Bye, Bye Vodka

Bye, Bye Vodka

Vodka? No thanks! -Wait, what?

In our perspective, the Russians are an alcohol- consuming, and -loving society. We cannot picture them without their beloved Vodka. Didn’t vodka make up for the cold winters in Soviet society? Well, the General Secretary of the Communist party in 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev, said “No more alcohol folks!” (-or, at least, from now on, only limited access to our favorite beverage in whole wide world.)

Wait, what? Yes, it is very true that after becoming the General Secretary in 1985, Gorbachev started a campaign against alcohol abuse, trying to reduce alcohol consumption and production. Vodka sales were limited, vineyards were destroyed (sad, I know), and alcohol was banned before 2pm in restaurants! Even official Soviet receptions and home, and abroad became alcohol-free! This was definitely something very unlike what we would call stereotypical USSR/Russia today.

The 180 degree drinking turn was pretty ironic since alcoholic beverages, especially Vodka were deeply rooted into Soviet/Russian society. Alcohol signified hospitality at special occasions and celebrations, and made bondage between people easier. In fact, alcohol contributed toward a large part of the economy. in 1979, the state made about 24.4 billion rubles in indirect taxes from the sale of alcohol, which was more than it was paid in income tax! So, why on earth would Gorbachev launch this campaign?

Gorbachev realized that alcoholism had become a major issue in Soviet society. It was linked to child abuse, suicide, divorce job accidents, and mortality rates (especially males). Gorbachev became known as the “mineral-water-drinking secretary.”
“This is a shameful Union – A slacker + Vodka!” 1986
The campaign linked alcohol to laziness, and “slackers.” People who drank were considered as people who could not contribute anything worthy to their country, the USSR.
“Little by little, and you end up with a hooligan, tolerance of drinking is dangerous. There is but a step from drinking to crime.”
Drinking was also closely linked to crime. The campaign claimed that people who drank would eventually not be able to control themselves anymore, and become criminals.

Here are some laws you can take a look at during Gorbachev’s campaign:

  • The drinking of spirits during production (in the place of work, in buildings and on the premises of enterprises, institutions and organisations) or being drunk at work is liable to an administrative penalty, in the form of a fine to the sum of 30 to 50 roubles …
  • The purchase and resale for the sake of gain of small amounts of vodka and other liquors, as well as mass consumption goods and agricultural products, till and sale receipts and bills, entertainment and other tickets, books, music notes, records, audio and video cassettes and other valuables, if the scale of profit does not exceed 30 roubles, is liable to an administrative penalty in the form of a fine of 50-100 roubles with the confiscation of the items being speculated

To be honest, alcohol consumption did go down during and after the campaign, but it also triggered a larger production in moonshine, and an increase of organized crime. Additionally, the rate of alcohol poisoning rose, and hard drinkers turned to more dangerous substances. Economically, state revenues declined, and eventually lead to bad inflation. The campaign had to be abandoned in 1987.

Yay! Back to old Russia? The end of Gorbachev’s Anti-Alcohol campaign actually was a contributor toward the Russian Mortality crisis. It’s natural that Russia’s economic and political transitions were main causes for the mortality crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but surprisingly, so was alcohol consumption!

It is in our human nature to always want what we cannot have. That is probably why the “unhealthy” consumption of alcohol rose in the Soviet Union during and after the campaign. I like to compare this to the drinking laws in the US. Young adults and teenagers under 21 come to college and binge drink because it’s just so much better when it’s forbidden, right? And they have nobody to consolidate about their drinking habits because underage drinking is illegal. Now, whether drinking laws in the US are reasonable, or the Gorbachev Anti-Alcohol Campaign was a good move, that is up to you.


“Anti-Alcohol Campaign,” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History,, Accessed 3 May 2019.

“Booze in the USSR,” The Paris Review,, Accessed 3 May 2019.

Richard Sakwa, ed., The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union, 1917-1991 (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 424. (The source of the laws I provided)

“The end of the Soviet Union’s anti-alcohol campaign may explain a substantial share of Russia’s ‘mortality crisis’ in the 1990s,” The London School of Economics and Political Science,, Accessed 3 May 2019



Imagine living in a place where you could not trust ANYONE. You could not trust your friends, relatives, or family. You could not even trust your own CHILDREN. The only person in the entire world you could trust was YOURSELF.

In the Soviet Union, children’s denunciation of their relatives was strongly encouraged. Although it did not happen often, it did, indeed happen. And when it happened it was announced, and praised in the press. However, these instances were often results of envy, abuse of power, or revenge for personal reasons.

