When the centenary of the Russian Revolution is marked on November 7, Eastern Europe’s Catholic communities will recall the terrible hardships it unleashed on them. But with Christians still suffering worldwide, it will also be an opportunity to reflect on which survival strategies work best against persecution.

Communist rule was imposed gradually, making clear responses difficult. And while its ultimate goal was unchanged, its methods evolved – as did the kinds of Christian testimony needed to withstand the pressures.

Even in 1917, the anti-Church programme was far from new. There had been parallels in the bloody mistreatment of réfractaire Catholic clergy during the French Revolution, as well as with Garibaldi’s mangiapreti, or “priest-eaters”, and the 1871 Paris Commune.

Marx and Engels had lauded the Commune as the first dictatorship of the proletariat. It had put revolution back on the agenda after the suppressed uprisings of 1848. It had also broken the “parson-power” of the Church, exposing its part in a hostile front against “the people”. But the Communards had been defeated, Marx concluded, by shrinking back from the required ruthlessness.

Lenin, Russia’s revolutionary mastermind, agreed that the Commune had been hampered by naïve idealism. But he fully concurred with its contempt for the Church, with its “deep roots” in capitalist domination.

“Every religious idea, every idea of God, even flirting with the idea of God, is unutterable vileness,” Lenin told the writer Maxim Gorky.

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