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The Church and the Cinema?

soviet cinema

Leon Trotsky, the devout Marxist revolutionary published Vodka, the Church, and the Cinema in 1923, emphasizing the new divisions taking place in the lives of workers. He emphasized the importance of the new 8-hour workday, which led to fractioning the worker’s day into three 8-hour categories, “Eight hours work, eight hours sleep, eight hours play.” The revolutionaries in Russia at the time wanted to harness the power of new technologies, including the newly popular cinema. This was an effort to align their own progressive ideologies with the progressive technologies making their way into society at the time. Trotsky portrayed the new freedoms of the 8-hour workday as an exploratory time where the common man could finally pursue leisure and recreation. This was what was so revolutionary about the cinema, Trotsky purported that no matter the education, the visuals and sounds appealed to the proletariat senses, “the passion for the cinema is rooted in the desire for distraction, the desire for something new and improbable, to laugh to cry, not at your own, but at other people’s misfortunes.” Trotsky wanted to exploit the power of the cinema as a method of socialist propaganda, and he even compared this to the propaganda of the church. However, he condemned the church as a government institution that proliferated not out of religious zeal, but merely out of mundane habit. He compared the way in which the church appealed to the senses, “by theatrical methods the church works on the sight, the sense of smell (through incense), and through them on the imagination,” which were many of the same characteristics that brought people to the cinema. He asserted that while there was no spiritual element of the cinema there was a longing to be distracted through theatrical productions, which may also serve to prove that, while circumstances were improving for working-class citizens there was still an innate longing to escape, perhaps from the imminence of revolutionary change, or perhaps from the monotony of their own lives.



9 thoughts on “The Church and the Cinema?

  1. I find it interesting how Trotsky compares the Church to cinema. I understand where he’s coming from about both the church and the movies being a distraction from regular life. I find it contradicting how he’s comparing the cinema and the church and saying they are similar, but he’s praising one of them while condemning the other. If the church uses the sames senses and propaganda as cinema to distract people from life, but its wrong, then what makes its okay for him to use cinema and those same senses and propaganda for his own purposes? Isn’t he just as wrong as the churhc then? What is your opinion?

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    1. I agree! I think he is actually praising the means that the church uses to disseminate propaganda but that he himself holds a secular sentiment for the church as an institution in itself, if that makes sense?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think Trotsky’s comparison of the church and cinema is very interesting, but I think he underestimates the importance of the church to the Russian people. As you mentioned, he talks about the church being about habit, not zeal. Do you think that the church had become static, or do you think it was still a dynamic force in Russian society up until the revolution?


    1. I also think he underestimated how important the church was in the lives of Russians, he also tries to say that it is an institution perpetuated specifically by the rituals women have which I feel like paint a pretty inaccurate description of the church because that makes me just imagine a bunch of women sitting in church while the men are at home or working which is definitely inaccurate. But I do think that perhaps the revolution was more popular among the younger generations so their constituency as whole was in comparison more secular than the generations before them that grew up with the autocracy and the church as a prominent figure.

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  3. Great discussion thread here, with props to Alicia for noting the seeming contradiction between Trotsky’s admiration for cinema and disdain for religion when he identifies their appeal to the masses as being pretty comparable. So, why does he think the cinema is so important to the success of the revolution?


    1. What I gather is that because it does appeal to the masses and the senses in so many different ways, and he sees the similarities between the cinema and the church and this notes just how powerful the cinema has the potential to be with influencing public opinion, much like the church did. He explains how no matter the education anyone can sit in a cinema and either idly or actively absorb the information being thrown at them. I also think there is a strong tie between the technologies that were used to create cinema and the correlation to how socialists wanted to keep furthering technological mechanisms to industrialize.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I really enjoyed the bit about the idea of an 8 hour work day and how Trotsky used this to get more people to go to the cinema. He seemed pretty invested in getting people to enjoy the cinema so that is why I think he started condemning the church in a way so he could get more people to the cinema. The more people who came, the more could be influenced.


    1. He was definitely very persuasive in his arguments for the cinema. I agree that he thought the more the merrier, I don’t think he meant to come off as harsh as he did toward the church, he just wanted to present this idea in the most appealing way he could but throwing shade at the church was definitely an undertone of the piece!


  5. I found it interesting that he basically says church is a distraction, but he also thinks cinema is a distraction, just one he can use to his advantage. As church is very important to the Russian people, I am surprised it wasn’t looked at as an opportunity as a vehicle for revolution.


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