Let me tell you the story of Pavlik Morozov, a 14-year old peasant boy. Pavlik was responsible for his own father’s arrest, and was found murdered alongside with his brother shortly after in 1932. His father was a Soviet chairman who attested a kulak as a poor peasant. Pavlik, however denounced his father for giving the Soviets wrong information about the kulak. Pavlik was probably murdered for revenge, but it is unknown whether his relatives killed him or not. This story in particular caught my attention, and gave me shivers down my backbone. Imagine if your own child tells on you. I honestly cannot imagine living in a situation like this.

This is a picture of young Pavlik.

After his murder, Pavlik Morozov became a Soviet hero, and children were strongly encouraged to follow his example if they had any suspicion regarding their relatives. Statues were built of Pavlik, and his “heroic” story was told in children’s books.

This is a statue of Pavlik Morozov

So, was the state placed above everything, even above the ones that you loved? I guess so. The Soviets took advantage of the youth’s innocence, and bred them into the perhaps most dangerous, and important communists of all. Youth organizations, like the “Komsomol,” the “Young Pioneers,” and “Little Octobrists” were founded to collectivize children, and to teach them the “Soviet” way from a young age. Children were taught to prioritize communism above all, even family.

This is a video by the Soviet Newsreel that represents the Communist child. Because children did not know a world before communism, they were easy to influence.

“…We need that generation of young people who began to reach political maturity in the midst of a disciplined and desperate struggle against the bourgeoisie. In this struggle that generation is training genuine Communists; it must subordinate to this struggle, and link up with it, each step in its studies, education, and training.”-V.I. Lenin, Tasks of the Youth Leagues (Bourgeois and Communist Morality)

I found another video from the Pioneriia Newsreel Series that praised a young girl named Olya Balykina. She, like Pavlik, unmasked her own father. I provided the link for you below if you want to take a look at it.

I feel like this blogpost in particular is pretty heavy, but I really wanted to inform you about the seriousness of communism. Growing up in Germany, I know the situation was pretty much the same in the DDR, the “Deutsche Demokratische Republik,” maybe more known to you as former East Germany. Citizens spied on their own relatives, and friends. You truly never knew who you could trust.

Looking back, I am honestly grateful for my own freedom of speech, religion, and opinion. With gratitude I can say that I am able to trust my own friends and family.

Here are the rest of the sources I used:

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. Third Edition, Oxford Press. Chapter 11.

“Pavlik Morozov,” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History,, Accessed 03/31/2019.

“The Soviet Cult of Childhood,” Guided History: History Research Guides by Boston University Students,, Accessed 03/31/2019.

“You Do Not Lament the Loss of the Hair of One Who Has Been Beheaded.”

“You Do Not Lament the Loss of the Hair of One Who Has Been Beheaded.”

“Now, the expropriation of the kulaks in the regions of solid collectivization is no longer just an administrative measure. Now, the expropriation of the kulaks is an integral part of the formation and development of the collective farms. Consequently now it is ridiculous and foolish to discourse on the expropriation of the kulaks. You do not lament the loss of the hair of one who has been beheaded. – Stalin, December 27, 1929.

Welcome to my newest blogpost! This time, I will be discussing the objectives and consequences of mass collectivization among the Russian peasants during the “Great Turn” and the “Five Year Plan,” and in particular “Dekulakization.” This indeed was a heartbreaking time for most peasants.

Now, what exactly is a Kulak? And why did Stalin so desperately want to get rid of them? A Kulak was a wealthier or prosperous peasant that was capable of owning a large farm. However, because Stalin was against any kind of form of capitalism, he naturally wanted to eliminate any peasant who was a little wealthier that his fellow comrades.

During the “Five Year Plan,” Stalin’s objective was to effectively extract grain, and build sufficient food stocks for the red army. To achieve this goal, Stalin organized a mass collectivization of peasant farms against their will. As already mentioned, though, the Kulaks were in the way. They had to be eliminated since they threatened Soviet power within peasant villages, and in addition to that, their strict plan of collectivization. Some peasants protested and rioted, while others sold their property to avoid the consequences of being a Kulak. Peasants that spoke against collectivization were driven away, and harassed. And so, the Soviets eliminated all kind of opposition against collectivization, serving as an example to all other peasants.

“Throw the Kulaks out of the Kolkhozes!”

This was of the posters used during the 5 Year Plan. We see the act of collectivization among the peasants. In this picture, the red Soviet in the middle is promoting the elimination of Kulaks.

“The kulaks are most bestial, brutal and savage exploiters, who in the history of other countries have time and again restored the power of the landlords, tsars, priests and capitalists.”

