MOSCOW -- After more than 70 years of resistance, Pravda, the giant and very official Communist Party publishing house, has decided to give the masses their opiate. It plans to print the Bible.
"Business," explained Mikhail M. Troschin, Pravda's deput director, "is business."
Right now, business is bad. Pravda, the big party newspaper, dropped in circulation last year -- down to 5 million from 10 million. Magazines such as Party Life and Political Self-Education have stumbled.
And with the cost of paper rising daily, Pravda knew it needed best-seller.
Providentially, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Alex is II, told Pravda that he was interested in placing an order for Bibles.
"Demand for the Bible is very great," Mr. Troschin sai yesterday.
He acknowledged that the desire for the Bible might always have been there -- "but for some political purposes it wasn't published."
Vladimir I. Lenin, the founder of the Soviet state, for one, calle religion a "deception, a fraud, which clogs the brains of the workers and peasants in the interest of the landlords and capitalists."
Karl Marx had called it the opiate of the masses.
Today, the Communists are the landlords, trying mightily t catch on to capitalism. The printing house wants to keep its 2 billion-ruble-a-year empire intact, and the Bible looks like the answer to Pravda's prayer.
"We could do 5 [million] to 10 mil lion and it would sell easily," Mr Troschin said. "The demand is really great."
The officially set price, if prices are still officially set when th Bible comes out, will be about 15 rubles -- "though it will immediately appear in the black market for 70 to 150 rubles," Mr. Troschin predicted.
Every good Communist has a pic ture of Lenin, usually one with piercing eyes, in his office. The one looking down on Mr. Troschin was a kinder, gentler Lenin, his eyes cast discreetly off to the side.
"The ideological situation has changed," Mr. Troschin explained Previously we had a certain ideology, and everyone was trying to stick to it."
After all, he said, you could look upon the Bible as art. "It doesn' mean anyone who gets it will turn into a believer," he said.
Bible printing won't be the only example of Pravda's discover that Christianity can be profitable.
Already, the printing house has retooled its postcard and calendar business -- it publishes 80 million a year of those.
Gone are the postcard packs of a decade ago featuring the giant one-ton ruby-red star atop a Kremlin tower. Pravda's latest handiwork displays a reproduction of Jesus taken from a famous icon of the Middle Ages.
The same icon has been printed on a poster-size 1992 calendar. Pravda has printed nearly a million copies of another 1992 calendar with reproduction of a Leonardo da Vinci painting of the Madonna nursing her child that hangs in the Hermitage museum.
"Many cooperatives glue these pictures to a plank and sell them," Mr. Troschin said.
"The people in the villages who don't have icons can use them to pray. When it's glued, it looks just like a piece of art."
But what are the party faithful to make a Bible with the Pravd imprimatur?
"The money earned will go to the party anyway," observed th ever-patient Mr. Troschin.