the judging table, the badly beaten brown bear is heard saying, "Sure, I'm a black rabbit; anybody else you want me to be? I see the evil inherent in just being just a bear."

"I'm...a British, French, American, Japonese, Italian, German and some
other kind of spy probably..." [trans]. This drawing was reportedly  
done by an inmate of a gulag depicting members of the current
security service (possibly Smersh, probbably NKVD) obtaining a
"confession"from an arrested individual. This drawing and others below
 are from abook Drawings from the Gulag by Danzig Baldaev.*
The very existence of the gulags was a means for the security forces to eliminate the "enemies of the people" sent there together with hardened criminals - the ones who not only ran the prisons but also did some of the killings the NKVD wanted done in some of these labor prisons. Actual criminal convicts who had been multiple offenders and were sentenced to lengthy prison stays were known as the "thieves by law" and occupied a certain rank above more petty, non-violent criminals. Among these "lesser" prisoners, the counter-revolutionaries or "enemies of the people" were the lowest class and if they survived the initial tortures that brought them to the gulags then the were very often killed by either prison guards (NKVD) or hired or otherwise motivated members of the "thieves by law" groups. Those that survived the prison camps were either very clever or very lucky - or both.

The prisoners at the top of the hierarchy in gulags dispensed their form of "justice" based on the orders of the guards and on the whims of the the gangs of "thieves by law" and could be capricious at best. 
According to the author of Drawings from the Gulag the leading
gangs executed other prisoners with the cooperation of the guards
and administration as well as on their direct orders. The drawing above
shows a sentence of beheading ordered by a "court of thieves" according
to the author.* 
Another fate faced some people rather than being publically branded an “enemy of the people” for various reasons including being “saved” by influential Communist Party members who were either friends or family. One of the most common ways to make someone “disappear” other than by execution or gulag was to have them committed indefinitely to insane asylums. The theory was that if someone objected to the party line, then he or she must not be thinking correctly. The type of person sentenced to this sort of fate varied, but more often than not, this is where an artist, musician or writer might spend his or her life at least while Stalin remained in control of the Soviet Union. A very large number of people were either released from whichever sort of prison they found themselves in as a result of Stalin's paranoia or were "posthumously rehabilitated" - which meant that even though they had died in captivity, their families were not held to blame and their names were restored to good standing. This happened, of course, after Stalin's death during the subsequent reforms to the system. In order to prevent obvious discrepancies between the Communist Party dogma and the repatriation of accused and sentenced "enemies of the people," the task of freeing political prisoners was not a swift one. It crawled along and continued until well after the collapse of the Soviet Union itself.


11 April 2011

The Spread of Chekist Ideas and Ideals at a High Moral Cost

Part I: The Fear of the "Disappearing" Citizen

The Cheka (Chesvychaika) did not allow the Soviet Communist Party to seize power, but it allowed it to maintain it in Russia and the Soviet Union. Even as the less visible, more secretive GPU and eventually the KGB, they were the means by which leaders like Lenin, killers like Stalin and do-nothings like Brezhnev were able to keep control over an enormous, nine-time-zone country after WWII. The most unfortunate side effect or in some cases the result, was the deaths of tens of thousands - most of them innocent of anything but difference of political view point than those of the leadership. The elimination of opposition by physically removing them from their homes, families and eventually their lives, was so rampant during the early years of Bolshevik rule that the activities of the Cheka-GPU was called the "Red Terror" by both opposition, foreign and domestic, and the members of the Cheka itself.