This image is yet another poster that promotes the elimination of Kulaks. We see a Kulak being forced from a collective farm by the ‘strong hand’ of Soviet power. I think it is interesting they portray a Kulak as fat, or even obese- as if he were too greedy for his own good.

On January 5th, 1930, the Central Committee called to collectivize 20 percent of land that they saw fit for the “5 Year Plan.” Kulaks were either deported to labor camps, resettled, or even executed. Those that did not belong to collectivization were simply expropriated. Although I am specifically talking about peasants during this time, I also want to mention that this type of “social cleansing” was not just happening on farms. At the same time, authorities, clergy, and nobility in Leningrad were deported as “parasites.” Families started living in communal apartments and shared a kitchen, bathroom, and toilet. To be honest, only those people and peasants who did not own anything of their own actually benefitted from the new system.

So, what were the consequences of this entire collectivization? Basically, the requisition of grain and other resources stirred quite some violence between Soviets and peasants. Collectivization had negative effects on peasants, their crops, and livestock. Starvation was a major issue because of crop failure, shortages of grain, and the slaughter of livestock. On top of that, a big famine broke out. Around 5 million lives were lost during this time. Many peasants actually gave up their farms and went to cities to avoid starvation.

All in all, the collectivization period during the “5 Year Plan” was brutal. It’s hard to picture something like this going on in our Western society today. I think that today, too many Americans and Europeans look back at the 20th century and label the Soviet Union as this enormous, communist entity that almost started a nuclear war. However, we often fail to look behind the scenes and actually observe what happened to civilians, peasants, and ordinary people in the Soviet Union. It turns out, most people actually did not have the right to form an opinion, neither did they play a role in the decision making of their own lives, yet alone in the political decisions of their country.

Here are the sources I used for my blogpost:

“Collectivization.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, Accessed 21 Mar 2019.

“Famine.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, Accessed 21 Mar 2019.

“Kulak.” Enclopaedia Britannica, Accessed 21 Mar 2019.

Figes, Orlando. “The War Against Kulaks.” Section 10:Revolution From Above, Accessed 21 Mar 2019.

“Stalin of the Liquidation of the Kulak.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, Accessed 21 Mar 2019.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. Oxford University Press, 3rd Edition. Chapter 11.

This post earned a red star for Comrade’s Corner on the Class Website
A Cossak Encounter in Murmansk

A Cossak Encounter in Murmansk

For my first blogpost, I chose to write about a picture I found in the Library of Congress, shot by Sergei Mikahailovich.

The picture, named “Gruppa”, which means group, was shot in Murmansk in the year of 1915. Murmansk is a port city in the northwest of Russia, and named after the Murman coast, a term in Russian for Norway. The photographer is seated beside two military men dressed in Cossak robes.

Location of Murmansk

I think that this picture in particular is so interesting at the time because Russia is about to experience revolts, especially from soldiers, who will later be the first Soviets. In 1915, Russia is currently finding itself in World War I. Russia is losing its quest to dominate the Ottoman Empire, and the Black Sea. Meanwhile, Germany is growing in military and might. Because Russia’s ammunition and weapons are low, they are defeated several times by Germany. On top of that, soldiers have poor food provisions. I wonder whether these men were suffering of poor provisions, as well.

This picture is taken shortly before the end of Tsar Nicholas II’ reign, and the February revolution. The Russian Empire will collapse, and nobles will not be able to hinder it. Did these military men already have any idea of what was going to happen, and if so, did they tell the photographer about it? Were they part of any socialist uprisings? Military men were very crucial in the upcoming revolts, so I guess they must have had some kind of idea of what was going on.

I can also see that the photographer and his two companions are sitting in what seems to be like a construction area in the forest. Perhaps they are seated on another railroad construction, something that was being worked on at that time, as well. Russia was very much in need of industrialization, having to catch up with Western European states.

Sergei Mikahailovich has a bunch of other pictures that are located in the Library of Congress. If I were you, I would go check them out! If you look closely, each picture has its own little neat story behind it. The link for “Gruppa” is found underneath the picture I posted, and you can easily explore Sergei’s collection if you click on the link.

I hope you enjoyed my first blogpost! Stay tuned for more!

P.S.: For my research I used the book “Russia: A History,” edited by Gregory Freeze. I mostly looked up the chapter on World War I.

Welcome to my blog!

Welcome to my blog!

“The greatness of the Russian Emperor is not in the wars and victories, not in the fortune and glory. It is in the service to Christ and Russia.” – Emperor Nicholas II

“When we hang the capitalists they will sell us the rope we use.” – Joseph Stalin

Welcome to my blog for the Virginia Tech Soviet History class in the Spring of 2019! Feel free to read, comment, and share my thoughts about some Russian fun facts in the 20th century!