Krasnov-Levitin, Anatoly

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Anatolii Krasnov-Levitin (1915–1991)

Anatolii Emmanuilovich Krasnov-Levitin was probably the most outspoken proponent of Christian socialism in the late USSR. Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, his original surname was Levitin and he signed some of his works with the pseudonym “Krasnov,” from the Russian word krasnyi, “red.” (His name also appears in English as Levitin-Krasnov.) In the 1930s–40s, he was an active member in the so-called “Living” or “Renovationist” Church (Zhivaia tserkov’, or Obnovlenchestvo), which emerged in the early 1920s as an alternative to “Old” Orthodoxy. There were hardly any dogmatic or liturgical differences between the two churches, but they were opposite in their social orientation.

In the early twentieth century, the Orthodox Church, under the guidance of Patriarch Tikhon (1865–1925), resisted the ideology and policies of the Soviet regime. Conversely, the Living Church, headed by the heretical Metropolitan Aleksandr Vvedensky (1889–1946), not only tended to compromise with the authorities but proclaimed it the duty of its members to cooperate with the revolutionary regime. The Living Church criticized Orthodoxy for its traditional inertia and passivity regarding social questions, and called on the Church to actively participate in the life of the world. It represented a kind of belated protestant movement within Orthodoxy, but, unlike Tolstoyanism with its anarchic, anti-Church, and anti-state orientation, it was a completely pro-state and politically motivated, and thereby artificial, institution. At first, Soviet authorities sponsored and privileged the Living Church in an attempt to eliminate “Old” Orthodoxy; later, when the old Orthodox Church adopted a collaborationist stance under the leadership of Tikhon’s successor, Sergei, the authorities reversed their sympathies. The traditionalist Church, with its purely ritualistic emphasis and tendency for self-isolation, was preferable for the authorities to a socially active Living Church, however sincere the latter’s pro-Soviet orientation. Because of this, the Living Church began to decline, disappearing almost completely by the mid-1940s.

Krasnov-Levitin, though he became a loyal member of the Orthodox Church and contributed many articles to the official journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, nevertheless preserved his enthusiasm for the ideal of a socially engaged Church. His numerous samizdat articles blaming the Church for social passivity and the government for its oppression of the Church provoked both Orthodox and Soviet authorities to repressive responses, eventually leading to his imprisonment and subsequent emigration to the West in 1974. He authored a number of books on the history of the Church during the Soviet period and on his own experiences as a religious and political dissident. The title of one of his essayistic collections, Stromata—after Clement of Alexandria’s miscellany of the same name, Greek for “patchwork”—is a good indication of his variegated style of writing, which mixes theology, philosophy, autobiography, history, and polemics. He was arrested four times by Soviet authorities for political reasons: first in 1934, when he spent several weeks in prison; again in 1949, when he was sentenced to ten years for defaming the name of Stalin (he was rehabilitated in 1956); and then in 1969 and 1970 for his work as a founding member of the Action Group for the Defense of Civil Rights, where he spent a total of about four years in prison. He was released from prison in 1973 and the next year he emigrated to Lucerne, Switzerland, where spent the remainder of his life until he died in a drowning accident in Lake Geneva in April 1991.

Krasnov-Levitin proceeds from the Gospel commandment that it is impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, and condemns all social structures based on the pursuit of wealth, both capitalist and so-called “socialist,” which inherited from capitalism its exclusively materialist orientation. Characteristically, Krasnov-Levitin decries materialism not only for its profiteering mentality, but also within the larger context of the official Soviet philosophy of the period. He accepts Hegelian dialectics, but denies its compatibility with Feuerbach’s materialism, the synthesis of which was claimed as the unique achievement of Marxism. The very term “dialectical materialism” seems absurd to him, as it did to many of his predecessors in Russian religious and idealistic thought. “First of all, I could never understand how one can connect dialectics, which regards everything in terms of dynamics and the interaction of opposites, with materialism—the philosophy that reduces everything to one substance—matter, derives everything from it, begins with it and finishes with it. If it’s materialism, it’s not dialectical; if it’s dialectical, it’s not materialism” (Krasnov-Levitin, Likhie gody 242).   

Krasnov-Levitin acknowledges the enormous influence of Vladimir Solovyov on his intellectual development, especially the idea that God’s kingdom must be built not only in heaven but also on earth. “The entire history of humanity is only a way for the extension of God’s kingdom in the world” (Likhie gody 242). Solovyov was famous for his sharp criticism of socialist teachings, but Krasnov-Levitin finds in him a justification of socialism as the initial stage of a just social order. “Socialism as the abolition of social inequality and injustice is … the dialectical moment in the history of humanity. After humanity reaches this threshold, it will be convinced that this is not enough, and will strive for the heavenly city; it will come to Christ, and a genuine Christian socialism will arrive” (Likhie gody 239). Therefore, the current stage in Russian history confirms the truth of socialism, but at the same time reveals its insufficiency and the need to Christianize it.

