Despite the existence of rampant anti-Semitism in Tsarist Russia, many Jews did not actively support the Revolution, although a high number of ranking Bolsheviks were Jewish. Jewish support increased during and after the Civil War, as the Soviet regime appeared to offer economic, political, and social opportunities that had not been available to Jews during Tsarist rule. This did not mean, however, that the Soviets did not actively campaign against religious observance by Jews, or that anti-Semitism was not a recurring problem, particularly in Poland and outlying rural areas. After a short period of apparent decline, overt anti-Semitism re-emerged during the 1930s, reaching its height in the anti-cosmopolitan campaigns of 1948-1953. This bloody purge was largely aimed at Jewish intellectuals in urban areas.
The Islamic regions of the Soviet Union are in Central Asia, the Volga Urals region, the north Caucasus, Dagestan, and Azerbaijan. Initially, the Bolsheviks did not actively campaign against the Muslim faith, preferring to concentrate their efforts on destroying the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1925, however, they actively began to close religious schools, liquidate the religious courts (sharia), deport mullahs, and close mosques. Whereas in 1913 there were over 26,000 active mosques in the country, by 1941 there were only 1,300. By 1986, the number had dropped further to 751.
The Russian Orthodox Church
The Russian Orthodox Church was the primary target of early Soviet antireligious campaigns. Widespread vehemence against Orthodoxy stemmed from its close connection to the Tsar (who was the head of the church), as well as its strong influence over the majority of the Russian people. Early legislation separated the state from the Orthodox Church and banned it from all educational activities. During the Civil War alone, 28 bishops and thousands of priests were murdered. Despite repeated expressions of loyalty to the state on the part of Patriarch Tikhon and other Orthodox leaders, churches were closed, their assets were seized, and clergy and the faithful were actively persecuted, both physically and spiritually. By 1933, only a hundred churches in Moscow were operational (compared to 600 in the early 1920s), and by 1939, the number had decreased by more than 97% over the entire country. Following the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union by Germany, and Hitler’s attempt to win over Catholic populations in Ukraine and Russia by building churches in German-occupied territories, Stalin relaxed active persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church until the end of World War II. During this time, the Orthodox Church briefly pulled itself back from the brink of extinction, although active harassment continued under Khrushchev and until the fall of Communism in the 1990s.
Buddhism was introduced in the Russian territories by Tibetan and Mongolian monks during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Most Buddhists in the Soviet Union lived in the Huryat, Kalmyk, and Tuva regions. While Buddhists were largely ignored during the early years of religious persecution, by the 1930s most of the Buddhist monasteries and churches had been closed. All Buddhist religious buildings in the Khalmyk Republics and Tuva were razed as were most Buddhist monasteries in the Buryat Republic. Neither a single functioning temple nor a single lama remained, until after World War II, when two temples, housing a limited number of monks, were built.
Evangelicals and Revisionists
The Evangelical movement in Russia had its roots in nineteenth-century Ukraine, where, affected by Germanic strains of Protestantism, dissident groups developed and briefly thrived before they were squelched by the prevailing Russian Orthodox Church. After the ascension of the Bolsheviks, Revisionist faiths were initially supported by the Communist government as a means of weakening the Orthodox Church. However, during the 1930s, Revisionist and Evangelical churches were increasingly perceived as a serious threat to the regime, and were persecuted as vehemently as other religious groups.