Many Western journalists attempted to make their careers by reporting on the newly-formed government in Russia. One such anonymous British reporter wrote in 1929 that a high-ranking member of the Cheka said: "We have executed some twenty or thirty thousand persons, perhaps fifty thousand. They were all spies, traitors, enemies within our ranks, a very small number in proportion to the persons of this kind then in Russia. We instituted the red terror at a time of war, when the enemy was marching upon us from without and the enemy within was preparing to help him. Scotland Yard executed spies and traitors also in war time."*

The Lubyanka All-Russia Insurance Company headquarters building was built in 1898. This photo above was taken before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, after which it became the headquarters for the Soviet Secret and political police until 1991 when the KGB was officially disbanded. Though the basic structure has remained the same, multiple renovations and a massive addition have changed the building and the Lubyanka Square it occupies radically. In all, there are a total of three conjoined buildings that make up the final design of the most infamous security agency ever created. A section of the FSB (Federal Security Service) Border Guard is still housed here as well as a museum-memorial and a new statue in place of the giant one of Dzerzhinsky has been erected across from the main building as a memorial to those tortured and/or killed in the massive underground network of prison cells and "special purpose" rooms. Often, people were arrested and taken to Lubyanka without their families' ever knowing what happened to them.

Victor Serge, a controversial character in his own right, with Polish-Russian parents had a difficult time even getting into Russia after the 1917 revolution. Serge spent his early life in France as a radical revolutionary eventually becoming a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party (slightly right of the Bolsheviks), and despite his confinement in a French prison until 1915 near the end of WWI, was reportedly rejected by the Cheka when he tried to move into Russia and join the revolutionaries. He was eventually allowed into the country in 1919 and spent his early years in Russia as a member of the Bolsheviks working under Maxim Gorky. He eventually became disenchanted with the Soviet Party and became a follower of Stalin's greatest foe - Leon Trotsky. By 1933 Serge had been spared execution only to find himself arrested by the GPU and locked up in the bowels of Lubyanka prison. He wrote of his time there in Memoires of a Revolutionary (1945):

The first acknowledged photo of the Lubyanka taken by a CIA operative
soon after the agency was created in 1947. The photo is from the early 1950s.

“Here, in absolute secrecy, with no communication with any person whatsoever, with no reading-matter whatsoever, with no paper, not even one sheet, with no occupation of any kind, with no open-air exercise in the yard, I spent about eighty days. It was a severe test for the nerves, in which I acquitted myself pretty well. I was weary with my years of nervous tension, and felt an immense physical need for rest. I slept as much as I could, at least twelve hours a day. The rest of the time, I set myself to work assiduously. I gave myself courses in history, political economy - and even in natural science! I mentally wrote a play, short stories, poems.”

Serge added: "Lubyanka was originally occupied by insurance company offices. Each floor formed a prison on its own, sealed off from the others, with its individual entrance and reception-kiosk; coloured electric light-signals operated on all landings and corridors to mark the various comings and goings, so that prisoners could never meet one another. A mysterious hotel-corridor, whose red carpet silenced the slight sound of footsteps; and then a cell, bare, with an inlaid floor, a passable bed, a table and a chair, all spic and span."

The caption on the above photo simply says: "In the Courtyard of the Lubyanka prison. 1928." It is most likely a weapons training session for NKVD and/or Cheka-GPU agents. As can be seen in the photo, women were often employed by the Soviet security services especially for so-called "undercover" assignments. By the time SMERSH was formed after the Soviet Union was embroiled in WWII, women played a prominent role in the ranks of SMERSH agents.****
"I believe that the formation of the Chekas was one of the gravest and most impermissible errors that the Bolshevik leaders committed in 1918 when plots, blockades, and interventions made them lose their heads. All evidence indicates that revolutionary tribunals, functioning in the light of day and admitting the right of defence, would have attained the same efficiency with far less abuse and depravity. Was it necessary to revert to the procedures of the Inquisition?
"By the beginning of 1919, the Chekas had little or no resistance against this psychological perversion and corruption. I know for a fact that Dzerzhinsky judged them to be 'half-rotten,' and saw no solution to the evil except in shooting the worst Chekists and abolishing the death-penalty as quickly as possible," Serge also proclaimed.
The above photo is of the Lubynka taken in the 1980s with the statue of state security service founder Felix Dzerzhinsky prominently adorning the square on which the expanded building dominates the surface but hides a labyrinth of prison cells and torture chambers under the building and the street where automobiles continue to drive around above to this day. However, the statue of Dzerzhinsky was removed (not torn down as in other areas with similar statues) in 1991 and replaced with a modern monument to the memory of all those who were tortured and/or killed by officers from whatever security agency occupied the building and ran the prison at the time.


