Bye, Bye Vodka

Bye, Bye Vodka

Vodka? No thanks! -Wait, what?
http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1985-2/anti-alcohol-campaign/anti-alcohol-campaign-images/

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.”

https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/81.jpg
“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.

https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/61.jpg
“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.

Sources:

“Anti-Alcohol Campaign,” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1985-2/anti-alcohol-campaign/, Accessed 3 May 2019.

“Booze in the USSR,” The Paris Review, https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2017/04/19/booze-in-the-ussr/, 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, https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2013/10/10/the-end-of-the-soviet-unions-anti-alcohol-campaign-may-explain-a-substantial-share-of-russias-mortality-crisis-in-the-1990s/, Accessed 3 May 2019

25 thoughts on “Bye, Bye Vodka

  1. I thought this was a very interesting article! Like you addressed, since there are so many stereotypes of Russia today, I was surprised to learn about this campaign! The posters that you shared were very powerful for the cause.I shared the same thoughts as you in your concluding paragraph. When something is forbidden, it tends to look more appealing to others. I made the same comparison with people under 21 in the United States.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Really interesting post! It’s amazing the impact alcohol can have on a society. I think you bring up a good perspective on the stereotype that most people have on Russians and their vodka, because honestly I had the same stereotypical perspective as most people do. I also enjoyed your thoughts on wanting what we cannot have. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. I agree with Austin about your point regarding “forbidden fruit” being the most tempting – just because it’s not available! I also like how you weave in the social consequences of the anti-alcohol campaign with its political motivations, and the posters you chose are wonderful!
    I can also corroborate your claim about the uptick in moonshine (samogon) production. Even after the official end of the campaign, hard liquor remained in short supply, and there was a run on sugar as people needed supplies for their bathroom stills. It was quite a time! I bet the Current Digest had some good articles about this?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lara, great post on the anti-alcohol campaign! Those posters are so wonderful. This aspect of Soviet history always feels like a “hindsight is 20/20” moment, but also like they really should have just seen the consequences coming back then! Great job!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Lara,

    Your title was so catchy that I just had to read more. I’m glad I did, too! I definitely think about how it parallels to the American prohibition movement in the 1920s. It seems incredibly difficult to enact legislation, though, as people often find back-door avenues to access illegal items. The reasons for banning it seem based on a valid critique of social issues. It’s unfortunate, however, that its banning just led to additional problems elsewhere.

    I also think about assumptions that people have about Russians, and many often tie ‘heavy drinking’ to their culture. I am glad to know a little more about their history with alcohol, though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Lily! Yes, enacting legislation, especially with alcohol was, and still is quite tricky. And I also love to find stories you would never expect, which is why I wrote about this topic in my blogpost.

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  6. Hey Lara!
    Very interesting topic! I wonder what kind of parallels we can see in the Soviet’s “prohibition” and in that of the US. I had never known about this happening before reading your post. Thank you for the information!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Lara, they do love their vodka! I understand Gorbachev wanting to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed, but this would only lead to reduced taxes and the creation of a black market that led to organized crime. Also I love the point you made about people wanting what they can’t have – and comparing that to freshmen wanting to excessively drink. Good Post!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This post was really interesting, and it really highlighted some of the parallels between the Soviet anti-alcohol movement and American prohibition in the 1920s. It’s also interesting that, despite all of the Soviet’s social engineering experiments, they never tried getting rid of alcohol, until now. I guess this shows why they never did!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment! Yes, this example really did show why they should not get rid of alcohol. Alcohol is so crucial, not only for Russian society, but also for its economy.

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  9. Wow! Great post. You have some amazing images as well. This kind of reminds me of prohibition in the U.S. to some degree. It’s really interesting to think about how the Soviet government attempted to curb the Soviet consumption of alcohol, given their historic love for alcoholic beverages. Overall, really interesting post.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I was definitely guilty of harboring this same stereotype regarding Russians and alcohol, so it is very interesting to learn about this opposition against alcohol abuse. It is especially interesting that this push back came so late in the century in comparison to the United States’ own attempts at prohibition.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hey Lara! I really liked this post on the anti-alcohol campaign. It really goes to show the harm in punitive operations to try and re-tailor society, when in fact society and its broader people will just go ahead and do things anyway, abortion, alcohol production, etc, which makes sense why they should all be legalized so people have easy access and safe revenues to it. Definitely not Gorbachev’s best idea while in power.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I really enjoyed the posters you showed. They did a good job supporting you point. In many ways this reflects the United States during Prohibition. With such a wide spread use of blackmarkets in the Soviet Union, it is no surprise that alcohol would still be widely available. I like the point that people want what they cannot have. It fits well with the Russian cultural importance of vodka. Something people love and cannot have, it is not surprising issues arouse.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Lara, I found your topic interesting to read about. And I am not surprised that mortality rates and crime waves increased after these laws went into affect. To compare America to this, the same effects occurred after Prohibition. Mob waves and smuggling increased as did alcohol related fatalities because moonshiners did not have the same federal regulations as distilleries and sold dangerous product. It is crazy to see how many events in Russia’s history are similar to our own.

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