This article explores the Soviet Marxist perceptions of religion, based on an examination of Marx’s theory of religion. Central to the classical Marxist theory of religion is the atheist worldview, which deems that it is not religion that creates man but man who creates religion. Although Marx believed that religion was ‘the opium of the people’ and a powerful device whereby the ruling class manipulated the working class, Marx did not favour the forcible destruction of religion. He was cognizant of the benign social and cultural dimensions of religion, which were useful to individuals and social groups before religion would eventually ‘wither away’. As the first state to put the Marxist theory of religion into practice, the Soviet Marxist understanding of religion and the Soviet policy towards the Russian Orthodox Church had considerable influence on other socialist states such as China. By analysing Lenin’s and Stalin’s work on religion, and the legislation and regulations concerning religion in the Soviet Union, this article demonstrates that the atheist struggle against religion was considered by the Soviet Union to be an important component of the ‘class-struggle’ and a prerequisite for the ‘proletarian dictatorship’. The article also suggests that the making of the Soviet policy towards religion was not exclusively driven by atheist communist ideology, but had a strong element of pragmatism when the regime needed the support of believers, especially in turbulent times of economic crisis, war and expansion during the Second World War and in its immediate aftermath.