What could befall practically anyone who lived in or entered Revolutionary Russia and later the Soviet Union became more than legend. Everyone who had an opinion that was contrary - or "counter" - to the revolutionary Bolshevik thought process was either forced to remain silent on the matter or suffer from a varying array of ill fates demanded by the political elite and enforced by the political police. When the Cheka was created it was to prevent political dissent or anything that might increase the instability of the new regime. As time passed and the Cheka-KGB re-formed society and itself to conform with a number of Party leadership changes and general attitudes, the once temporary "necessity" as both and Lenin and Stalin had called it for not-so-different reasons, was as much a part of Soviet Union Communist ideology and practice as the Party itself.

Lubyanka post-1991 without the prominent statue of Dzerzhinsky.
Before the post-war world changed global maps and theories of government forced new political maps to be drawn between the Western democracies and the Eastern Bloc of Communist countries, Lenin had a number of battles with the various classes of people who opposed his (modified) Marxist principles that included groups as diverse as writers, artists, philosophers and other members of the intelligentsia to farmers who strongly opposed collectivization. Most of these farmers had been so-called peasants who had managed their farms in such a way that they made enough profits to make them financially self-sufficient - though not "wealthy" by the imperial definition. This "class" was known in non-affectionate terms as the Kulaks and were considered dangerous by Lenin and his devoted followers. They were a powerful class in a supposedly classless society. The battle between Lenin and the Kulaks was both open by means of public opinion and very private in the sense that he signed a number of warrants for the whole scale executions of hundreds of these independent farmers at a time - a task ultimately completed by Stalin. The battle between the Soviets and the Kulaks was so intense that violence was the standard way for both sides to approach the situation.

Photo of the rearmost part of the contemporary Lubyanka building and square it centers. (Photo by Barry Kent)
For decades, the Kulaks, a group of people who were the "middle class" long before the term was widely accepted in academic circles in the US until the early 1950s. Again, the idea of financially self-sufficient groups within the Soviet system of government precluded an official separation of peoples by birth, title, land or other wealth.

The poster at right is a prime example of the attempt by the Communist Party leadership trying to demonize the Kulaks and achieve the goal of a classless society devoid of aristocracy and other forms of social class distinction, regardless of what it was based on.

After WWII when the maps had been redrawn, the next war waged by the Communist Part of the Soviet Union (CPSU) was against organized groups of rebels in areas of Ukraine, the Baltic States and other Warsaw Pact countries that were not necessarily part of the Soviet Union proper, but also in the new regions considered under the stewardship (voluntary or not) of the Soviet Union known as "Spheres of Influence." The war to maintain communist and/or socialist forms of government friendly to the Soviet Union was one that lasted the entire lifespan of the SU itself, an antagonistic situation faced by every leader of the SU from 1917 to 1991.

This is a photo static copy of a handwritten letter from Lenin in 1918 to authorities in the Penza Province about 600 miles southeast of Moscow and a grain farming region. Lenin's letter orders the hanging of 100 "Kulak farmers" to set an example for others who opposed his plans.

This letter is from the archives of the Smithsonian Institution acquired on loan from the Russian Federation MVD with the approval of several other federal organizations. The following is the English translation of the text of the letter provided by Smithsonian translators:

Send to Penza to Comrades Kuraev, Minkin, and other Penza communists

Comrades! The revolt by the five kulak volosts must be suppressed without mercy. The interests of the entire revolution demands this, because we have now before us our final decisive battle [with the kulaks]. We need to set an example.

1. You need to hang (hang without fail, so that the public sees) at least 100 notorious kulaks, the rich, and the bloodsuckers.

2. Publish their names.

3. Take away all of their grain.

4. Execute the hostages - in accordance with yesterday's telegram.

This needs to be accomplished in such a way that people for hundreds of miles around will see, tremble, know and scream out: let's choke and strangle those bloodsucking kulaks.