Krasnov-Levitin’s ideological position was rare among late-Soviet intellectuals, as it combined Christian, socialist, and revolutionary convictions. For him, the most suggestive image of Christ is found in the episode where He chases the moneylenders from the temple. Here, all three of Krasnov-Levitin’s allegiances are represented: the rejection of mercantile society proceeding from spiritual grounds, but at the same time requiring forceful intervention.

Krasnov-Levitin’s credo, somewhat anachronistic, recapitulates the spirit of the mid-nineteenth century, when the program of Christian socialism was first formulated by Félicité Lamennais (1782–1854), a French Catholic priest, philosopher, and political theorist. “[O]ne must find within oneself the strength to challenge capitalism and to build the free, classless, evangelical Christian society of which the great Christian Lamennais dreamed” (Krasnov, Stromaty 103). The revolutionary impetus of Krasnov-Levitin’s Christian socialism goes even so far as to justify terrorism, if it is undertaken as an act of charitable self-sacrifice, for the sake of one’s suffering brothers and sisters who must be freed from oppression. There are other examples of such Christianly motivated terrorism in Russian revolutionary history: for instance, Egor Sazonov (1879–1910), who in 1904 assassinated Interior Minister V. K. Pleve and then confessed in a letter to family members. “I committed this deed because I felt that my conscience, my religion, my gospel, my God demanded this of me. Could I disobey?… [D]ear ones, my revolutionary and socialist beliefs and my religion have merged into one” (Sazonov). In any case, Russian populists and socialist revolutionaries of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are among Krasnov-Levitin’s ideological heroes, inasmuch as their political struggle was subordinated to a religious mission.

Krasnov-Levitin praises the October Revolution, since it brought social equality to the masses. For him, Soviet communism undoubtedly has its advantages over capitalism, since it abolishes the submission of the human spirit to material profit. In a letter to Pope Paul VI in 1967, Krasnov-Levitin wrote: “The construction of industry without bosses, without private entrepreneurs, without factory owners, in short without the bourgeoisie is the great historical victory of the Russian people” (Stromaty 124). The fault of communism is its idealization and idolization of the state, which, according to the initial prophesies of Marx and Engels, should have withered away after the revolution, but in reality grew into a self-sufficient bureaucratic machine. The sacralization of the state and the persecution of believers are two sides of the same coin. For Krasnov-Levitin, genuine socialism would imply the restoration of the Church and gradual disintegration of the state. He sympathetically cites the belief of British Labour Party pioneer (and prime minister, 1929–35) Ramsay MacDonald that religion would help realize the building of socialism (Stromaty 108).

As for Krasnov-Levitin’s specific reformist ideas, he shared the program outlined by the leaders of the Living Church as early as 1918, in particular by Father Aleksandr Boiarsky, whose programmatic work The Church and Democracy (1918) included the following theses: collectivism is the foundation of the state, and any personal, authoritarian regime is unacceptable; capitalist property must be replaced by cooperative ownership; land must also be common property; labor is the principle of life, and everyone must work; a genuine Christian cannot be rich (if a capitalist would follow Christian norms in his economic activity, he would be bankrupt in two days), hence, no capitalists; equality of women and the elimination of all class barriers and hierarchies.

Politically, Krasnov-Levitin sympathizes with both Christian-democratic and social-democratic parties in Western Europe, but he regrets that they have lost their religious and reformative zeal. They are too preoccupied with the task of maintaining the status quo within their countries, such that the idea of an actual Christian revolution makes them nervous. Thus, after a critical analysis of five major modern political movements—fascism, capitalist liberalism, Christian democracy, social democracy, and communism—Krasnov-Levitin advances his own alternative, which he calls neo-humanism. He believes that this movement can integrate the agendas of both Christian and secular humanists. What distinguishes neo-humanism from traditional humanism is its focus on the individual. “[T]he old humanism brought to the fore the concept of humankind—the new humanism brings to the fore the [particular] person, the human personality. This is why the old humanism is abstract, divorced from life, inert, peculiar to the intelligentsia. Neo-humanism is concrete, active, dynamic” (Stromaty 149).

Krasnov-Levitin’s ideas would probably have found more sympathy and support in South America, among proponents of liberation theology, than in contemporary Russia, where historical experience would seem to offer only evidence that Christianity and socialism are incompatible. Typologically, his views are closest to the politics advanced by the “third position” movement, which opposes itself to both communism and capitalism (see Epstein 155–156). But most “third position” sympathizers are nonreligious, and what makes Krasnov-Levitin peculiar is that his social critique and neo-humanism claim to be founded on Orthodox Christian views.

Mikhail Epstein, August 2021


Epstein, Mikhail. The Phoenix of Philosophy: Russian Thought of the Late Soviet Period (1953–1991). New York: Bloomsbury, 2019.

Krasnov, Anatolii. Stromaty. Frankfurt/Main: Posev, 1972.

Krasnov-Levitin, Anatolii. Likhie gody. 19251941. Vospominaniia. Paris: YMCA Press, 1977.

Sazonov, Egor. “Khristianskii bombizm Egora Sazonova.” Shkola sotsiologii,

Walters, Phillip. “Obituary for Anotoli Levitin-Krasnov,”,

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