There are numerous atheistic websites wishing to distance themselves from historic communism. This is accomplished by denying that atheism had any meaningful connection to 20th century international communism. As one writer put it, these regimes "did not wage war in the name of atheism."
Naturally, depending on how one argues, wagging war "in the name of atheism" takes on different meanings. If by that statement, the reader is to understand that the declarations of external war or internal "purges" did not includes an official atheist stamp of approval, then the assertion is certainly true.
However, if by this assertion one is to understand that atheism was not part and parcel of the entire communist scheme, then the assertion is dead wrong. In fact, dialectical materialism was so identified with communism and in turn atheism was so identified with dialectical materialism, that to promote communism was to promote atheism, specifically dialectical materialistic atheism.
Marxist Attitudes to Religion
To demonstrate this fact consider the 1918 USSR Congress. To clarify and cement its October Revolution of the year before it declared:
"The Communist Party of the Soviet Union is guided by the conviction that only conscious and deliberate planning of all the social and economic activities of the masses will cause religious prejudices to die out. The Party strives for the complete dissolution of the ties between the exploiting classes and the organizations of religious propaganda, facilitates the real emancipation of the working masses from religious prejudices and organizes the widest possible scientific educational and anti-religious propaganda." (1918)
Lenin was the author of this sentiment:
"The philosophical basis of Marxism, as Marx and Engels repeatedly declared, is dialectical materialism, which has fully taken over the historical traditions of eighteenth-century materialism in France and of Feuerbach (first half of the nineteenth century) in Germany—a materialism which is absolutely atheistic and positively hostile to all religion." The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion, 1909
In fact, his attitude toward religion was the same as Marx: "Religion is opium for the people. Religion is a sort of spiritual booze, in which the slaves of capital drown their human image, their demand for a life more or less worthy of man."
And ideological hostility to religion is but the basics:
"We must combat religion—that is the ABC of all materialism, and consequently of Marxism." Lenin, The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion
And yet, the historical written record shows that their documents did not incorporate much overt hostile language against Christianity. Why?
How to deal with Religion
The remainder of the 1918 USSR Congress stated the reason:
"At the same time it is necessary carefully to avoid giving offence to the religious sentiments of believers, which only leads to the strengthening of religious fanaticism."
This careful avoidance of "giving offence to the religious sentiments" is but Leninism put into practice. Communism had an internal disagreement on how best to eliminate religion. One party wanted to publicly declare themselves as atheists bent on purging the native Christians; the other party desired the same end but plotted a more circuitous route.
After explaining that the formation of his political party was "precisely for such a struggle against every religious bamboozling of the workers," Lenin explained this circuitous route:
"If that is so, why do we not declare in our Programme that we are atheists? Why do we not forbid Christians and other believers in God to join our Party?...the yoke of religion that weighs upon mankind is merely a product and reflection of the economic yoke within society...that is why we do not and should not prohibit proletarians who still retain vestiges of their old prejudices from associating themselves with our Party. We shall always preach the scientific world-outlook, and it is essential for us to combat the inconsistency of various 'Christians'."
The basis of the religious problem is the "economic yoke within society". And one way to combat religion is to "preach the scientific world-outlook". Why not directly attack it? Lenin further explains:
"But that does not mean in the least that the religious question ought to be advanced to first place, where it does not belong at all; nor does it mean that we should allow the forces of the really revolutionary economic and political struggle to be split up on account of third-rate opinions or senseless ideas..." Socialism & Religion, 1905
In other words, the atheistic dialectical materialists wishes to re-direct any internal disagreement by avoiding "third-rate opinions" and focusing on the "economic and political struggle" instead. Let the religious join the party and focus on socio-political priorities and eventually their religious priorities will fade away.
Or, as Engles stated more eloquently:
"Engels called their vociferous proclamation of war on religion a piece of stupidity, and stated that such a declaration of war was the best way to revive interest in religion and to prevent it from really dying out." Lenin, 1909
"Engels insisted that the workers’ party should have the ability to work patiently at the task of organising and educating the proletariat, which would lead to the dying out of religion, and not throw itself into the gamble of a political war on religion...“Religion is a private matter”: this celebrated point in the Erfurt Programme (1891) summed up these political tactics of Social-Democracy." Ibid
So, the more indirect route of Marx, Engels and Lenin is to undermine the society that upholds the religion:
"No educational book can eradicate religion from the minds of masses who are crushed by capitalist hard labour, and who are at the mercy of the blind destructive forces of capitalism, until those masses themselves learn to fight this root of religion, fight the rule of capital in all its forms, in a united, organised, planned and conscious way." Ibid
The plan was to lure inquisitive religious people into the thinking of the communists. Of course, that was easy since the entire social milieu was essentially owned and operated by the State. Repress freedom of the press, spy on worship services, control the major means of production and promote State-loyal workers and the pressure on Christianity multiplies one hundred fold beyond what atheists even feel today in America.
Over the decades in the USSR there was a general attempt to stamp out religion by withholding educational and job positions, control or closing of religious locales, imprisoning dissenting clergy, and atheistic requirements for Party membership (here).
A Goal of Communism
Naturally, someone may think this is only the Russian version of communism. History proves otherwise:
"In the final analysis, this is also true of the imperialist and capitalist systems, which are bound to be replaced in the end by the socialist system. The same applies to ideology, idealism will be replaced by materialism and theism by atheism. Here we are speaking of the strategic objective." Mao, 1957
There is a consistency of logic among these leaders. If dialectical materialism is true, then traditional Christianity is false. And if the success of a society rests upon truth (materialism), then such truth must be propagated. The question is how? At times the promulgation of atheistic communism was by massive purges and exiling those in disagreement (near 100 million dead, here). At other times through national revolutions. And when in secure power, the socialistic overlords magnanimously allowed "freedom of religion" all the while covertly intent on undermining Christianity.
None of this means that American atheists are guilty by association. By God's grace today's new atheists inherit a more democratic approach to religious debate, rooted in the Christian roots of American freedom.
[This is a Denver Christian Apologist Examiner article, here]