Telegraph us acknowledging receipt and execution of this.



P.S. Use your toughest people for this.”

“Translator's note: A “volost” was a territorial/administrative unit consisting of a few villages and surrounding land.”

Without question, the “toughest people for this” brutal public display and executions were members of the local Cheka. If nothing else, the letter demonstrates the absolute contempt which Lenin felt for the Kulaks and those like them who had become financially independent, but had not achieved any social rank during the period of the Russian Empire.

* Whether or not the quote is true to the alleged speaker, the quote is true of the questionable and certainly controversial actions of the Cheka through the KGB.

03 April 2011

The Soviets and the Russian Orthodox Church

Lenin in God's House
Grigori Rasputin, also known by the names
"Mad Monk" and "Black Monk."
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons***

This site is not intended to cover every aspect of what created the USSR so much as how power was maintained by the Communists through the various state security agencies they had at their disposal. However, some aspects of how Lenin and subsequent leaders maintained control over the people of the Soviet Union are highly controversial yet significant historical facts. For example, one of the first organized oppositions to the Bolsheviks' support of the provisional government after the abdication, exile and later execution of Tsar Nicholas II was the Orthodox Church. For the 300 years of Romanov rule, beginning with Peter the Great, the Russian Orthodox Church enjoyed a certain amount of freedom to maintain its "state within a state" with an abundance of money and even more land and other properties. Orthodox Church leaders were regularly members of court and spiritual counselors to the tsars, ending with the most infamous  Russian spiritual adviser Grigori Rasputin. Though Rasputin was a peasant wandering monk more than an ambassador of the Church, he nonetheless represented to many critics of the tsarist rule all that had become corrupt within the Russian Orthodox Church - and the Bolsheviks made good use of this attitude in propaganda designed to sway people away from organized religion (specifically the Russian Orthodox Church) and toward the atheist materialism of the followers of Marx. In fact, some historians have credited , perhaps a bit too strongly, Rasputin with unwittingly aiding in the fall of the Romanov dynasty through his open abuse of his position. He was brought to St. Petersburg at the behest of Empress Alexandra, Nicholas' wife, because of the serious illness of the only male heir, Alexei because he had gained a reputation throughout peasant-populated regions of Russia as a powerful healer. More can be read about the life and murder of Rasputin at the following website:

Once the Bolsheviks had a tenuous hold on the government of the Russian Empire in October of 1917, Lenin began his typically indirect assaults on the Russian Orthodox Church and the property it held. Since the philosophy of Karl Marx was one of the planks of the stage from which the Communists shouted their borrowed ideas, Lenin focused in on the now famous phrase from Marx: "Religion is the opiate of the people [German preferred scholarly translation]" or in German: Die Religion... ist das Opium des Volkes. The quote in context as it appeared in Marx's work, Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right in 1943, is "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people." Marx's critique of organized religion was that since it was a reflection of society, problems within the Church represented problems within society. More simply put, religion is not the cause of society's problems, it is merely a reflection of them. Lenin, however, used the single statement from the entire critique of religion from Marx as a mantra of sorts justifying the revolutionaries' actions toward the Church. Though the Bolsheviks did not ban religion all together (they had learned from history that this would have been a serious mistake), they did appropriate Church property, demolish many churches and monasteries in order to convert them into public use facilities such as arenas, meeting places, and in the case of the Nikolo-Ugreshky (full name in English: St. Nicholas the Miracle-Worker) monastery in the town of Dzerzhinsky was converted by Felix Dzerzhinsky himself into a commune for homeless children. The chapels and other religious buildings were converted into more utilitarian structures of various functions over the years including converting the massive cathedral on the grounds into a gymnasium and basketball court for the "advancement of the physical culture" of the people. Originally, there was no "town" or settlement outside of the monastery walls, but when the commune and children's labor colony grew far beyond the confines of the walls, the new settlement was given the name Dzerzhinsky in 1938 and is currently an industrial town of about 44,000 people.

