19 March 1922
Lenin to Molotov
The 'Black Hundreds' Anti-Clerical Campaign

Copy To Comrade Molotov

Top Secret For members of the Politburo

Please make no copies for any reason. Each member of the Politburo (incl. Comrade Kalinin) should comment directly on the document.


In regard to the occurrence at Shuia, which is already slated for discussion by the Polituro, it is necessary right now to make a firm decision about a general plan of action in the present course. Because I doubt that I will be able to attend the Politburo meeting on March 20th in person, I will set down my thoughts in writing.

The event at Shuia should be connected with the announcement that the Russian News Agency [ROST] recently sent to the newspapers but that was not for publication, namely, the announcement that the Black Hundreds in Petrograd [Piter] were preparing to defy the decree on the removal of property of value from the churches. If this fact is compared with what the papers report about the attitude of the clergy to the decree on the removal of church property in addition to what we know about th e illegal proclamation of Patriarch Tikhon, then it becomes perfectly clear that the Black Hundreds clergy, headed by its leader, with full deliberation is carrying out a plan at this very moment to destroy us decisively.

It is obvious that the most influential group of the Black Hundreds clergy conceived this plan in secret meetings and that it was accepted with sufficient resolution. The events in Shuia is only one manifestation and actualization of this general plan.

I think that here our opponent is making a huge strategic error by attempting to draw us into a decisive struggle now when it is especially hopeless and especially disadvantageous to him. For us, on the other hand, precisely at the present moment we are presented with an exceptionally favorable, even unique, opportunity when we can in 99 out of 100 chances utterly defeat our enemy with complete success and guarantee for ourselves the position we require for decades. Now and only now, when people are bei ng eaten in famine-stricken areas, and hundreds, if not thousands, of corpses lie on the roads, we can (and therefore must) pursue the removal of church property with the most frenzied and ruthless energy and not hesitate to put down the least opposition. N ow and only now, the vast majority of peasants will either be on our side, or at least will not be in a position to support to any decisive degree this handful of Black Hundreds clergy and reactionary urban petty bourgeoisie, who are willing and able to attempt to oppose this Soviet decree with a policy of force.

We must pursue the removal of church property by any means necessary in order to secure for ourselves a fund of several hundred million gold rubles (do not forget the immense wealth of some monasteries and lauras). Without this fund any government work in general, any economic build-up in particular, and any upholding of soviet principles in Genoa especially is completely unthinkable. In order to get our hands on this fund of several hundred million gold rubles (and perhaps even several hundred billion), we must do whatever is necessary. But to do this successfully is possible only now. All considerations indicate that later on we will fail to do this, for no other time, besides that of desperate famine, will give us such a mood among the general mass of peasants that would ensure us the sympathy of this group, or, at least, would ensure us the neutralization of this group in the sense that victory in the struggle for the removal of chur ch property unquestionably and completely will be on our side.

One clever writer on statecraft correctly said that if it is necessary for the realization of a well-known political goal to perform a series of brutal actions then it is necessary to do them in the most energetic manner and in the shortest time, because masses of people will not tolerate the protracted use of brutality. This observation in particular is further strengthened because harsh measures against a reactionary clergy will be politically impractical, possibly even extremely dangerous as a result of the international situation in which we in Russia, in all probability, will find ourselves, or may find ourselves, after Genoa. Now victory over the reactionary clergy is assured us completely. In addition, it will be more difficult for the major part of our foreign adversaries among the Russian emigres abroad, i.e., the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Milyukovites [Left Wing Cadet Party], to fight against us if we, precisely at this time, precisely in connection with the famine, suppress the reactionary clergy with utmost haste and ruthlessness.

Therefore, I come to the indisputable conclusion that we must precisely now smash the Black Hundreds clergy most decisively and ruthlessly and put down all resistance with such brutality that they will not forget it for several decades.

The campaign itself for carrying out this plan I envision in the following manner:

Only Comrade Kalinin should appear officially in regard to any measures taken--never and under no circumstance must Comrade Trotsky write anything for the press or in any other way appear before the public.

The telegram already issued in the name of the Politburo about the temporary suspension of removals must not be rescinded. It is useful for us because it gives our adversary the impression that we are vacillating, that he has succeeded in confus ing us (our adversary, of course, will quickly find out about this secret telegram precisely because it is secret).

Send to Shuia one of the most energetic, clear-headed, and capable members of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee [VTsIK] or some other representative of the central government (one is better than several), giving him verbal instruc tions through one of the members of the Politburo. The instructions must come down to this, that in Shuia he must arrest more if possible but not less than several dozen representatives of the local clergy, the local petty bourgeoisie, and the local bourgeoisie on sus picion of direct or indirect participation in the forcible resistance to the decree of the VTsIK on the removal of property of value from churches. Immediately upon completion of this task, he must return to Moscow and personally deliver a report to the full session of t he Politburo or to two specially authorized members of the Politburo. On the basis of this report, the Politburo will give a detailed directive to the judicial authorities, also verbal, that the trial of the insurrectionists from Shuia, for opposing aid to the starving, should be carried out in utmost haste and should end not other than with the shooting of the very largest number of the most influential and dangerous of the Black Hundreds in Shuia, and, if possible, not only in this city but even in Moscow and several other ecclesiastical centers.

I think that it is advisable for us not to touch Patriarch Tikhon himself, even though he undoubtedly headed this whole revolt of slave-holders. Concerning him, the State Political Administration [GPU] must be given a secret directive that precisely at this time all communications of this personage must be monitored and their contents disclosed in all possible accuracy and detail. Require Dzerzhinsky and Unshlikht personally to report to the Politburo about this weekly.

At the party congress arrange a secret meeting of all or almost all delegates to discuss this matter jointly with the chief workers of the GPU, the People's Commissariat of Justice [NKIu], and the Revolutionary Tribunal. At this meeting pa ss a secret resolution of the congress that the removal of property of value, especially from the very richest lauras, monasteries, and churches, must be carried out with ruthless resolution, leaving nothing in doubt, and in the very shortest time. The greater the n umber of representatives of the reactionary clergy and the reactionary bourgeoisie that we succeed in shooting on this occasion, the better because this 'audience' must precisely now be taught a lesson in such a way that they will not dare to think about any resis tance whatsoever for several decades.

To attend to the quickest and most successful carrying out of these measures, there at the congress, i.e., at the secret meeting, appoint a special commission, the participation of Comrade Trotsky and Comrade Kalinin being required, without giving any publicity to this commission, with the purpose that the subordination to it of all operations would be provided for and carried out not in the name of the commission but as an all-soviet and all-party order. Appoint those who are especially responsible from among the best workers to carry out these measures in the wealthiest lauras, monasteries, and churches.


March 19, 1922.

I request that Comrade Molotov attempt to circulate this letter to the members of the Politburo by evening today (not making copies) and ask them to return it to the secretary immediately after reading it, with a succinct note regarding whether each member of the Politburo agrees in principle or if the letter arouses any differences of opinion.


A note in the hand of Comrade Molotov:

'Agreed. However, I propose to extend the campaign not to all gubernias and cities, but to those where indeed there are considerable possessions of value, accordingly concentrating the forces and attention of the party.'

March 19. Molotov.'

True copy: [illegible]

The original has been transferred to the Lenin Institute.

Created: 9 March 1996, 15:45:11 Last Updated: 9 March 1996, 15:45:11