Nikolo-Ughreshy Monastery cathedral (view from
inside the monastery walls) in 1994.The photo
only shows a small portion of the entire compilation
of buildings (photo at right) that remained essentially
unkempt until 1991.**

The rear of Nikolo-Ugreshky Monastery after many years of  reconstruction and modification. This photo includes the bell tower which is the tallest in all of Russian Orthodox Church architecture. Even when buildings on the grounds of the monastery were in disrepair, the faithful still attended masses on Sundays held in another building adjacent to the cathedral. The citizens of the town of Dzerzhinsky which was created by the overflow of the Soviet children's labor commune are especially proud of this historically and strategically important monastery.*

In many ways, this particular example was what the Soviets claimed to want to achieve in seizing churches, monasteries and convents. The first direct takeovers of churches were all "military" Church properties which were basically any religious institution built with walls at a strategic part of the country and heavily occupied by military personnel, and in this as in many cases, it was built on the Moscow river. (The study of the history behind walled/fortified monasteries is a lengthy one best served elsewhere.)

By the time the KGB officially came into existence in 1954, they already had several operatives who were trained by and posed as Orthodox priests. As the Cold War accelerated and the mistrust of its own people became nearly as profound and widespread as it was during Lenin's "Red Terror" and Stalin's "Great Terror" or "Great Purge," Orthodox priests were commonly forced through various means, most often blackmail, to become informants for the KGB. It was important the  Second Main Directory: Counterintelligence, because they believed they could best root out groups from the solitary individual who is disillusioned with the Soviet Union as an ideology to those planning and organizing anti-Soviet activities. Until the end of Communist rule the Church was rife with KGB agents and informants - a problem that took many years after 1991 and the initially tacit restoration of the of the status of the Church to resolve since most people knew better than to trust the average Russian Orthodox clergy member. 

Photo taken in 1931 during the demolition of Christ the Savior Cathedral in
Moscow. It had served as the seat of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox
Church since its completion in 1860 as a monument by Alexander I to
commemorate the withdrawal of Napoleon's troops from Russia in 1812.*
Not long after the death of Lenin the most famous demolition of a Russian church took place in Moscow. By indirect order of Stalin, on December 5, 1931 Christ the Savior Cathedral was demolished to allegedly be replaced by Stalin's "Palace of the Soviets" - which due to variety of reasons was never built, including the lack of funds and the required build up of troops after Hitler's Nazi's started to grow restless within the confines of Germany. By the time the Red Army was fully committed to WWII, construction had only been completed for the foundation of the Palace of the Soviets. As the largest Christian Orthodox Cathedral ever built, the destruction drew the attention of many people across the country as a symbol of a faith along similar lines as if the Vatican were flatted one day and the Roman Catholics around the world could say nothing out of fear of being locked away in an insane asylum or a prison labor camp and/or execution if a state security agent overheard him or her voicing dissensions. All of the fearful possibilities existed for anyone who got the wrong person's attention by speaking out against anything Stalin approved of. For many years after the war various projects were considered, but since water had a tendency to collect and flood the area, some civil engineer was certainly awarded well for coming up with the notion of making the former foundation of an enormous cathedral into an enormous public swimming pool that was simply called "Moscow." The pool was plagued with "structural problems" and was practically never open in the 34 years it remained before reconstruction of the cathedral began.  

A postcard of the rebuilt Cathedral of Christ the Savior.*
In 1990, permission was given by the still Soviet Government to rebuild the cathedral in replica of the original. Despite many controversies ranging from the architectural design to the actual rebuild on ground which some believe is "cursed," the cathedral was officially consecrated on August 19, 2000. That same year the last Imperial Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his family were canonized as saints within the Russian Orthodox Church.

The shift from enemy of the state to sainthood for Nicholas II is about as far a departure from the Soviet ideology of atheism as imaginable.
A photo of the cathedral from across the bridge over the Moscow River leading to the former public pool.*

* Photos from Wikimedia Commons.
** Photo by Phillip de Valcourt, copyright 1994, 2011, 2013